Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A few more random thoughts on race

King David wrote (recorded in Psalms 14:1 and 53:1), “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

My personal definition of a fool: A Black atheist. Let me explain:

Black people were legally held as slaves in the Southern United States until 1865. I am convinced that slavery was, ultimately, not ended by the Civil War, or the Emancipation Proclamation, or the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and certainly not by President Abraham Lincoln. Slavery in the U.S. was ended by God. God moved in answer to the prayers of countless Black slaves over the 200+ years Blacks were held in bondage in the U.S. I have no confidence in the supposed goodwill of sinful human beings. White people would not have willingly let Black people go free (Don’t fool yourself; you’re not that good). Apart from the sovereign hand of God, Black people would still be enslaved today.

This is why Black people ought to believe in God. He’s the best Friend, Advocate, Defender, Deliverer, and Savior Black people ever had. And, I’m not talking about the Muslim’s Allah. If I remember my history correctly, it was Muslims who delivered their fellow Africans over to Europeans in order to enslave them. Allah put Black folks in bondage! No, no, no! It was the triune God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—the only true God—who set Black people free.

A Black person who doesn’t believe in this God is, therefore, a “double” fool—a fool because God says you are (Psalms 14 and 53), and a fool because you don’t have enough sense to realize to Whom you owe your freedom.


Is it possible to embrace evangelicalism and Reformed Christianity and still maintain one’s identity as a Black person? I think it’s possible, but not without purposeful effort. Evangelical pressure to assimilate is strong. The models presented in books, workshop and in seminaries are culturally White. The standard held up as ideal is culturally White. Think about the personalities (pastors and authors and schools) that represent the movement. Think about the churches. Think about the music. Think about the worship styles. It all comes across as very “White”. Just read the blogs! Most of these writers can’t relate to the average, working class, Black person. They’re not addressing the kind of people I’ve been talking about this month.

I embrace Reformed/Calvinistic theology because I believe it’s biblical and true, but it will never sell in the Black community, wrapped in White culture. If a Black person uncritically adopts all that currently comprises Reformed evangelicalism, he or she runs the risk of being no longer able to relate to and communicate with Black people. It is a blessing that there are some Black preachers out there who are trying to propagate Reformed theology among Black people. But, there’s still too much White cultural baggage attached to it. I think we could be so much more effective if we could also mix that biblical theology with some Black culture.


The most forgiving people I’ve ever heard about were Black people.

For example, my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda Duncan, was a slave in Alabama, owned by the Armistead family. Malinda died in 1929, at the age of 86, and I’ve visited her grave in the Armistead Cemetery (on land set aside by the Armistead family for their slaves to bury their dead). Grandma (my great grandmother) told me that Malinda, who was her paternal grandmother, would tell her about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her “mistress”, Mrs. Armistead. It appears Mr. Armistead was prone to fooling around with his female slaves (which, obviously, was very common—just look at how many shades of color “Black” people come in). Mrs. Armistead, as a result, was very jealous and spiteful toward her female slaves. Well, one day Mrs. Armistead got a hold of my great-great-great grandmother (who was only a girl at the time), and burned her against the side of her neck with a poker taken from the fireplace. Grandma personally saw this scar. Grandma said when she was a little girl she used to cry as her grandmother would tell her about how the mistress burned her neck. After the slaves were free, and Mrs. Armistead was old, widowed and sick, and near death, Malinda went back and took care of her mistress (I assume until the old lady died).

The words of Scripture come to mind (Proverbs 25:21-22):

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

Can’t you also hear the words of Jesus? (Matthew 5:43-45):

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I ask you, would your Christianity enable you to do what my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda, did?


Speaking of the old Black folks and church: The old folks believed that if you were going to “have church” you ought to really “have church”. They weren’t casual about their worship. God had been too good to them to keep it bottled up inside. Church was the place to let it all out! An old gospel song they used to love to sing at my home church went like this:

I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody…
I said I wasn’t gonna run for Jesus…
I said I wasn’t gonna shout for joy, but I
Couldn’t keep it to myself
What the Lord has done for me.

Then, there was the refrain:

You oughta been there
When He saved my soul.
You oughta been there
When He put my name on the role.
Then I started walking,
I started talking,
I started singing,
I started shouting
About what the Lord has done.

When you think about the hardships, the heartaches, the pain… I believe contemporary folks would go insane under similar life pressures! It was unheard of, back in the day, for a Black person to go to a counselor or psychologist. So, how did they mentally and emotionally survive? They survived because the Lord was their psychologist and counselor and psychiatrist! They shouted and hollered, prayed and cried, walked and ran, and sang and moaned, until they felt better! They could go on for another week, facing racism and poverty and discrimination and deprivation every day of their lives, yet persevering in spite of their circumstances, because they had a friend in Jesus. It’s no secret that Black folks’ favorite verse in “Amazing Grace” has always been verse number three:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Twas grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This reminds me of the last time my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, attended church. When he was about to turn 100 years of age, the very day before his birthday, our church had a celebration for him during the Sunday worship service. That was Sunday, August 1, 1971. I have only a few memories from that day (I was only 8), but they still stand out vividly in my mind.

Grandpa Duncan was old and feeble by this time and was no longer able to attend church. Since he wasn’t able to sit through an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service, it was decided that the family would bring him to church at noon—half-way through the service. I remember the ushers escorting Grandpa Duncan into the church. On his way down the center aisle to the front pew where the family was seated, Grandpa Duncan saw an old friend, Mr. Charlie Ingram. Mr. Ingram was no longer able to attend church either, as he was about, I think, 96-years-old by this time, and blind and feeble; but he wanted to come and help celebrate his old friend’s birthday. Grandpa Duncan saw Mr. Ingram and the two old friends embraced right there in the center aisle and greeted each other warmly, striking up a conversation!

I also remember Grandpa Duncan partaking of communion that day. In Methodism, we knelt at the altar rail to take communion, and so, Grandpa Duncan was helped to his knees. Well, Grandpa Duncan “got happy” down there on his knees, and he was crying and verbally rejoicing in the Lord. The old man couldn’t hold it any longer. I can only imagine what was on his mind.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word, my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Random thoughts on race

How often do you think about your race? I’m not absolutely sure, but I think that, at least since college, in one way or another, I probably think about my race nearly every day, if only for a moment. In one way or another, daily, I’m reminded that I am Black. To me, this is not a negative thing; it’s just the way it is. Living in a race-conscious society has a way of making one race-conscious, especially if your race is viewed negatively by that society.


Pa Bill and Grandma (my great grandparents) had “good hair.” For the uninitiated, “good hair” is hair that blows in the wind, hair that can be moved and styled with a fine-toothed comb. In other words, “good” hair was hair that was close or similar in texture to White people’s hair. As far as I can tell, Black people have always judged themselves in relation to White people. The straighter the hair and the lighter the skin, the better. Of course, you know, that’s just how Whites judged Blacks. Blacks, as a race, simply adopted the value system of their oppressors.


My great-great grandmother, “Grandma Duncan”, was a very fair-skinned Black woman. Her mother was a “Mulatto”—the daughter of the White slave master by his Black slave (hence my great grandma’s “good” hair). I never had a chance to know Grandma Duncan, as she died in 1946. However, I did know Grandpa Duncan’s second wife, “Miss” Colona. Colona Duncan was also a very fair-skinned Black woman. She died a year before Grandpa Duncan. I’m told Grandpa Duncan didn’t want to marry “no dark-skinned woman”. If you remember his picture (seated in the center), you know Grandpa Duncan was dark-skinned. What was his rejection of dark-skinned Black women, but a form of self-hatred? You must understand, however, that this is what societal racism does to a person’s self-image. It almost makes one want to weep for the damage that has been done to Black people in America.

By the way, my wife happens to be fair-skinned (and, yes, she has “good” hair, also).
I think Grandpa Duncan would have been pleased.


