The Flames of Pentecost, a World on Fire, and the Hope of the Kingdom

Today we are supposed to talk about the miraculous birth of the church in the flames of Pentecost when tongues of fire descended upon those gathered and the gospel was heard in the varied languages of the world. Pentecost is the miracle that follows on from the miracle that occurs in the aftermath of a wonder. Jesus, Israel’s king and Messiah, was crucified and raised from the dead. He then ascended into heaven so that in the words of St. Paul God might fulfill his promise “to put all things under the feet” of our king.

Paul also says that God made Christ the head over all things “for the church.” Christ rules over all things for our good. In a world that is burning this is indeed gospel. 

If the first Pentecost is the miracle that follows the miracle that occurs in the aftermath of the wonder, this Pentecost finds the American church in a much different place. It feels like this Pentecost occurs in the aftermath of a woe, following a trauma, in the context of a tragedy. We gather virtually to talk about the flames of Pentecost while Minneapolis and so many other cities burn. The protests and riots of Minneapolis follow the death of George Floyd who was choked to death while handcuffed and pleading for his life. For nine minutes a police officer kept his knee on a man’s neck while he called for his mother.

This occurs in the wake of the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. All this takes place within the wider context of a country in which 100k people have died from a deadly virus and the church is physically scattered.  It feels more like we are in the middle of an extended Lent rather than the end of Eastertide.

Some will hear me talk of these events and assume that I am bringing ‘politics’ into the church. They will wonder why I am not upset about black on black crime or the black family or abortion or looting or whatever topic that avoids looking at the thing itself. The thing itself is the 400 year history of racial trauma and oppression that stalks black life in this country.

Some might wonder what riots and a black man dying at the hand of the police have to do with Pentecost and the actual passage in Acts 2:1–21. Don’t we understand, brothers and sisters, this is the question! Does the gospel, the death and resurrection of the Messiah for our sins, have anything to do with how approach the flames of Minneapolis? Does the church have something to say or will we be discipled by Fox News on the one hand and MSNBC on the other? Cities are burning and a country is divided, what do the words of the gospel mean in this context. There is no other world to talk about Jesus than a world in which black men have their necks steps on for nine minutes.

The only way to answer that question is to look at the thing itself, the words of Scripture.  I want to make three points from our reading today: (1) The gospel brings us together (2) The Spirit moves us toward people very different from ourselves; (3) our hope is the gospel of the Kingdom

The Gospel brings us together

Acts 2:1–21 opens with the followers of Jesus gathered in one place. It is amazing to think that at point in history all the Christians in the world could fit into one room. Despite what the history books will tell you, Christianity is not some state sponsored religion of terror created by Constantine to keep the populous in check. It began humbly with a rag tag group of a 120 mostly regular folks who had encountered the living God. Among them were women like Mary who came from rural peasant stock and people like Matthew, the former tax collector. The two of them could not be more different. Matthew collaborated with the oppressors of Israel and extorted money from the people to line his pockets. Folks like Mary were the victims of such atrocities. What kind of church has room for both the oppressed and former oppressors? What united them? What unites us as a church now? What united them was their shared convictions about Jesus. They were together and that is what the gospel does. It unites us around the lordship of Christ

What would this unity look like today for the family of George Floyd? What would it mean for us to be together with them? What would it mean to be with the Black community in the United States who have experienced kidnapping, middle passage, slavery, Jim Crow, and the Litany of suffering that marks our life here? Would it not mean, as an act of love, to say it should not have to be this way, and I will spend my life beside yours to testify to the value the Christian tradition places on your black life?

The same Spirit falls upon all in the room. There is not one holy Spirit enabling women to declare the word of God and another for men. There is not one Spirit that gives words to the rich and another for the poor. There is not one Holy Spirit that enables us to speak to African peoples and another that allows us to speak to Asians or Europeans. The one Spirit send the one Gospel to varied peoples of the earth. The same Spirit is able to minister to all people because it reaches our common humanity. The Holy Spirit didn’t have to work extra hard to convince African peoples of the gospel because there is some flaw in us that makes us hard to reach. The singularity of the gospel’s work through the Spirit arising from our common status as image bearers speaks to our common humanity. We are all fallen and in need of God’s grace. Any ideology that functionally or verbally denies that common status is a heresy. Anyone who denies that the heresy of racism infects this country and many Christians in it does so in the face of facts that would make the soldiers at the empty tomb seem like reliable witnesses.

