Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Play along with me. If you had one million dollars to spend to help stimulate the economy, what would you do? What would I do?

Option 1:  Give the money to a billionaire, in the blind hope that the billionaire will pass along that million to his employees in some form. Or that he’ll spend it on a nice luxury product that (hopefully) will be an American product. Or that he won’t exercise the many loopholes that still exist and he’ll give that whole amount back to the U.S. government to spend. And of course, pray that the money won’t go into an offshore investment account somewhere in the Caribbean or Switzerland.

But what would Jesus do? What investments would Jesus make that I would want to make as well?

Option 2:

I’d like to invest a small part of that one million to provide food stamps for a struggling family. I’d want the nine year old in that family to have access to a healthy meal that could mean the difference between performing well in school and dropping out of school. Along the same lines, I’d want to invest a small part of that one million to make sure that my local school has free breakfast and free lunch for families in need. A student that has breakfast in the morning will outperform the student that goes hungry. A small investment for the future. Probably won’t pay off with rising housing prices before a President’s four year term is up.

I’d like to invest a small part of that one million in one of my students and give him a Pell Grant or a Federally subsidized student loan so that he can continue to pastor his inner city church while getting an education that will strengthen his ministry. As his ministry grows in impact, he will continue to raise more leaders from his inner city youth group. Those young leaders will impact the future of that inner city neighborhood. It is a long bet. But I know that my student’s long-term impact on his community can be strengthened with a solid education.

I’m even willing to invest a small part of that one million in a “foreign” investment. I would like to make sure that food and medical supplies are sent to places throughout the world that encounter catastrophic disasters. But not just investing in disaster, I’d like to invest in community development efforts that bring fresh water, sanitation, and hygiene. In the long run, this investment might prove to be a more shrewd investment than increasing the number of ships in our navy. If it came down to it, it would seem like an easy choice: a destroyer or food/medicine.

I’d like to invest a small part of that one million to make sure that my 80-year-old mother continues to get her prescription medication benefit. This investment is not for the future. But given all that she has done to secure my future, I can’t imagine denying her this small return on her immense contribution.

So my investment strategy is a diverse portfolio rather than betting it all on one fat cat. I would love to believe that the one million dollar investment in the billionaire’s benevolence would result in a deep and wide dispersion of that investment into many sectors of the American economy. But I am also a student of history and know where that story has taken us before.

The myth of trickle down economics is that a rising tide lifts all boats.  That’s true for those with luxury yachts and even sailboats. But the poorest of our communities and the very least of our brothers and sisters drown without safety nets. And I seem to remember my Bible telling me that whatever I’ve done to the very least of my brothers and sisters, I’ve done to Christ.

Advertisements

When I was a 17 years-old-year Senior in High School, I was in several Advanced Placement courses. As the school year drew to a close, I wanted to take the AP test that would allow me to attain college credit. The AP tests, however, were very, very expensive. I went to my guidance counselor. She said that they could waive the fees for the exams if I qualified for the school’s free lunch program.

I had avoided the free lunch program for years. I had been on the free lunch program in elementary school and middle school but was always embarrassed by it. So when I got to high school, I didn’t apply for it. I picked up a part time job so I could pay for my own lunch. But now, I wouldn’t be able to take my AP exams if I didn’t fill out the free lunch program form.

So I agreed to fill out the form. Later that day, my guidance counselor sent a student aide with the form to my social studies class room, where in front of the entire class, she declared that I needed to fill out the free lunch form. I remember the shame of not only my classmates laughing at me that day, but my high school teacher bursting out in laughter as well.

My family was poor. My father abandoned our family when I was in elementary school, leaving my mom to raise four children by herself. I don’t know of many people that worked harder than my mom. She worked two jobs for many years to keep our family together. She worked in an inner city Baltimore sub shop (the kind of store with the thick plexi-glass barrier and the small turnstile to exchange money and food). After her ten-hour day shift, she would head over to the inner city nursing home to work the graveyard shift as a nurses’ aide. She would return home at seven in the morning to make us breakfast, grab a quick nap, before heading back to work at 10am. She worked nearly 20 hours a day, six days a week. She insisted on keeping the Sabbath holy and would reserve all day Sunday for service at our church. A devout Christian woman with an incredible work ethic.

Despite her long hours of work, she had trouble making ends meet. Our family lived in a small two bedroom apartment in a rough inner city Baltimore neighborhood. For long periods of time, there would be nothing to eat in our refrigerator. I tell my 11 year-old daughter who is coming dangerously close to being as tall as I am, that if I had had proper nutrition when I was her age, she would never be close to me in height.

So back in the 1980’s, my mom applied for food stamps. We used them to buy groceries and food. We needed this safety net to eat, to survive.

Years later, I remember sitting in an evangelical seminary classroom as a student in a Christian ethics class. The topic was government programs that helped the poor. I sat listening to the vitriolic venom spewed by these good Christian men about freeloaders and welfare queens. I sat in stunned silence listening to future pastors judging people they did not know — sitting in their seminary ivory tower casting dispersion on all these freeloaders.

