Doctrine of Discovery and the African American Experience: Rejecting White Theology in Pursuit of New Wine Skins

This weekend, I had an opportunity to present at “This Land is My Land? The Gospel of Conquest and the Church.” In the presentation, I discussed how the Doctrine of Discovery relates to the African American experience of slavery and capitalism, one of the pillars of white supremacy. I also discussed the role in forming a new theology in freeing the American church from this colonized worldview, moving us all to a place of freedom, reconciliation and love. Here is the audio of this talk >

I also encourage you to listen to the rest of the discussions from the conference, in particular the plenary by Mark Charles which was amazing. Here are the remaining audios >

Broken by Racism, Healed through Prayer

slaveryThe killing of Mike Brown nearly a month ago has unfortunately proven that we do not live in a post-racial America. While a black man sits in the highest seat of authority in this country, his position has not lessened the degree to which black bodies are profiled and stereotyped on a daily basis. In fact, it can be argued that his appointment, along with the rapid browning of this country, has even intensified the resentment and anger among those who believe that black people do not have a right to do well for ourselves and our community.

Racism. It is America’s original sin.From our nation’s founding, race has been used to marginalize and categorize all of those who are not white including American Indians, blacks, Chinese, Japanese and Latinos. Although the days of colonization, slavery, and internment camps are behind us, our nation continues to enforce policies that systematically bankrupt communities of color. These policies not only take away opportunities that we need to thrive like employment and housing; in many cases they rob us of life itself.

In the wake of Mike Brown, many advocates and community leaders around the country have been calling attention to this country’s racist history. Unless we deal with it, tragedies like this will continue to happen. Anytime we challenge the structural foundations of America, we inevitably challenge the American church as the American church has been in bed with American policies and practices also from the beginning. In fact there was a time that to be American was to be a Christian, and to be a Christian was to be a (white) American. While this is a theological fallacy, it was an ideology that was propagated nonetheless.

I am participating in the Theology of Ferguson project which explores how our faith, race, justice, and activism intersect. Head over there to read the rest of this post.

Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: It’s All About the Kingdom (Part 8)

Over the last eight weeks, I have explored the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I have proposed that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. This week, I will conclude the series by looking at the final piece of this prayer: “For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Most versions of the biblical text do not include this doxology at the end of the prayer. But if you are a fan of the New American Standard Bible, like I am, or even the King James Version, you will notice that it is there. While it is widely accepted that this piece is a late addition to the text, it resonates with the entirety of this prayer and brings it back to what matters most: God’s Kingdom. Everything that Jesus has encouraged us to pray up until this point directs us back to this central truth. Art Simon’s book on the Lord’s Prayer underscores this point:

Rediscovering

In referring back to the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His coming kingdom, Roman Catholics remind us that this is what the prayer is all about in the first place. It is all about what God is doing in the moment to bring about a future reality where our bodies are redeemed, our relationship with God and each other are reconciled and every other component of God’s creation – from the sun, the moon and the stars, to the earth, the land, and the sea, to the fish, the birds, and every other creature – are just the way He had always planned them to be. This is our hope, this is our eternity.

Over the last few weeks of this series, one thing that I hope I have made consistently clear is that the Lord’s Prayer is a great model for crafting a biblically-based social justice theology. This prayer is important because it centers Jesus’ life, ministry, and purpose. It also gives prominence to the Kingdom of God, thereby giving us a glimpse of what justice looks like in light of the kingdom. Any social justice theology, or any theology for that matter, that neglects the kingdom is itself incomplete as it has the potential to place too much emphasis on the now and not enough emphasis on what is to come. The reality is that God’s kingdom is here among us now and is coming, too. What are we doing to bring others into it? How do our actions of love, justice, and hospitality, signal to the world around us that this Word we have been preaching for more than 2,000 years is real and should be taken seriously?

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We do it by acknowledging God as our Father. The creator of the universe belongs to each and every 7 billion of us, and we to him. Having this big picture view of God’s creation helps us to understand that everyone belongs to the human family, and that we have a responsibility to each and every member of this family.

