Race-less Gospel

A race-less life is a Christ- filled life.


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The Double- Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

27029_360054929042_83975054042_3430697_4705708_nThe conversation I entered into with the attendees of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks this week picks back up and concludes here:

I suppose that it is a matter of pride and it’s a mind game. James uses the descriptor “double- minded” when speaking of the doubter who prays[i] but this two-ness is found both in the Old and New Testaments. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah.[ii] Isaiah recorded the voice of the Lord saying, “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.”[iii] Jesus spoke of Pharisees who were clean on the outside but inside were “full of greed and self- indulgence.”[iv] He asked them, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?[v]

Great question, Jesus. God made the outside as well as the inside, flesh and spirit.[vi] So, God knows the spirit and while we have a hand in our formation, our nature is a sight unseen by us. And the outside of us does not fool God. He sees everything.

In fact, God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb,[vii] before texture of hair or eye color, before shape of nose or size of lips, before the social coloring of skin. God beheld a form that we cannot see and that no label can attach itself to.

And Paul echoes this spiritual reality and ends the culture war by waving this white flag at the Galatians and Colossians, who are now in the Body of Christ, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek.”[viii] Consequently, race does not form us spiritually but socially and should not inform us spiritually but assist us in understanding our society. Therefore, we must retell the story of our spiritual formation, our Christian identity without it, beginning with God.

Race has nothing to do with it. It is our idolatrous belief in the social construct of race, our support of its prejudices, our use of its stereotypical lens that has made the Church unstable. We waver between two opinions behave as if there are two gospels, two sets of commandments, two segregated heavens and hells. But, we forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and race. [ix]

Therefore, Christian education must challenge social realities and subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture. Christian educators must keep race in its place— out of the pulpit and pews, out of our hymnals and Bibles, out of our fellowship and worship. Christians must serve the Lord with their minds, not merely repeating after society but examining ourselves, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”[x]

We must change our minds about race as it does not renew us.[xi] We must learn about race in order to unlearn it. We must see race for what it is so that we can see our selves and our neighbors as they are. We must speak up about race in order to take its voice and find our own.

Because our faith and race do not agree. Race is not a partner in our becoming. It says that God creates no one new, that God is a Copycat, that we are all members of a boxed cultural set.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that it is a part of God’s plan, that God makes some persons better than others, that God decides who is best according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God judges and prejudices our physical features.

Race also says that we can put God on our side— the side of the oppressed or privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses.  Race teaches us that God racially segregates us.

But, race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, made up as we go along.  We must stop singing and teaching about race as it is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.

Believing in race changes our confession of faith, compromises our witness and confuses our allegiance, fighting for flesh instead of standing in the solidarity of God’s Spirit. The theology of race both deifies and demonizes our flesh. Calling us to worship whiteness, one color becomes our symbol of righteousness and the other of social condemnation.

Suggesting that we are saved by our skin, it becomes our social messiah. Race says that our standing with God and in society is determined by our epidermis. Race says that it knows who we are and that the inside of us, our inner being, our spirit cannot change that.

So, how did we come to believe this, support and endorse it? How did we, spiritual people, get stuck on the surface? How did the Church of the living God submit its mind and members to the power of the flesh? When did we change our minds about the God who loves us all and sent His Son to die for us all in order to support a divided and double- minded Church, a color- coded and dismembered Body? What were we thinking when we began to categorize God’s love, to divide the image of God—all for us and none for them? And what of our witness to the little children, to the next generation?

Do we really believe that Jesus loves us and that he can love us without race? What do you think now? Where do you stand?

________________________

[i] James 1.8

[ii] First Kings 18.21, NRSV

[iii] Isaiah 29.13, NRSV

Also, the writer of Proverbs speaks of a “double heart” (Proverb 25.26).

