Christian living

 

Jan

17

2014

Thabiti Anyabwile|10:14 am CT

Accepting My Alternative Lifestyle

I had a very profound moment this week. I sat with a dear sister from the church, catching up on life and ministry. We spent the first half hour loudly praising God and exalting Him for His grace and mercy. Somehow we began to discuss some current issues in Cayman, together lamenting the pain and sorrow we see in so many lives. Then she said something that arrested me. She said, “I’ve had to admit that I am the one living the alternative lifestyle.”

That comment blew back the clouds and I could see in the clarifying light of biblical truth. A cog turned and clicked into place. I’ve been guilty of referring to a range of sinful behaviors as “alternative lifestyles.” In doing so, I’ve been assuming something about my own Christian identity and the state of the world that I ought not. It’s here that her comment helped me so much.

You see, all this time, like most Christians I know, I’ve been assuming that my lifestyle, a Christian lifestyle, was or ought to be the mainstream lifestyle. I’ve been relying on a certain kind of Christian privilege that comes from most people in the country thinking of America as a “Christian country.” That’s meant seeing sin as deviant–not only from biblical Christian norms but also–problematically–from so-called “American norms.” Despite my Bible belt upbringing, I’ve long known that “American” is not a synonym for “Christian.” I’ve had to stridently distinguish the two for Middle Eastern Muslim audiences who often conflate them. Yet, somehow, I’ve continued to think of America as in the main “Christian like.”

But Christians, as far as I can tell, have never been a super-majority in the country (despite the inflated membership figures used by major denominations). And though we can speak of a “Judeo-Christian ethic” as part of the warp and woof of the country, that’s still a far cry from the country being comprised of a majority of genuinely born-again Christian citizens from whom we could expect Christian behavior. In fact, the vast majority of citizens are persons lost in their sin and needing rebirth through faith in Christ. We are traveling through vanity fair, not living in the celestial city.

Truly, the Christian is the one living the “alternative lifestyle.” Or, we should be. Is this not what the Scripture constantly holds out to us as a description for how we ought to see ourselves and live? We are to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them” (2 Cor. 6:17). We are not to conform any longer to this world (Rom. 12:1). We may not have friendship with the world lest we make ourselves hostile to God (1 John 2:15-16). We “must no longer walk as Gentiles do” because “that is not the way we learned Christ!” (Eph. 4:17, 20). We who are in Christ are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). In short, we are the strange ones that this fallen world does not recognize because it does not recognize our Lord.

The world goes on its merry way skipping toward judgment and wrath. In these last days, just as Jesus said, men are marrying and giving in marriage just as they were in Noah’s day when the flood came. Rather than arguing for the assumed privilege that comes from nominal Christian identity, we who live an alternative lifestyle should work harder than ever to make Jesus known so people may escape the wrath to come. We have an invitation to give: Come to the water of life. Come, eat the bread of heaven. Comehave life more abundantly. Come live–not for unrighteousness and which ends in death, but for righteousness in Christ which leads to eternal life! Christ Jesus came into the world born of a virgin, Incarnate, lived a sinless life to become righteousness and holiness from God for us (1 Cor. 1:30), then offered himself to God as an atoning sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath for those who believe (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). Those who receive this Christ enter an alternate life, an alternate reality, full of love, truth, forgiveness, joy, holiness and hope. The world needs this, not our privilege.

 
 

Oct

22

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:21 am CT

“Art: In the World but Not of It”: A Conversation on Christian Hip Hop and Culture

I’ve been waiting for audio or video of the recent Unashamed conference to be released. Like a lot of people, I wanted to be there, and wanted to hear shai linne and Sho Baraka discuss the current thinking about faithful witness and cultural engagement in Christian hip hop circles. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the panel they shared, moderated by J’son.

As I’ve watched this debate, I’ve been moved to pray often for the brothers in this endeavor. I’ve been challenged to think and re-think some positions of my own. And I’ve been encouraged to see the manful efforts at preserving the unity of God’s people where differences of strategy exists. I think these videos go a long way in continuing that godly path set out by brothers engaged in the discussion.