I’ve been called a “Nigger”, in my hearing, five times in my life: once in 5th grade (by a “Navy brat”, a child whose parent was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base; not a native North Chicagoan); once in 7th grade (by another “Navy brat”); at a summer music camp, when I was almost 14; by one of my (short-lived) college roommates, as he grabbed me by the collar and shoved me against the wall; and, when I taught in a middle school, by a student in a crowded cafeteria. With such a crowd, I couldn’t identify who said it, although I know it was directed at me since I was the only Black person in the entire school building (and the only Black adult that I ever saw in the entire school district!). My experiences have taught me that “Nigger” is the weapon-of-choice for weak, cowardly, White people. When they can’t think of anything legitimate or intelligent to say, they always reach back for that word.


“Nigger” is used by Black people, too. My great grandparents used the word not infrequently, when referring to certain “choice” Black people. And, I’ll tell you right now, it was never meant as a compliment. However, my wife (who is a public high school teacher) informs me that some young Black people now throw around the word almost as a term of endearment, thereby encouraging a few White youngsters to use the word, also…and not just in reference to Black people! I can only shake my head in disbelief. It reminds me of that stupid question I’ve heard an occasional White person ask: “Why is it all right for Black people to say ‘Nigger’ and not White people?” I always feel like asking, “Why are you worried about it? Do you want to use the word? And why would you want to use it?”


Don’t refer to sin as “black”. Sin is not black. The Bible says, “Though your sins are like scarlet…though they are red like crimson” (Isaiah 1:18). Sin is not black; sin is red.


I don’t want any pictures of Jesus. I don’t even picture Jesus in my mind when I pray. Any picture that I, or anyone else, would come up with would be inaccurate, and unworthy of the Savior. One thing I do know: Jesus wasn’t blond-haired and blue-eyed! Most everything in our society says that White is better, prettier, more handsome, etc. The last thing Black people need is some picture telling them that even Jesus was a European!


Two Scripture passages every Black child ought to know and memorize (and, of course, there are thousands more):

Psalm 139:14a“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Because every Black child needs to know that they are a beautiful creation of God.

Romans 8:31b“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Because every Black child needs to know that if they stay on God’s side, it won’t matter who hates you.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 8b)

My family’s relationship with Christ Church has not been one-sided, however. I think it was crucial that the church reached out to me and my family and showed a genuine interest in us, but I think it was also important that we made the effort to become active participants in our church.

First, my wife and I were willing to learn and adapt to the culture of our new church. We knew that when we decided to attend Christ Church that it wasn’t going to be the same as it had been in a Black church, so we adjusted accordingly. For instance, as a trained musician, I have strong opinions about music (you can check my profile for my musical preferences). Yet, when in Rome… I’ve learned to like some of the contemporary, rock-influenced, worship songs. As far as songs I don’t like, I’ve learned to live at peace with them. And songs I don’t like…well, at least I can tolerate them. The point is, you can’t have everything your way. (This is why I don’t understand the whole “worship wars” thing. Why can’t the “contemporary” crowd learn and sing a few hymns? And what’s the problem with the “traditional” crowd learning a few contemporary songs? Do you think I just love all the music in a White church? I know from experience, singing something you don’t like won’t kill you.)

Also, my family and I took the initiative to get involved in the life of the church. My wife joined the choir. I joined a men’s small group. Early on, we chose to attend an adult Bible class. We took the initiative to become plugged into the life of the church. In my opinion, one cannot stand apart and complain that “no one asked me”. Don’t wait until you’re asked; sign up! Now, if you’re not accepted once you show up, that’s another thing. But, at least try to get involved.

If people on both sides of America’s race wall are willing, I think there are things that both sides can learn from each other. For example, I remember once being asked to give the prayer before the offertory. I had prayed publicly in church for years, but this time was different. The instructions I had been given days before were something like this: “Remember to pray about this, and don’t forget about that…but just pray as you feel led…and you have about 2 minutes!” I was so nervous! In the Black Church, you really do pray as you feel led. And then, of course, Black folks (in the best Black contexts) give you immediate verbal feedback. When people are talking back, then you know the people are really with you. This is true whether praying, singing or preaching. And once you know the people are with you, you stay right “there”, because the people want to feel what you’re doing. Spontaneity in the Black Church really is spontaneous. But, I’ve learned there is also such a thing as “planned spontaneity”.

I hope I’ve been able to also teach the people of Christ Church that it’s quite all right to depart a bit from the “script” on occasion (within reason, of course). And it’s always a joy to lead the congregation in song, and watch them put down their worship folders and clap while they sing. Some people seemed so delighted to be given “permission” to actually move while they worship!

I don’t want to make all this sound easier than it is. I’m sure my propensity to take more than my allotted time when ministering through music in the worship service can try the patience of worship planners. But, then, I sometimes find the tight worship schedule constricting and Spirit-quenching. After all, in the Black Church, you just sing (or pray or preach) until you get it out of your system!

All this calls for humility and grace. People must be willing to sometimes lay aside their preferences for the sake of others. If any people should be able to exercise humility and be willing to extend grace to others, it should be believers in Jesus Christ. This is why racism within the Body of Christ is particularly despicable.

Has everything been perfect at Christ Church? No, but I’ve not come across a perfect church, yet. Have you? I think, however, if people are willing to at least make the effort to really get to know and be involved with people who are not like them, and if churches take seriously Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”, it will go a long way toward bringing Christians of differing races together.
The apostle John was given a vision of the racial, ethnic and cultural harmony that will exist in heaven (Revelation 7:9-12):

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
We might as well start practicing now!
To read the previous posts of this series, click the following links:

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 8a)

Okay, let’s try to wrap this up.

The situation in the Church across America today is pretty much just like it was almost 50 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. reportedly called Sunday morning at 11 o’clock the most segregated hour of the week. Yet my family and I have found fellowship in Christ Church, a predominantly White, evangelical church located in Lake Forest, a wealthy suburb on Chicago’s North Shore. What are some things about Christ Church that helped this Black family feel welcomed?

First of all, the people of Christ Church treated us as if they were truly happy we chose to worship with them. In other word, they made us feel welcome. Now, I must admit, it did help that I knew a few young people there who were or had been in one of the choirs at the local high school and that their parents recognized me from the high school choral concerts. But, I did not know and was not recognized by the majority of people; they simply communicated genuine interest in my family. At some other evangelical churches we visited, it was possible to enter the building, stay for worship and leave without having to talk to anyone, other than a simple, “Hello” or “Good morning.” Even though I really didn’t want to be known or recognized, in the long run, I think it still mattered to me that people at Christ Church took notice of us.

Secondly, we were accepted as full participants in the life of the church. For instance, my wife is frequently up-front as a part of the worship team or as part of the choir. I’ve also stood up-front reading Scripture, leading in prayer and assisting with the Lord’s Supper. Many times, I’ve sat at the piano or organ providing music for worship, or singing a solo, or leading the congregation in song. Even my oldest son has been up-front, playing the piano for offertory or filling in for the bass guitarist in the worship band. My point is, we were asked to participate in these ways. We were approached first. The church has demonstrated a willingness to have people of different races and ethnicities and cultures involved in visible ways in the life of the church. A significant development, which I believe illustrates this openness in attitude, is the recent inclusion of a Black brother in Christ to serve on the elder board.

Another example comes to mind. The church used to ask a gospel choir from a nearby Christian college, composed of mostly Black students, to come sing during our worship services perhaps once per year. A few years ago, someone in the leadership got the idea that, instead of bringing in an outside group, perhaps we could assemble a choir from within the congregation. I was asked if I would be willing to lead this group. I consented. So, two or three time a year, I direct an ensemble of volunteers from within Christ Church, that sings Black gospel music…in this predominantly White evangelical church in Lake Forest! You know, coming from North Chicago (which happens to be just two towns north of Lake Forest), this still blows my mind. You have to realize that Lake Forest is at the very top of the economic ladder in our county; North Chicago is at the bottom. I think to myself, “If people who knew me 20 years ago could only see me now! I never imagined such a thing!” But, you know what? It has worked. And, I believe God has blessed this gospel choir as a ministry within Christ Church.