We do it by declaring God’s holiness throughout the earth. Worshipping God like this keeps us from exploiting others, and also gives us the ability to challenge systems of oppression that normalize injustice.

We do it by proclaiming God’s present and coming kingdom and asking God for his will to be done in the context of His kingdom. Doing so helps us understand that we are not building our own kingdoms, but are invited to play a role in God’s kingdom –  not a role where we dominate and rule over others, and not a role where we bully others into believing and thinking that way that we do.

We do it by asking God simply for our daily bread. Asking God for only what we need and no more, is an act of rejecting, rejecting our tendency to hoard, to consume, to amass wealth and resources at the expense of others.

We do it by petitioning for God’s forgiveness while we simultaneously offer it to others. Because we live in a moment of transition, in between the inauguration of God’s kingdom and the fullness of it, we will continue to betray God’s trust while those around us will betray ours – in spite of our best efforts to do otherwise. And when we do, we need to be forgiven and also offer forgiveness to others.

We do it by asking God to deliver us from temptation and the devises of the evil one. While we have to be careful that we do not draw unnecessary attention to the enemy, we also cannot be ignorant of the devil’s schemes. His very nature is to steal, kill and destroy, and he accomplishes this goal by enticing people like you and me to play along.

As we do these things, we tell ourselves and those around us, that we do not belong to the systems of this world. While others may get by mistreating and exploiting others, driven by pride, greed, and fear, we as a people of God, submit ourselves to a different standard. In doing so, we testify that we are not only living for the present but for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the near future.

I believe that it is fitting to conclude this series reading and reciting the Lord’s prayer. In light of what we have explored, we now pray this prayer in a new way and are subsequently released into the world to live in a new way with God, self and others.

Our Father,
Hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,
lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one
For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever amen.

Thanks for taking the time to read and follow this series on the Lord’s Prayer. Now is my time to hear from you! What do you think are the strengths of this series? The weaknesses? What other passages of scripture do you see either serving as a basis for or complement to a social justice theology. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo credit:
(1)https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenmelkisethian/12394651115

The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Your Kingdom Come and Will Be Done (Part 4)

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. So far, we have explored the statements of God as ‘Our Father‘ and “Holy” which can help us form a social justice theology. This week, we will look at the declaration of God’s Kingdom and the petition for His will in the same vein.

In the days of John the Baptist’s ministry, John went about preaching and admonishing those who were within earshot of his words to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. John understood that in the coming of Jesus, the way that the world worked was fundamentally changing. The sovereign rule and reign of God was once again being established in the way that it was in the beginning.  medium_4385681932

In the early days of his ministry, Jesus told his followers to repent in light of the present kingdom. And then he went about exercising the rule of this kingdom – healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. He begins to right the wrongs of the world, ultimately challenging the stronghold that sin has had upon all of creation. But then he asks for his disciples, and us, to pray for His kingdom of come. He is signifying that the fullness of God’s kingdom has not yet been realized. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God in His first coming, He will complete it in His Second. In between these two realities, Jesus invites us to be a part of the larger work of God in bringing it to pass.

God chooses to use completely inept human beings to carry out His will. He chooses to use people like us, who often get confused about whose kingdom we are building, to actively pursue and usher in His kingdom. He invites us to play a role in that kingdom, not a role where we dominate and rule over others, and not a role where we bully others into believing and thinking that way that we do. Says Soong-Chan Rah in his book, Many Colors: “We are called to pursue God’s kingdom together in partnership and not under the duress of paternalism.”*

As theologian N.T. Wright suggests, God is asking us to begin to imagine what this kingdom might look like and celebrate that redemption, that healing and transformation in the present and anticipate God’s final intention.** Presently, war, famine, genocide, rape, trafficking racism, acts of rage, destruction, sickness, and death, exist in every society throughout the world. As humans, we simply have never experienced life without these realities. We don’t know what it is to live in peace, to live free of pain, to live without fear of someone doing us in simply because of the color of our skin, who we associate with or our political agenda. But imagine living in a world, where none of these things are possibilities.