A few weeks ago, North Park University (where I am now privileged to serve as a member of the faculty) sponsored a viewing of The Line, a short feature documentary produced by Sojourners. The film showed images of everyday poverty throughout American (apparently a topic that is taboo in Presidential politics). Seeing the courage of these individuals sharing their struggles emboldened me to share my story. So this tenured professor who holds four advanced degrees from two Ivy League institutions with a fifth advanced degree on the way, shared with a group of undergraduates that he had once been on food stamps. That I wouldn’t have made it through my education without government help – through food stamps, free lunches, Pell grants, and government-backed student loans.

So maybe my story makes me a part of the 47% that has grown dependent on government and would never vote for a self-made man. Maybe some will view me as the offspring of a welfare queen. Or maybe I fulfill a new political category tinged with racial overtones: the food stamp professor.

Or maybe my story makes me an American.

Let’s be clear. In a secular state, a candidate’s religion should not matter. Religious affiliation should not categorically eliminate any individual from holding public office in a secular state like the United States. Freedom of religion allows our civic society to survive.

However, I am becomingly increasingly disturbed by how much religion plays a dysfunctional role in our electoral politics. The co-opting of evangelicals by one political party has diminished the Christian prophetic voice. The converse of that trend would not help matters.

The open process of electing a public official such as the President is rife with a wide range of perspectives and opinions. When our faith influences our politics, it can have a powerfully positive effect — such as advocacy for the very least of these. Or it can lead to a warped sense of election — that one candidate is anointed and the other is to be demonized. It happens on both sides.

As a Christian and as an American citizen, I need to apply Biblical principles to my political choices, while at the same time, being careful not to force religious values upon a secular state. Specifically, I want to be careful not to elevate my high view of the United States to a form of idolatry. The conflation of American exceptionalism and American Christianity is a dangerous trend in American politics. It is an idolatry that must be challenged and confronted in Christian circles. There is an inherent danger when a nation sees itself as a chosen, exceptional people destined to be the hope and salvation of the world. This conviction carries over to other faiths. When Islamic jihadists justify violent actions in the name of God, it is also a misappropriation of religious faith.

So I cannot put aside my dis-ease and discomfort with Gov. Romney’s view of American exceptionalism. Gov. Romney closed out the third and final debate on Monday night with a disturbing statement that Christians MUST disavow. He said: “America is the hope for the world.” Even a cursory familiarity with Mormon theology would reveal that Mormonism holds to a high view of America as God’s chosen nation. America replaces Israel in Mormon theology. This perspective of American exceptionalism is also found in certain sectors of evangelicalism.

There is NO Biblical support for American exceptionalism. America is NOT the new Israel. America is NOT the hope for the world. When a nation positions itself as the hope of the world, all sorts of possible abuses arise. When a nation claims that it carries out its actions in the name of God, there are no checks to that nation’s actions. A nation can act in any manner that it wishes because it is blessed and ordained by God. It is a form of jihad.  Where any action can be justified because it is being carried out in the name of God. It is NOT a biblical worldview.

North Park University presents the 2012 JUSTICE SUMMIT. This conference brings together theologians, teachers, students, and activists from across the country. Participants at this two-day event will learn how to engage people in ministries of compassion and mercy, challenge policies through advocacy and community organizing, and partner with programs and projects of community-based organizations for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

Today’s schedule:
9am – Jim Wallis

10:30 – Workshops, including presentations by Curtis Evans (U. of Chicago), Tim King and Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojourners), Corey Brooks (the rooftop pastor), Dan Hodge (NPU’s Director of Youth Studies), David Byrd (Chicago Urban League).

NOON: Lunch forum/reception to learn about the NEW Urban Ministry Certificate Program (hosted by yours truly).

1:15pm: Judy Peterson (North Park University)

2:45: Workshops

7:00: Dr. Cornel West

It is not too LATE!  Register at the door.  Hope to see you there.

Come by to say hi at the Urban Ministry Certificate Launch at NOON (Carlson Building, Room 28)

I recently read a news report that a heart medication [propranolol] could actually impact racial attitudes. “Volunteers given the beta-blocker, used to treat chest pains and lower heart rates, scored lower on a standard psychological test of ‘implicit’ racist attitudes.”

Many do not seem to get the main point of the research. The goal of the research is not to look for ways to spike everyone’s drinking water with a compound that would reduce racism in our world. If only that were possible. But the goal is to reveal a potential cause for racist attitudes.

As the Telegraph article states explicitly: “Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that racism is fundamentally founded on fear.” Racists are driven by fear.

Maybe that’s why the Bible so frequently says, “Fear NOT!” Doesn’t seem like a huge revelation, but it does put racism and racist attitudes in its proper context.
Do not fear a black President.
Do not fear the alien and immigrant among you.
Do not fear the decline of white evangelicalism and the rise of non-white evangelicalism.
Do not fear a black/brown world Christianity.
Do not fear non-white thought leaders challenging the evangelical status quo.
Do not fear.

If only it were that simple.