Performing Black music in a White context has been educational experience for all involved. As a choral musician, I’ve had to think harder about gospel music and how it’s sung than I ever had to. What came naturally, without explanation, in a Black church environment (for instance, clapping on beats 2 and 4, or swaying in time to the music), I’ve had to explain and teach. Therefore, I’ve had to think in detail about how these things are done so that I can teach others how to do them (I’ve never thought so hard about how to clap one’s hands or sway to the beat in all my life!). I also try to make Black gospel music a vehicle for worship for those who didn’t grow up with it. This means thinking deeply and biblically about lyrics and trying to explain how worship is expressed in a Black cultural context. The last thing I want is for gospel music to become some novelty to be gawked at and exploited, but not taken seriously (Ooo, Black music is so much fun!). I want to help White people genuinely worship with the music of another racial culture. I think we’ve been successful at that. On occasion, I’ve brought in some Black friends from outside Christ Church to sing in the gospel choir. I see this as one small way I can help introduce Christians from both sides of the Church’s racial divide to each other. It’s a very small gesture, but I hope it helps to get believers to look beyond our familiar church surroundings and realize that, in Christ, believers of differing races share in common the most important thing: a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s stop right here for a reading break. After you give your eyes a rest, you can continue reading here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Another one for preachers

Something to read, think and pray about

Here are three articles that I thought were worth reading, concerning some current issues in American life. You may also want to think and pray about these matters.
From Al Mohler—
From Tim Challies—

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How to make room in your ministry

I received the following comment on my blog the other day:
Would you be willing to give some wisdom to those of us who've begun black reformed churches with the hope of making a more direct impact within the greater black community[?]. For example, though I've been extremely blessed to have gifted, godly and reformed musicians I know that's not always the case for small black reformed churches. Also it seems that almost all of us could use gifted brothers like yourself to help share the load with teaching, preaching and just being an example.

You mentioned that the leadership in black evangelical churches tended to be autocratic and controlling so perhaps you could give some wisdom re: that.

Basically, it's my conviction that black reformed churches will especially need those brothers and sisters who've embraced reformed theology and practice to help us in our press to reform our church and culture. So how can we make room in our ministries for your presence and gifts?

Thanks for your help.
Here is my response:
I found the pastoral leadership in the two Black evangelical churches that my family and I became involved with to be controlling and autocratic. In both cases, the senior pastors were also the founding pastors. Maybe, that was part of the problem. Both pastors were highly protective of their “baby”—i.e., the church they started. The leadership philosophy leaned strongly toward “My way or the highway”. Everything was fine as long as everyone agreed, but if someone happened to disagree or hold a differing opinion (and I’m not talking about central doctrinal issues, I’m just talking about peripheral issues or differing opinions as to methodology), that person was considered not “submissive” to leadership, and viewed as a threat. I feel that made for a very unhealthy church environment—spiritually and emotionally. There were no questions, you just agreed with the pastor. Period. Now, I can understand why founding pastors would feel protective (and shepherds should protect the sheep), but these pastors, I think, took things too far. They came mighty close to crossing the fine line from merely protecting the flock to trying to control people. In my opinion, this kind of aggressive over-protectiveness will drive away those same brothers of whom you speak, who could potentially help share the load these Black pastors bear.

It seems to me that Black pastors (indeed, all pastors, whatever their race or ethnicity) must come to terms with the fact that their church is not their church, it’s Christ’s church, and its success or failure ultimately depends upon God, not them. Also, there needs to be a greater appreciation of the gifts/people that God chooses to give to the local Body; they shouldn’t be viewed by the pastor as potential threats or competition. In other words, Black pastors must deal with their feelings of insecurity. The pastoral leadership at the mostly White church that my family attends doesn’t view me as a threat. I’m free to hold differing opinions from the leadership on issues that are non-essential. They don’t confuse unity with uniformity. Maybe, that’s because our church is non-denominational and our membership consists of people from various church backgrounds—or no church background. I’m not sure. The sad thing is, I’ve never, in my adult life, experienced this kind of emotionally secure leadership in any Black church of which I’ve been a member. My observation has been that many Blacks just don’t trust other Blacks. Maybe this is just a “Black thing”—a hold-over from slavery. I don’t know. Whatever the cause, it’s a tragedy when this kind of distrust prevails in Black churches that are supposed to be evangelical and Bible-believing. This issue, I think, needs to be honestly faced by Black evangelical pastors: Are other Black brothers and sisters allowed to come along side you to help you without you driving them off because you feel threatened by their presence?

The thought occurs to me that we are most prone to try to control others when we forget that God is in control. We can’t fill the role of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life: The Spirit is Lord (see 2 Corinthians 3:17a). I think when we get this truth into our heads and hearts, then we’ll be ready to make room for the presence and gifts of our brothers and sisters. When we’re truly ready to receive our brothers and sisters, then I think we’ll be able to effectively pray that the Lord would send laborers (see Matthew 9:35-38), trusting Him to send the very people we need to do the work He’s called us to do.

I hope I’ve been of some help. May God bless you as you follow Him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

“Be holy…”

Pastor Josh Harris has posted four helpful teachings on holiness that you can read right here, here, here and here.

“In demonstration of the Spirit and of power”

I think many of us evangelicals and—dare I say—especially those of us who are Reformed, yield too much ground, too often, to the Pentecostals and charismatics. We have our correct theology, correct doctrine, correct forms of worship, but where is the life, the power, the “fire”? We try, with our narrow views, to confine God between the leather covers of our Bibles (and this is absolutely not an attack against the sufficiency of Scripture) but, God is greater and infinitely more vast than the physical pages of our Bibles. The Holy Spirit is not constrained.

That’s why I appreciate this stirring quote from the late Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), taken from his book, Revival. It is posted at Adrian Warnock’s blog. Of particular interest to me is what Dr. Lloyd-Jones says about the preacher and his need for the power of the Spirit. Here is a part of the passage (From D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival [Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1987], p. 124.):

“The outstanding temptation—the besetting sin—of every preacher…is that after you have prepared your sermons you feel that all is well. You have your two sermons ready for Sunday. Well, that is all right. You have your notes, and you can speak, and you can deliver your message. But that is not preaching! That can be utterly useless. Oh, it may be entertaining, there may be a certain amount of intellectual stimulus and profit in it, but that is not preaching. Preaching is in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. And a man has to realize, after he has prepared his sermons, that however perfectly he may have done so, that it is all waste and useless unless the power of the Spirit comes upon it and upon him. He must pray for that.” (emphasis mine)
I have 3 preaching engagements coming up within the next month, and this is a great reminder for me. I recommend you read the entire quote. I think the good Doctor was on to something. Do we know the power of the Spirit in our life and ministry? It’s one thing to “accept it by faith”, and quite another to experience “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Monday, February 19, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 7)

Christ Church, where my family and I worship, is located in the community where for several years I worked as the choral teaching assistant in the local high school. In fact, the first time we visited our church it was in response to an invitation from one of my students at the high school. Her verbal invitation came at a pivotal time in our lives.

You see, I had been ordained a minister in the A.M.E. Church (what is termed, in Methodist polity, an “itinerant elder”). I considered my work at this high school to be a temporary measure until I received a pastoral appointment from the bishop. With the passage of time, however, I discovered that there were serious ethical and theological issues in the denomination. Finally, two years before visiting Christ Church the first time, my wife and I finally made the momentous decision to leave the A.M.E. Church. We found that we could not, before God, justify our continued participation in a denominational system which was so thoroughly and fundamentally corrupt. Neither did I want my sons to grow up thinking that this was what “church” is all about. Leaving the denomination was an extremely difficult decision for me to make because I knew that, for various reasons, leaving the denomination would, for all practical purposes, also mean the end of my service in pastoral ministry.