[iv] Matthew 23.25, NRSV

[v] Luke 11.40, NRSV

[vi] Job 33.4

[vii] Jeremiah 1.5

[viii] Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11

[ix] Matthew 6.24

[x] Second Corinthians 10.5

[xi] Romans 12.1-2


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The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

divided-heartThis week, I was in Decatur, Georgia and presented at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of spiritual formation and education.  I, along with several others, spoke about the theological rumblings and ruminations of our shared ministry with Christ.  I will present part one of the message here:

“Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”[i]

 This refrain from a popular children’s song demonstrates the inclusion of racial identity, the connecting of God’s love to social categories. This song teaches the little children that they are loved according to and/or in spite of the social coloring of their skin. I say social coloring because there are no physically colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow or white people. It is not seen. Instead, we believe it by faith. We walk by race, not by sight.[ii] And this song splits our vision, divides us and makes us two people— children of color and children of God.

This song also suggests that the love of Jesus and thereby the love of God is determined, informed and influenced by the social construct of race, that God shook and agreed to the social contract of race. We are, in fact, teaching our children to think that Jesus loves them not because the Bible tells us so but in the way that race tells us to.

And it is our singing, our worship that divides us. When asked about our sacred Sunday morning segregation, many people will say as a matter of fact that we worship differently. It’s a matter of taste, of cultural preference. But, no one really wants to say it. Race divides us— believers and churches, “the light of the world”[iii] and “the Body of Christ.”[iv]

Race. The mere mentioning of the word makes us uncomfortable. We hope that no one mentions or acknowledges it, that it rides off into the sunset of history never to be seen or heard from again. Regrettably, we don’t know what to say when it comes to race.

It confuses and unravels us, shames and unnerves us. People who serve the Word- God, the speaking God, are afraid of a word that we created. More specifically, race came from the mouths and minds of Enlightenment thinkers. Practitioners of this scientific racism attached humanity to the “Great Chain of Being,” introduced a second Genesis narrative[v] to account for the different cultures and measured skulls[vi] in order to categorize humanity: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. But, race was not in the beginning with God.[vii]

So, how did we forget that our theology matters and should not be offered up to the false god of race or its progeny, that our spiritual identity in Christ should not be sacrificed for a racial identity though it provides social acceptance, privilege and security? How did we forget that in order for the Church to work, we cannot accept identities that work against our new nature in Jesus the Christ? How do we now focus on spiritual formation when we have invested so heavily in the social realities of race? Bishop William Willimon asked, “What are we to do with a church that speaks to people on the basis of their gender or race, all the while baptizing them on the basis of Galatians 3.28?[viii]

And where did our theology go wrong? Who gave us the directions to race and why do we continue to follow them when in search of identity? We’re going around in circles, coming back to “the color line” because no one wants to stop and say that we are lost, that we have lost the Way.

_____________________________

[i] The words are by C. Herbert Woolston (1856-1927). The music was written by George Root and was originally for an American civil war song according to http://www.cyberhymnal.org.

[ii] This is a play on Second Corinthians 5.7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

[iii] John 8.12

[iv] First Corinthians 12.27

[v] Gossett, 45-47.

[vi] This science was known as anthropometry.

[vii] Genesis 1.1; John 1.1

[viii] William H. Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 7.


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Gungor’s God is not a man

I am attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks conference in Decatur, Georgia.  Hosted by the First Baptist Church of Decatur, it is my first time at the event created primarily for ministers of education and spiritual formation.  I expected to learn new things but I was not prepare to hear something new in worship.

By this, I don’t mean a new song though it is a new song to me.  I did not expect to hear these words in worship.  Hallelujah is expected.  Amen comes standard.  In fact, at the end of song, there were no applause.  We all just sat in silence and in the truth of it.  Throughout the song, we just looked at each other in shock.  Did he just sing that?

Okay.  I’ve said enough about it.  I’ll just let you listen to it for yourself.  I present to you, “God is not a man.”


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Christianity Today discusses racial microaggression

enhanced-buzz-19395-1386285370-28Racial microaggression is not a new term but has recently gained popularity as persons look for ways to discuss experiences of racism that are not overt or perhaps were unintended.  While America is not a post- racial country, many of its citizens certainly have come a long way in their thinking.  Or, have we?

