Sunday, December 8, 2013
I had only come by to drop off a book, but they invited me in for a chat. Personal friends of Francis Schaeffer, he was a committed deacon at our church and for years she ran a preschool that exposed dozens, if not hundreds, of unchurched children to the Gospel, touching more families for Jesus than most of the rest of our congregation, my wife and me included, combined.
As we chatted, she mentioned that a Kenyan friend—one of scores of saints they have hosted over the years—had brought his family to visit them years ago. Two things had stood out to her over the course of their time together: First was the assumption by their non-Christian neighbors that Africans could not voluntarily become Christians. Second was an impression they had gathered from living in a black American neighborhood for some time: though living at an economic level most Kenyans would die for, the black people in that neighborhood seemed angry with almost everything, which brought the Kenyan to ask, “Why are black Americans so angry?”
As my friends spoke I realized I had just read a thick book on just that subject and am hereby recommending it to them.
Randy Alcorn’s page-turner Dominion (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1996), a whodunit set circa 1996 in Portland’s ghetto, is a gospel sermon on racial tension, which Alcorn (who is white) capsulizes in the words of one of the characters: “We don’t have a skin problem; we have a sin problem.” Alcorn considers the human heart the heart of any matter, and so while he spins an engaging tale of murder and detective work, his goal is clearly to put a conservative white evangelical readership in the shoes of a conservative black man whose experience in evangelical culture is increasing his skepticism about the gospel message. In doing so he introduces the reader to heroes as well as villains, but red and yellow, black and white, all have sinfulness to fight.
The sinfulness we have to fight is not only our own, but our ancestors’. As a white friend, Jake, tells Clarence Abernathy, the black protagonist,
I know if my grandfather stole from your grandfather it isn’t my fault. But if my grandfather used that money to buy a house and send my father to college while yours couldn’t go because he didn’t have money that was rightfully his, then not only did your family suffer from the stealing, I benefited from it. Without realizing it, I’ve been the beneficiary of the exploitation of slaves and sharecroppers. Their loss has been my gain. ...
[In Daniel 9, Daniel] confesses the sins of his forefathers as his own, even though he didn’t do those sins. Same with Nehemiah. ...
If [Jesus can hold the religious leaders of his day] responsible for the blood of prophets shed by [their] forefathers hundreds of years earlier, there has to be some kind of transgenerational responsibility. ...
Maybe the only way for descendants of oppressors to get out from under the curse is to face up to their ancestor’s [sic] sins, repent, and seek forgiveness from those they’ve wronged.
If we’re responsible for Adam’s sin, obviously we’re responsible for our grandfather’s.
Not all sins between blacks and whites are political—i.e., the product of government policy—but those that are and have been spill over into “everyday life” and give black people good reason to turn a deaf ear to “gospel preaching” that equates Christian discipleship with white American culture.
In short, the powerful see the world completely differently from the way those under their power see it. (“The guy looking up the barrel of the gun is much more eager to discuss the situation than the guy with his finger on the trigger,” as I like to say.) When Jake tells Clarence he has never thought about his own skin color, Clarence replies,
We had to think about it. With segregation, busing, voting, separate drinking fountains and restrooms and schools and what have you, we didn’t have the luxury of not thinking about it. I first went to integrated school in fourth grade. When I sat down, the chairs around me emptied like I was a pipe bomb. I was the brunt of jokes, was spit on, called names. Even the kids who weren’t cruel were always whispering about me. Most of the teachers weren’t really hostile, but they tolerated the meanness and that just encouraged it. The color of our skin chased us everywhere.
But Clarence has his own set of sins to deal with. Like this writer, he writes passionately about right and wrong as he sees them, is easily angered, and finds out the hard way that not only does he not always have his facts straight, he is as prejudiced as those Christians, true, false, and non, at whose hands he, his ancestors, and his contemporaries have suffered so much.
A thick book short on action passages and long on discourse will be preachy, but Jesus commands us to preach, and Alcorn is a dynamic preacher. He preaches what William Wilberforce would have recognized as the whole gospel: not only that all have sinned and salvation comes only through Christ, but what heaven will be like and how our view of heaven should affect our lives on earth, particularly how we treat our neighbors—those we know in our families and circles of friends, and in our churches, but also strangers whose lives we affect in chance encounters and especially through our political systems. His message to white America is essentially, You’re not responsible for the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow, and the welfare state, but you have benefitted from it, and blacks still suffer from it. You don’t have to think about race because you’re the dominant race, but race affects everything your black neighbors do.
