Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

I have had the pleasure of participating in several meetings and conversations in preparation for what promises to be a historic gathering in Cape Town this coming October.  There is a growing sense of God’s great work for the past one hundred years and Cape Town 2010 will be a part of embracing God’s ongoing work of global evangelization. 

In the last century, the locus and demographic center of Christianity has shifted from North America and Europe to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. My concern, however, is that as the American delegation, we may be too quick to speak and to pontificate and too slow to hear and to learn.  I raise these concerns as I have observed what seems to be a disturbing pattern in the conversations and gatherings that I have attended in the U.S.

In my first such event, the gathered American pastors had the privilege of hearing from a South American evangelist, who laid out the how a community of believers evangelized his neighborhood through a corporate effort.  The evangelist revealed an understanding of a holistic gospel that did not limit its impact to the saving of individual souls.  This deeply moving and provocative presentation was followed by a American majority culture male who proceeded to essentially undermine the statements made by the South American evangelist; including a comment to the effect: “But we know what the gospel is really about . . . don’t we?”  I may have misheard, but I got the distinct impression that the American pastor felt the need to correct the South American evangelist.

In another gathering, there was brisk conversation around the issue of the intersection between social justice and evangelism.  The conversation yielded much fodder for further inquiry.  The lively interaction was followed by another majority culture European American male, who proceeded to make his proclamation of what he believed should be emphasis of the upcoming gathering in Cape Town.   In other words, he was given the final word; and whether he contradicted the group discussion or not, it served to reinforce that the real authority in the room was the majority culture individual.

In one of the latest round of conversation, there was a wide range of opinions offered by the panelists.  But once again, an American majority culture male was given the last word and proceeded to give a long monologue about the state of the church.  I don’t fault the individuals who were willing to share their heart.  But I worry about how in the conversations in the U.S. church, the dominant, authoritative, and final voice is given to the white male.

An added element that yields further exasperation is that there has been a noticeable lack of diversity in the panelists, among the host churches and the audience that have gathered for these conversations. This lack of diversity reflects an ongoing significant blind spot for the American delegation. I know that there have been some notable effort to recruit minority delegates, but unfortunately the dominant group remains the dominant group for the U.S. delegation. If we go to South Africa (of all places), for a global evangelization conference with a small number of Native American and African-American delegates, we should be justifiably embarrassed.

Tokenism allows for one or two individuals of differing shades and hues to sit at the table.  But tokenism also means that those voices are drowned out or corrected by the majority culture. At the end of the day, are we saying to the Christians outside of America, that it’s nice that you are here (in Cape Town or in a major U.S. city) and it’s nice that you have a few nice things to say, but we will still be sure to correct you at the end of the conversation to clue you in as to what’s really going on.

I will readily admit that my experience reflects a very limited sample size. But I’m trying to grasp the big picture of what this gathering in Cape Town will be about.  Everyone who goes to the Cape Town gathering will have the best of intentions and the noblest of motivations.  I pray that as the delegation from the United States prepares to engage in conversation and dialogue with brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, we would be slow to speak and quick to listen.

Once in a while, legislation is introduced that makes the moral choice so crystal clear that it is nearly impossible not to do the right thing. The DREAM Act is one such bill. Every year, more than 65,000 students graduate from high school and discover they have no hope for the future. Without citizenship or legal status, they cannot apply for a driver’s license, struggle to find a college to accept them, and cannot legally work in the United States. Their crime? Being carried into our country as children without the proper documentation, often without any say in the matter or understanding of how it would affect the rest of their lives.

Are we a nation that will continue to punish children for the actions of their parents? The DREAM Act says no! Ask the Senate to pass this important bill. The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S., if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military. It has strict criteria and caps on who is eligible, and would provide almost a million young people a chance to come out of the shadows and live a full life in the only nation they call home. The Senate plans to vote on the DREAM Act next week, as an amendment to a larger, previously scheduled defense bill. The media is already creating a story of conflict — saying the bill provides “amnesty” and shouldn’t be attached to a military bill. What are our priorities as a nation? We can spend billions on going to war and on our military, but will we come together to give almost a million young people a chance at a brighter and more promising future?

Tell the Senate to set politics aside and pass the DREAM Act next week! As people of faith, we believe that there is a clear biblical responsibility to show compassion for the strangers among us and to treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. Sojourners’ Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign has been a passionate voice for comprehensive reform to our immigration system. Passing the DREAM act is a step in the right direction on the journey for justice.

In solidarity and hope,

Allison, Andrew, Elizabeth, Hannah, Rev. Jen, and Duane at Sojourners

A few weeks ago, Glen Beck launched an attack on churches that speak about social justice.  It was an interesting plan of attack for a conservative to attack churches that are politically active, given that in previous years, it was conservatives begging evangelicals to be politically active.  So I must admit that I didn’t quite get what Beck was trying to say.

As a professor of evangelism and someone that has spent considerable time reflecting on the social-cultural role of evangelicalism in American society (see my book: The Next Evangelicalism), I was a bit taken aback by how many bought into the belief that social justice should not be a part of the work of churches.  The divorce of social justice from personal piety was a major failure of the evangelical church in America in the early part of the twentieth century.  In the 19th century, Christians were oftentimes at the forefront of social reform, leading the abolitionist movement, the reform of child labor laws, and voting rights for women.  It was in the 20th century that fundamentalist Christianity moved towards a more isolationist view that led to an unhealthy disengagement from society.  In the 21st century, many younger evangelicals are attempting to reassert that social justice is an integral part of one’s faith.  It is in actuality, an attempt to return to a social ethic that arises from the Bible.