If you’ve not listened in before, feel free to check it out below.

 
 

Jul

16

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:39 am CT

Some Different Advice to Those Raising African-American Boys in the Wake of the Martin Shooting and Zimmerman Trial

If you use social media–or any media really–it’s impossible to escape the reactions to the recent Zimmerman acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Understandably there are a lot of questions and a lot of emotions prompted by a “not guilty” verdict in an undisputed shooting of an unarmed youth.

One observer tweeted a link to a column called “How to Talk to Young Black Boys about Trayvon Martin,” authored by journalist Toure nearly a year ago. I missed this piece when first published. The person leaving the tweet thought the piece prescient and pertinent in light of the verdict. I found it deeply problematic. I find it so troubling that I’d like to post the opening lines of the eight talking points Toure proposed (for the full text follow the link above), interact with them, and then suggest an alternative message.

Toure’s Talking Points for Young Black Boys

1. It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition. …

2. If you encounter such a situation, you need to play it cool. Keep your wits about you. Don’t worry about winning the situation. Your mission is to survive.

3. There is nothing wrong with you. You’re amazing. I love you. When I look at you, I see a complex human being with awesome potential, but some others will look at you and see a thug — even if their only evidence is your skin. Their racism relates to larger anxieties and problems in America that you didn’t create. When someone is racist toward you — either because they’ve profiled you or spit some slur or whatever — they are saying they have a problem. They are not speaking about you. They’re speaking about themselves and their deficiencies.

4. You will have to make allowances for other people’s racism. That’s part of the burden of being black. We can be defiant and dead or smart and alive. … The best way to counter them involves not your fists but your mind. … The best revenge is surviving and living well.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. Especially when it’s dark. Or bright. Some people are on the lookout for muggers or rapists. You need to be on the lookout for profilers who are judging you. Don’t give them an opportunity to make a mistake.

6. If you feel you are being profiled and followed or, worse, chased by someone with a vigilante streak — if you are hunted in the way it seems Trayvon was, by someone bigger than you who may be armed and hopped up on stereotypes about you — then you need to act. By calling the police. That is the exact time to snitch. I know there are times the cops will be your enemies, but sometimes calling 911 and letting the threatening person know that you’re doing so could save your life.

7. What if it’s the cops who are making you feel threatened? Well, then you need to retreat. I don’t mean run away. I mean don’t resist. Now is not the time to fight the power. Make sure they can see your hands, follow all instructions, don’t say anything, keep your cool. Your goal is to defuse things, no matter how insulted you are. We’ll get revenge later. In the moment, play possum. Say sir. They may be behaving unjustly, but their lives aren’t in danger. Yours is. If you survive, you will be able to tell your lawyer what happened. If you don’t….

8. Never forget: As far as we can tell, Trayvon did nothing wrong and still lost his life. You could be a Trayvon. Any of us could.

Some Reactions to Toure’s Counsel and Point-of-View

At places, Toure’s counsel is spot on. We must teach our boys–all boys–to play it cool and keep their head (#2). We must teach African-American boys and all little boys that “there’s nothing wrong with you” (#3). As my mama would say, “God didn’t make no junk.” And we must teach our boys the ability to be calculating, to observe the odds and to respond appropriately, to use their minds to the full  (#4-7). In one sense, all Toure advocates here is wisdom, the kind of savvy with people and in situations that could de-escalate very volatile circumstances. We want our boys to be peace-loving and to survive to fight on their own terms. I commend all of this.

But at other places Toure reveals a view of life that simply cannot and should not be tolerated, much less taught to our children as though it’s a norm they should accept.

First, it is most likely that our children will not be killed today. That’s a fact. Praise God! Even in some of the most crime- and violence-ridden neighborhoods, today, most children will walk into the front door of their homes and live. Eeking by in morbid fear is neither living or surviving. It’s simply another kind of death, self-imposed, darkened by the dousing of hope. Toure offers children nihilism and despair. He says “it’s unlikely but possible,” but that’s putting a smiley face on a death threat. He may have felt such hopelessness or anguish in the immediate aftermath of Martin’s death. But the first rule of responsible adulthood must be to pass on life to our children, not death and nihilism. We pass on life and the hope of the “good life,” and we encourage our boys to use each day to both enjoy life and better it. If, then, their lives should be tragically cut short they would have been caught in the process of enjoying it. If an officer appears at my door bearing the news that my son has been killed, I do pray he can also say, “It seems he was doing and enjoying the very best things possible at the moment.”