This hit home to me for many reasons, but one that’s not so shameful I can’t bear to share it is that twice during my commute to Philadelphia I was walking on the street and came to places where either a black person or I would have to stop to let the other pass. Though I was clearly the one who should have stopped, before I had a chance to get my mind around the situation, the black person simply stopped well short and let me pass: a black man let me cut in front of him when I crossed the street in the middle of the block onto a narrow sidewalk, and a black woman stopped halfway down a staircase when I could have easily moved over to make room for her at the bottom. In both cases, the expression on their faces made me think they were doing it not because they were being polite but because they felt I expected them to, and I was so disoriented I didn’t even thank them.
Alcorn presents anecdote after anecdote of interracial sin, mostly white on black, but also black on black and black on white, in conversations on earth and in scenes viewed from heaven. Whether heaven will be as Alcorn describes it is certainly open to question, but I for one am open to the idea that we will be shown the consequences of our actions so that we may be rewarded for the good and truly repent of those sins Jesus has forgiven. And if Jesus taught by telling stories, Alcorn is certainly within his rights to do the same, and he does it in a way that should keep anyone from teens to antiques engaged.
Having preached, I’m a-gonna meddle a bit.
If Clarence Abernathy, who lived the American rags-to-riches dream, finds white US Christianity hard to swallow, is it any wonder that those who don’t make it out of the ghetto, let alone the projects, shun the church? If blacks are disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and sentenced more stringently than whites—let me state here that Alcorn is no foe of the War on Drugs—is it any wonder that Islam is spreading much faster among blacks than Christianity in US prisons?
It is fashionable for white Christians to disparage the black community for its illegitimacy rate and for playing the race card at every opportunity. But have whites ever really taken seriously the residual effects of slavery and Jim Crow?
If we have been guilty of excusing white people’s sin against black people in the past, is it possible that we are now excusing our sin against blacks or against some other group of people that is “not our kind”? I know I have been: in the weeks after 9/11, I was all for bombing the Kaaba, the Mosque of Omar, and every Muslim city from Marrakesh to Jakarta, one at a time, after any event that could be taken as Muslims taking revenge on the US for US revenge for 9/11. After all, they had attacked us.
However once I considered the possibility that a federal government that has committed atrocities against its own people—Roe v. Wade and No Child Left Behind, not to mention the conquest of the Confederacy, Prohibition, Social Security, and the War on Drugs, and such atrocities against others as the murderous Trail of Tears and the executions at Wounded Knee—might commit atrocities against Muslims overseas, somehow the idea that 9/11 was a response to Uncle Sam’s evil didn’t seem so far fetched, and I wondered aloud whether the question might at least be worth considering by the elders of any church that prayed for the troops fighting the post-9/11 wars.
It seems, though, that just as Bible Belt Christians never wanted to shine biblical light on slavery and Jim Crow, today’s US Christians don’t want to consider the possibility that overseas Muslims have legitimate complaints against Uncle Sam. My prediction is that just as the barbarism of the Obama presidency can be traced back to centuries of injustices and careless subjugation of blacks in this country, God will place much of what is today US territory under Shari`a law by exposing the hypocrisy of the church in regard to such things as nationalism and collateral damage.
Meantime, Alcorn’s book is a great read and belongs in the library of any primarily white church that seeks to reach out to the disaffected black community.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Regarding Jon Stewart “owning” Ron Paul over health care
If a five-year-old illegal immigrant walks into a hospital in the US and needs care, should he get it?
Ron Paul: [We need to fix the system and let the free market operate.]
Jon Stewart: “I’m sorry Congressman Paul, the correct answer is yes.”
What’s yours is yours.
If you own the hospital and you want to treat the kid, the answer is yes.
If you own the hospital and you don’t want to treat the kid, the answer is no.
If you don’t own the hospital, what’s it to you?
If you don’t own the hospital and the hospital doesn’t want to treat the kid, treat him yourself.
If the hospital doesn’t want to treat the kid and you don’t want to treat the kid either, shut up.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Come, come, Mr. Cohen,
You can’t blame the government for all your problems!
Auschwitz isn’t the Ritz, but
You’ve gotta admit that
It could be a lot worse!
You can’t blame the government for all your problems!
