Monthly Archives: June 2007

SCOTUS on Race and Schools

I will make this one short. I anticipate questions from friends and church members regarding my apparent silence on the SCOTUS decision on schools and race. It is an apparent silence, for my thoughts can be discerned from my last post. However, I will be more explicit: I think 5 of 9 of the most intelligent people on the planet are as naive about social stratification as are the contenders for the Democratic nomination for the President of the United States, (see the last post). If one of the original lawsuits was brought to the courts on the basis that some (White) parents sued the school system because the system’s policy on school choice prevented a (White) child from having the freedom to chose a certain school because the racial make-up of the schools would become disproportionately African American, then it would seem that the result of winning such a suit would mean that (White) parents would be able to heavily populate any one school to the near exclusion of African Americans, simply based on “choice.” This is a passive version of “separate but equal” schooling. (Yes, you have to read between all of my, the lawsuit’s and SCOTUS’ lines to come to a conclusion like this.) However, if the courts continue to allow socio-economic factors to be considered in school populations, then racial diversity and, more importantly, parity in educational instruction and opportunity can be achieved. Unfortunately, my behind-the-veil life always tempers my hope when conservative justices are appointed to the bench for I know that few conservative justices are both pro-life and sensitive on race issues. (I have less hope for justice when liberal justices are appointed.) I am thankful for many of my (White) brothers who are both unashamedly pro-life and boldly sensitive on race matters and I love them; I believe we would have a great time sitting in the same classroom together. We could work together for the right choice on life and education. This is part of the glory of the Cross.

Race, Presidential Forum, and Evangelicals

I am encouraged to write on the issue of race after finishing a gracious two-minute interview afforded to me by Dr. Albert Mohler and, in Dr. Mohler’s absence on Thursday, Dr. Russell Moore. I had fully intended to write on the Democratic debate. However, I think speaking generally on the issues of race and racism in America may be more beneficial.

 

(Disclaimers: 1) I do not speak for all African Americans, for all African American evangelicals, or for all African American Southern Baptists. You must ask others about their positions. 2) This is not intended to be a critical analysis; the points are for discussion starters. Each point needs to be developed in conversations in your own spheres of life and ministry. 3) There are others who have done much more thinking on this topic. I recommend some resources below. 4) This is in no way a slight of the hardworking teachers of the Prince George’s County Public Schools, nor is this meant to discourage any PG County student from striving for excellence and academic success, for each of you can compete with any student in Montgomery and Fairfax counties.)

As a precursor to what follows, let me establish that it is my opinion that the Democratic debate assumed the philosophical, economic, and moral definition(s) of “African-American” rather than a simple ethnic description. In both popular and academic (read “nationalistic” or “liberation”) terms, to be “African American” is more than being “a person of color” who is “the great-great grandchild of slaves in America.” To be “African American” is 1) to be philosophically committed to liberation, nationalistic, or liberal-Democratic ideals for progress for race in America, which places a priority on one race above all others, 2) to be economically impoverished or significantly disadvantaged (or a least be able to portray your identity with the economically disadvantaged even if you live at or above a middle-class standard and/or do nothing personally to help the economically disadvantaged), and 3) to be morally libertine in one’s analysis of (solutions for) social crises in America or the world. For one to be “African American” morally, HIV/AIDS must be an issue of education, research, health insurance and access to medical care, but not of purity in singleness and marriage or of denouncement of homosexual behavior as morally reprehensible; the disparity in criminal sentencing rates demands an end to Federal capital punishment rather than an examination of sentencing practices. Therefore Shelby Steele, Clarence Thomas, and the like do not have the right secret handshake to be “African American,” and neither do any African Americans who could be identified as “conservative” (socially, Constitutionally, politically, or theologically), or as “evangelical” (the “c”-word and “e”-word for African Americans, so to speak). Once we understand that this is the assumption of the debate and The Covenant with Black America, then, we can proceed full steam ahead.

This then is how I would suggest we, as evangelicals, might want to think about race in our dialogs:

1.       “Race,” of which there are only three sociologically and anthropologically (and theologically) speaking, is a work of the providence of God in a fallen world. Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid (and some would add Australoid) are what we find in The Table of Nations being displaced at The Tower of Babel and explained in Acts 17:26-31. It may be better for us to speak of “nationalities” and “ethnicities”—people who are the intended targets of the Great Commission.