Second, Black maleness is a beautiful condition. Toure writes, “Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition.” But there’s nothing about being “Black” (leaving aside any definition of the notion for a moment) or “maleness” that is “potentially fatal.” People don’t die from melanin count or Y-chromosomes. Toure goes on to explain: “There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity.” He’s right about that. People will sometimes look at Black boys this way and “they are speaking about themselves and their deficiencies.” But the fatal condition is not “black maleness” but their prejudice and insecurity. The fatal flaw that ruins the American mind is not “Blackness” but “race” and “racism.” That reflexive color-coded living, multiplying attributes and stereotypes at the speed of sight–that, is the fatal flaw. And it kills America, not just Black youngsters. It kills the soul, not just the body. The toll is much higher and the disease more widespread than the number of actual killings or beatings. To be “Black” (again, leaving aside definitions for a moment) is to be beautiful. It is to be as God designed us. It is to possess a certain nobility forged by God’s hands and polished by suffering and struggle. Historically our suffering has lead to our glory. We ought not diminish or change that for one moment–much less when we’re teaching our boys how to navigate the world. “Black” is still beautiful. That must be passed on and re-articulated in light of God’s sovereign design and Jesus’ trans-ethnic reign.

3. Racism must not be allowed. Ever. “The Black man’s burden” must be redefined not as “allowing other people’s racism” but as ending both racism and “race” in pursuit of a world where culture, clan and character matter. We’re not stuck with “race.” Just as it was invented it can also be deconstructed. The “burden” then becomes choosing something else at the potential cost of both the familiar and the opportunism of the racially-invested. The “burden,” should we choose to accept it, is to now reject the category of “race” altogether–even when racists lurk and look to hurt. We’ve stared down racism for centuries. And by God’s grace we’ve won. It’s time now to stare down the very root of “racism,” the idea of “race.” We’re sending our boys out into the world to do more than merely survive. We’re sending them out to forge a future, a new reality, a world of both possibilities and achievements. We’re sending our boys out to defy the sociological standards that divide and oppress. We’re sending our boys out to fight against the world’s pathology in order to fight for the world’s sanity. In that fight there can be no easy cease-fire with racism or racists. We seek to capture the very ideological and sociological ground such men and women stand on–the ground of “race” and associated “superiority.” I’m praying for an army of such Black men and women, boys and girls. I’m praying for an army of such people from every ethnicity.

4. The “beloved community” is still our goal. Toure’s goals amount to little more than survival, lawsuits, and “revenge” by “living well.” But especially as Jesus followers, we live for something more. We live for redemption. We live for reconciliation. We live for forgiveness. We live for justice–yes–but the kind of justice that takes account of the cross of Calvary. Toure’s proposal leaves our boys all the more disenfranchised, endangered and homeless. Where will they find peace or love in such a world? Who will create it for them and call them to it if not us? We need to take the risk of faith that fights for both the civil justice that courts can grant but also the reconciliation that only Jesus can provide. Toure’s teaching strikes me as utterly antithetical to the long Black Christian tradition that has “brought us this far by faith.” And it is only that tradition–speaking the language of the gospel and dressed in the work clothes of social action–that has delivered us. Our Great Lord calls us to the creation of something more than mob justice and balkanized communities teetering on the brink of racial explosion and violence. We’re not admirably stewarding our spiritual and social legacy if we can imagine with this hard-earned freedom little more than a vigilante society. Our children deserve more from us.

The world view that seeps through Toure’s writing provides no hope or redemption or empowerment for our children and communities. It’s not a vision of the future worth our life’s energies. We need another way.

Old Paths for Our Feet

Toure does see something clearly, though. He sees that all of our angst and grief and protests and fears come down to one seemingly mundane but extraordinary privilege. Parenting. The rubber meets the road at our dinner tables, in our living rooms, on the drive to school and work, and during our bedtime routines. What will we tell our children? Here’s my take.