Immediately after leaving the A.M.E. Church, we united with a Black church in the area, which was affiliated with a predominantly White, evangelical denomination—in other words, a Black evangelical church. Almost immediately after uniting with this church, I was invited to join their staff as a part-time director of Christian education. This was a surprise, causing my wife and me to think that, perhaps, this was God’s way of opening another door to pastoral ministry. We were further encouraged when, after several months in this position, I was offered the opportunity to serve on a fulltime basis. After much prayer, thought and discussion with my wife and others, I accepted, saying “goodbye” to the high school where I had worked for 6 ½ years while waiting for the opportunity for pastoral ministry in the A.M.E. Church (which never materialized).

Initially, this opportunity with Black evangelicals appeared to be a Godsend. In addition to my work overseeing Christian education, I also had opportunities to preach and teach, as well as minister through music. Unfortunately, things started falling apart for me. I soon learned Christian education was absolutely not my calling. Although I had an excellent working relationship with my fellow workers in Christian education, and was well-appreciated by the membership in general, I just did not have the experience, training or vision to raise the program to the level expected by the senior pastor. I do think we accomplished some good, but I was struggling every week just to keep my head above water. Most serious of all was the fact that the senior pastor and I were just not meant to work together…at all! Ultimately, I was fired, and found myself, just 8 months after leaving a secure high school job, unemployed, a “failure” at ministry, and utterly disillusioned and angry with God.

While my wife and I were still reeling from this experience, we were approached with what seemed like a promising opportunity to plant an independent, evangelical church in the area. You'll need to know that a few years earlier, my wife and I had pursued the possibility of planting an evangelical church in the area, under the banner of the A.M.E. denomination. That effort failed because we were unable to find enough interested people. What made this new opportunity different was the fact that we were told there were a number of actual people in the area who shared our vision, who were just looking for someone to lead the effort. Again, this seemed like an opportunity sent from God. Sadly, however, this new opportunity fell apart, and fell apart in a manner which only served to deepen my feelings of disillusionment (By the way, shortly afterwards, a new church did come into being from this effort…just without me and my wife).

Severely battered, we considered uniting with another predominantly Black, evangelical church in the area. Almost from the start, I was given opportunities to preach, and we were warmly embraced by both the people and the pastor. It seemed like, perhaps, this was where the Lord wanted us to settle. However, I had some misgivings. I strongly sensed that if we became members, my relationship with this pastor would also go sour, just like it had at the other Black evangelical church. Since we wanted to remain on good terms with this pastor, we decided it would be best to look elsewhere (time has proven this was a very wise decision).

By this point, I was totally shaken, spiritually and emotionally. In God’s mercy, I eventually received back my old job at the high school, for which we were grateful. Yet, my mind was filled with nothing but questions as it concerned what I had felt was my calling to pastoral ministry among Black people. Every door has slammed shut. I was also sorely disappointed by Black churches (and Black evangelicals, for that matter). We had, basically, three types of churches to choose from among Black people: There were the traditional Black churches, where I’m certain I would have been welcomed aboard with open arms as one of a literal slew of preachers at each local church. However, these churches, by and large, were lacking in accurate, balanced, biblical teaching and preaching. Then there were the Word-of-Faith churches which had plenty of teaching; the problem was, it was false teaching. Finally, there were the Black evangelical churches, where there was fairly sound Bible teaching, but where the pastoral leadership tended to be controlling and autocratic. In light of our choices, my wife and I decided it was time to venture beyond the safety of culture (which hadn’t been so “safe”, after all) to find a spiritual fellowship where we truly felt at-home.

It was at this time that we responded to my student's invitation to visit Christ Church. After our experiences of the prior two years, I wasn’t interested in being involved, didn’t really want to be known and didn’t want to know anyone. However, remaining anonymous proved to be rather difficult, for I worked in this community. Parents of young people who were or had been students of mine were members of Christ Church. In fact, one of these parents happened to be the director of worship at Christ Church. She had seen and heard me play the piano (as the choral accompanist) while attending her child’s choral concerts at the high school. The worship director gradually lured me in. Playing along on the piano with a hymn or worship song, serving as her substitute on the organ and piano when she had to be away, reading the Scripture lesson, leading in corporate prayer, wherever needed during the worship service. A big part of my healing was participation in a weekly men’s small group where the other men and I studied Scripture, prayed with and for each other and, in general, encouraged each other in the Lord. With time, I felt more comfortable with greater levels of involvement. My wife and children did not have nearly as difficult a time feeling comfortable and getting involved. My wife eventually joined one of the worship teams that led the singing each Sunday. She also joined the choir. My sons looked forward to participating each Sunday in the children’s program for their individual age groups. After visiting Christ Church, we never visited anywhere else. We felt truly welcome in this church, and people seemed to genuinely care about us.

Usually, when Black people become part of a predominantly White group, the unstated expectation is that the “minorities” will assimilate—allow ourselves to be absorbed into the dominant culture. Blacks who don’t want to assimilate just remain in Black churches. With my musical training, fitting in was not a problem. Plus, we had already made peace with the fact that we’d have to give up Black music and Black musical styles when we decided to worship with Christ Church. A time came, however, when I was asked to provide special music for the offertory. It was one thing to play along on the organ or piano with the hymns or worship songs that were usually sung by the people at Christ Church, but I really wanted to know if it was all right to just “be myself”, to sing and play like I would back in a Black church environment. I chose an old Black gospel song—“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” by Andraé Crouch (an authentically “Black” song, but not too far “out there”, so as not to be too great a shock). I also taught the worship team how to “back me up” on the refrain, just as I’d always done it back in the Black Church. That Sunday, God gave me the liberty to feel at-ease and sing this particular song as I’d sung it for many years. All indications were that the song was very well-received and, most importantly, I think people were genuinely helped to worship God. This was a very small thing, but it meant a lot to me to know that I didn’t have to give up who I was in order to fit in.

After about two years, my wife and I decided to officially unite with Christ Church. It was obvious to us that there was no need to look elsewhere, for we had indeed found our church “home”.
I had hoped to finish this series right here but, alas, there’s a bit more to tell. I promise I’ll wrap this up in “Part 8”. There, I will try to quickly review some things Christ Church does well, which helped me and my family feel genuinely welcome. I’ll also describe some of the specific ways the Lord has allowed me to serve “cross-culturally” at Christ Church.

(To be continued…)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Preaching advice

Tim Ellsworth gives “a layman’s advice to preachers”. He makes some excellent points that I hope to keep in mind when I have the opportunity to preach. I recommend them to you.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Black Church and Christian Orthodoxy

“Is Christian Orthodoxy Strong in the Black Church?” Sadly, the answer is a resounding “No!” I just came across this article today, and I think that, generally speaking, this writer is absolutely on-target. He certainly has accurately described the Black Church as I’ve known and experienced it. Such a church ultimately is under the judgment of God. Pray that God will see fit to turn individual Black pastors and church members back to His Word and back to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is the only hope.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reforming the Black Church

“Can the Predominantly African-American Church Be Reformed?” part 6 can be read at “Pure Church” (Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile).

Piper on “Prosperity Preaching”

Dr. John Piper writes on “Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Deadly”. If you’ve been listening to and ingesting “prosperity” teaching, the teaching that God promises material and financial prosperity for those that have “faith” and “sow their seed”, then you need to read this.

The reason I’m especially exercised about “prosperity” teaching and preaching is because I am convinced it is a deadly cancer, a spiritual disease that happens to be growing unchecked within the Black Church. “Prosperity” has virtually overthrown the Gospel in many churches and ministries, so much so that I believe souls are in eternal danger. Remember, someone who is financially broke and sick can still get to heaven; but you won’t get to heaven without the Gospel:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Remember, also, this warning from God through His apostle:
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).