The Gospel moves us out


The gospel drew them outside their own culture to speak and eventually do life together with people very different from themselves. Everyone at Pentecost was Jewish, but that Judaism had been moved into the varied languages and communities of the Roman Empire. The first thing that the gospel did was bring people together under the Lordship of Christ. If the gospel draws us together to hear the mighty works of God has it lost its power to do so among us? Why aren’t we together anymore? And what would it mean for the watching world to see a Christianity that was together spiritually and practically? 

Black Christians can deal with the people who have no reason support us. We can deal with secular racists. What is heartbreaking and exhausting is to find ourselves fighting for our very right to exist and find that the enemy we see is someone who is our brother. What is that passage in the Psalter? “It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that; But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God” (Psa. 55:12–14 NRSV). Our life together, if we are to be together, can’t be at the expense of my freedom. I shouldn’t have to fight my brother to obtain it.

The nations are being drawn to together and there two responses: (1) They are just drunk; (2) What does this mean? One response refuses to acknowledge the facts of what is going on and draws upon their know experience to dismiss the work of God. It’s just alcohol. The second asks a deeper question: what is God up to in their midst?

I will get back to Pentecost. Let me say this about the world that is on fire all around us. Some look at the black demands of justice and can only reach for some political explanation. They are just democrats trying to ruin the church or they are really theological liberals beholden to Marxism. But maybe those are ways to avoid looking at the thing itself. What are Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters really saying? What does it mean? What is God up to?

Peter dismisses the first question with a sentence or two, but addresses the question of meaning more deeply. He tells them that they are experiencing the Spirit promised in Joel. Joel says that when God acted to redeem his people it would universal – men and women, young and old, rich and poor. The universal gift of the Spirit that manifested itself in the shared public ministry of the whole church (women, men, rich, poor) is a testimony to the universal saving power of the gospel. In other words, the form of Pentecost supports the theology of Pentecost- the gospel of for everyone.

The hope of the Kingdom

I am convinced that the hope for this country is not in any election or political party. Votes matter, but neither the Democratic party nor the Republican party is our savior. What we need is a Spirit filled Christianity big enough to draw the varied peoples together.

This involves two things. The first is to recognize that the problem is not just out there. It’s in our hearts. The problem isn’t just that there are racists in the world. The problem is that we all in various ways live in rebellion against God and his will for us. The gospel demands a decision from each of us about our own sins. If Jesus had a theme for his ministry it is repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent personally for your sins. Why? Because (secondly) the Kingdom is coming. This kingdom is depicted in Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth where he proclaimed good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. It is the kingdom articulated in the Psalter rooted in justice and righteousness. Jesus came to save sinners, but those saved sinners now bear witness in their lives to God’s kingdom vision. We know that this kingdom is coming because Christ is risen. Peter says it this way. This Jesus you crucified God has made him Lord and Messiah. Who controls the future?  Who unfurls history according to his purpose? The one who is the Lion and the lamb at the same time. The one who is both God’s justice and his mercy. 

We do have a message for a city and a world on fire.  There is a God who loves you and died that you might know him. This love is sufficient to gather the divided peoples of the world when all the politicians and philosophers fail. There is a God of justice who sees and acts on behalf of the beleaguered peoples of the world, people like George Floyd. There is a king and kingdom. He has given us his Spirit to make him known to the ends of the earth.

A Sermon on preached on Pentecost 2020

Holy Saturday: The Earth Holds its Breath

There is a lot going on during Holy Week. On what we call Maundy Thursday we remember the installation of the Eucharist and Jesus’ command that we love one another as seen in his washing of the disciple’s feet. The Maundy Thursday does not service does not end. Jesus’s ministry does not stop, but like the disciples we flee into the night. Good Friday picks up where Thursday left off. Jesus has been arrested, and we walk with him through his trial and passion.  Most Anglican churches will move along to the Easter vigil in which we tell whole of God’s redemptive story from beginning to end climaxing with the acclamation that Christ is risen.

