Category Archives: Race and Faith Formation

Martin Luther King on being a transformed nonconformist

“Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

| Romans 12.2

“‘Do not conform’ is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo.  Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three. …

In spite of the prevailing tendency to conform, we, as Christians, have a mandate to be nonconformists.  The Apostle Paul, who knew the inner realities of the Christian faith counseled, ‘Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’  We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility not social respectability.  We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty. …

This command not to conform comes, not only from Paul, but also from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

When an affluent society would coax us to believe that happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our homes, and the expensiveness of our clothes, Jesus reminds us, ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.’

When we would yield to the temptation of the world rife with sexual promiscuity and gone wild with the philosophy of self- expression, Jesus tells us that ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’

When we refuse to suffer for righteousness and choose to follow the path of comfort rather than conviction, we hear Jesus say, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

When in our spiritual pride we boast of having reached the peak of moral excellence, Jesus warns, ‘The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’

When we, through compassionless detachment and arrogant individualism, fail to respond to the needs of he underprivileged, the Master says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.’

When we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up into hate toward our enemies, Jesus teaches, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’

Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity. …

Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, the institution which has often served to crystallize, conserve and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.  The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God.  Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical.  Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained- glass windows.  Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), 8-10, 11.

Books can take you places

Image result for ruth haley barton life together in christAs many of us gear up for summer vacations with flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen, I want to remind us of the journey offered in books.  Words can take us places.  Within their pages are invitations to journey not just to distant and magical lands but to places closer to home, to undiscovered holy sites within us.  Dependent upon our imagination, openness and receptivity to the Spirit, books offer more than an escape but a way in to the deeper places.

Recently, a book offered just that for me.  I was looking for a spiritual locale but not sure how to get there or if there was a guide.  The words of Ruth Haley Barton provided the transportation.  She writes in Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, “Community is the most ‘overpromised and underdelivered’ aspect of the church today. … There is another overpromised, underdelivered aspect of the church today that is equally disillusioning, and that is the promise of spiritual transformation. … I made the disheartening discovery that it is possible to hang around other Christians a lot, meet regularly for worship, study our Bibles, join a church and even call ourselves a community but not change at all in ways that count.”

She was not putting words in my mouth.  She was speaking for me, repeating what I had been saying to myself.  The disappointment and disillusionment were palpable and I was not alone in this feeling.  What a relief!  Because the work of Christ must not be confused with Christ’s witness in us.  Church attendance should not be confused with Christ’s being present and tending to us.

The disconnect between Christ and transformation that causes me to groan most is that of the social construct of race.  That we, as Christians, continue to color in his body, that we allow the social construct of race to segregate his members brings deep grief and disappointment.  The power of Christ’s resurrection and our baptism into his new life is mocked here.

Still it must be said and said again, there is no community as ‘races.’  No one holy race.  No one human race.  For race cancels out community and gets in the way of our seeing all as humans.  The social construct of race says that there is no transformation.  We are only and always socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white people.  The stereotypes speak for us.

And to make believing harder, we have no faith that God can change us when it comes to the social construct of race.  The reach of Christ’s cross falls short here.  But, it is simply impossible to be God’s people and colored people.

***

I have a deep longing for transformation in community.  I want very much to experience life in Christ in ways previously unexplored and unexpressed.  I want to be a new creature, changed by my travels with Christ.  Returning home not with trinkets from my daily walk but testimonies of the difference that Christ has made in my life.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I want my heart to burn when Christ speaks (c.f. Luke 24.32).

I carry a collection of what I refer to as journey words.  These are words that I have met along the way, that I have run into or have been introduced to, that speak to where I am supposed to be.  Not only are they a source of encouragement but they keep me on track.  These journey words remind me of my identity and place in the world.

Barton’s book has affirmed the aim of my life.  More than the trip of a lifetime, I believe that I will have arrived where I belong when I am in a community that is transformed, with me as its first member.

Now carrying journey books in addition to journey words, my bag will be much heavier but the load will be lighter.  Knowing that there are persons walking ahead of me, who have not only been there but remain has taken my spiritual life to new heights.  I will not return the same.

 

 

Not Your Average Identity

During this season of Lent, a kind of forty- day challenge for some believers, I have been reflecting on surrender and what we mean when we say, “I give up.”  In the practice of our faith, according to the terms and conditions of our discipleship, giving up is a good thing.  Dare I say, it is the goal.  “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16.24).

In our surrender to the Spirit of God and the denial of self- gratification, we practice a little of Christ’s death.  In denying our carnal selves, we accept more of the spiritual life of Jesus.  Because he denied himself on a daily basis in service to humanity and as a servant of God’s will: “not my will but yours” (Luke 22.42).