For pastors...

"Pulpit Magazine" has concluded their series on “An Enduring Ministry” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

What’s up with that?

A couple of weeks ago, U.S. Senator, Joseph Biden of Delaware, a candidate for the office of President, said the following about fellow Senator and Presidential candidate, Barack Obama of Illinois, who happens to be an African-American (his mother is a White American, his father was from Kenya):

“You got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Sen. Biden received lots of criticism for his remark (as he should), which he said he only meant as a compliment. In “complimenting” Sen. Obama, Biden managed to insult the late Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Carol Moseley-Braun, three Blacks who also ran for the Presidency in years past. He tried to explain his remark but found, after a day or so, that he had to apologize, which he did.

Can you imagine the same thing being said about a White man (“In Sen. So-and-so you have a mainstream Anglo-American who is articulate, bright, clean and nice-looking.”)? Can you? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Black men (it’s always Black men, by the way) be described by some well-meaning White person as “articulate” (as if Black men aren’t supposed to be able to talk). Did Sen. Biden forget Jesse Jackson’s speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention? I mean, Jesse knows he can talk! In fact, I would venture to speculate that Black people have been speaking with eloquence since the beginning of human history. Off the top of my head, from the last 100 years, the names of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Henry McNeal Turner, Reverdy Cassius Ransom, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Gardner Taylor, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind. A multitude of “articulate” public figures, throughout U.S. history, who happened to be Black, could be named.

And what does the comment about “bright” mean? That Black men are usually stupid? Excuse me? What about Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, Daniel Hale Williams, W.E.B. DuBois or Percy Julian?

“Clean and nice-looking”? Does that mean that Black men are usually dirty and ugly? I don’t even have to go back into Black history, for if it is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’ll tell you right now, my wife beholds a clean and good-looking Black man whenever she looks at me! Didn’t Sen. Biden ever hear of the phrase “Black is beautiful”?

This is just another example of how Black people are habitually put down, devalued and condescendingly spoken about. Sen. Biden’s remark was a “back-handed” insult. In “complimenting” Sen. Obama, he insulted millions of Black Americans.

As Grandma would’ve said, Sen. Biden ought to “go somewhere and sit down!”

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some links to make you think

Frank Lauterbach reflects on the gifts of the Spirit. He has some good thoughts. Read, ponder and search the Scriptures “to see if these things [are] so” (Acts 17:11).

I just saw this post by Anthony Bradley. He puts out there for us the question, “Is Barak Obama Black?” Some of you may know nothing about the discussion. It’s a variation on an old theme, for others of us.

Thabiti Anyabwile continues his posts (part 4, part 5) on reforming the Black Church. These posts really do touch a nerve for me, having been 35 years in the Black Church. Read and think about what he writes and, if you have a burden for the Black Church, pray about what, if anything, the Lord would have you do.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 6)

When I started this series, I was talking about the fact that I’ve never felt the need to go on a short-term mission trip (Part 1). It’s not that I have anything against mission trips; I’ve just never felt the urge to go on one myself. As far as I’m concerned, I’m already doing cross-cultural missions. You see, a little over six years ago, my family and I began attending a predominantly White, non-denominational, evangelical church. Eventually, both my wife and I became members, and we and both our sons are actively involved in the life of the church. However, because there is a whole world of difference between predominantly White churches and the Black Church, serving in our church is very much akin to cross-cultural missions, with totally different ways of doing “church”: different style of worship, different styles of music, different way of administration, different style of pastoral leadership, different ways of doing ministry, different expectations…a different world! There’s even a different “language”. So, what I set out to do is describe my experience in “cross-cultural missions”.

However, over the course of this series (as in some of my face-to-face conversations), I’ve become a bit sidetracked by following an extensive “rabbit trail”. First, I tried to describe the reasons why my wife and I decided to leave the familiar surroundings of the Black Church (Part 2). Then, I attempted to explain why there exists a humanly insurmountable gulf between Blacks and Whites, which also accounts for the separation between Black and White Christians and their churches (Parts 3 and 4). I am under no illusions that this divide can be healed before Christ returns. As long as sin is in the world, there will be racial and ethnic divisions and hostilities. However, I believe this gulf can be bridged in Christ, and that Christians have an obligation to demonstrate before the world that the Spirit of Christ can do the impossible. Starting with my last installment in this topic, I’ve been trying to explain what, in my opinion, needs to happen for Black and White unity to occur. In Part 5, I contended that Christian Blacks must be willing to forgive Whites for sins of racism that have been committed against them, and then “let it go”. In my opinion, unless we Blacks draw upon the Spirit’s power to overcome past hurts, we will not see racial harmony in the Church.

Today, I’d like to suggest some part that Christian Whites can play in racial reconciliation within the Body of Christ. Then, in what I hope will be my final post under this title, I’ll try to briefly describe some of the positive ways my family and I have connected with and ministered to our church family (“cross-cultural missions”) with the hope that it can serve as an example of how people of all races and ethnicities can successfully work together within the Body of Christ.

Two posts ago, I wrote the following: “Christian Whites need to both acknowledge this country’s racist past and admit that racism is still a problem. It’s an insult to Black people to pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. Even if your ancestors came to this country after slavery was abolished and had nothing to do with slavery, you still enjoy—as a legacy of our country’s racist past—privileges that go along with being White.” I’d like to try to explain this statement, if I can, for I think it also is a crucial part of any significant progress toward racial reconciliation.

In a previous post, I made clear that the slavery of Black people in the United States ended only 142 years ago. There are those who would say that was a long time ago, so we should just forget about it and move on. But, in terms of human history, Black people were enslaved a relatively short time ago. It is, therefore, an insult to suggest that Black people should just forget about the past and move on, as if everything’s all right now. Black people, as a group, are still affected by slavery and slavery’s racist aftermath.

I don’t have the statistics in hand, but we’re all familiar with them: As a group, Blacks are among the poorest, the least education, and comprise the largest racial group in most of our country’s prisons. We have a higher than average unemployment rate, live in some of the poorest areas of our nation’s cities (areas with some of the highest rates of crime), and have the lowest life expectancy. Every ethnic group that has immigrated to this country, even if they came in at the bottom rung of society, within two or three generations has ascended into the mainstream. Black people were brought to the Americas beginning in the early 1600s. We came in at rock bottom—as slaves—and, somehow, a large percentage of us remain at or near the bottom today.

What’s wrong? I think what we see is the lingering effect of slavery. Think about it: No other people group in the United States was ever subjected to life-long slavery, followed by decades of segregationist laws, plus the daily, almost routine onslaught of racial indignities that the average Black person used to face (and still do, on occasion but, thankfully, to a far lesser degree than our forebears). That collective experience leaves its mark on the psyche of a people. My advice to my White brothers and sisters is, please, don’t trivialize the Black experience by suggesting that Blacks should just “get over it”. You don’t “get over” what Black people have been through. By the grace and help of God, many of us have risen above our backgrounds and the hardships experienced by former generations. More Blacks than ever are now part of the “Middle Class”. God has been good. But, to forget the past, to my mind, is to forget that my great-great-great grandparents were slaves, forget that they never learned to read, forget that their children and grandchildren picked cotton and “slopped” hogs down South, then came North to work in factories and scrub floors, or cook and clean for White people, so that generations yet to be born could have a better life.