From April 14-17 at North Park University, a group of evangelical scholars, pastors, and activists will gather together to examine the question: “What does an evangelical social ethic for the 21st century look like?”  Beck’s statements revealed a fundamental weakness among evangelicals.  We struggle with the role of the church in society.  We vacillate between overly ambitious attempts to take over the government and retreating to our Christian rabbit holes.  As a new generation of more ethnically diverse evangelicals arise from the rubble of the Religious Right, we may see a whole new role for evangelicals in the public sphere.

4days4justice at North Park University is an attempt to hear from previously marginalized voices in both American society and the evangelical community.  We will have the chance to hear Native American Christians address the issue of environmental justice.  (I still haven’t figured out how we ever had any serious dialogue about the environment without considering the perspective of the Native American community).  We will be involved in round table discussions (in a fishbowl style) on the topic of social justice with evangelicals from various ethnic communities.  And we will offer workshops (particularly geared towards local churches) on various social justice topics during a one day training session on Saturday, April 17th. Will we answer all the questions about the role of evangelicals in the public realm.? No, but I hope that at least we’re asking the right questions.

For more information check: www.northpark.edu/4days4justice.

An Update based upon some of the best shows of the ’90s.

Law and Order (Tom Skinner’s Urbana ’70 Address). I’m working on some reflections on the emergence of Black evangelicalism in the later half of the 20th century.  An excerpt from one of the most important addresses given by an African-American evangelical in an evangelical gathering.

Now, during this great upsurge in revolution and rebellion that has been going on, there have been great numbers of evangelical Christians who have joined the hoot and cry for “law and order.”

But how do you explain “law and order” to a mother who stands at the foot of her bed watching her baby lie in a blood bath, when she knows that that baby would never have been bitten by the rat in the first place, and the rat would have never been in the building, if the landlord to whom she had been paying high rent had been providing the kind of service she deserved for the kind of rent she was paying?

How do you explain law and order to her when she knows the building code inspector, who represents the city administration, who is supposed to check out violations in buildings, came by that building the day before but was met at the front door by the landlord who palmed a hundred dollars in his hand, and the building code inspector kept going? Now that is lawlessness.

But the point is, we never arrest the landlord. We never lock up the building code inspector. But I tell you who we do lock up. We lock up the frustrated, bitter, sixteen-year-old brother of that two-week-old sister who in his bitterness takes to the street and throws a brick at that building code inspector. Then we lock him up and say, “We gotta have law and order!”

Friends: It was great to see some friends when I returned to Boston to preach at Eastern Nazarene College’s Spring Revival.  I’m back in Boston on two different occasions in the spring.  Hope to catch up with others during those visits.  I’ll be speaking at the Ethnic America Conference (in April) as well as Gordon-Conwell Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME)’s Graduation Banquet.  We’ll also be swinging by Boston during the summer as I’m scheduled to speak at a family camp in New Hampshire in July.

In Living Color: Randy Woodley, author of Living in Color and a frequent contributor to this blog is on his way to Chicago.  He will be one of the participants at 4days4justice.  Got a sneak another plug for 4days in here  somewhere. 🙂

Peter Heltzel, the author of Jesus and Justice and Assistant Professor of Theology at New York Theological Seminary will be speaking on the topic of Jesus, Justice and Race at 9am on April 15th as part of 4days4justice.  I have had the privilege of working with Peter on two different book projects: (1) on the Theological Legacy of John Perkins and (2) Theologies of Freedom.

Here’s a link of an interview with Peter Heltzel about the real meaning of Christmas.

After Peter Heltzel’s session, Mimi Haddadwill be speaking at 10:45am on Thursday, April 15th.  Dr. Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. She holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the University of Durham, England. She has written numerous articles and has contributed to eight books, most recently as an editor and a contributing author of Global Voices on Biblical Equality: Women and Men Serving Together in the Church.

For more info: See the 4days4justice website. You can register HERE.

Terry LeBlanc is one of our featured speakers on Thursday night at 4days4justice.  Terry is Mi’kmaq /Acadian, from Listuguj First Nation.  He is the founding Chairman and current CEO of NAIITS (North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies).  He will be speaking on environmental justice from a Native American perspective.  (I’ve often said I don’t know how anyone can ever presume to talk about environmentalism without first consulting those who are the first caretakers of this land). I got to know Terry, first at Urbana ’03 and am honored to call Terry a friend and mentor.

Below is a video clip of a news report on Native – Canadian reconciliation in the church.  Terry LeBlanc is featured in this interview.

Terry will also be one of the moderators in the fishbowl discussion on scheduled for Thursday and Friday.  See the 4days4justice website for full details.  It is not too late to register.

Andrea Smith (Professor at University of California, Riverside) will be presenting on the topic of the Non-profit industrial complex.

Here’s a clip from Andy.

Andrea will also be moderating the fishbowl discussion on Thursday and Friday.

See the 4days4justice website: www.northpark.edu/4days4justice