All posts tagged “racism

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Samuel Escobar on evangelism, freedom and justice (The Lausanne Series, Part 2)

Last week, in the first part of this series on the Lausanne Movement and what it has to teach us about faith, development, justice and peace, we took a look at René Padilla’s presentation. Now we turn to Peruvian theologian Samuel Escobar, whose theme is “Evangelization and Man’s Search for Freedom, Justice, and Fulfillment.”

Samuel Escobar begins his presentation by appealing to the decision made by the organizers of the gathering to choose as a motto the words of Jesus in the synagogue, found in Luke 4:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He then urges his listeners to take these words seriously, which is to say, not to overly spiritualize the message. In a world with  millions suffering from literal poverty, captivity, blindness and oppression, these words aren’t just about spiritual poverty or captivity to sin. There are a lot of Christians in the world, Escobar says, who take these words seriously, and they find themselves in far flung corners of the world and near centers of power, following Christ accordingly. But many of them face strong pressure from other Christians, of all people, to change course:

Some of them have been criticized and told that they should abandon their efforts for the pursuit only of numerical growth of congregations. I hope they will not believe that such is the official position of the [Lausanne] Congress.

As we saw last week, Padilla also critiqued the pursuit of numerical growth as an end in itself, represented most clearly in the church growth movement that has given rise to many of the megachurches across the country and around the world. Escobar was warning against numerical growth at the expense of discipleship, creating a “consumer class” of Christians who were uninterested in the personal and social implications of submitting to the Lordship of Christ. He saw discipleship as essential, and he saw churches as the indispensable communities where discipleship happens:

I think that the first and powerful answer to the social and political needs of men, to the search for freedom, justice, and fulfillment, is given by Jesus in his own work and in the church… [In the church] Jesus creates a new people, a new community where these problems are dealt with under the Lordship of Christ.

What he was calling for may have cut across the grain of many at that time, but it was really nothing new for evangelicals. He pointed to John Wesley, the well-known evangelist who authored a book called Thoughts upon Slavery, calling for abolition long before it became reality, and long before it was a popular idea. For Wesley, evangelism and social issues like slavery belonged hand in hand:

In today’s language, we could say that for Wesley, development without social justice was unacceptable. I pray that God will raise in this Congress evangelists like Wesley, who also care about social evils enough as to do research and write about them and throw the weight of their moral and spiritual authority on the side of the correction of injustices. Wesley, however, did more than writing. He encouraged the political action that eventually was going to abolish slavery in England.

Shortly before he died, Wesley wrote to William Wilberforce, urging him to use his political position to push for the abolition of slavery, something Wilberforce eventually succeeded in doing, giving us a powerful example to follow. But while evangelicals have every reason to stand with the oppressed, we must remember that political liberation and the freedom offered in the gospel are two distinct things, Escobar says:

Simple liberation from human masters is not the freedom of which the Gospel speaks. Freedom in Christian terms means subjection to Jesus Christ as Lord, deliverance from bondage to sin and Satan… However, the heart which has been made free with the freedom of Christ cannot be indifferent to the human longings for deliverance from economic, political, or social oppression.

Escobar points also to a contemporary evangelical leader who recognized this connection: world-famous evangelist Billy Graham, who made it his policy to refuse to speak to segregated audiences. As you can imagine, this was quite an unpopular move with many in his “target market” at the time:

He did not downgrade the demands of the Gospel in order to have access to a greater number of hearers or in order to have the blessing of racists that would consider themselves ‘fundamental Christians.’ A stance like this is already communicating something about the nature of the Gospel that gives credibility to the Gospel itself when it is announced… To perpetuate segregation for the sake of numerical growth, arguing that segregated churches grow faster, is for me yielding to the sinfulness or society, refusing to show a new and unique way of life.

Escobar has a lot more to say than what I’ve mentioned here, and just like Padilla’s message, it’s all as timely as ever. He finishes on an eschatological high note:

We reaffirm our hope that the Kingdom may come soon in fullness. But as an evidence of that hope we should also reaffirm our willingness to be the community of disciples of Christ which tries to demonstrate in the context of development or underdevelopment, affluence or poverty, democracy or dictatorship, that there is a different way for men to live together dealing with passions, power, relations, inequality, and privilege; that we are not only able to proclaim that ‘the end is at hand’ but also to encourage one another in the search to make this world a bit less unjust and cruel, as an evidence of our expectation of a new creation.