1. You are made in God’s image. That can be difficult to explain and understand. But you need to try to grasp this fact. Nothing else in all of creation bears the stamp of God but you and all other human beings. You are no mistake–nothing about you. You’re unique. Your dignity comes from your likeness to God. You’re not God. You’re not even close to being God. But you’re unique among His creation and He loves you.

2. Part of how God made you is “Black.” People try to define that in all kinds of ways. But it can’t be easily defined. To be “Black” is to be a lot of things all at once. But “Black” or African American is simply another way of saying “made in God’s image.” God determined where you should live and when. He tells us that in Acts 17:26. He determined that mommy and I would have the parents we have. He determined that out of the sea-graves of the Atlantic and the cotton fields of the South and the tough cities of the North a brand new people would come into existence. We’re part African, descended from that great continent. And we’re part American, sons of this soil. Both heritages are ours and yet we’re something more than just the adding of the two. And here’s what you need to know: You get to define what it means to be African American or Black. You get to give it dignity and purpose, beauty and joy. You get to interpret its sorrows and failings. It’s yours. Don’t let anyone rob you of it. God means for you to wear it and enjoy it.

3. Now, everybody doesn’t like Black people. Shoot… there are even Black people who don’t like Black people! Once it seemed like no one liked Black people. But now those folks are the minority. You know, there’s a much smaller minority in the world than African Americans. Oh, yes. The real minority are those people so blinded with sin that all they can think of is how much they want to be better than everybody else and how much they want to hurt people that don’t look like them. These people are blind. They’re small-minded. They worship idols–they worship themselves and their skin color and their culture. If they die in their sins God will judge them something fierce. They’re so blind they can’t see the blessing that people unlike them can be to them. They can’t even see that we’re all part of one human family descended from the same parents–Adam and Eve. That’s in Acts 17:26 again. Don’t be like them. Don’t let them hurt you. “A man can’t ride your back unless you’re bent over.” Their not liking you cannot limit you unless you let. Don’t let it. Be who God has called you to be. Do what God has called you to do. God himself will see you through even their idolatry and hatred. Don’t return hate for hate; it will kill you. Return love for their hate and two things will happen–you’ll heap hot coals on their heads and you’ll change this world we live in. Love cannot be crushed. It keeps rising like the sun. Everybody doesn’t like Black people. But you love everybody with the love God gives through His Son.

4. Realize that this life includes suffering, but this isn’t the only life there is. You know, you may lose some battles with the world. There are strong enemies out there and sometimes you’ll find yourself in difficult situations. If you have to suffer in this life, be sure you suffer for doing what is right and not what is wrong. Be sure to suffer like a Christian. Christians suffer like Jesus. Jesus was mocked and ridiculed, spat upon and beaten. They nailed him to a cross and danced over his grave. He was sinless but he suffered. In this sinful world we’re bound to suffer. Don’t be surprised by it. Don’t let it knock you off your game. Remember: Those who hope in Jesus have another life that does not end and where suffering can’t reach. Live this life in anticipation of that life. Lay hold to Jesus by faith. Follow Him. Trust Him. Give yourself to Him. Hope in Him never disappoints. Even if some fool takes your life in this world, you’ll go immediately to that world Jesus prepared for us. If you suffer in this world for doing Jesus’ will, you’ll earn a reward in the next world for that same suffering. Your suffering is your slave. It works for you a great reward with Jesus. Don’t be thrown off by suffering. This life will never be perfect. But the next one will. Hope in Jesus.

5. Son, be smart. Be wise. Choose your friends carefully. Think. Especially think before you act in scary situations. Don’t just react. Obey the authorities so long as they don’t try to force you to disobey Jesus. Respect everyone, son, and you’ll find most people respecting you back. A good name is to be desired above wealth.