Sadly many churches have lost sight of a little service nestled between Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. It is called Holy Saturday. It is a gem of a service that reflects on the time between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. The prayer for Holy Saturday reminds us that Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb and took its rest on the Sabbath.

O God, creator of Heaven and Earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the Tomb and rested on this Holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this prayer we are called to wait with Jesus for the coming of the third day. It asks us to trust Jesus in the darkest trials to know that something good awaits us. But if we reflect for a moment about the radical difference between how Jesus experienced Holy Saturday and how the disciples experienced it, we begin to realize how staggering the prayer is and the supreme challenge that it poses. 

At this point in the gospel story there is nothing left for the disciples to do. There are no more acts of faith to perform. All that remains is the waiting.  Holy Saturday reminds us, as the sabbath itself does, that for all our activity our hope is not in the things that we do. Our hope in the God who created all and instituted the day of rest to remind us of our limits.

The last month has been a world wind. Churches have gone online and found a thousand different ways to minister. But the church will not endure because we listened to all the podcasts and online Zoom sessions about how to pastor during a pandemic. The church will survive because God will sustain it when we have reached the end of our ropes. Holy Saturday reminds the church to pause. 

The readings from Holy Saturday are filled with questions about death. Job 14:1–14, the Old Testament reading, asks this question, “If someone dies, will they live again?”  Psalm 88, also appointed on this morning, ponders “Do you show wonders to the dead or shall the dead rise up and praise you? Is your loving-kindness declared in the grave, your faithfulness in destruction?” The answer to these questions is yes, but the psalmist is not so confident.

The readings reveal our anxieties about the limits of God’s power. In times of trauma we are tempted to wonder if the problem is too big for God. The disciples must have asked this question on Holy Saturday. Was the crucifixion of Jesus a tragedy so all encompassing that there was no future? Holy Saturday is our pause to remember the depth of the problem so that we might celebrate the extent of God’s victory. Death is no small thing; it the monster that eats everything. Everyone who survives COVID19 will die of something else. The question posed in the readings of Holy Saturday is what will God do about it.

The good news of Holy Saturday is not that the disciples waited with faith. They did not and we do not. There are moments when the traumas in our lives are too much and we are overcome with despair. Sometimes all of this is just too much for us. The good news of Holy Saturday is that Son of God was never in doubt about what followed his Sabbath. Jesus was not in the grave hoping that things would turn out okay. Jesus reigned even when we was at rest. Whether we wait in hope or despair what matters is that we wait and then wonder of God’s victory. 

Come Let us Read Together: A (hopefully warm) Invitation to Think the Best of Each Other in the Women’s Ordination Discussion

Roots at St Ebbes Church, Oxford“Roots at St Ebbes Church, Oxford” by readephotography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

We live in a church that is attempting to discern the kinds of disagreement that are tolerable and those that are not.  Paul allowed Christians to agree to disagree about things such as food sacrificed to idols or which days one considered sacred (1 Cor. 8:1–15; Rom 14:15). Paul did not extend this “agree to disagree” attitude to all areas of the church’s life. The pursuit of Spirit empowered holiness was not up for debate (Gal 5:16–25). 

The ACNA has agreed in its constitutions and canons to allow each diocese to decide its own policy on women’s ordination. Thus, we do not believe that it is impossible for us to live together, and our bishops have modeled this charity by continuing in fellowship with one another. While the majority of ACNA dioceses do not ordain women, a slight majority of the membership of the ACNA resides in dioceses where ordained women can minister. These statistics do not speak to the beliefs of individual churches, but we are episcopally led. Given this reality, we cannot continue to carry on this discussion as if those who support women’s ordination are a beleaguered minority with second class status. We are not. 

I am at peace with living in a church that is discerning the mind of Christ. I am persuaded by arguments in favor of the ordination of women, but I understand that some of my brothers and sisters are not. Since I believe that truth can be known, a consensus in the God’s own time is possible. This means that I must, as a matter of course, be willing to listen to arguments pro and con that help me read the Scriptures and understand the church’s tradition better. I am fine with that process, but what is wearying is caricature. It is in the spirit of discerning the Scriptures together that I offer a reflection on the article written by a fellow Anglican clergy person and theologian entitled “God is not Fair.”  