  

2.       “Racism” or “rationalization” exists because of sin in the world and the heart of every person. The results of racism, such as antebellum slavery in the US, Jim Crow laws, a counter-Civil Rights movement, institutionalized racism, and simple bigotry are issues of sin. Therefore, we should not be ashamed to say that Biblical preaching about the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ is the most significant answer to the problem of race in America or anywhere in the world. Legislation cannot change the hearts of sinful people; it can only curb the illegal expressions of racism, establish standards for fair practices regarding race, and impose penalties for those who break the law. But fair housing laws have not eradicated unfair mortgage-loan practices towards the richest African Americans. Moreover, I now hear African Americans in upper-middle class neighborhoods saying, “if another Hispanic family moves in, we are going to move out.” Such racist talk is coming from those who previously felt victimized by Whites who made such statements and demanded fair housing laws so that Whites could not prevent them from living in affluent neighborhoods. I think the similar attitudes toward neighborhood exclusion on the parts of Whites and African Americans is just one example of the depravity residing in each of us: we are self-centered and ethnocentric to the point of mistreating others or desiring separation from others who we think should not be living at our same standard of living. In short, we are full of pride. It is the Gospel that changes the hearts of people. Institutionalized justice is needed for fair practices in the nations of men. But believers can act on the Gospel prior to the creation of human legislation.

  

3.       “White Privilege” is not equal to racism. White Privilege exists as part of a world in need of Divine Redemption. But White Privilege does not have intent to harm. It is a by-product of scores and centuries of racist practices in this country. Analogously speaking, White Privilege is like bad quality air; it is breathed without one knowing it. Only those paying attention to Ozone-Alert days consciously think about bad quality air. Only those paying attention to White Privilege see it. Every non-White in America is paying attention daily, because we cannot help it, for racial minorities think about race with respect to every issue in America. For example, when I go to the grocery store, I remind my children, especially my sons, that they are not allowed to touch anything. This keeps them away from any prejudiced suspicion of stealing in the eyes of a White or Asian store owner who, I think, automatically consider my children candidates for thievery by virtue of our ethnicity. Similarly, I do not allow my smaller children to run in the store aisles freely or talk loudly in the store, even when I see children of other ethnicities having such privilege without fear of a store manager approaching them or their parents about a “disruptive” child. Those in the ethnic minority tend to define life in White, Black, Latino, (East) Asian, Native American, and Middle-Eastern colors as a social, linguistic, and ethnic survival technique. (Thank you Lisa Kang, Bryan Lee, Michael Min, Byung Ham, and Marcus Chung for helping me to see that thinking daily about race is not just an issue of African Americans.)

  

4.       The Gospel levels all people of all races as depraved God-haters in need of grace to be poured out through Christ by God in order to escape the wrath of God—a wrath which will be indiscriminant of race. Beyond skin color, we are looking at sinners in need of grace or saints saved by grace. These are the primary identities of all people (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16). We must include this in our worldview when we think of Christian living and ministry. The command to “love one another” – where love is defined as the overflow of joy in God which gladly meets the needs of others (John Piper, “Love: The Labor of Christian Hedonism,” in Desiring God [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1986], 103) – if obeyed, would put a tremendous dent in the problem of racism in America. Forcing diversity in our churches is not the answer. Welcoming diversity is the answer. (For more on this, hear my two minutes on Thursday’s Albert Mohler Show. My segment is about twenty-one minutes into the broadcast. Also, please know that Russell Moore is really one of my heroes.)

  

5.       Being “colorblind” is not the goal of the Gospel, per se, for I, like Paul, should be able to maintain a burden for my own people. Where “colorblind” means “no preferential treatment” and “no discriminatory treatment,” I agree. Where “colorblind” means, “we should not recognize that differences in the races exist” or “one should not feel attachment to a group of people based on race (or language or cultural practices),” I disagree. In saying this, I recognize that I am standing on the edge of the precipice that drops off to “racist preferences.” But Christians do not have to make that leap. I can love my non-African American brother as much as I love my African-American brother while I remain burdened to reach fellow African Americans with the Gospel in a way my non-African American brother may not be burdened, and I can enjoy listening to contemporary African American Christian Music with other African Americans without having harmed my non-African American brother. However, I must use my liberty Christianly, with a good conscience and without causing a brother of any ethnicity to stumble. (I explain this in the last question on the air.)