6. Avoid trouble when you can. Sometimes it comes looking for you. When it does, play the man. You stand your ground–not angrily or out of control, but bravely, confident in the presence and power of God  who will never leave you nor forsake you. Care as much or more about the welfare of others as you do yourself. Look out for the weak and vulnerable. When you serve them you actually serve Jesus. He will receive you with joy when you do. This is our Father’s world, and He is making something beautiful of our lives. He began a good work in you and sometimes trouble is the way He inches it on toward completion.

7. Finally, know that I am here for you and will walk with you as long as I have life. You’re my son and I love you. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you–especially when you’re pursuing righteousness or facing enemies. Every day I want you to know that you are not alone. God promised He would not forsake me. Now, with His help, I’m promising that I won’t forsake you. Come hell or high water I’m going to be right there for you. So you do your best and never settle. Momma and I will catch you if you slip and we’ll cheer you as you strive.

Have I ever told you my favorite poem? It’s called Mother To Son.

Conclusion

Of course, none of our parenting conversations can be scripted. And rarely do we have the perfect answer to our kids’ questions. Perhaps the most debilitating feeling as a parent comes from the look on our children’s faces when we can’t find a satisfactory answer for the toughest problems. Even so, we can give hope and we can be there. Besides pointing our children to Jesus, giving hope and being there lie at the heart of parenting. I pray the Lord gives us better wisdom each day as we parent for His glory.

 
 

Jul

15

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:31 am CT

Yet One More Personal Take in the Aftermath of Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman Verdict

It’s almost too risky to join the chorus of reactions in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. It seems everyone has an opinion–most strongly held and some volatile.

Some voices loudly declare justice has been thwarted. Some other voices quietly doubt the injustice is as great as claimed. These latter voices tend not to speak up for fear of being labeled and harangued. Christian voices make excellent appeals to Scripture, to forgiveness, prayer and a host of other spiritual virtues–all of which can sound hollow to unsatisfied viewers hungering for justice, for a verdict that seems to affirm Black life and exonerates the country of its racist past.

Words fail us. World-renown columnist Nicholas Kristoff tweeted pictures in place of prose:

 

I suppose it’s twitter’s version of that powerfully moving closing argument in “A Time to Kill.”

President Obama offered prose instead of policy:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.

Charges of racism are met with quick agreement or stony fatigue. Calls for peace get met with skeptical stare and suspicion. Calls for action get met with anger and apathy. Calls to empathy are met with hardened face. It’s a situation that defies an easy match of feeling and action. It’s a situation where feeling becomes an act–and for some an end–in itself.

But We Need More Than Feeling

We cannot do less than feel. But somehow in our corner of the world we’ve got to do more than feel. We cannot do everything, but we must not do nothing. But what?

I shouldn’t write this post because I don’t have any more answers than you. I have as many questions as you. I’m likely as suspicious as you–suspicious of the verdict, suspicious of a system that seems to miss the obvious, suspicious of the obvious, suspicious of race and class and geography and how they conspire to create situations like this, suspicious of my own heart–but not nearly enough. So what to do?

I’m thinking of several things for my own soul’s sake. I’d be happy to hear what you’re planning to do, how this might make things different for you.

1. I’m going to play with my son.

I neglect this too much. And I know how deeply broken I would be if I expected him to come home from the store or the basketball court or a ride with his mother only to open the door to uniformed policemen telling me he had been killed. The words would be an atomic bomb in my ears and heart, its blast radius multiplied by the many moments I missed with him. It’s not that I feel more vulnerable or that I fear more for him in the wake of Martin and Zimmerman. I don’t. It’s that I’m aware of how precious he is and how precious little time we have in this life. It’s also time I realized how precious his little friends are and played with them, too. Some have dads. Some don’t. All can use one more arm around their shoulders. So, first, I’m going to play with my son and his friends.

