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When The Gospel Becomes a Tool for the Oppressor: Lessons from the Life of Nat Turner

slave

I recently watched the film, “Birth of a Nation” and was struck by one of the themes in the film. The story seeks to tell the story of Nat Turner and the slave revolt that he led in the year 1831.The story is an adaptation of the real account of Nat Turner, a slave, and  a preacher who in retaliation against his unjust treatment snaps and led a rebellion that resulted in the deaths of over 50 white men, women and children. It was a horrible event, one that would eventually spur both sides on the slavery debate to bolster their arguments; the abolitionists pointed to the evils of slavery that would cause such a response, while the southerners reacted by issuing even harsher laws against slaves and fighting against the education and rights of the slaves to engage in church services.

One of the more moving themes in the movie centered around the use of Nat Turner to suppress any agitation or frustration that the slaves had against their master. The movie depicts Nat Turner as a traveling preacher who is called upon by other slave owners to encourage the slaves to submit to the cruelties and obey the commandments of their slave owners. Nat was shocked to see that in some plantations many of the slaves were treated worse than those in his community. He saw many slaves who were, maimed, broken down, both mentally, spiritually and physically. He was told by the slave owners to specifically preach on passages of the bible that focus on service and obedience and submission, neglecting passages that speak about cruelty, the evils of slavery, and the evils of turning a blind eye to such atrocities.  It became difficult for Nat to reconcile his message for obedience and submission when he and those he loved were being brutalized. In the film, Nat’s wife was gang raped, and he ends up being beaten for resisting his master’s increasing attempts to dehumanize his slaves. In one instance Nat’s master allows one of his guests to rape the wife of his fellow slaves. The dissonance between the gospel that Nat read in the Bible and the failure to apply that gospel by his “christian masters”was one of the chief driving forces that caused Nat to snap. Nat Turner saw himself as a biblical prophet whom God would use to inflict his judgement on the slave owners.

Though the movie was an adaptation, it did carry true themes. During those times there was often indiscriminate killing of slaves, raping of women, and brutal violence that was perpetrated by “god fearing” men.

In many places slaves were forbidden to meet and worship, even though one of the justifications for slavery was for the christianization and civilization of the heathen.

In 1834 the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky wrote:

“Slavery deprives its subjects, in a great measure, of the privileges of the gospel. The law, as it is here, does not prevent free access to the scriptures; but ignorance, the natural result of their condition,does. The Bible is before them. But it is to them a sealed book. Very few of them enjoy the advantages of a regular gospel ministry.” *

Again another account

In 1800, South Carolina declared: “It shall not be lawful for any number of slaves, free Negroes. mulattoes, or mestizos, even in company with white persons, to meet together and assemble for the purpose of mental instruction or religions worship, either before the rising of the sun or after the going down of the same. And all magistrates, sheriffs, militia officers, etc., etc., are hereby vested with power, etc., for dispersing such assemblies.”

WEB Dubois in his work, “The Negro Church” writes the following:

Moreover, the masters clung to the idea that, the chief use of religion among slaves was to make them “obey their masters.” When it was charged that slaves were not allowed to rend the Bible, one naive answer was that it was read to them, especially “those very passages which inculcate the relative duties of masters and  servants.” An intelligent Negro, Lundsford Lane, thus describes the religious instruction of slaves :

There was one hard doctrine to which we as slaves were compelled to listen, which I found difficult to receive. We were often told by the ministers how much we owed to God for bringing us over from the benighted shores of Africa and permitting us to listen to the sound of the gospel. In ignorance of any special revelation that God had made to master, or to his ancestors, that my ancestors should be stolen and enslaved on the soil of America to accomplish their salvation, I was slow to believe all my teachers enjoined on this subject. How surprising, then, this high moral end being accomplished, that no proclamation of emancipation had before this been made ! Many of us were as highly civilized as some of our masters, and as to piety in many instances their superiors…

There was one kind-hearted clergyman whom I used often to hear; he was very popular among the colored people. Rut aft,er he had preached a sermon to us in which he urged from the Bible that it was the will of heaven from all eternity that we should be slaves, and our masters be our owners, many of us left him, considering, like the doubting disciple of old, ‘This is a hard saying ; who can hear it?