  

6.       Race is an issue complicated by economics. Tuesday’s WaPo article on AP scores among African American students in Montgomery and Fairfax counties failed to mention that those two counties have two of the highest – if not the two highest – per capita incomes in the nation. Prince George’s county, my home and also mentioned in the article, has the highest per capita income for African Americans in the nation. Yet we have one of the worst school systems in the state of Maryland, in spite of this county’s AP scores among African Americans. It is well known that the good school systems have followed (the money of) upper-middle class Americans, who are largely White ethnically. Good and poor school systems are a racial-economic issue. Therefore, as evangelicals, we must be cautious, lest we make idols out of education and social mobility. I cannot determine God’s will for my residence solely based on good or bad school systems or my desire to be in a nice or safe neighborhood. I say this hypocritically as a homeschooling-parent living in a nice suburban neighborhood; I am part of the race problem as much as I desire to be part of the solution. I push academic excellence on my children for the glory of God and in the hopes that they will have social mobility as adults. But social mobility is not the goal of the Gospel, and neither is a Harvard, Cambridge, St. John’s (MD) or TC@SW education, even though we are to do all of our labor and study as faithful stewards before God. A result of our faithful labors may be social mobility, but that should not be the goal. The goal is to be available and positioned wherever in the world God wills to use us. For some of us, this will be suburbia and exurbia. For others it will be rural or urban America. Either way, we need to keep in mind that we have “better and lasting possessions,” unlike those without Christ (Heb. 10:34-38). Mammon cannot be our God.

Finally, when depravity and the grace of Christ are not in one’s worldview, you get the sort of naïve analysis the candidates consistently gave last night. They were so naïve about social stratification that I could not believe there are any thinking people considering any of those candidates for the office of “leader of the free world.” Instead of critiquing each instance of naïve statements, I would invite you to consider a small portion of a document I wrote to my students on the eve of the Presidential Election in 2000:

Is there anyone in this country who votes from a purely selfless – “this is in the best interest of the entire country” – stance, or do not we all vote from either a “survival” or “success” stance? What I mean is that those who have experienced financial/material “success” in this country only care about issues that will ensure that “success” is maintained. Issues of survival seem trite to them for they have “made it” by one means or another. Those attempting to “survive,” or to get to a (perceived level of) success (i.e., to gain the American Dream and get out of coal mining and Black Lung disease, or get out of a neighborhood of poorer schools and crime to the suburbs), or to simply maintain their current status without loosing all they have (such as many lower-middle class to lower class elderly citizens who unfortunately “need” big government to help (because Churches really do not – churches, instead, build bigger buildings, which is another soap box…)), these survivors do not care about the issues of the successful. They want “access,” opportunity and aid and, (forgive me for saying this, as it is considered cursing to most conservatives, even evangelicals), a handout! What “successful” person would selflessly vote in the interest of those wanting handouts at the “successful’s” expense? And what “survivor” would vote for smaller government and less government intervention, although this would certainly be the wisest and best choice for any businessman/owner? Only a schizo “survivor!” Moreover, both the Survivor and Successful schemes – and I’m sure there is another scheme – reveal that wealth is what really drives our voting in this country. For if Al Gore were unashamedly pro-life, do you think the Christian Coalition would say, “well, this election is a toss up…”? I doubt it.  

In last night’s debate, the candidates spoke as if equality in social stratification is possible in a Capitalistic society, or even in this world. It is not. We can make laws for fair practice, but short of the return of Christ, economic parity is a utopian dream in a world of sin. Am I to believe that millionaires John Edwards and Hillary Clinton are going to create policies so that they will have to lower their standards of living, and that I am somehow less patriotic if I do not share their ideas of fixing the problem of racial disparity in the American economic and justice systems? I appeal to Caesar.

 

Resources

Edward Gilbreath, Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity, Wheaton: InterVarsity, 2006. See Ed’s webpage and blog.

Cornel West, Race Matters, New York: Vintage, 1994. This is a very significant book.