2. I’m going to remember 1950.

It could just as easily be 1940 or 1850. But I’m going to pick a year not that long ago and remember what it was like for African Americans and White Americans then. In 1950 there would not likely have been a Zimmerman trial. In 1950 there might not have been an opportunity for Trayvon’s family to bring suit or seek justice. In 1950 Martin wouldn’t have been able to walk as freely in a White downtown area or neighborhood, and his parents would not have been free to move in those areas either. In 1950 there would have been zero media coverage. And though you can’t tell it by the widespread public reactions in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, in 1950 there would have been no outcry or protest. Most likely deflated Martin supporters would have only been able to huddle with their grief in very quiet homes or church services filled with muffled sobs and primordial groans of “How long, O Lord?”. I’m going to remember 1950 because we couldn’t vote, assemble without repercussion, or tell a White person to their faces what we thought without being another Trayvon. In 1950, many (most?) Whites would have hardly noticed Martin’s death. Many might even have co-signed his death with a “Serves him right” or “He shoulda kept his place” or “He shouldn’t have sassed a White man.” I’m going to remember 1950 because while Whites were suckled on the breast of racism then, it’s not the same now. I’m going to remember 1950 because we–African Americans and America as a country–have traveled an incredible distance. I need 1950 to help me with the distance left to travel and to help me with my perspective.

3. I’m going to finally commit myself to a Quixotic quest to rid the world of “race” as a category of human identity.

I’ve been avoiding this… all the while knowing its inevitability. I’ll be jousting one of the largest and longest operating windmills in human history. To mix metaphors, I’ll be spitting in the wind–especially as so many right now have recommitted themselves to the seeming reality of “race.” I suspect I’ll be largely alone. And I suspect that any Whites who join this cause will make the cause suspect in the eyes of angry racialists, and any African-Americans or ethnic minorities who join will draw the ire of the same. But what does my Bible tell me? And how does our fixation on “race” square with its pages? “From one man God made every nation (ethnicity) of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…” (Acts 17:26). African-American fathers and mothers valiantly used that same passage to fight for the full humanity of both African Americans and every White people in this country. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “race,” a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of race-based theory, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “race” from ethnicity and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling class, privilege, and cowardice. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current categories they can’t imagine life differently. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view skin the way we do, most of us are already misunderstood. I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding.

4. I’m going to pray and preach.

It’s what I currently do. It’s what I can do. The airwaves will be filled with proposals and solutions. Some will be good. Some won’t work. I applaud them all and say, “Let a 1,000 flowers bloom!” But I can pray. And I have the privilege of preaching. And I believe those are the two most powerful weapons in the world. I believe God hears my prayers in Christ. I believe he makes my words powerful when I preach Christ. I believe mountains get moved, hearts get changed, hands are put to work, and heaven comes down again when I pray and when I preach. I’m so weak. I’m so foolish. I’m so limited. But God is not. The Lord is so strong. The Lord is all-wise. The Lord is unlimited, unstoppable, unshakable, unchanging, and un-anything else that might be a human handicap. So I’m going to God. Not as a means of escape or simply to lament and mourn. Lamentation and mourning have their place. I’m going to God because He is God. He can fix it. He does all things well. He is great. He reigns. And He will do all what I can’t. He’ll even do what I can do far better than if I did it in my own wisdom or strength. Actually, apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I don’t want to do anything. In fact, I don’t want to be apart from Him. So with faith and desire I’m going to God in prayer and gospel preaching.

No doubt there are better plans. Certainly there are folks with stronger feelings and louder voices. But this is what I can do living on a Caribbean island and looking for the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. Because He is coming, I’m hopeful.

 
 

Feb

04

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|10:39 am CT

Learning to Be the Moral Minority from a Moral Minority

In recent weeks the evangelical world has found itself reeling from cultural setbacks it once took for granted. The re-election of President Obama, state passage of “gay marriage” initiatives, the uninviting of Louie Gigglio to the Inauguration, and even last night’s Super Bowl have signaled to some that Christians and Christianity have lost their welcome place in the public square. For the first time, some evangelical conservatives feel like an oppressed minority in the country.

As I’ve watched the chatter mixed with laments and jeremiads, I couldn’t help but think of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” founded in the late 70′s and defunct by the late 80′s. For nearly a decade, the Moral Majority exercised its political voice largely in southern states.