He could have been full of himself.  He could have touted his successes.  He could have pointed to the number of angels that follow him.  He could have boasted of all his creations– but he didn’t.

But, the social construct of race does just the opposite.  It puts the confidence and the change in our flesh.  Whether privilege or powerless, it is a work outside of the Spirit of God.  Race says because of the social coloring of skin, beige, black, brown, red, yellow, white, we are valuable and worthy.

But, if we are following the social construct of race, we are walking in the opposite direction of Jesus Christ.  Race puts our flesh up front and says that if we are this “color,” then we are good, acceptable, blessed, righteous, pure, upright.  This is heresy.

It is not your average, run of the mill identity but competes with our identity in Christ Jesus.

Race say that there is no change, no room for improvement.  We are who the social coloring of our skin says that we are.  There is no wiggle room but these are our marching orders.  We can only fall in line as there is no place for those who would not surrender to the color- code.  But, we cannot be a disciple of Christ and race?  Either you are going to be a color or a Christian but you cannot be both– because Christ’s is not your average identity.

Barna Reports “Racial Divides in Spiritual Practice”

Image result for report clip art

“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’ clock on Sunday morning.”

{Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.}

Last month, Barna released a report on the differences in spiritual progress according to the social construct of race.  I had planned to discuss this sooner but was distracted, namely by the protests after our most recent presidential election among other things.  Still, the question is timely as I had no answer then and I do not know the answer now: “Why do lingering divisions exist in the Church, the very communities built on the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation?”  Why can’t we practice what we profess?  What prevents us from forgiving and coming together?  Why do we practice self- imposed segregation as it is no longer the law of the land?  Christ stretched his hands out on a cross to save us from our sins but we cannot extend our hand out to greet a new neighbor who may be from a different socioeconomic background or culture.

As the country reels and rocks after ICE raids of undocumented immigrants lead to more protests, the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries along with false bomb threats to their houses of worship, I am looking for stability in a sacred space.  But, I cannot find it there as there are new reports that the majority of socially colored white evangelicals support the ban issued by President Trump.  How do they interpret the Bible’s call that we welcome the stranger?  “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23.9, NIV).  But, if you do not see yourself as a foreigner or have never been a position of oppression then this may be hard to understand.

More than the numbers, I am concerned about the names, the stories and the reasons for which this report is true.  Reading the same Bible, I understand that due to our experiences, education and personal expectations we will not always agree on its interpretation or personal application.  But, when there are expressed commandments and callings for the ministry of reconciliation, how do we say no or ignore it?

While culture may explain the differences in our worship style, it does nothing to make sense of our segregation.  Called the Body of Christ, we are dismembered in our gathering as beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white churches.  What will it take to bring us together?

Click here to read the full report.

If we think that God is ‘a white man’

Image result for God is a white man“God is a white man.”  This is not a new declaration but an old reduction made by persons who argue against a belief in the God of Christianity because in the name of this God, persons have stolen, enslaved, sold, raped, murdered, pillaged and annihilated indigenous cultures of the earth.  They surmise, God must be white because they are not being punished but are getting away with it.  It is a judgment against God, now viewed as giving them a pass and their privilege, labeled whiteness.  I suppose that many of us are looking for an Old Testament demonstration of who God is for and who God is against.

But, as Christians, it is not whiteness that saves any of us but the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our belief in whiteness suggests that there is within some of us, literally and quite physically on us, the ability to save us. Our faith in the deliverance of whiteness nullifies the salvific work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  It is whiteness– not his blood– that makes the difference.

“God is a white man.”  This is also a statement of faith for those who believe that they have a divine right to dominate, oppress and colonize other people, that “the earth is theirs and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24.1).  It is the belief that socially colored white people were made by God to dehumanize other people.  This is a faith that denies the inherent worth of all human beings and the unconditional love that God has for all people.  And it is about the goodness of people, particularly socially colored white people, not Jesus and the two are not synonymous.

“God is a white man.”  If we think this is true, then we are saying that God is in cahoots with the socially constructed white race, that those who oppress are all- powerful because it is usurped from a divine source.  If we think that God is a white man, then God created some and not all in the Divine image.  The rest of us are rejects, having no place with God or humanity.  It also suggests then that God has a holy ax to grind against “them” and we are being used to cut them off– because they are not the right people because they are not white people.

But, while there is social support for this idea, there is no scriptural support for this confession.  God took on the form of a human being but God is not a human being.  Consequently, when we say that God is a white man, we are in fact interpreting God through the lens of race, making God one of us, writing another salvation narrative: “For God so hated socially colored beige, black, brown, yellow and red people, that God sent socially colored white people into the world.”

That’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s not the God of the Bible, of history, experience and revelation.  That’s our racialized imaginations running wild.