Michael Eric Dyson, Debating Race, New York: Basic, 2007; Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, New York: Basic, 2006.

I would also recommend Ralph Ellison’s Shadow and Act.

Slowly Making My Way Back to the Blogsphere

Yes, I have been on a small hiatus. I wish I could say it was due to vacation, like my brothers Lance and Anthony, but it was not. I simply have been trying to be faithful to pastoral duties, keeping my word to other ministry and writing commitments, and giving my “free time” to my family. Also, it is true that something happened to me at the SBC Annual Meeting in San Antonio, for which I am grateful.

  

Speaking of the Annual Meeting, I was also grateful to hang out with a few friends. Pam and I shared a meal with fellow bloggers and alumni Jim Hamilton and Denny Burk at the Founders’ Ministry Breakfast. We all heard a tremendous message by Voddie Baucham, which we hope will become available on founders.org soon. I did not get the T-shirt, but I got the book (and you should too). Of course, Tom Ascol was there, and it is always good to see a man who can stand for right on an issue almost single-handedly within a whole association, somewhat like Phinehas. Tom announced a major conference coming soon—one that gives a second opportunity to those of us who were awaiting the Thrilla in Manila (…er… I mean the debate at Liberty University). My friend and former fellow trustee at SWBTS, Dwight McKissic, was also at the breakfast, as well as fellow blogger Ben Cole, who I met formally for the first time, who threw in his one vote for me in the elections (and may have helped to put me over the top with his blog. Ben, I’m sorry I did not get a pix of you, but I did not get one of Tom either. Ha!) I also was able to catch a glimpse of my friend, Mark Dever. I know you think the picture below is his stunt double, since the man in the picture is wearing a necktie outside of the pulpits at CBHC and SBTS, but that really is Mark! Thabiti has said some kind words about Mark on which I have commented, for I could not agree more. The world needs many more Mark Devers – men who are always “doing better than [they] should be” and helping others to do the same.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot count the number of friends from the NAAF, the SBCV, and SWBTS I was able to see. But representative of you all are some guileless friends with whom I spent some extra time like Mike and Linda Hughes, (Drs.) Craig and Diane Blaising, Bill and Karen Wennersten, and Dexter and Kim Hardy, all firends I hope you will get to meet on this side of glory. I probably should mention my unpaid PR director, Doyle Chauncy, who spoke as if he has known me since childhood. (Thank you, Doyle.) Doyle is leading a great association to the glory of God. I am thankful that they have received me and Hillcrest as their own. Mark Croston takes on a third year as the internet-savvy NAAF President. (God bless you, Mr. E-President! I am grateful to be working under your leadership for another year.)

  

 After dealing with the normal writing and reports from time away, completing a major writing project, catching up on work in general, and immediately rolling into a week of adult VBS – stop laughing at me – in which I make a week’s worth of lessons from scratch instead of using pre-packaged materials, I am now in a position to resume (weekly) blogging. I am so far behind where I would like to be that I may not be able to catch up. First there is the article on “the new Black father” in the June 2007 Ebony (ironically set opposite the article “Bringing Sexy Back: 2007 Bachelors”). I would encourage those of you who do not normally read Ebony to read the article. As far as African American’s favorite pop-culture magazine goes, this article is relatively good.

  

 But before I could get to write a comment on that article, Ebony put out a series on “the culture of disrespect,” challenging “Black America in an honest examination of race, language and the culture of disrespect.” The cover article and series invokes discussion about “the N-word.” The article “I Can, But You Can’t,” on Don Imus’, alone makes the series worth reading. I do not agree with the entire analysis in that article or sentiment in the series. I hope to blog on it later.

  

  As I was going through the airport in San Antonio, I got to a newsstand newly stocked with Vanity Fair’s 20 different covers’ issue on Africa. OK, I am concerned about Darfur, as I hope you are. But Bono and Oprah always get the press. Because I am still a Condoleeza fan, I bought a copy with Condi and Bono on the cover. While the 20 covers are sure to become a “Roadshow” item (if you can get all 20 and keep them in mint condition for 40 years), the series of articles on the plight of the peoples in many African nations are something I think all of my brethren should read. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the July 2007 Vanity Fair today and read it in its entirety. I am praying through our church’s responsibility and my family’s responsibility to the people of Darfur. I am grateful to God that our church could help send off a couple fluent in Arabic to serve as career missionaries in Darfur, but I believe the Lord would have us do more. (By the way, the Washington Post has revamped its Darfur interactive, which I have added to my blogroll; see the right sidebar.) If I can, I will try to highlight some of the thinking in the Vanity Fair issue.