Auschwitz isn’t the Ritz, but
You’ve gotta admit that
It could be a lot worse!
I’ve lost a lot of friends over the last few years; the issue seems to be that I’m always turning the conversation to government evil. “We live in a fallen world,” I’m told. “Nobody’s perfect. Not even you.” (I’d say especially not me, but maybe they’re being polite.) I’ve noticed that it seems to be rare for other people’s conversations that deal with hardship to avoid coming around to complaints about government misdeeds, but then I get in trouble for suggesting that the government they are complaining about is the source of the problem.
It’s as though the problem with the world is sin, but somehow the government doesn’t sin—the sin is always somewhere else, not in the government. If the trouble with the world—if the reason the world is fallen—is sin, is there reason to believe that government and sin are closely related?
The promise with which Satan tempted our first parents was, “Ye shall be as gods [KJV; most versions as God].” In other words, “You won’t have to play by the rules God has set for ordinary people.” The biggest lie is that we can be more than just a creature and stand above the rest of humanity; the biggest sin is believing it and acting on it. (As the old joke goes, “Everyone wants to be an exception. Except me.”) I see this as the root of my own sins, and it seems to be the root of others’ sins: I do things that hurt others because for some reason I think I have the right to. But I’m not alone in this: would a man rape his date, or embezzle from his employer, or, as happened in Washington this week, open fire on a group of strangers if he didn’t think he somehow had a right to do it?
To believe in government is to believe that some people have the right to take others’ property, to tell those others what they must do, what they may do, and what they may not do, and even to kill those who do not submit.
Is there nothing in your view of human nature that tells you that people who have extraordinary rights and privileges will take advantage of them? that if everyone believes that it is right for some to take the property and liberty of others that they will do so? If you tell everyone that government is legitimate, and you give the government the power to carry out its dictates, then isn’t it “doin’ what comes naturally” for those who have thus become as gods to use that power for their own advantage at the expense of their neighbors? Is it unreasonable to assume that the more power such “gods” have, the more they will affect their neighbors’ lives, the more damage they will do, and the more likely it is that almost any given evil can be traced to them?
Though there has never been as much food per person on the planet as there is now, thousands of people will starve to death today. The same number will starve tomorrow and the next day. Most will go from a horrendous earthly existence to unspeakable eternal torment. Why is this? Is it unreasonable to suggest that we look first at the “gods” who control the earth’s people and resources? Could it be that the more the oppressed associate the church of Jesus Christ with those “gods,” the less they will be inclined to listen to the Good News?
I would suggest that if we are to let our lights shine so that people will see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven (and thus escape eternal torment, and hopefully the horrors of starvation), we need to debunk the legitimacy of the “gods” and turn our allegiance only to the true God.
We can begin by looking in the Bible at the men God specifically appoints as rulers: Pharaoh, Saul son of Kish, David (specifically his “godly” treatment of Uriah the Hittite), Nebuchadnezzar, and the Beast of Revelation. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that.”
“God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s support.” Maybe the reason the wealthiest, most theologically educated and equipped-with-Bibles-and-other-resources group of Christians the world has ever seen—American evangelicals—has lost the war for the culture of its society is that it has used Romans 13 as a warrant for partaking of Satan’s fruit.
Friday, August 30, 2013
Let's pretend that the woman who means the most to you [or just you, if you’re a woman] and I, as the apostle Philip was translated to Azotus, are translated to a deserted island where we’re told we’ll be there for a month. There’s enough on the island to make us comfortable, but only if we work together. So we stay for a month and then return. After we return, the lady is asked, “How was it?” She replies, “I would not have chosen to be there, and I wouldn't have chosen to be there with him, but apart from that, it was OK. Nothing bad happened. It wasn’t fantastic. It wasn’t bad. It was OK.”
In one sentence, describe how I would treat her for that to be her sincere response.
I would suggest that your one-sentence answer to my question would be your definition of basic human decency.
Did you imagine me saying to her, “I am my brother’s keeper. I answer only to God. I’m in charge. You will do as I say”?
Or did you imagine me saying, “What’s yours will be yours. Let’s [as equals] decide what’s yours, then let’s [as equals] work out how we’ll work together [as equals]”?
If the lady were not a Christian, which version of me would she be more likely to listen to present the gospel?
Which version of me would be more likely to “needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” after a month alone with a woman?
If it works for two, why would it not work for twenty, or twenty million?