What was of note in the film and in history  was the political use of preachers to legitimize and authorize a system of economic oppression, corruption and greed. The Bible contains many passages about slavery, but what was interesting is the selective use of scriptures to validate their message. Just as scripture had mandates for the slave to the slave owner, they also had mandates for the master to the slave.These passages were not emphasized by many. In fact it was the silence on slavery’s appalling aspects that allowed  slavery to be  accepted despite the abolitionist’s best intentions.

A gospel that speaks only to individual sins and not against the systematic sins and fallenness in our earthly kingdoms is an incomplete gospel. Christ did not just come to redeem individuals. He came to redeem humanity. 

A church is not a mature church if it fails to speak out against the atrocities of the  powerful against the “least of these”. 

A church is not a mature church if it fails to act in compassion to serve and minister to the broken citizens and sojourners in its midst. 

I believe the evangelical church has lost much of its influence and its prophetic ability to speak against some of the systemic problems that plague our country. Just as in earlier times many leaders focused on certain issues while ignoring others. It happened in Nat Turner’s day, it happened in the Civil Rights Era and it is happening today.

I have often heard admonition to the poor and needy to remain patient and to hold on such as passages in James 5:7-12

 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation.

However how often have you heard Elders teach on the judgement on the perpetrators and on the fallen system found in  versus 1-6.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure[a] for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you.

Now we have  a host of issues that are plaguing our nation that the evangelical church ignores often to avoid the charge of being political such as

  • Mass incarceration ( The United States has a higher incarceration rate per capita than any other nation)
  • Immigration problem (What do we do with those who are here illegally. What is a way that we humanely deal with families, how do we deal with deportations)
  • Military industrial complex (War for profit)
  • Racism ( Americas primordial national sin)

However many in the evangelical community have no problem getting political when it comes to these issues:

  • gay marriage
  • abortion

These are complex issues and how a church should get involved is tricky. Rather than speak about policies, I think at the least we should speak about principles and values that undergird the policies that are created. How should we treat our neighbor, not just overseas, but the one on the other side of the tracks. How do we treat people whose faith is different from ours. We live in an age of division, and we need to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath. The more we are connected to our neighbors the more understanding and nuanced we will be in our beliefs and in our politics.  The church can never lose its focus on Christ’s work on the cross and our call to biblical fidelity and discipleship. However we do need to at least have these discussions.

Our politics should not limit our ability to be truth tellers. The onus of the church is not to come up with the solutions to these issues because some of these issues will only be dealt with when Christ returns. However, morally awakened men are more likely to create godly legislation. The onus of the church is to call foul, those things that are foul and to be the moral voice and conscience of the nation. It should definitely not be the media.  

Now more than ever we need the church to hear the cry of a divided nation and be able to unite us all not into a political party but unto a kingdom. If we our too entrenched in a political side we will not be able to reach those outside our political ghettos.  Our politics is killing us. It is diluting our ability to be salt. It is blinding us. We need to pray for our leaders. Pray for our president.Pray for those who agree with us and for those who disagree.

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Where is the Love? Donald Trump and the Christian response to Muslims

refugees

I was wondering whether I should do a podcast or blog. I haven’t blogged in a while, but I have been sitting on this for a couple of days. I just can’t wrap my mind around this simple fact. Messaging matters. You can say something with good intentions, but if your tone is off, your words are off, or your delivery lacking, your message will be affected. Who knows what Trump’s intentions were, or are, but one thing is clear; it got a lot of people riled up.

So what does that have to do with us as Christians. Maybe my head has been in the sand, which it could be, but I don’t feel I have heard or read enough how we as Christians in America should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. I haven’t heard a message that counteracts the message of fear and division being preached by certain politicians.