I hope you can see, then, why some Blacks might find it a major “turn-off” (to say the least) to suggest, “Since slavery was so long ago, we should just forget about the past and move on.” It would be help lesson the divide between Whites and Blacks, if Whites and others would be willing to face squarely the fact that Black slavery, segregationist laws, racial discrimination, and countless other indignities, brutalities and atrocities happened to Black people, right here in the U.S. Black people need to know that you don’t devalue their suffering. It would also help lesson the racial divide between Whites and Blacks, it Whites and others would be willing to admit that the sins of America’s past still affect our country. The simple truth is, all sin carries its consequences. Black people need to know that you appreciate the complexity of the moral, social and economic problems that plague many Black communities, as well as understand that a past climate of racism not only hampered the Black community but also sometimes gave a boost to the White community. To borrow an oft-used phrase: Blacks and Whites in America haven’t played on an even playing field.

So, then, what does racial harmony look like in the church? I can’t speak for every church, but I know how things have been for me and my family these past six-plus years within our church.

(To be continued…)

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 5)

In my last post, I referenced that word through the apostle Paul, which says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28); and I asked the question, “How do we—both Blacks and Whites—as fallen human beings living in a fallen world, demonstrate this unity that God says exists among those who are baptized into Christ Jesus?” In order to answer this question, I said both Blacks and Whites need to shed some racial baggage. There’s something people of both races need to do. I asserted that “Christian Blacks must, with God’s help, forgive Whites”, and “Christian Whites need to both acknowledge this country’s racist past and admit that racism is still a problem. Even if your ancestors came to this country after slavery was abolished and had nothing to do with slavery, you still enjoy—as a legacy of our country’s racist past—privileges that go along with being White.”

Until this is done, I don’t think any real progress is possible. Let me add, however, that I am not some Pollyannaish optimist; I am a realist. I know racism and racial strife will never disappear from this country of ours until Christ returns. Our nation suffers (and will continue to suffer) the consequences of condoning the enslavement of African people and their descendants, along with perpetuating socially- and legally-sanctioned injustices against Black people well into the 20th century. Our country must reap what it has sown, and it will until the Lord Jesus sets everything right at His return.

Nevertheless, we who profess Christ Jesus as Lord should live as those who have been set free by Christ. Just because our nation will suffer racial strife doesn’t mean that Christians should participate. Unfortunately, just like in everything else, the visible church marches along with the culture. Divorce, abortion, homosexuality, domestic battery, child abuse, racism…you name it—every sin we see in the culture is alive and well in the visible church. This should not be. Believers are called to a higher standard and set free to follow a different reality: “You are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, getting back to the first paragraph, both Blacks and Whites need to get rid of some baggage. First of all, Christian Blacks must forgive Whites. I think all Christians know this, but perhaps we need a reminder: forgiveness is not an option for the Christian (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; 11:4). We who have been the recipients of God’s abundant grace and mercy in Christ Jesus have no right to withhold forgiveness from those who have sinned against us. The unregenerate can hold grudges and harbor hatred and bitterness if they want. That’s one of the reasons they’re going to hell. But, if you’re a Christian, you must forgive. In fact, where there is genuine faith there will be a willingness to forgive. An unwillingness to forgive is a sign of an unregenerate heart.

Some reading may wonder, what if the offender never asks for forgiveness? I know that, technically, we cannot forgive one who hasn’t confessed his or her sin against us, and even God does not forgive us until we confess: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So, what should be the response when the offender never acknowledges their sin, never confesses, never apologizes? I believe, even in this situation, we must be willing to forgive. Consider that you have been forgiven much by your heavenly Father.

Blacks should not be surprised when racism rears its ugly head. I’ve been alive long enough to know that a Black person cannot move among White people and never encounter racism. This is not meant to disparage White people; this is just racial reality in the United States. Racism happens, eventually. Ultimately, however, you can’t do anything about what people say or how people act, but you can do something about how you respond. You cannot allow the attitudes or deeds of others to cause you to hate them and harbor bitterness in your soul. You need to “let it go” and move on.

I’m reminded of my great grandparents. Both of them were born and reared in the South, in rural Lauderdale County, Alabama, outside the town of Florence. They left the South in their early 20s. They reached adulthood in era before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, before the abolition of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws, before Supreme Court decisions and Constitutional amendments that helped secure the rights of Black people. They grew up in the South as it was. Yet, to the best of my recollection, they did not express any hatred, bitterness or even dislike toward Whites. Yes, there was some racial “baggage” (some other time, I can write about the lasting effects of racism on Black people), but there was no animosity toward Whites. They learned to forgive and move on with their lives.

Because my great grandparents demonstrated a willingness to forgive and let go, they didn’t pass down to me second-hand hatred or animosity toward Whites (I would eventually have my own first-hand encounters with racism to deal with). Compared to others who, it seems to me, didn’t manage to handle their experience of growing up in the South as well, I would say my great grandparents were happier and more at-peace. One thing is for certain: Unforgiveness hurts most the one who harbors it in his or her heart.

Unforgiveness also drives away those you harbor resentment against. If Christians of different races are going to come together, there must be forgiveness. The resentment you harbor will only help maintain the barrier between the races. I’ve seen how Black resentment eventually drives away well-meaning Whites who genuinely desire fellowship. My Black brothers and sisters, that’s not right. It’s so unlike what I saw between my great grandfather and his White former co-workers. In the years after he retired (when I was 9 years old), I saw my great grandfather interact with former co-workers, and saw the obvious mutual respect and affection they had for each other. Because he held no animosity against Whites, my great grandfather and his White co-workers were genuine friends. I’ll never forget that when my great grandfather was at home dying, a White man who was one of his former co-workers somehow found out he was sick and came by the house one day to see him one last time. I think that visit spoke volumes about both of these older men. Somehow, they found a way to transcend racial barriers.

If these two old men could come together, surely we could do the same within the Body of Christ. Let’s put in practice God’s word, as given through the apostle Paul (Colossians 3:12-14):
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
(To be continued…)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Monday links

Here are a few links to some thought-provoking articles:
Anthony Bradley writes about “The doll test”. Read this and consider: Does our society communicate to young Black girls that black is not beautiful?
Albert Mohler comments on “A Pink Reformation”. Read why the homosexual rights movement poses the most serious threat against the organized Church.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 4)

Before I continue, I want to remind my readers of what I wrote in a previous post introducing my primary topic for February, which is Black History Month:
“Most of what I have to write will be about Blacks and whites. I don’t mean to ignore other races or ethnicities, but the fact is, being Black in America has always been mainly about trying to live, work and relate with whites. So, please don’t take offense if I’m not talking about you; there will be something here, I think, for all to learn. However, there’s a history between Blacks and whites in America that goes back a l-o-n-g way. It is out of my personal experience, within this continuing saga of Black-white relations, that I will be writing.”

So, to repeat: I know there are other races, ethnicities and cultures in this country, but it is my choice to write about the Black/White issue since there is a longer, more extensive and more involved history between these two groups than any others.

Now, to continue…

If Blacks and Whites don’t know each other, don’t trust one another and, on some level, are afraid of each other, how are both sides supposed to come together? The key, as always, is found in God’s word: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Did you see that? “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s a fact now, whether we realize it or not. “In Christ” people are one. Only “in Christ” can races be reconciled and differing cultures and ethnicities live at peace. Non-Christians can’t solve the “race problem.” They have good intentions, perhaps, but it will never work in the end because the sin nature is too strong—racism will eventually raise its ugly head every time. But Christians should be able to pull this off because believers are one in Christ. Our unity with other true believers is a fact. Christians just need to start living like it’s true.

The tragedy of racism is that, in this country, it has often worn a Christian face. That’s why today you won’t find a lot of Black people at abortion protests. It’s why we don’t get so excited about the Pledge of Allegiance. Where were the White Christian protesters when Blacks needed them in the 1950s and 60s? Some of the White, liberal, Bible-denying “Christians” were there, but the White, Bible-believing “Christians”—many of them—had no problem with Jim Crow and segregation and discrimination. Pledge Allegiance to the flag of a so-called “Christian” nation, “one nation…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? Yeah, right.