Imagine a world where we will never feel the need to arm ourselves, and therefore, are more than willing to relinquish any gun rights that we ever thought we had claim to. Imagine a place where children go to school and come back home in the evening, a world where women and girls are not treated like commodities to be bought and sold, but are respected, loved, and cherished. Imagine a world, where there is no competition, no need to fight over resources because there is plenty to go around and no one is hoarding, a place where people let go of offenses, and at the same time, people are not offending. These things seem so out of reach and are so unlike our present circumstances that we face on a daily basis. They seem like some utopic vision, not rooted in reality. But the fact of the matter is, this is God’s reality. This is what He is bringing the world into. This is what His kingdom will look like. This is what we are praying for and inviting others to be a part of as they begin to see through us glimpses of this reality being realized.  medium_352470821

Which really fits nicely with the next piece of this prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.But what is God’s will? It is certainly not this. It is not imperialism and empire building under the guise of Christianity. It is not bigotry, not revenge, not greed, not even tolerance and cultural relativism in the name of political correctness. This has never been God’s will. We are a far cry from it. Far! Do we not remember that there was a garden and in that garden an act of unfaith and rebellion took place that changed the entire narrative of human history from that moment on?

Prior to this act, we enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. We were naked and vulnerable before God and before each other and were not ashamed because we had nothing to hide. Everything about God’s creation, including us, was right and pure. This was God’s will. God desired that we live in this holy relationship with Him, each other and even the environment around us. And then the unthinkable happened. We decided to disobey God. We became full of pride and felt that we could no longer trust what God had to say, and so we did our own thing. Ever since then, we’ve been walking backwards, trying to get back to that original point before we acted out of unfaith. And we’ve failed miserably. But God, in spite of our arrogance and quite frankly, ignorance, is in the redeeming business and is in the process of bringing all of creation back to where we need to be in God and with each other. This is God’s will. This is what we are praying for, that his perfect will be accomplished in the earth.

God’s will is bigger than our little lives. So often we pray these prayers that are so focused on us, and our needs, and we miss what God is doing in the world. We’ve been taught to ask God what His will is for our lives, and on the surface that sounds really good, godly in fact. But I believe we are missing something big. Here we are asking God to reveal His will for us, meanwhile, our world is being torn a part by injustice. Is God really that into us, our individual needs and circumstances? Does He really design His will around our individual passions and gifts? Or are we just that narcisstic?

Or perhaps we are apathetic to the needs of those around us. Unless we feel our Christian liberties (or American liberties) are being violated or we think we are being persecuted in some way, we are mute and turn a deaf ear to the suffering around us. Why? I point at the inept and sometimes altogether bad theology that has forced its way into church history. This has led to a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God, the will of God, and our role in bringing both to pass. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Steve Kang and Gary Parrett, in their book A Many Colored Kingdom, explains it this way:

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While what Conde-Frazier and her colleagues describe has been characteristic of church history, God is able to redeem this colored past and bring about a new reality through us. In spite of our flaws, He continues to invite us to take part in proclaiming His eternal kingdom. He invites us to imagine and to proclaim:

  • Peace between Israelis and Palestinians including the sharing of resources and land
  • An end to the Syria conflict including a stable government
  • The complete eradication of racial injustice
  • The toppling of the sex trafficking trade
  • The salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus as their personal savior
  • The end to crony capitalization and other economic structures that disinvest communities
  • The reconciliation of peoples who have once been divided
  • A people of God who are prophetic and in tune to what the Spirit of God is doing in our churches, community and world

In a society and world that is so dysfunctional, God’s reality will always seem unattainable and unrealistic. Fortunately for us, He has called us to be in this world, but not of this world. If we are of this world, we will get lost in the rules and customs of the ruling elite. We allow their stipulations to dictate our actions and their fears to keep us from hoping, dreaming, and imagining something different. But being a people not of this world, we are constantly proclaiming the reality, the fullness of the Kingdom of God unafraid of the consequences that sometimes come with speaking truth to power. And it all starts with one little prayer – Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Come back next week for part V of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it.