It seems to me that the very notion of a “moral majority” rested on two assumptions that some evangelicals no longer find tenable. First, it assumed the basic morality of most of the country. It assumed basic “Judeo-Christian principles” shaped and framed the moral reasoning of the average citizen, making your “average Joe” basically friendly to the aims and concerns of conservative Christians. Second, it assumed privilege. The very notion of “majority” suggests strength in numbers, a perch from which to rule for no other reason than outnumbering one’s opponents. The last couple months have upturned both of those long-standing assumptions and some evangelicals find themselves at a loss for how to handle it, claiming to be “persecuted,” “rejected,” and “shut out” from the public square. Many who don’t yet go so far as to claim persecution now, ring the ominous alarm of abuse being just around the corner.

It seems to me that if the evangelical church faces minority status in a country that no longer feels as welcoming, it will need to learn to become the moral minority. And to do that, coming from a position of significant privilege, she will actually have to learn from some folks who have long understood what it means to be moral and what it means to be minority in a country that denies your morality and even your right to freedom and existence. The Black Church. Evangelicals could well learn to be the moral minority from a much older moral minority. Here are a few things to pick up (some of which I had the privilege of discussing here):

1. Learn to suffer with dignity and grace. That’s not easy. But if the evangelical church is going to maintain a healthy dignity and resolve, it’ll need to endure suffering like a good soldier. It’ll need to learn how to bear reproach, shame, insult, ridicule, and even physical attack without cowing, lowering its head, or hating itself. Because of its privilege, white evangelical churches don’t know how to joyfully accept the plundering of its possessions and persons. If true persecution comes, it will need to learn this lesson in spades. There are two models: Jesus and the Black Church. Jesus’ model is perfect; the Black Church’s example is proximate, near at hand. One you read in the scripture, the other you can read in history texts or even access in conversation.

2. Learn to do theology from the underside. Privilege affords a person the ability to think about life and God from “above.” It allows a person to form conclusions in abstraction, detached from the grit and grime of suffering and need. But you can’t do that if you’re in a “persecuted minority” status. You have to ask, as Howard Thurman did two generations ago, “What does Jesus of Nazareth mean and have to say to the disinherited?” What truth and power is there in the gospel from the underside? How must we think about power and its use when we’re the disenfranchised rather than the brokers? In many respects that’s the great difference between theology done in Black and White circles. Most of African-American theology gets worked out in the crucible of suffering and under-privilege. That’s why it’s starting points and conclusions can be so different to those arrived at from the “top.” That’s why it can look heretical to those with power and privilege. The view comes from the bottom, and that’s a very different reality. I suspect that if the white evangelical church ever does become a truly persecuted minority in the country, the scope and content of its theological commitments will change significantly to include questions of power, privilege, access, and justice. It would be good to glean from the experiences and theologies of persons that already have in hand over three hundred years of thinking about such things.

3. Learn how to fight for your oppressors, not just against them. One genius of African-American theology and the Black Church has been its insistence on the full dignity, humanity, brotherhood, and rights of both the Black community and the White community. The best of Black Church history sees the future of Blacks and Whites inseparably connected. The best thinkers about the nature of humanity have identified the ways in which racism, for example, dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor. The best activists have, therefore, sought not only freedom for the oppressed but also freedom for the oppressor. The “enemy” becomes the beneficiary of the oppressed’s love. This is the genius of a Martin L. King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. The moral minority rose up against an immoral majority without sticks and guns but with love and justice for all. In positions of privilege, we don’t easily adopt such attitudes and positions. We easily engage our “opponents” with a zero-sum, winner-loser mentality. So, for example, “homosexuals” are meant to be “stopped” rather than loved and included. We focus on the heinousness of the sin rather than helping the sinner be as free as we claim to be. The problem with that winner-takes-all approach is that those chickens will come home to roost when we find ourselves in the minority. If we’re truly moral then we seek justice for everyone, including those who line up against us on this or that political issue. In a true “moral minority” any “superiority” will be demonstrated in concrete action on behalf of everyone’s equality.