Despite his huge error to mitigate between terrorists and moderate muslims, I think Trump is correct in his evaluation that we need a screening system that works as well as a means to processing and deterring terrorists from entering. That is just common sense. I will not deal with the politics of immigration nor that of military intervention in Syria.  I want to skip past that however and focus on two things: In light of recent events how do we react and engage the muslim community that is currently here? and how do we engage the refugees who will eventually arrive?

There is a verse that comes to mind that says the following

14For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view

What should we be compelled to do?

Matthew 25:35-36 tells up partially

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Those who know the parable understand that we as believers are challenged to feed, take in, and care for the weak among us. We are to take them in. But let me go back to the verse in 2 Corinthians about the love of Christ compelling us. The love of Christ compels us to share Christ with the world. The central part of sharing is communicating the gospel of Christ, but we cannot completely divorce the message of the gospel without  a tangible display of  gospel love. The love of Christ compels me to feed the hungry. Christ’s love compels me to visit the sick, it compels me to shelter the homeless, and to welcome the stranger.  Gospel love is communicated when we serve those who may not like us or even believe in our message. Jesus came and gave his life to serve even those who would reject him. Jesus’ death for us while we were yet sinners, and his enemies shows us how love conquers sin; even the sins of fear and hate.

Going back to messaging. We as Christians must say that even when we have doubts,  fears and insecurities that the love of Christ compels us to serve and love any refugee but not just the muslim refugees, but our muslim neighbors as well.

In an age where division, racism, and bigotry are increasing at alarming rates, we as the Church should with biblical conviction state our commitment to communicating the truth that is in Christ Jesus. The love of Christ compels me to engage my muslim neighbor, to dialogue, to share; not the Jesus of the Koran, but the risen Christ indwelling his church.

Muslims need Jesus too.  When Paul says we regard no one from a worldly point of view, he is hinting that our view of the world and of muslims, atheists, agnostics, buddhists etc should all be colored by the fact that they are people who need Jesus. We must show love and communicate that message in love. It will not always be accepted, sometimes it will be rejected, scorned, mocked and even vilified. Yet our mission still remains. Paul can understand this point clearly because he once was a terrorist who had someone risk their life to share the gospel with him. Where would we be without Ananias? Yet because Ananias was compelled by the love of Christ and dared visit a man who was blinded by zeal and hatred, the ancient world and the world today has been changed.

I pray that we believers in America, Europe, and the rest of the world take advantage of the opportunity to show the Light of the world, to those living under a veil of darkness. Let us not be paralyzed by fear, but with wisdom and boldness let us declare and proclaim the hope, freedom, and rest that is only found in Christ Jesus.

 

 

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Obama and the Death of the Christian Nation

Its 2012 and its time to wake up. America is no longer a christian nation. Yes our country was founded on judaeo-christian values, yes there are millions of christians in the United States. Yes the American Church still possesses the greatest natural resources of any nation in the world, but politically and socially the influence of evangelicals on shaping policy and culture has fizzled. Did Obama deal a death blow to our idea of a Christian Nation? N0, that ideal has been dying for some time and our understanding of ourselves as a “Christian Nation” which should govern exclusively for christians needs to change. The sooner we realize this the sooner we can stop lamenting the fact that our government no longer caters or actively courts the evangelical voice. In fact to many it may seem that the government actively denies and acts against the concerns of its “christian constituents.” and you know what it might be a good thing.