The title does not appear to assume the best of proponents of women’s ordination. It seems to argue that we believe that God’s fairness requires women’s ordination. After setting this up as the basis for his argument, he then goes on to counter this notion. 

Now it is undoubtedly true that one might be able to locate some who advocate for women’s ordination based purely on a modern notion of fairness, but to think that this is the primary argument for proponents of women’s ordination in the ACNA is to fail to take seriously our engagement with the relevant Old and New Testament texts.[1] When many of our clergy women (and others) see arguments such as this put forward it is deeply discouraging.

The article cites in succession Ephesians 5:21–22, 1 Cor. 11:10, and 1 Tim. 3:2; 2:12; Titus 1:6. Speaking of Ephesian 5:21–22 the author says, “Sure, he told the members of the Ephesian church to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). But then his very next word was for wives to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22). At that point, we expect him to follow that up with a word to husbands to submit to their wives, but he does not.” 

As a point of fact, Ephesians 5:22 does not include the word submit in the Greek text. Rev. Dr. McDermott rightly assumes that Paul intends to refer to submission because he has mentioned submission in 5:21. Nonetheless Eph 5:22 says, and wives to your husbands…” Now it is more than fair to bring the submission language from 5:21 to 5:22, but that also means that section Eph 5:21–33 must be read as a commentary on what mutual submission looks like in a Christian marriage. Therefore, we cannot wall off 5:21 as a discussion of the congregation and not an instruction that husbands and wives submit to one another.  This does not in itself prove anything about women’s ordination or the proper ordering of Christian marriage. It does show that we can sometimes read our assumptions into a text instead arguing from them even when citing them. 

Continue reading “Come Let us Read Together: A (hopefully warm) Invitation to Think the Best of Each Other in the Women’s Ordination Discussion”

Black and Anglican: A Maundy Thursday Conversion Story

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Photo by Michael Morse from Pexels

The question that follows me as I move through the world as an African American Anglican priest, who identifies deeply with Black culture, is how did such an anomaly occur?  How did I move from the Black Baptist tradition of my childhood to a form of ancient Christianity as mediated initially through the Church of England, but which has been given fresh vigor through the revivals of East Africa and other parts of the Global South? Was I disgruntled with my upbringing? Was there some fatal flaw in the heritage that formed me? God forbid. I remain convinced that the Black Church is the glory of American Christianity, a light that shines in a history too often darkened by compromises of the gospel for the sake of greed and power.  The Black church is not perfect, but it is a modern miracle.

Any telling of my story will eventually climax with the events of this night (Maundy Thursday) over 15 years ago. I tell this story now to remind us of the importance of what we do this night and to testify to the power of the liturgy to do gospel work if we trust the wisdom bequeathed to us.

This story begins in college. College, for me, was largely an experience of disorientation and separation from what I knew.  the University of the South (my college of choice) took me far from the Black Baptist tradition. The school and the surrounding town were largely white with no real opportunity to experience the kind of worship that could speak to my soul like the gospel choirs I knew. In addition, it is much easier to ignore God in college than to seek him out. Therefore, I did what most college students foolishly do. I let a few religion courses and my own desires create insurmountable theological problems. Apparently, these theological problems could only be solved by adopting a moderate form of religion that neither inspired a transformation of life nor provided comfort in times of trial. It never ceases to amaze me how modern biblical and theological scholarship managed to construct a form of Christianity perfectly suited to the modern temperament. I speak of a Christianity in which we can know very little about God and what we do know is that God doesn’t want us to take any of this too seriously. Put simply, I drifted with the current of the culture replacing the received wisdom of the church with fleeting opinions of an increasingly decadent and confused society.

Continue reading “Black and Anglican: A Maundy Thursday Conversion Story”

Church Fights and The Hope of Worship at GAFCON 2018

 

 This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph 3:8–10)

 

Church fights are necessary, but dangerous. When the faith is threatened, any aspect of it, those tasked with teaching the faith must contend for the truth of Christianity as they understand it.  Those who are taught the faith must make sure that the things that they have been taught are true. We all have our responsibilities.