4. Learn to hope in God. When you’re the majority community wielding power in society, you don’t have to hope in God in quite the same way as you do when you’re the minority and oppressed community. There’s a sense in which it becomes easy to trust in chariots, horses, and armies rather than the name of the Lord our God. But true persecution strips you of every support but God. Persecution brings you to your knees, but that’s where you find power. That’s one part of the legacy of the Black Church. When life was at its worst, it was a praying church. Despite injustice, persecution and the threat of death on every hand, African-American Christians put their hope in a God they were sure would bend the arc of history toward justice and deliverance. That hope was not pie-in-the-sky escapism. It was the noose-is-tightening realism. It was the kind of hope the apostle Paul found when he felt the sentence of death written in his heart and despaired of life, the kind of hope that comes to its senses and realizes it cannot rely on itself but must rely on the God who raises people from the dead (2 Cor. 1). It’s a hope kept safe beyond the vicissitudes of this life.

I suspect that much of the lamentation I hear in the evangelical world may be the dying cries of long-standing privilege. I also suspect that the death of such privilege will result in a purer grasp of faith and dependence upon God. Much less will be taken for granted and more genuine thought given to living out the faith from the “bottom.” Perhaps we’ll see, as one person put it, that a lot of what we’ve called “thinking” has merely been the rearranging of our prejudices. Then we’ll find that persecution, if it comes, has been for the purging and purifying of God’s people. A purging and purifying that’s very much needed.

 
 

Jan

16

2012

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:24 pm CT

Communicating Complex Theology in a Soundbite Age

Carl Trueman has some worthwhile thoughts about the new wineskins of social media like Twitter and its inability to hold the old wine of rich theology.  Along the way he has a caution about churches falling into the pressure to truncate and reduce its message to soundbites.  I especially appreciated these lines:

It behooves those in positions of ministerial leadership in the church to make sure that the way they write and express themselves on any given topic is not only clear enough for the audience to understand but also precise enough that the audience does not misunderstand.

That is one reason why there must be a difference between evangelism and discipleship.  We should expect those who come to church to grow in their ability to understand the deep things of the faith. Church teaching needs to stretch believers.  Evangelistic preaching and teaching cannot be the sole diet of a church, even though believers as much as anyone need to hear the simple gospel on a regular basis.

Our life together in the church should be a stretching experience.  Believers are to be stretched.  In fact, it’s belief itself that stretches the believer into a new Christ-figured shape.  We’ve all heard the quip, “sermonettes make Christianettes.”  The deep things of the faith (which can be surprisingly simple and simply stated) provide the anchor reaching the sea floor of the deep issues of life.  Take your time.  Say it as best you can.  Take your time.  Listen as attentively as you can.  Resist the trivial.  Be stretched.

 
 

Aug

16

2011

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:21 pm CT

Enough to Feel Guilty, But Not Enough to Be Happy

Ray Ortlund, Sr. to his son, Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

“Listen, son.  Half-hearted Christians are the most miserable people of all.  They know enough to feel guilty, but they haven’t gone far enough with Christ to be happy.  Be wholehearted for him!”

That’ll preach!

 
 

Jul

19

2011

 
 

Jun

20

2011

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:42 am CT

“Am I Really a Christian?”

Have you ever asked yourself that question? “Am I really a Christian?”

Does asking yourself that question make you an insecure or perhaps doubtful Christian? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps asking yourself that question is the healthiest and wisest thing you could do spiritually. Or to put it another way, is there any wisdom in never asking yourself that question? Could it be that the most foolish thing we could do is never ask and answer that question with biblical grit?

Mike McKinley’s new book, asks and helps answer the question Am I Really a Christian? I’m excited about this book and when you read you will be, too. I’m excited because Mike has lovingly, winsomely, soberly, and helpfully offered a diagnosis of that most deceptive and damaging of spiritual problems: nominalism. How would we know if we’re “Christians” in name only? And if we discovered we were, what should we do next? For answers, check out Mike’s book and the new website which offers helpful videos and information. Here’s one:

What is a nominal Christian? from Crossway on Vimeo.

Check the website and check the book. I’m sure the book will be a great blessing to someone who may be need to face this question with soberness and hope.

 
 

May

11

2011

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:35 pm CT

Are Your Pastors Happy? Are You Healthy?

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17)

“Happy pastors make healthy people.”

(John Piper, “No One Will Take Your Joy from You;” check around minute 43)