Archive for July, 2008

The Black Jesus II

Much is being made about Barack Obama’s faith these days, partly due to some questions about possible Muslim influences upon his life but mostly because of things that his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has said. Although most of Wright’s quotes have been taken out of context, even when placed within their proper perspective they tend to grate upon the sensibilities of most white Christian Americans. The general conservative consensus is that people like Wright, and Obama by association, are guilty of not only distorting the Gospel but racism and treason as well.

In “The Church Enslaved” by Tony Campolo and Michael Battle, the story is told of a time when Campolo was teaching a Bible study for African-American teen agers. When he entered the classroom he was upset to find that the portrait of Jesus on the wall (the very same one shown here) had been replaced by a picture of a black Jesus.

Angrily, he asked who had done this. When a young man confessed, Tony scolded him, saying; “Jesus wasn’t a black man!”

“No”, replied the teenager. “And he wasn’t a white man either.”

Many of us who are not of African ancestry have a problem with this. No – Jesus certainly was not ‘white’ but there is no need to create another fiction; that he was a black man.

But it is important to understand that when black Christians speak of Jesus’ color they are not really talking about his ethnicity or his genetic make-up. And when they talk angrily of the Church promoting the idea that Jesus was a” white” man they are really not focusing on pictures, statues or movies. They are referring to the way Jesus has been inextricably tied to the ‘powers that be’. In the same book, Campolo and Battle share this famous quote by Malcolm X:

Brothers and sisters, the white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze upon a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We’re worshiping a Jesus that doesn’t even look like us! Oh yes! Now just bear with me, listen to the teachings of the Messenger of Allah, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Now just think of this. The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that’s his God, the white man’s God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we’re dead, while this white man his his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars here on this earth!
– Malcolm X, Harlem, June 1954

Blacks have suffered hundreds of years of slavery and oppression at the hands of white Christians; oppression which has continued in various forms long after abolition, even up to today. During that time the vast majority of the ‘white’ church did nothing to assist them and were in reality accomplices to this oppression, often bestowing their blessings upon this system. For many blacks, to associate Jesus with the white church is to associate him with evil.

In addition to this, Jesus’ identification with the oppressed and downtrodden strikes a powerful chord within the black church, just as they can relate to the enslaved Israelites of Exodus. As James Cone, the ‘father’ of Black Liberation theology says:

Christ’s blackness is the American expression of the truth of his parable about the Last Judgment: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”
“The least in America are literally and symbolically present in black people. To say that Christ is black means that black people are God’s poor people whom Christ has come to liberate. And thus no gospel of Jesus Christ is possible in America without coming to terms with the history and culture of that people who struggled to bear witness to his name in extreme circumstances.”
“Christ is black, therefore, not because of some cultural or psychological need of black people, but because and only because Christ really enters into our world where the poor, the despised, and the black are, disclosing that he is with them, enduring their humiliation and pain and transforming oppressed slaves into liberated servants. Indeed, if Christ is not truly black, then the historical Jesus lied.”
My point is that God came, and continues to come, to those who are poor and helpless, for the purpose of setting them free. And since the people of color are his elected poor in America, any interpretation of God that ignores black oppression cannot be Christian theology.”
“If twentieth-century Christians are to speak the truth for their socio-historical situation, they cannot merely repeat the story of what Jesus did and said in Palestine, as if it were self-interpreting for us today. Truth is more than the retelling of the biblical story. Truth is the divine happening that invades our contemporary situation, revealing the meaning of the past for the present so that we are made new creatures for the future.”

It is important to note that when Cone talks of Jesus being truly black, he is not referring to his skin color but the spiritual connection he has with the oppressed. But Cone does not hold back his criticism for the ‘black’ church as it has now found it’s place in American Christianity:

“Our church is an impostor, because we no longer believe the gospel we proclaim. There is a credibility gap between what we say and what we do. While we may preach sermons that affirm the church’s interests in the poor and the downtrodden, what we actually do shows that we are committed to the “American way of life,” in which the rich are given privileged positions of power in shaping the life and activity of the church, and the poor are virtually ignored. As a rule, the church’s behavior toward the poor is very similar to the society at large: The poor are charity cases…It is appalling to see some black churches adopting this condescending attitude toward the victims, because these churches were created in order to fight against slavery and injustice. For many slaves, the Black Church was God’s visible instruments for freedom and justice. Therefore, to have contemporary middle-class black Christians treating the poor as second-class members of the church is a disgrace not only to the scripture but also to our black religious heritage.” – Risks of Faith

Of course we should resist envisioning Christ as any mere man, but that comes with time, if at all. Quakers and Mennonites did not adorn the walls of their meeting houses with pictures of Jesus because they realized that portrayals of him will become idolized perceptions of themselves and their culture. As George Bernard Shaw once said;” God created us in his own image and we decided to return the favor.”