I was not blessed to come into the church, at least the Anglican branch of it, during a time of peace. Two fights have defined my time as an Anglican. There is the worldwide Anglican debate about the nature of marriage, and there is the smaller fight in the United States for space for people of color in orthodox Anglican settings. I didn’t choose either battle; they chose me.  Both battles come from my reading of Scripture. The same Bible that from Genesis to Revelation sees marriage an union between a man and woman as something reflective of God’s  own love for Israel and later Christ’s love for church also speaks of the vision of the varied ethnicities of the world worshipping around the throne of the Messiah.  Both views have brought criticism and alienation from different sectors of the church. They have also brought real spiritual danger.

Self-righteousness lurks around every corner. There is the temptation to believe that I have the perfect mix of biblical faithfulness and social justice while my opponents on the left and right do not read the Bible correctly. More than that it is bitterness that crouches at the doorway. The cost that we bear as people of color in the ACNA is the unseen wound bleeding on the floor of North American Anglicanism. Ask the black bishops. Ask the clergy.  Then there is the work.  The unending feeling of responsibility to be both prophetic and responsible. Push, but not too hard. We get tired.

The danger, then, in the battles for North American Anglicanism is that one might lose the beauty of what drew us here in the attempt to protect or reform it. I had a vision of Anglicanism that I never experienced, a hypothesis of diversity and orthodoxy in one fellowship. It was a warm comfort on cold nights, a blanket to shield me from the chill of disappointment. That vision become flesh during GAFCON 2018. I walked into the lobby of the conference center and it was so gloriously black and brown that I almost wept.

I noticed first the women first.  The Nigerian, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Kenyan women arrived draped in a dignified parade of color that made my heart smile. It felt like a Christian Wakanda. Then came the bishops and the men in African dress, especially the choir. So much swagger; so much pride. Have you ever finally sat down to eat and realized how hungry you were? Have you ever ended a run feeling good, until the fatigue washed over you, and you realized that you had pushed your body too far? I did not know how tired this battle for a diverse and orthodox Anglicanism had made me until I got a taste of it. I wished that they would have canceled the plenary talks and let the choir sing as long as the Lord tarried.

Years ago, I sat in an Episcopal chapel in Sewanee, Tennessee thinking that this liturgy is beautiful. If only they could add some soul to it, then it would become the eschaton anticipated. The worship of GAFCON 2018 had that soul.

I am grateful for the Nigerians, Kenyans, Ugandans, Australians, and Malawians gathered in Jerusalem for helping me remember that our struggle isn’t just against something. It is for something beautiful. When I became an Anglican, I was told that there was this global fellowship of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation, but it was a concept, an idea. Now I have witnessed the nations gathered.

I know this week in Jerusalem is but a respite, that I’ll return to my country and province. I know that the same struggles will be awaiting me there. But true worship is an encounter with the living God. This encounter changes us and infuses us with sufficient hope to help us carry on a little further. So, will return and I will continue to struggle, but I will do so with joy because I have seen it. A diverse orthodox Anglicanism, isn’t just coming; it’s here.

Esau McCaulley Sr., A Son’s Eulogy for His Father

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I came home from a conference and my son met me at the door. He was upset because the kids at his school had laughed at him. I asked him what happened. He said that the teacher caught him scribbling on a sheet of paper and asked him what he was doing. He told her that he had planned on writing letters to send to our family for Thanksgiving and he realized that he couldn’t send one to my father because he was dead. Then he thought if he wrote a letter my father would see it in heaven because people see everything in heaven  He said that in the letter that he wished my father a happy thanksgiving. Then I asked him whether he had been thinking about my father a lot. He said that he had. I said that I had too and I get sad sometimes.  Then he told me that he keeps thinking about the Eulogy that I gave for my father. Luke said that it is sad at the beginning, but the ending is happy. That makes him feel better.  The Eulogy is below.

 

The Villain, the Victim, and the Victor,

The Gospel of John records a conversation that Jesus had with Pilate in the days leading up to his death.  During this conversation, Jesus tells Pilate that “I have come into the world to testify to the truth.” Pilate responds by asking what is truth?  Stated differently, Pilate says that it is fine to speak about truth and falsehood, good and evil, but what does it matter in the face of your impending death?  Does not the reality of death, then, render all truth meaningless leaving only the question of who has power? Pilate’s question, raises the question of the meaning of all our lives. Does it matter who and what we were if death can simply wash it away? Does my black father matter if his story ended on the side of some road in California far from those who knew and loved him?