  

Then there is the reading on preaching I have been trying to do for my own refreshment. Between Three Faithful Preachers, Preaching the Cross (TG4G), and The Expository Genius of John Calvin – all books which I would encourage laypeople, deacons, and non-vocational elders to read in order to understand their pastor, his task, and the importance of expository preaching – I have been greatly encouraged to clear my weekly schedule of items that are getting in the way of more study and more prayer in preparation for preaching. (For me, I know this means keeping blogging to a minimum, even if there are others of you who can blog more frequently and remain faithful to the charge to preach.) I am continuing in the book of Proverbs, chapter 16. I will be focusing on the providence of God. I have been reading James Spiegel’s, The Benefits of Providence, and John Flavel’s, The Mystery of Providence. (I hope to use the sections on Theology Proper in A Theology for the Church, a text which a gracious editor signed and gave to me. I like the emphasis on the practical implications of theology for church life found in every chapter of the book. But I am pressed to finish reading Candide, Waiting for Godot, The Stranger (one of my favorite reads from a day gone by), T. S. Elliot’s “The Waste Land” and “The Hollow Men”, and Freakonomics (rev. and expnd.) in conjunction with the series. I am attempting to understand the ((pre-)modern) secular mind on (the absence of) Providence before considering the contemporary secular mind on providence – which at this point in my reading do not seem to differ drastically; the false assumptions about God’s working in the world are the same. In an ambitious undertaking, I have invited my church to join me in considering the Shorter Catechism’s questions and answers on the Decrees of God and on the Providence of God while we are in the series. Starr Meade has helped make this task easier for the church.

  

So, I hope to get back on this page in full swing by next week, working around other deadlines, and trying to be faithful to the charge. Later today I do hope to make a post on the Democratic debate. In the mean time, I defer to my pundit-hero, LaShawn Barber.

A Link to LaShawn Barber’s Version of Justice for Pedophiles

I really should be working on another project right now. But I took time to catch up with some other blogs while taking a mental break from reading and writing. I ventured over to LaShawn Barber’s Corner to read her posts on Death to Pedophiles: http://lashawnbarber.com/archives/2007/06/18/death-to-pedophiles-ii/. They posted the day I went into a blogging hiatus. LaShawn has more guts than most of us when it comes to saying the politcally incorrect things we are really thinking. She alone might qualify as my blog hero. If you do not read her blog regularly, I invite you to reconsider, starting with today’s blog reminder about the Democratic Presidential Debate being hosted by Tavis Smiley on the campus of Howard University; LaShawn is live-blogging the event. (I will be watching PBS so that I can keep up with the questions on the minds of African Americans.) Now, about that picture of “the good old days” in LaShawn’s full article….” (Go see it for yourself.)

Desiring God $5.00 Sale June 27!

Although I have not been writing this month due to multiple deadlines for other projects, I do not want readers to miss the Desiring God $5.00 sale tomorrow: http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/690/. Please fill your shelf with these God-centered resources. Think of friends, workers of the Gospel, college students, shut-ins, and people without Christ to whom you could give one of these resources. While Desiring God was life-changing for me 16 years ago, and The Pleasures of God is my favorite, and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood may be the most important for the day in which we live, I would give anyone and everyone Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.  I would highly recommend that you get the Supremacy of God in Preaching, Preaching the Cross, Feed My Sheep, and Brothers! We Are NOT Professionals for a preacher(s) you know, in the hope of Gospel-Centered, expository preaching for the people he serves and will serve. Enjoy shopping! 

West on Statesmanship, part 1

While following the Covenant with Black America web site on the upcoming Presidential Forum at Howard University, I peeped at Cornel West’s latest blog on the site. West writes the following: 

We are facing a crisis in the quality of leadership in our country. Our people and our country need more statesmen (and stateswomen), as statesmanship is qualitatively different than the garden-variety leadership that we’re experiencing. 