It could be argued that White American Christianity’s accommodation of racism is why Malcolm Little became Malcolm X. Most likely Martin Luther King, Jr. was a theological liberal. But, what would you expect? He graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University—theologically liberal schools. Do you know any Bible-believing seminary in the South of King’s young adult years that would have accepted him?

And here’s one way the tragedy continues: Untold numbers of Christian Blacks attend traditional Black churches where they know the preaching and teaching is sub-standard. They attend knowing ahead of time that they won’t hear anything worthwhile on Sunday. These Christians I’m thinking about then supplement their spiritual diet with Christian TV (T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Fred Price, Rod Parsley, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, etc.), and the books of TV preachers, in their desperate search for any kind of teaching (even if it’s false teaching) to make up for the woeful lack of teaching at their churches. These Christian Blacks I’m thinking of attend churches where they know all kinds of scandalous sins are being committed by church members (and sometimes by the pastor) with no one ever being held accountable. They come home from church on Sunday only to complain about “what went on at church today.” These believers won’t leave their churches to attend a church with sound doctrine (like those churches represented by my blogging Reformed brothers out there, for instance) because to do so they would probably have to leave the Black Church altogether. And that would mean going to a predominantly White church.

You remember the White church, don’t you? That’s where the people go whom Blacks don’t trust. I’m struggling to find language to describe what a “leap of faith” that can be when you’ve grown up Black in America. There’s a whole lot of bad history that many Whites want to ignore (“Oh, that happened such a long time ago! Can’t we just forget about it?”), but you can’t just do that. First of all, it hasn’t been that long ago. I knew my great-great grandfather, and he was born in 1871—6 years after the Civil War! He was the son of slaves. I’ve known the grandchildren of slaves. As far as human history is concerned, slavery was not a long time ago. Emmit Till was brutally murdered by racists in Mississippi only 8 years before I was born. Medger Evers was murdered by a racist the year I was born (Evers’ murderer wasn’t convicted until 1994!). Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated shortly before I turned 5 years old. This is not ancient history! Stop insisting that Black people get over it! Slavery, Jim Crow and segregation happened, right here in America—“the Land of the free”—and it wasn’t a long time ago!

And, it’s not wise to forget about it. One time, when I was a boy, I touched the iron shortly after Grandma has finished ironing clothes. I wanted to know if it was still hot. It was! You know, I didn’t have to make that mistake twice; one time was enough for me! In fact, I’d be a fool to go do that again. Many Black people have been personally “burnt” by White racism. Some of us have been burnt many times. As a race of people, Blacks had been “burnt” in America for over 300 years, by the time the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964. You don’t just forget about that! You’d be a fool to forget about it! This is why most church-going Blacks would rather go to a Black church where the teaching is lousy than take a chance on a White church where the teaching is sound. They don’t want to get burnt!

Yet, as Christians, we must deal with God’s word: “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, how do we—both Blacks and Whites—as fallen human beings living in a fallen world, demonstrate this unity that God says exists among those who are baptized into Christ Jesus? First, we must unburden ourselves of a lot of baggage. There’s something both races need to do. Christian Blacks must, with God’s help, forgive Whites. If you have to pray about it, pray! Ask God to help you. I’ve been there, and I know God will help you love those who’ve hurt you. You must forgive. As a Christian, you have no other option. However, forgiving does not mean forgetting. To forget is not humanly possible (and, I don’t care how “saved” you are, you’re still human). This is why not only should Christian Blacks forgive Whites, but Christian Whites need to both acknowledge this country’s racist past and admit that racism is still a problem. It’s an insult to Black people to pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. Even if your ancestors came to this country after slavery was abolished and had nothing to do with slavery, you still enjoy—as a legacy of our country’s racist past—privileges that go along with being White.

I’m guessing I’ve probably rubbed somebody the wrong way with that last paragraph (if not before!). If so, then I say (if I may be blunt about it) get over your hurt feelings and actually think about what I’ve written. Really think about it! If I can, I will try to explain why I believe Blacks must forgive and Whites must admit. Then (after laying the groundwork for the past three posts on this topic), I want to finally describe some of my positive experiences in “cross-cultural missions”.

(To be continued…)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Is it too late for the Black Church?

Thabiti Anyabwile continues to answer the question, “Can the predominantly African-American church be reformed?” I encourage you, please, read these posts (parts 1, 2, 3). My thoughts are particularly stirred by the quotes from Daniel Alexander Payne (1811-1893) and Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937). First of all, when was the last time you heard a Black preacher in a traditional Black Church, express this kind of concern for biblical fidelity in worship that Payne and Grimké expressed? But, secondly, if what they expressed is true, do you realize how far from God the average traditional Black church has strayed? The more I think about it, the more I have to wonder if, perhaps, it’s too late to save the traditional Black Church.

Consider this: Maybe the traditional Black Church has outlived its purpose. As you (should) know, the Black Church came into being during the era when White racism severely limited the freedom of Blacks to worship God. In this day, when it is possible to come together in worship with God’s people without regard to race or ethnicity, is there still a need for a separate “Black Church”?

And, I wonder, how long will God leave His people in churches where they aren’t being fed? There is a famine for the word of God in the Black community. It is well-known the lack of biblical substance in the pulpit has reached epidemic proportions in the traditional Black Church. The health and wealth message has spread like a cancer. In other cases, pastors seem more concerned with social activism than soul saving (Have you ever heard Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton preach the gospel? Have you ever heard any of the high-profile Black preacher/activists preach the gospel?). There is more commitment to the Democrat Party than to Jesus Christ. So, I wonder, would God abandon true believers to this kind of mess? Or would God lead His people out of these so-called churches into true churches where His word is taught, believed and obeyed?

When I think of what goes on under the guise of “church”, in the Black community, I just have to wonder.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 3)

I have wondered if, perhaps, in tackling this subject of “cross-cultural missions” in a predominantly White, evangelical church, I was biting off more than I could chew. I have so much to say, but that doesn’t mean I want to write a book about it. In fact, I’ve spent 3 days trying to write this post because every time I started writing, I quickly realized I was heading in a direction that would result in a post that was far too lengthy. This post will be long, but know that it could have been much longer. I want to deal with these issues because, firstly, they have been on my mind for a long time; but, secondly, because I believe the White, American, evangelical Church is not dealing honestly and fully with its racial issues. To the extent that we fail to deal honestly and justly with race, to that extent we have allowed ourselves to be co-opted by the racially-conscious values of our surrounding culture rather than be governed by Christ.

In my previous post on this topic, I said I clearly see God’s sovereignty in bringing my family into our current church home. Our backgrounds have uniquely prepared me and my wife for fellowship in a predominantly White church. Our interactions and friendships in school, college and work have exposed us to people of various races and ethnicities, thus preparing us to relate with people who are not a part of our ethnic culture. My formal musical training, combined with my background in the Black Church, in general—and the A.M.E. Church, in particular—has given me the ability to “speak” the musical language of both the Black Church and the White Church, both evangelical and mainline (I’ve been privileged to play everything from out-of-tune storefront church pianos, to Hammond Organs, to multi-rank pipe organs in beautiful church “edifices”). When you include our life experiences outside of work and school, and particularly our interactions with White evangelicals during the time I was in seminary (which was our first up-close encounter with White evangelicalism), it becomes apparent that God, in His sovereignty, uniquely equipped us to bridge the cultural gap between Blacks and Whites.

However, our experience is not the experience of everyone. I would venture to guess that most people do not feel comfortable moving in circles outside their native ethnic culture. On this point, three general observations about Blacks and Whites come to mind. These observations are not at all scientific in nature. These are just my opinions as a Black man, based on over 43 years observing the world around me.