I join Escobar in asking: Do we stand with the rich or with the poor? Do we usually stand with oppressors or with the oppressed? Where do we stand when we preach the gospel?

[Photo credit: keywordpicture.com – Escobar speaking at Urbana 03, which I attended, though it was before I realized what a rock star he is.]

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Repaso: Obama on Latino issues, Easterly on aid, Piper on racism, Gospel vs. justice, & more

1. Latino roundtable with President Obama
The president hosted a roundtable the other day where he fielded questions from Latino journalists and citizens about the issues that matter most to their communities. He tackles questions about illegal immigration on a national level, relations with Cuba, the 11% unemployment rate among Latinos, and the ongoing investigation into Arizona’s treatment of immigrants. The White House website has the full video, which is almost an hour.

2. Bill Easterly: Aid grump?
During grad school we read development economist Bill Easterly’s book White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good and had some lively discussions about it, to say the least. If you’re not familiar with Easterly, this recent interview by Tom Paulson at the Humanosphere blog is a great introduction.

3. John Piper on his own racism and the gospel
This is a two-minute trailer for a 20-minute documentary coming soon, supplementing Piper’s new book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. A bold book about the evils of racism isn’t necessarily the sort of book you might expect from Piper, but it looks really good.

4. A word to hymn writers from Fernando Ortega
Last Friday evening I went with Katie and my parents to a Keith & Kristyn Getty concert in Lancaster. The Gettys have been writing and composing songs for the Church for only a decade but they have already contributed so many songs that really transcend the so-called worship wars (and I suspect many of these songs will stand the test of time). Here, Fernando Ortega, a New Mexico-based singer/songwriter and worship leader, has a word to those who would write songs for worship in churches:

Be specific when you write songs about God. Avoid cliché. Avoid convenience. Avoid an obsession with the consumer. Avoid the temptation to make commercial success your central goal. Write with intelligence, employing all the craft, skill, and experience with which God has endowed you.

5. Gospel or justice, which?
Russell Moore from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes that despite assumptions to the contrary within evangelicalism, evangelism and public justice are not mutually exclusive:

The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the king of his kingdom, and he loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.

6. Know Shelter
The Two Futures Project is a movement to abolish nuclear weapons. I know some people love their nukes, but I’m generally agreeable to the abolition idea. Here’s a video on preparing for a nuclear attack, which will hopefully never happen, but unfortunately isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

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Beloved community and grounded faith

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m a big fan of John Perkins. He’s one of my favorite go-to guys for all things community development, civil rights, racial reconciliation and urban ministry. Last week I read one of his more recent books, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, which he co-wrote with Charles Marsh, a religion professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Project on Lived Theology. By way of introduction, Perkins is black, Marsh is white, and the book is about “beloved community” — the guiding vision for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in the American South where both Marsh and Perkins grew up. I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to do that vision justice, but I understand it to be more or less the vision King articulates in his timeless “I Have A Dream” speech.

Marsh is a scholar of the Civil Rights movement, Perkins is a veteran of it, and their thesis is that what kept the Civil Rights movement grounded and creative and redemptive was its roots in the Christian faith. Marsh writes:

The Civil Rights movement teaches us that faith is authentic when it stays close to the ground. And it reminds us of faith’s essential affirmations: showing hospitality to strangers and outcasts; affirming the dignity of created life; reclaiming the ideals of love, honesty and truth; embracing the preferential option of nonviolence; and practicing justice and mercy… Only as long as the Civil Rights movement remained anchored in the church — in the energies, convictions and images of the biblical narrative and the worshiping community — did the movement have a vision.

At some point after the assassination of King, the movement lost touch with its roots, they say, and that’s when it splintered and degenerated. They want to call us back to the roots of the movement and consider what it can teach us about a twenty-first century embodiment of that vision of beloved community. A big part of that is understanding Christian discipleship through the lens of reconciliation — reconciliation between people and God, and reconciliation among people across various boundaries, including race.