We all need to be aware of the differences that exist between us all and the reasons for why they are, if we are to ever see the end to racism and if we are ever to see a united Church.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25.35-36, 40)


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Ten Ways Evangelicals can Save on Energy

(Disclaimer: this is an attempt at humor so please take it in that vein.)

The American Family Association thinks it has come up with the perfect solution for America’s current energy ‘crisis’: American Solutions for Winning the Future. But Evangelicals can go even farther if we want to realize immediate energy savings. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Hold this summer’s Vacation Bible School in the frozen food section of Safeway.
  • Switch to a more energy-wise denomination; give the Amish or Mennonites a try. Maybe even the Orthodox Jews.
  • Schedule the next Harry Potter book burning for one of the colder months of the year.
  • Insist that Televangelists take AmTrak and ground their Lear Jets. Have your pastor trade in his Escalade for a Hyundai Accent.
  • Replace your praise band’s electric instruments with kazoos and mandolins. Then cut the power to their microphones, they won’t need them with kazoos. Oh, and cut the pastor’s mike while your at it (or at least put a 10 minute timer on it)).
  • Instead of going all the way into the city to hand out Bible tracts visit the Catholic church on the next block and catch ’em on the way out of Mass.
  • At the next pot luck dinner, have your pastor whip up some fire and brimstone instead of using inefficient electric hot plates. Stop serving all that fried chicken, mashed potatoes, tuna casseroles, Jello molds , fudge brownies and sweet-tea to help bring the congregation’s weight down. Try spa cuisine instead. Remember: lighter vehicle occupants means extra fuel savings!
  • Charge applicable youth group members an over-weight penalty before loading up the church van. (See previous suggestion)
  • Remove all those stickers and Christian-fish from the car. They add weight as well as increase drag. And remember: Road Rage wastes gas, too.
  • If Jesus is your co-pilot, make him get out and walk. With all the weight he’s carrying that’s gotta save a buck or two at the pump!

P.S. I’d heard that if you want to increase your blog traffic you need to post some lists. So here’s a list. I also heard that if you want to increase your comment traffic it helps to annoy. So here’s me being annoying. With a list. Have mercy.

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Those Nutty Amish Scofflaws: Serious Faith In Action?

From the Associated Press, July 25th 2008

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A national group dedicated to religious freedom is joining a fight between Amish farmers and some Wisconsin towns.

The National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom has filed a brief asking for permission to intervene in a Jackson County court case involving Albion farmer Samuel Stolzfus.

Stolzfus and other Amish have been fined thousands of dollars for failing to get building permits.

New York attorney Robert Greene, who is helping the religious freedom group with the case, said the Amish won’t sign applications for building permits because it is against their religion to lie and they might not be able to keep a promise to comply with building codes.

Attorney Paul Millis, who represents the town of Albion, said failure to comply with building codes creates safety problems.

Can’t accuse them of ‘marrying Babylon’.

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10 Answers to the Question: Is the Church Still Relevant?

Chad, over on Blooming in Bullock reminded me of a little exercise that Brian McLaren tells of in one of his books.

Brian asked two questions of a group of young people and Chad recently asked the same of his congregation. With a slight modification, i would like to put these questions to you:

  • What do you think are the 5 most pressing issues that the Church is facing today?

Followed with:

  • What do you think are the 5 most pressing issues facing the world today?

In addition, I would like to ask one more;

  • What are the issues that the typical American thinks the Church is most concerned about?

What do our answers say about today’s Church? Is it relevant, is it out of touch or are there some problems getting out the right message?