Statesmen take seriously the ability to be themselves, as opposed to the many spinsters who are willing to pose and poster, to pander to a particular group, rather than be real. Opportunism is pervasive and has left us with just a few folk who will not allow themselves to be grinded up by a mechanical formulaic structure. There are some who are shaping the climate of opinion; they’re our thermostats and not thermometers. They’re not satisfied with simply recording, but shaping the dialogue. Our brothers and sisters who are engaged in that kind of education elevate the citizenry of this country. 

The continuing challenge at hand for statesmen and stateswomen is to operate above the political fray, to preserve their integrity. True statesmanship is rooted in the hopes and aspirations of the people, and is also informed by the voices of the people.  

Throughout our history, ordinary people who believed enough in themselves to try to transform the cynicism and the threat to statesmanship have been the crux of social movements. As a people, we are capable of producing great social change. Look within and you will realize that YOU are the leaders you’re looking for.     

So, how many statesmen and stateswomen are in the house?

I have the greatest respect for the former-University-Professor-status-at-Harvard-professor. But I find his comments to be contradictory. Allow me to attempt to manifest the contradiction along the following lines of thought. 

As one who attempts to look at politics through the lenses of a Christian worldview, I immediately recognize the problem of someone being an “explicitly Christian” politician. The nature of Christian living and true politics are at odds. Politics generally forces the politician to make negotiations, deals, and agreements with which he may not have full agreement – full in both the ethical and conscience senses – in order for his own initiated bills (that are intended for the good of his constituents in his election districts) to gain enough support to be passed into law. For the Christian politician, making certain deals, (or greasing palms), would violate conscience; (i.e., A Christian politician could not knowingly support pork legislation in another politician’s district knowing that such spending is taking away from the available dollars to spend for the good of the many. Yet supporting the pork bill might be the only way to pass legislation to de-fund pro-abortion clinics. Christians cannot weigh a “greater good” option.) That is the nature of politics—of political dealing. If a Christian were going to attempt to apply Christian standards to every legislative initiative and never make a “greater good” deal, he probably would not last as a politician for more than one term for he more than likely would be labeled as a narrowed-minded fanatic by his colleagues, and thusly being largely unsuccessful in moving forward his own legislation because of his ethics, he would be voted out of office by the very people who had placed hopes in him. (I digress, but if one could run for office on an explicitly Christian platform, one could preach the Gospel as his platform and win office, or at least demonstrate that his platform is derived from the cultural implications of the Gospel and win office, for that what it would mean to be explicitly Christian.)   

Politics demands being part of a political machinery, even if one is not motivated by opportunism. Therefore, this idealistic statesman invoked by Dr. West faces a dilemma. He must be a radical outside of the political process, such as a Marx, Malcolm X, or King, or he must become a tyrant who uses the sword to stand against opposition to his non-conformists ideas, or he must be an ineffective politician who fails in office because he cannot be part of the machine in any way. West should understand this based on his Harvard experiences: When, in practice, he tried to rise above the ubiquitous institutionalized academic domestication of Black nationalistic thought, he came into conflict with much of the Harvard faculty and administration. Instead of garnishing a social movement, West pulled his colorful parachute cord and landed at Princeton. However, to his great credit, he continues in his quest for (democratic and slightly nationalistic) reforms from the platform of the CWBA. But he is still part of a machinery at Princeton; it is impossible for him to be or do otherwise. If this is true for Prof. West, what then of his idealistic statesman?  

I think we need to reread Leviathan, The Republic, The Politics, and when we have finished, remind ourselves that the answers within each one of us are always evil. We need an Answer outside of ourselves to address the problem within ourselves, or at the least, trust that our governments and governors are being righteously Governed. 

4th Annual African American Convocation – Going Global Network

The Going Global Network [GGN] is a growing fellowship of churches, pastors and Christian leaders who are committed to reaching African-American culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through its foundation, GGN provides minority grants for Seminary Education at Reformed institutions, and resources for Reformed churches to hire African- American campus ministry staff and interns.   GGN is holding its 4th Annual African American Convocation June 8-10 in Memphis, TN. See the flyer for more information. Registration is available online.