References:
*Soong-Chan Rah. Many Colors (Chicago: Moody Publishers) p. 121
**N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope (HarperOne) p. 201

Photo credit: (1)https://www.flickr.com/photos/reallynuts/4385681932/
(2)https://www.flickr.com/photos/difusa/352470821

The Lord’s Prayer: a Social Justice Theology

medium_2412096496On Easter Sunday, a little over 22 years ago, I came to know the Lord at my grandmother’s church – Evangel Assembly of God in Milwaukee, WI. Since then, I have spent the better part of my life attending Assembly of God churches, schools, conventions, and summer camps, and am even licensed by the denomination – all this being said that I know the AG’s history, beginnings, theology and teachings inside and out. While there are many parts of this spiritual heritage that I am proud of – acknowledgment of the gifts and physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit, openness and exuberance in worship, and emphasis on evangelism and discipleship – I am concerned that we largely lack a biblical response to the social justice issues in our day. In the face of racial injustice, poverty, hunger, genocide, rape and so many other maladies, the Assemblies of God is quite silent. But we are not the only ones are mute on these pertinent issues – many denominations and congregations across America also lack a robust social justice theology and thereby fail to address the many ills that our pervasive in our society.

I could offer a thousand theories as to why many denominations and congregations  across America, and perhaps around the world as well, haven’t taken the time to formulate a theology of justice. While I will not take the time to unpack all of these theories, one that I want to point out is our tendency to assign greater importance to the spiritual world while neglecting the material. This dualistic approach, which stems heavily from Plato’s influence on the West and consequently the Church, leads us to believe that everything that is spiritual in nature is good and conversely, see all that is material in nature as evil, or at least not important.

As a result, we’ve been conditioned to believe that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, fasting, and Bible reading are the most important aspects in a life of a believer. And we likewise believe that gifts of the spirit such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and discernment, are the only evidence that the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. But what we don’t realize is that the words that we declare with out mouths and the actions that we do with our hands and feet our equally important. We don’t often see the connection between the system of belief that we teach and how we actually live.

I have had a hard time with this disconnection for a long time. I grew up well acquainted with the Azuza Street movement of the early 1900s, when the Holy Spirit poured Himself out on a group of believers in California. Led by a black man, William Seymour, these people experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. But they were also united across racial, gender, and class lines, something that was quite exceptional in a society that was completely divided along these lines.

But the spirit of unity that was an early characteristic of this movement did not last long. Upon visiting the movement, Seymour’s psuedo-mentor, Charles Parham denounced the work of the Spirit in the revival because blacks and whites worshipped and fellowshipped together. Parham was not the only one who had his grievances about the movement as many white Pentecostals harbored similar sentiments and spoke out against Seymour. After the revival ended in 1909, the racism that had come to define America also began to define the Pentecostal movement, hindering the work of reconciliation that the Holy Spirit initiated. White people failed to understand the connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the way that they treated their black brothers and sisters.

This disconnection between the spiritual and the material has also deeply influenced our negligence in adequately respond to other injustices in our society and subsequently from forming a theology of social justice. If we believe that inward expression and orientation is the only thing that matters, we will have little regard for how our brothers and sisters in our country and around the world are treated. If we believe that what we believe is of most importance to God, we will not see the need to do justice for those who are trapped in the criminal justice system, the thousands of refugee children who are stuck at our nation’s borders, those without food, clothing or shelter, or those who are sexually trafficked on a daily basis. And that’s just within the United States – I have not begun to touch on the things going outside of our borders.