Perkins asserts that poverty and racism are interrelated, and are in fact part of a bigger web of social breakdown, with individual, family and community issues all at play. And the church, he says, needs to step up:

The issue we’re facing is the broken family and the broken community. It really is a single issue. The community is broken because families are broken, and families can’t get back together because the community is broken. This is why family values and social justice aren’t separate issues. The health of the community depends on the health of the family and the health of the family depends on the justice of the community. If the church is going to offer good news in our time, we have to give some alternative to the broken family and broken community that reflect the desperation of our culture… If the gospel of reconciliation is going to interrupt the brokenness in society, our churches are going to have to rethink their vocation… A community where men stand in the rain to beg is broken. There is no peace in that city. It’s that man’s problem, but it’s also our community’s problem. We’ve got to do something to make good work possible for healthy people like him. What does the church have to offer a community where healthy men beg on the street corner?

What indeed?

I wish churches spent more time thinking about how their members could love one another and share a common life by working together as a community. Part of the reason our churches are so individualistic is that we just accept the economic system of our culture without question. We assume that people who can get the good jobs should go wherever they have to and the people who can’t get the good jobs should just take what they can get. But churches that want to interrupt the brokenness of society ought to be about creating jobs in the community and giving neighbors an opportunity to work together. If we take our communities seriously as economic places, we’ll spend more time thinking about creating good work than we spend thinking about more relevant worship styles or bigger church buildings.

All in all, the book is a pretty quick read, but it’s deep, because it gets at the very roots of that which stands in the way of reconciliation, and it’s cause for some soul searching among evangelicals, I think. I hope and pray that my tribe will become known as true ambassadors of reconciliation and that we’ll get to experience some of that beloved community too.

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Repaso: Social justice, culture wars, a Colombian circus and more

Can social justice tame our culture wars?
This is USA Today’s coverage of the recently launched “:58” campaign (which I blogged about here) and “the new evangelicals” movement, represented at the recent Q conference in Portland:

As the generational tides nudge this demographic closer to the front and center of American evangelicalism, it’s time for a refiguring of the equations by the many non-evangelicals nursing grudges about those pushy Jesus nuts — especially the progressive secularists who share these new evangelicals’ social justice commitments. Divided by religious belief, these groups are easily stereotyped as culture war enemies. They needn’t be. If anything, they’re common-good allies simply in need of an introduction.

Two reading lists on poverty and development
It’s not every day conservative Christian outlets provide suggested reading lists on economic development and holistic social action, so I want to share them here. One is from The Gospel Coalition and compiled by theologian Wayne Grudem. I added a comment on the post with a couple of thoughts. The second list is in WORLD Magazine and compiled by Amy Sherman, who I read in grad school. I’ve read some books on both lists, and while the lists are somewhat ideologically narrow and therefore incomplete, I’m glad these folks are encouraging Christians to begin understanding development and justice at a deeper level.

Colombian circus troupe
This fascinating audio slideshow from the BBC features Circocolombia, a circus troupe from Cali, a city notorious for its eponymous drug cartel. The troupe is touring Europe with a production called Urban, which combines music, dance and storytelling. I hope it makes its way to the US.

Latinos and the 2011 MLB All Star Game
The New York Times has an interesting piece on the upcoming baseball All Star Game to be held in Phoenix, and some of the concerns of Latino players in light of Arizona’s controversial immigration law:

Selig is putting his Latino players in the impossible position of having to choose between showing solidarity to their people or to the game that has enriched them even as they have enriched it.

Guatemala debuts women-only buses
I’ve known for a while that Cairo offers gender-specific mass transit options; now Guatemala City does too. They’ve been established because so many Guatemalans in the capital rely on mass transit, while there are a disturbingly high number of armed robberies and assaults of women on the normal buses.

Ex-Brazil president Lula on ending hunger
This op-ed in the Guardian from Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is more or less a pitch for the candidate he nominated to head up the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, but is noteworthy because Brazil really has made some impressive strides towards ending hunger, both at home and abroad. Lula writes:

Brazil has been working internationally for a more balanced and socially equitable global order. Our approach is based on the construction of equal partnerships with developing countries worldwide.

Christians issue handbook on evangelism
I didn’t see this one coming, but on second thought, it’s probably long overdue. Leaders representing the global mainline Protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches got together and released a rule book on the dos and don’ts of mission and evangelism called Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct (pdf). The document asserts churches’ rights to evangelize, while denouncing “resorting to deception and coercive means.”