The question of who Jesus Christ is, then, cannot be separated from the question of who we are.  My father is dead. Who was he? What does his life mean? Tolstoy the russian novelist, (can I quote a russian novelist at a black funeral) put it this way:

My question –was the simplest of questions, It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”

Has death destroyed my father such that all that remains of him are the bits and pieces of a man that we can cobble together to keep out the darkness?

This is why the empty tomb matters. Not because that one man by some miracle defeated death. No, we believe that this particular man defeated death. His life and loves and actions mattered. The kingdom he spoke about was vindicated by the resurrection. If Jesus’s life matters than all lives matter, even my father’s black life that ended some two weeks ago. Therefore, it matters who my father was, how he lived and how he died and what hope we have for him in the future.  It is of vital importance for all of us who come to remember him that we tell the truth.

 Apart from Jesus, I have probably spoken more about my father in sermons than any other human being. My whole life I have been trying to come to grips with who he was. So, I am going walk you through the three stages of preaching about my father over the last twenty years of my preaching. I would like to use the framing device of the biblical story of the tax collector and the Pharisee.  I am going I am going to speak about my father as villian, then as victim, and finally my father as victorious.  The first two parts may be a bit difficult, but like the story of the tax collector we end with hope.

Continue reading “Esau McCaulley Sr., A Son’s Eulogy for His Father”

Does the Bible Support or Dismantle Racism?

 

WAR AND CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND: SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISM

 

****Editor’s note: I gave this 30 minute talk in Buffalo, NY. at the Nickel City Forum.  It is not meant to be the last word on the topic. Time precluded a more extensive discussion of all the issues surrounding race and the bible.

Since we find ourselves in upstate New York, some seventy five miles from the burial place of that great Black theologian, author, and abolitionist Frederick Douglas, it seems fitting to begin with a quote from him that will orient us toward our topic: Does the Bible support racism or dismantle it? This quote appears in the apendix of his classic work The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave. In his biography, he lodges a sustained criticism of Christianity as he encountered it in America. To ward off the potential misunderstanding of his critique was of Christianity proper he says:

I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion…What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

Douglas, then, makes the distinction between the reprehensible practices of the American Christians of his day and the religion of Christianity that he discerned from reading the biblical text.  In this paper, then, I follow the lead of Douglas. You will be disappointed if you where expecting some apologia for Christianity as it was practiced by many (but not all) white believers during slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the present day. I like Douglas discern the “widest possible difference.”

But I also want to say this, Christianity is wider and deeper than the last two hundred years of America history. It was firmly planted in Africa before the first European ever set foot on this continent. It has its own history in the East and the West that is full both of triumph and disaster. Let’s not be myopic. We are not the center of the story and the validity of Christianity does not rise and fall with the actions of one people in one country. God has a purpose that spans the centuries and, in the end, he will bring his purposes to pass.

Finally, to press the point home the history of Christianity in this country is more than the history of White Christianity. There is a story to be told about the faith of people of color who have been here from the beginning.  Therefore I take it as read that American Christianity is a mixed thing with its own record of triumphs and failures for which we will have to give an account.

But if a religion is to be taken seriously as a thing to be analyzed, we have to be able to look at what it says about itself, especially in a religion like Christianity that believes that God in his providence has gifted us with an inspired text. So then, does the Bible encode racism or does it dismantle it?

Continue reading “Does the Bible Support or Dismantle Racism?”

Tell the Truth: Integrity and the Anglican Communion

 

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A few years ago, there was a movie entitled concussion starring Will Smith. Very few people saw it mostly because the underlining plot was clear to all who had been paying attention. The film was about the impact of the NFL and football in general on the brain. The movie argued that the NFL knew about the negative impact of the repeated collisions on the brain and hid the results to protect the brand. Will Smith plays a doctor who discovers the truth and engages in a long fight to get the data out to the public. In the trailer, we hear Smith say in a somewhat passable Nigerian accent, “Tell the Truth!” Having seen the trailer, and knowing what I knew of football from experience, I did not watch the movie. But Smith’s words, “Tell the truth” stayed with me.