Have we merely internalized racism, making its lens our vision of humanity?  There are those who think that our beliefs concerning race remain the same while the practices have changed.  Kristie Anyabwile describes racial microaggression and outlines how little comments and questions create problems in relationships.  But, she does not end the conversation there.  She offers ways in which to reconcile the matter in her work “No Offense: The Dilemma over Unintended Racism.”


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Carry on

images-1Carry on! It can be a hurtful routine and a harmful practice. Pretending as if we are not hurt or in need of assistance, acting like we are not tired and can take whatever comes our way or is thrown at us can be costly. The strong and silent type, we grin and bear. We laugh when we feel like crying. We stand tall when we want to cower in a corner or pull the bed sheets over our heads.

We wave off the questions, the concern, the involvement of others. “I’m fine.” “It’s okay.” But, the weight of life will crush us, squeeze us, choke the very life out of us if we do not “cast all of our cares on God” (First Peter 5.7).

As I look closer, I realize that so many of us are not smiling but gasping, that we are not waving but flailing our arms, trying to flag someone down to help us. We really can’t take it anymore and we don’t know how we can carry on.

It is so easy for us to wear the mask of perfection, to act like we’ve got it all together. But, trouble will crack our masks. Trouble will cause the ground beneath us to shake and relationships to crumble. Unstable, we cry out for help.

And Jesus answers us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28, NRSV). You don’t have to carry on; just carry it to Him. Give it to Jesus.

 


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Opposites do not attract

imgres-1I know that my work is hard, that my words are difficult, that a race-less gospel can be hard to believe and believe in.  I believe it and initially, I was afraid to say it.

It was not that I felt it was wrong, that I was not “fully persuaded,” that I thought that I might be disproven but that I knew it was right.  I knew that race was wrong and that God was right about me.  I knew that they were opposites though so many have spent so much time trying to make them agreeable.

Some say, “Opposites attract” but that does not hold true when it comes to God.  God is light.  He does not attract darkness; in fact, “there is no darkness in him at all” (First John 1.5).  God is love.  He is not attracted to hate: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar” (First John 4.20).  And the opposite of God is not good and should not be attractive to Christians: “Love not the world neither the things that are in the world” (First John 2.15).

Race and God are opposites.  They do not support each other and I’ll prove it to you.  God says, “Love your neighbor.”  Race says, “Only if they look like you.”  God created us and said that humanity was “very good.”  Race says, “Only socially colored white people are good.”  God calls for believers to dwell together in unity.  Race tells us, “It is best that we live and worship separately.”  God says, “Be reconciled.”  Race says, “That’s impossible.  There is too much work to be done.  Too much injustice.  Too much time has passed.”  God says, “What about my Son?”  Race says, “He’s not enough or he’s too much.  He’s perfect.  We are not.  We cannot live as he did.”

Race opposes our faith and does not challenge us to obey the commandments, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus but to walk away and join the crowd, the culture, our people.  That is the opposite of what God calls us to do.


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Proving Love

urlLove is believed to be the most overused word in our vocabulary. We love to say it. We love how it makes us feel. We want to be in the presence of love, to feel loved, to receive love. We want things to love and people to love us. Thinking that this love cannot hurt us, we fall into it— no safety net, no escape plan, no strings attached.

Love. Love. Love. We say it a lot. But, I am starting to believe that while it is overused, it is not overworked. No, love is not employed as often as it is spoken. No clocked in overtime, here. In fact, I think that it is easier said than done.

For love is both a practice and the Presence. It is a verb, an action word and it is a Person because “God is Love,” the One who “lives, moves and has His being” in love (cf. First John 4.8; Acts 17.28).

Love is not just said; it is done. Love is just not spoken; it is proven: “God proved his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8).

It is not just talk. It is not just a word. It is a promise, a commitment. It may leave our lips but it should stick to us, ask something of us. There should be an action on our part that accompanies its profession: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3.16).

Everything that God does is from love. In fact, God is the very address of love. I would go so far as to say that if he, she or it does not lead us right back to God that one might have strayed, gotten lost, missed Love. Wrong turn. Wrong house. Wrong person.

And is He really the Love that we are talking about, the Love that we are seeking to find ourselves in, this capital L, Love? Or is it something smaller, easier to believe, manage and say?

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