My first observation is one that I’m not sure many Whites (or teen and 20-something Blacks) have considered: To successfully navigate American culture, Blacks must learn how to work and interact with Whites, while White people can successfully get through life in the U.S. and never have to concern themselves with Black people. Think about it: In most cases, your teachers have been White (Although, attending a public school in a small city with a significant Black population, I did have several Black teachers over the years. My wife, however, attended a private school and never, to my knowledge, had a Black teacher. I only had one Black instructor in college.). On the job, most likely, your bosses have been white. The persons who manage the stores where you shop often are White. Most police officers are White. Even the President of the United States has always been White! The point is, in the majority of life situations, you will find yourself dealing with White people. A Black person who does not learn how to work with, talk to and interact with Whites will have trouble all through life, because you cannot live in the U.S. and avoid White people. On the other hand, if you’re White, it is possible to avoid Black people. One could, conceivably, go through life and never really know a Black person.

Speaking of not knowing Black people, I must tell this story: During the summer between junior high school and high school (I was about to turn 14), I spent 2 weeks in a summer youth music camp at the University of Illinois. My roommate for those 2 weeks was a White boy, my age, from an affluent Chicago suburb. We were informed of the names of our roommates ahead of time. My roommate admitted to me that he was surprised when he finally met me because he assumed “Wyeth” was a White person (in fact, I was named after a White person ). I later found out he didn’t really know any Black people at all, so I was a bit of a curiosity to him. This came out one day when I was combing my hair.

That happened to be the summer I decided to wear my hair in a “natural” style. I had let it grow out to about an inch-and-a-half to two-inches long (that’s as close to an “afro” as I’ve ever gotten, by the way). So, one day, while I was “fixing” my hair with my “pick” and “afro comb”, my roommate was watching. Soon, he started asking questions. Questions like, “What is that?” (Referring to my pick), “What are you doing to your hair?”, “Does your hair move?”, “What does your hair feel like?”, and such questions as that (How many Black people out there have been asked those questions? A lot of you, I’m sure!).

Well, finally he asked if he could touch my hair. I consented. He was fascinated. It was almost like he had wondered for years how Black people’s hair felt. I’m pleased that I could contribute in a hands-on way to the cultural development of a sheltered child from the affluent suburbs. I really didn’t mind, and we did get along very well. Incidentally, that wasn’t the last time I offered my head for the cause of racial understanding. I’ve had White students ask to feel my hair, and once a fellow teacher, who was White, asked to feel my hair. Actually, another teacher—who was Black—and I were trying to explain to this White teacher the difference between “good” hair and “bad” hair (By the way, I have the “not as bad” hair. It’s not “good”, but it’s better than “bad”. I’ll explain, perhaps later this month.).

Moving on…

My second observation about Blacks and Whites: A significant portion of Black people—mostly, but not exclusively, from the lower economic classes—never learn to relate with White people, or never become proficient at relating with White people. Those Blacks who don’t learn how to get along with White people usually adopt an attitude that communicates that they are merely tolerating White people. White people become to them one of those annoyances in life that you can’t avoid. This results in many negative encounters with Whites. The Black person in this position will probably conclude that White people are bad. However, I think the problem is one of communication: The Black person doesn’t know how to communicate with Whites. For instance, as a teacher, I see this scenario played out again and again: A Black student inadvertently acts or reacts or speaks in a way that puts the White teacher on the defensive. The White teacher, in turn, responds in a way that provokes the Black student. The student then responds in a way that is clearly wrong and offensive to the White teacher. That student gets disciplined in some way, usually by being sent to the Dean. All this could be avoided if the Black student knew how to relate with White people (I know there’s another side to this, and I’m getting there; just wait a second!).

Why do some Blacks not learn to relate with Whites? Some have little exposure to Whites. When in situations where Whites are present, they always seek to be with other Blacks. Some have been taught that Whites are bad, so there’s no incentive to get to know people you’ve been taught were bad (For instance, the parent or respected adult had some bad experiences with White people, so they teach the child that White people are bad. The child doesn’t know about Whites from personal experience; they just live by what others have told them.). Many of us have had bad experiences with Whites in the past, so future encounters with Whites are viewed in the light of past bad experiences.

There also exists Black peer pressure to avoid anyone and everything that would make you look like you were trying to “be White”. White America is just now starting to discover what many of us have known and experienced for years: To get good grades is to be accused of “acting White” and to speak correctly and enunciate clearly is to “talk White”. When I was a teenager, if a guy’s walk wasn’t “cool”—if he didn’t walk with a limp (called a “pimp walk”)—he could be accused of walking like a White boy. If you’re wondering, I was “guilty” of talking and walking “White”. Lurking behind all these false views was probably a fear of the unknown (i.e., you just feel more comfortable with “your own kind”).

Lest you think these kinds of things only happen to Black teenagers, let me share another story. For a brief time, I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. My pastor, at the time, felt I needed to know more than Trinity could teach me. You see, Trinity, in his mind, was a “White” school, inadequate for teaching me how to pastor Black people (a point not completely without merit, by the way, but I think he overstated his case). “That school can teach you theology, but what you need to know is ‘niggerology’” (Folks, that’s what the man actually said!). The implication was, theological knowledge is all right for “White folks”, but you need something else to minister to Blacks.

One more story: Once, my evangelism class from seminary was at the community college doing “cold call” evangelism (which I don’t like doing, by the way). While out there I ran into a preacher I knew (“Jack-leg” preacher, actually). He struck up a conversation with me and the teaching assistant, who was with me. Finally, this preacher begins to talk about what a great preacher I was (he had heard me once). The teaching assistant asks, “So, Wyeth’s a pretty good preacher, huh?” My preacher acquaintance responds, “Yeah. He does a good job; just needs to put a little ‘gravy’ into it, though.” The teaching assistant looked thoroughly confused (Yes, I was embarrassed). You see, “gravy” refers to “whoopin’”, or preaching in a kind of musical key, with rhythmic cadences—in other words, “Black” preaching. To “translate”: He was saying I preached all right—my sermon had “meat”—but I sounded too White. I needed some “gravy” on my “meat”.

So, racial peer pressure continues into adulthood.

My third and final observation: Whites, generally, are more ignorant about the Blacks, than Blacks are of Whites. We are a total mystery to many White people. Remember, I said it’s nearly impossible for a Black person to live in America and avoid White people, but you can be White and get along quite well without Blacks. Blacks need Whites because most of the economic and political resources are in White hands, but Whites don’t need Blacks, because Blacks, for the most part, don't control anything that Whites need. So, because Whites seldom, if ever, have to depend on Blacks for support or be accountable to Blacks, they often simply ignore us. And, just like many Blacks, many Whites are unwilling to step out of their comfort zones. The result of all this avoidance and lack of interaction is that many Whites simply don’t understand Black people, don’t know how to communicate with Black people (and, therefore, misread and misinterpret Black people—witness the example above about White teachers and Black students) and, often, are even afraid of Black people. Why else would the occasional police officer shoot an unarmed Black male? I tell you why: They’re scared to death of a Black man.

If these observations are at all accurate (and I have over 43-years-worth of reasons to think they are), there is an almost insurmountable gulf between Blacks and Whites. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned, and more, there is no reason for Blacks and Whites to come together. Why?

We don’t know each other.

We don’t trust one another.

On some level, we’re afraid of each other.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Is there a way to bridge the gap between Blacks and Whites? I think there is a way, and my family and I are living it out.

(To be continued…)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Speaking of the Black Church

Check out this post at “Non Nobis Domine” (Anthony Carter’s blog), and the comments that follow. I make a couple of comments here, if you want to know what I think about “Reforming the Black Church”.

Messages from the Desiring God Conference for Pastors

At the Desiring God Blog, there are audio links to the messages (and notes taken by Abraham Piper) being delivered at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors which is going on now, February 5-7, in Minneapolis. The speakers are R.C. Sproul (sessions 1, 3, 5), John Piper (session 4), Thabiti Anyabwile (session 2) and William MacKenzie (session 6). There is also a panel discussion.

Even if you’re not a pastor, take some time to listen to these profitable messages on the holiness of God.