Large organizations with the power to control communications and manipulate public perception often have difficulty telling the truth. This especially true in churches that have a vested interested in portraying a certain image to the world. I confess that in recent years as I have watched the politics of the Anglican communion, especially the information coming out of the Primates’ meetings, I have often wanted to yell in imitation of Will Smith’s imitation, “tell the truth!”

What do I mean?  I will not recount the last 15 years of Anglican politics for those who are uninformed, but this much is clear. Significant portions of the Global South want some discipline to be enacted against churches in the West who have changed their teaching on marriage. This change came even though the overwhelming majority of the communion has not found sufficient theological warrant for such a revision. Large sections of the church in the West, even those who still ostensibly hold to a traditional view on marriage, do not want anything to be done about this revision. For them, marriage is a matter on which people of good will can disagree.

A church that was honest and had the trust of its members would address this issue directly. It would gather its leaders and ask the following question: Is human sexuality a matter of adiaphora or is it church dividing? It would tell the media that this is the topic of conversation. It would say that we are meeting to talk about marriage and not pretend that marriage is some insignificant issue to be addressed before moving on to climate change or something else more palatable to a secular press. It would tell its member churches. It would invite its best theologians to a public and sustained debate. This is what we do in the academy. When there is an unresolved issue, we return to the sources and bring our best to the debate. We publish our works and submit them to public analysis. We learned this from the church that taught us to pursue truth because all truth has its origin in our creator. A church that deserved our trust would then explain to its member churches how it came to its conclusions. This would allow member churches to discern whether the reasoning was something it could support. It would tell the truth.

Continue reading “Tell the Truth: Integrity and the Anglican Communion”

The Church as Witness and Protest: A Call to a Faithful Response to Charlottesville

week8-large(Editor’s note: This was a sermon based on Romans 12:1–9.)

Alabama

In middle school during black history month we would watch these videos called Eyes On the Prize and  make posters lauding black achievement.  There were posters about George Washington Carver and his varied uses of the peanut.  Alongside Carver, one might find Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad or Frederick Douglas and poignant question: What to a slave is the fourth of July? 

But it is the videos that I remember. They mostly consisted of interviews interspersed with footage that told the story of events like the Montgomery bus boycott or the integration of the lunch counters throughout the United States. Many (but not all) of the leaders of were Christian laity and pastors.  But strangely enough many (but not all) of their opponents also professed the Christian faith. This was my picture of the church, a body in violent and bloody disagreement with itself. But I was hopeful because a knew what side God was on. I knew that he loved his beleaguered people of God drawn from every nation.

But it was hard to erase the images of the dogs and the Billy clubs and the water hoses.

Charlottesville

Anyone who has watched the news over the last few weeks in which White Supremacists marched in the largest number that we have seen in living memory cannot help but wonder what is happening to our country.  better yet we wonder what the church can do in a time when hatred is on the rise and the civil discourse seems to be falling away? How do we respond?

I want to posit Romans 12 as the beginning of an answer to this question. I want to argue that Paul calls the church in his age and in every age to be an alternative society whose holiness and mutual dependence on one another testifies to a different way of being human.  What then is the role of the church in the present moment? The role of the church is to be what God calls us to be: the one people of God saved by the blood of Jesus, who empowered by the Spirit, bear witness to his present and coming kingdom.

Continue reading “The Church as Witness and Protest: A Call to a Faithful Response to Charlottesville”

Sit Down, Be Humble: On Speaking about “The Church”

the-church

 

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15)

There is a cottage industry that exists online and in print that offers both a critique and prescription for renewal of “the church.” Part of this is understandable given that many studies have pointed out the increase in the “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation.  By far, it seems, that Evangelicals or post-evangelicals write about this phenomenon most often. Every few days, I am treated with yet another book or blog about the impending apocalypse of Christianity in the West.  These writings, especially by post-evangelicals, usually begin by castigating the church for its silence on issues of race and social justice. Another common criticism is that the church is inauthentic. For them church is less real than the fellowship they experience at dinners with their secular friends who seem more compassionate and honest than their small group.

For many of these people, this was a lived experience.  They grew up in very strict Evangelical circles that preached a small version of Christianity that had little time for what the bible had to say about the poor and the marginalized.  I get it. NPR (it seems) cares more about the refugees than the church.

Continue reading “Sit Down, Be Humble: On Speaking about “The Church””