Benny Hinn’s Holy Lotto

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, the world’s leading prosperity guru sets a new record for audacity. According to South Africa’s News 24, at a “Miracle Crusade” near Johannesburg, millionaire mega-preacher Binny Hinn and his latest sidekick, Pastor Todd Koontz, offered a ‘one time’ special deal to the attendees; over the next 24 hours God would bestow some exceptional blessings (of over a million dollars each) on some of the folks who donated at least $1,000. But you had better act now because “this blessing would be poured out for only the next two minutes.”

According to an upset witness, Pastor Tommie Ferreira of the AGS Church in Johannesburg ;

“He said the service would yield millionaires and billionaires within 24 hours.Everyone had to donate $1 000 because an exceptional blessing rested on $1 000.”

“People stormed to the front – poor people, rich people, people from all sections of our society. He (Koontz) said God would bless the people’s credit cards and they would be able to rule over South Africa with their money. Eventually there were no fewer than 1,000 people who made such donations.”

As people scrambled to get in on the divine action, Hinn was ready with his staff manning numerous credit card machines. Talk about an altar call. Just do the math; 1,000 people times 1,000 dollars equals one million dollars in bets donations in just two minutes. Heck, that even rivals the take at the Preakness. And this is on top of what the Crusade normally takes in the way of ‘general donations’.

Of course, when Pastor Ferreira later inquired with Hinn’s organization as to how many millionaire God made that day he ran up against the proverbial stone wall. But they did say that they were currently feeding 1,000 South African children a day and they planned to build an orphanage. Good deeds, indeed. But when does the ends justify the means? And how much is staying in the pockets of Hinn and Koontz.

Lately I’ve heard some Christians say that it’s time to stop putting the critical spotlight on people like Benny HInn; we’ve already established that their Christian bona fides are suspect, why waste our time. I disagree. I think Christians in particular should expose these charlatans for who they are. It’s already difficult, with over 1,000 sub-religions, to determine what we mean by the ‘Church’. Many ‘mainstream’ religious leaders are already riding on the Prosperity Gospel gravy train. People like Hinn, although flamboyant and over the top, are just the tip of the ice burg. If we don’t hold these prominent “Christians” to at least the same standards that we expect of Las Vegas then we may as well shut down all those well meaning evangelical magazines, radio and TV stations. Because why should anyone believe it?

If you liked this article then please click on….

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Faith Based Boondoggle

Last week the Reverend Jessie Jackson made headlines by uttering an epithet under his breath that was not very reverent. He was near a microphone, and not realizing that it was ‘hot’, made a remark concerning the way he felt about Barack Obama at that particular time. His “trash talkin’ ” words created the predictable media frenzy, but not as much has been made of what caused the immediate tension between Obama and Jackson in the first place.

Obama has taken to courting the “Faith Based” charity industry in his quest for more conservative votes. Since the faith based initiative is one of George Bush’s pet projects and is greatly supported by conservative Evangelicals, this is seen as a solid move to the right for Obama. This has upset many among his liberal support base, including Jackson; but this was not the only issue here, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama once arranged for a $200,000 grant to jump-start an urban venture capital fund for a nonprofit group (CEF) run by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

CEF spent much of its grant on consultants, including a firm tied to former national Democratic Party chief David Wilhelm.

I think this could possibly be construed as an example of one politician, using his ability to allocate federal dollars, to curry favor with another political leader’s constituency. I seriously doubt that any politician, from the White House on down, is oblivious to the votes that these dollars can buy. (Not that any preacher would tell his congregation who to vote for.)

Then, just when you think Obama might be making headway among conservative Christians, he takes heat for some of his ideas about how these Federally funded charities should be regulated. According to an editorial in the Washington Post, Obama said;

“If you get a federal grant you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.”

The editorialist at the Post doesn’t think this is something to be concerned about;

“Groups that believe hiring only members of their own faith is essential to their social service mission would remain free to do so as long as they do not take federal funds. Mr. Obama is right to want to tap into the power of faith-based groups to deliver social services. He is also right to want to prevent government funds from being used to subsidize discriminatory practices. His position strikes a sensible balance in a delicate area.”

Of course many conservatives see this as just another way for Big Government to control our lives. Paul Jacob, of Townhall had this to say:

“Obama’s new movement is the same old socialistic usurpation as before, disguised as aid — and starting out as voluntary, except for the funding source — but now targeted at the most vulnerable section of society, the section that really does, earnestly, wish to improve things. Senator Obama is correct that “the American people are . . . the answer.” But not as cogs in some massively expensive federal program.”