North Park University to Host ‘Justice Summit and Chicago Reload’ March 23-24

North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload image

Cornel West, Jim Wallis highlight prominent speaker lineup

CHICAGO (February 2, 2012) – North Park University, Chicago, will host hundreds of people next month at an event for those who want to know more about justice as a way of life. Participants in the “North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload,” event will learn how to engage in ministries of compassion and mercy, confront policies through advocacy and community organizing, and partner with programs and projects of community-based organizations, all from a Christian perspective.

The Justice Summit and Chicago Reload is March 23-24. It combines Chicago Reload, an annual event for urban youth workers hosted by the University the past seven years, with a new Justice Summit to expand the audience and dig deeper into the subject of justice, including focus on systemic issues and policies. Event organizers are hoping at least 500 or more people will attend.

Prominent plenary speakers highlight the event, and are expected to address justice, compassion and mercy from varied perspectives and contexts. They are Dr. Cornel West, Princeton (N.J.) University; Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners, Washington; Rev. Harvey Carey, senior pastor, Citadel of Faith Covenant Church, Detroit; Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary; and Rev. Judy Peterson, campus pastor, North Park University.

“The whole idea is to gather folks around the issue of justice, and start the dialogue in a direction we think is holistic,” said Tony Zamblé, director, North Park University Ministries. “This idea gained traction because we believe North Park is uniquely positioned as an institution to lead the conversation on justice.” Justice Summit and Chicago Reload presenters will address the theological framework for justice ministry so participants understand what God calls them to do, and why, Zamblé said.

Justice issues are a significant component of youth ministry regardless of the context, said Alison Burkhardt, assistant director, Center for Youth Ministry Studies, North Park University. “There is a real electricity around Chicago Reload, and I believe it’s going to translate into the full conference. I’m hoping attendees will leave knowing that what they do makes a difference, having perhaps a different perspective on the impact they have on the communities they’re working with,” she said. Conference planners hope attendees gain “foundations and tools” for doing ministry that can be applied in multiple contexts, Burkhardt added.

Attendees will be able to choose from a significant number of workshops organized into four tracks, said Rich Kohng, urban outreach coordinator, North Park University Ministries. Workshop categories include “Presence,” “Policy,” “Programs,” and “Perceptions,” he said. Some workshops are already planned, and others will be added in the coming weeks. Kohng said he hopes attendees will become “contemplative activists,” combining their relationships with Jesus Christ and activism as important components of the gospel.

Conference registration is open online; early registration rates are available through Feb. 29. Regular registration begins March 1 and closes online March 21. For those who sign up, conference email updates are also available.

Justice Summit and Chicago Reload sponsors are three University entities: University Ministries, Campus Theme Committee, and the Center for Youth Ministry Studies. North Park University is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

North Park Theological Seminary Announces Urban Ministry Certificate

Certificate in Urban Ministry

Applications for first cohort accepted through March 31

CHICAGO (February 10, 2012) – North Park Theological Seminary is accepting applications for a new, two-year graduate educational program leading to a Certificate in Urban Ministry. The 15-credit certificate program is intended for Christian ministers and lay leaders who want to learn more about engaging in effective ministry in urban settings.

The Seminary is part of North Park University, a higher education institution with a Christian, multicultural, and urban identity. Those core values, combined with the cultural and Christian diversity represented in Chicago, position the Seminary to offer a rich educational experience to students, said Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, program director. Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism for the Seminary, and a former urban pastor himself.

“Chicago is part of the classroom we’re offering,” he said in an interview. “Being in Chicago is a tremendous advantage. It is a center for community development, community organizing, for ethnic diversity, and with diverse neighborhoods.”

Offering a certificate program in urban ministry is part of a larger trend of urbanization and the growing influences of urban culture, Rah said. Both the University and Seminary are affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), which is planting new congregations in urban areas, Rah said. Urban pastors and urban lay workers could benefit greatly from the certificate program, Rah said. “We hope it will strengthen and undergird their urban ministry,” he said. The program can also introduce people to urban ministry who want to learn more.

The urban environment is complex, constantly changing, and always challenging, Rah said. The certificate program will emphasize deeper theological and spiritual engagement, as well as practical ideas for enhancing urban ministry. “We do this ministry as followers of Jesus. Anytime we can deepen the theology, it is a good thing. Also important are spiritual formation and discipleship. All of these serve to strengthen our work in the city,” he said.

Students who complete the program will earn 15 credit hours in just over two years. Plans call for the first cohort to meet Aug. 13–17 in Chicago, followed by online coursework beginning in October. The cohort will meet in Chicago for another week in August 2013, followed by online coursework. A final week-long gathering in Chicago is planned for August 2014. Rah said an ideal size for the urban ministry cohort is about 15 to 20 people.

“There is great enthusiasm in this Seminary and in this denomination for this certificate program,” said Rah. “It represents a wonderful convergence of what North Park University is all about, and what the Evangelical Covenant Church is excited about.”

Applications and supporting materials must be submitted to North Park Theological Seminary by March 31, said E. Kirsten Burdick, director of Seminary admissions. All applications will be considered at the same time in April, she said.