Fortunately for us, Jesus provides us with a different model for seeing and doing things – just as He always does! He teaches us to connect the spiritual with the material and imagine a different reality in doing so. In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5 – 7 of the New Testament, Jesus gives His disciples some pretty clear instructions on how to pray. But this prayer is extremely radical because it suggests that those who pray it will live radically different. Jesus assumes that those who pray this prayer, which emphasizes God’s justice and peace on earth, will in fact reorient themselves in light of the very things they are praying.

Over the next several weeks, I am going to unpack the parts of this prayer which I believe serve as a model for crafting a theology on social justice while also continuing to explain the importance in doing so. Please join me in this quest, offer feedback, and look for updates every week.

Here are the links to subsequent weeks which will be added to this post as the series progresses: 

The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Our Father (Part 2) – “If we can understand that God isn’t just for us, but is holding it down for billions of other people across the globe, we will start to do life differently. All of a sudden, we stop seeing life in terms of ‘me’ but ‘we.’ That alone will transform our behavior and how we act towards one another.” 

 

Is God a Man or a Woman?

I started writing this post nearly two years ago. But then my daughter was born. I came back to it shortly thereafter but could not figure out where I was going with it and then abandoned it altogether. It was only recently, last week actually when I read Mimi Haddad’s post, Worship a Male God, that I realized that I had to come back to this. Hopefully with a much clearer thought process now that the Percocet is completely out of my system!

I have noticed over the last five or so a trend in many theological circles to move toward an identification of God other than father, or for that matter, masculine. I remember the first time I heard someone refer to God as ‘Our Mother and Our Father.” I found it odd and honestly, heretical because up until then I had only thought of God in masculine terms. I mean, the Lord’s prayer starts out ‘Our Father’ and the Bible teaches us to put our trust in this father times without number. I wondered what was going on! Yet I began to see and understand why there was a move in this direction. For many people, men and women alike, the term father carries a lot of negative baggage that they do not necessarily want to associate with. As a result, many people who struggle with this term are reluctant to come to faith in God, someone who personifies everything that they despise as a result of abuse that they have endured, oppression, exploitation and so many other forms of injustice.

And I get that. As a woman, who is a person of color living in a society that is full of injustice, I understand the desire for people to want to embrace this shift. I mean, if the masculine identity of God poses a barrier for people, remove the barrier and either refer to God as a woman, or refer to God as a deity who represents both. Problem solved, right?

Not necessarily. You see, I think we tread a fine line when we start relating to God out of our own presuppositions and biases. We, as a people, reach an unfortunate point when we start to view God in light of our experiences instead of seeing God higher and above our experiences. In my own life, I wrestled with this for a long time. Growing up, I felt like I had to always prove that I was worthy – in my family, in my school, in society at large in order to be rewarded. And if I messed up, I often feared that whatever I earned through all of my hard work would be taken away. Unfortunately, in many instances it was: love, affection, acceptance – the whole nine yards. It led me to constantly seek the approval of others; without that approval, I was a mess.

As I began to grow in my relationship with God, I began to project these very experiences and tendencies on to him. I felt like I had to be on my p’s and q’s in order to win his affection, his love, and I feared what would happen if I ever screwed up. Time and a whole lot of grace has shown me that this is not who God is at all. In spite of my experiences, God is the loving, ever understanding and merciful parent, who delights in me regardless of what I do. God was not waiting for the first moment that I screwed up to punish me or take away any blessings; no instead, God was waiting for me to trust in him the very way that a daughter trusts in her mother and a son trusts in his father.

This is not to say that referring to God in any other way besides masculine is wrong. In all actuality, the Bible tells us that God is Spirit, (John 4) and so that means that God is neither male nor female. In our humanness and inability to understand something so infinite, we ascribe to God these human characteristics. There is nothing wrong with that – we just must realize that he is more than that!

And God is also more than our experiences! This is why we cannot use those experiences to determine how we will relate to God nor can we use those experiences to determine who God is. In fact, we must allow God to redeem these experiences to bring about his glory and his goodness in our lives.

You can read more about my own experience in Dancing on Hot Coals.