What surprises me is that Jacob forgets to mention that that he is talking about a program that is directly the result of George Bush’s idea of ‘conservative’ government. As my Dad always said, any good conservative should know that when you make government your partner you will eventually be working for the government. That being said, the Bush administration has placed very few limitations on the religious organizations that take the money.(Something that Obama disagrees with.) The administration thinks that these groups have the right to control who they hire, based upon their religious tenets. Which makes perfect sense.

But when the shoe is on the other foot, even some fairly conservative people have taken exceptions with the Bush administration’s apparent double standard. From an editorial in the Wall Street Journal:

“According to an HHS memo leaked to the New York Times (July 15, Robert Pear), the Bush Administration wants to require that all hospitals and birth control clinics receiving federal health funds certify that they will not “discriminate” against nurses and other staff who object to contraception and birth control….

…Are these efforts truly intended to broaden the delivery of essential government services, or are they a thinly-veiled cloak for the imposition of religious ideology in the public sphere?”

Which is precisely what they are. If you are given money to offset your charitable activities that means that you will have more money available for evangelizing (or whatever). Plus, while I don’t think it would matter too much if the person ladling out the soup is atheist or Christian, it doesn’t make much sense to have a person working in a birth control clinic who is fundamentally at odds with the practice of birth control. Once tax money is used to fund a private organization then federal guidelines are sure to follow. Here’s what the Jewish Anti-Defamation League suggests:

Of particular concern, these safeguards should ensure that Government money does not fund religious discrimination in the hiring and firing of people who deliver these social services and that program beneficiaries are not subject to proselytizing or religious activities.

I understand that there are some good religious organizations out there doing some very good work. Many of them have been doing this work, without the aid of the government, for a very long time. I wonder if it is such a good idea for any faith community to accept the federal government as a working partner. I tend to agree with the Rev.Barry Lynn that “the Faith Based Initiative is an insidious intrusion into the separation of church and state that was established by the First Amendment to our Constitution.”.

The First Amendment was not only designed to protect citizens from overly powerful religions but also to protect the religious from the intrusions of government. History has shown that the more ‘help’ one receives from the federal government the more one is beholden to it. I am sure that many of our nation’s state governors wish that their predecessors had not be so accepting of Uncle Sam’s helping hand.

To paraphrase Tony Compolo, our government may be the best Babylon in the world, but it’s still Babylon.

What do you think?


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Silent Choices: This Month’s School Prayer

“Mr. Beyer?”

I looked up from my laptop to see Mrs. Hobart, the school director, standing in the doorway to my classroom.

“Yes” I said.

“Here’s this semester’s prayer. Look it over and get back to me if you have any questions.”

I took the sheet of paper that she was handing me.

“Before you go, there are a couple of things you might be able to clarify.” I said. “What’s our policy for those children who don’t want to participate?”

“It’s the same as before” she said. “Those children who want to abstain should silently reflect on whatever they choose while the prayer is being recited.”

“Well” I said, “I don’t expect all of the students to sit quietly through this. Last quarter both Eli and Abdullah objected quite vocally.”

“Just have your teaching assistant take them out into the hallway during the prayer. There is no reason for them to be uncooperative. Besides, I don’t think you’ll have any problems with Abdulla.”

“He’s leaving?” I asked.

“No, not at all. Look, I’ve got to deliver the rest of these prayers. Save your questions for this afternoon’s meeting. We’ll be distributing your clocks and rugs then.” And with that she was gone.

I looked down at the prayer and read through it.

In the name of Allah (God), The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord (Who is the Creator, Sustainer and Guide) of all the worlds.
The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful; Sovereign of the Day of Judgment.
Thee (alone) do we worship, And from thee (alone) we seek help.
Show us the straight Path, The Path of those (who fear Allah) and on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings.
Not of those (committing wrongs deliberately) On whom Thou art angry, nor of those who (Having wrong opinions) go astray. Ameen

Well, I thought, Abdullah might be happy. But Eli’s going to have a fit. Not to mention the Christian kids. But they shouldn’t complain. After all, every day last semester we said the “Our Father”.

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