So lets unpack a little what it means to be a Christian nation. Our forefathers wrote that we are “one nation under God”, and in one sense that is true, God is sovereign over every nation, yet as a country I don’t know many who are in complete submission to his will. In America much of our political talk still contains allusions to scripture, passing homages to “God” but even still this is decreasing at an alarming rate. There are fights to take God out of everything; out of our money, off of the pledge of allegiance, and even out of the court rooms. This has been going on for the past couple of years. There has been a gradual loss in the use of public places such as schools for worship. Christian organizations have had their personal beliefs infringed on by having to provide “abortive” contraceptions to their workers. Abortion has been legal for almost 40 years, though the number of abortions has been declining yearly irrespective of party. Then to add insult to injury the  6000 year old understanding of marriage has suddenly changed to be not just between one man and one women, but any consenting adults regardless of gender.

Wow! But as bug’s bunny would say ” That’s not all folks” Our great country has been a war monger across the world, though thankfully it has slowly ended two wars. Yet there is talk of initiating what would become the third world war that some feel all too comfortable with because it fits in their eschatological framework. Racism abounds in our 50 states, the last four years have unmasked its hidden nature. Immigrants are spoken of as if they were the scum of the earth, corporations infringe on the rights of the most marginalized people, and the charity that binds us has begun to unravel before our eyes.

Where is the love of our enemies whether idealogical, or political? Where is the honor for our leaders? Where is christian charity on the public platform?

Does God really want Obama to be president is not the question we should be asking? The real question is why do we rely on the secular government to fulfill kingdom purposes?

I have seen two major flaws during this election season by christian by both sides. One is a demonizing of the “other” for political purposes, and the other is an over dependence not he government as if the government is savior.  We rely on government to legislate morality, to force tolerance of others, to rescue the least of these.

You can take this to the bank. God will use our government for better or worse to produce in the American Church that which it needs to become the bride he made her to be. Yes the church has lost much of its political clout, but maybe that will force her to depend on God and not man. Who knows if the country will go through an economic uptick or another downturn? I do know that whatever is ahead God will use adverse situations to cause us to trust more in his power and provision.

In political discussion we hear talk about mandates. What will be the next president’s mandate, what will they run on. What about the church’s mandate. What is the evangelical mandate?

It hasn’t changed since the last words of our commander in chief; To preach the gospel in all the nations and make disciples. There are millions of lost people. Our country is in desperate need to see christian love in action. There are millions who are lonely, depressed, confused, orphaned, divorced, displaced, sick, unemployed.  Obama stole our message when he campaigned on Hope.  We as believers know that hope does not come through the government of this world, but only when we place our trust in the king of Kings. We as believers must demonstrate the hope and love of God that points to something beyond this world. This only lies in the gospel. My prayer for our country after a divisive election is for us to pray for our country. Pray for our president. Pray for godly counsel for our elected officials, but more that God would let his love pour throughout us whether our guy won or loss, and that we would ramp up our efforts to proclaim the greatest King of all Jesus Christ. In Love, The Herald.

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Warning: Persecutions coming to America

I remember it like yesterday,  I was in middle school during history looking at a picture of an early American settler, a patriot. This figure was an American hero riding on a horse during the stillness of the night holding the lantern of liberty high, while warning his people, shouting the words, “The red coats are coming, the red coats are coming”. This herald is credited with arousing the rag tag militia that eventually defeated the coming imperial army. Today such a warning is needed. The enemy is approaching, persecutions are coming, church of America rise up, you have need of patience.

Its almost ironic to be startled and hear in America the words “persecutions are coming”; but historically this was a central theme in the early church. Many of the epistles are written in the context of suffering and hostility towards the faith. Paul writes to the Timothy, that all who desire to live godly will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12) In fact in the book of  1 Peter,  Peter writes that the believers are being protected by God through their faith, he references that the church’s faith will be tested through all kinds of trials  (1 Peter 1: 5-6) and later on Peter warns the early church to be self controlled and alert; because there is a lion that is waiting to devour them. (1 Peter 3:20) Peter poignantly appeals to the believers because he knows the pain and crisis that comes with the testing of faith; as he had experienced a vicious attack on his faith  earlier in his life when he failed to heed to the admonition of the Lord. It is for this reason and that he issues the same warning; be vigilant.

So how are we to be vigilant? There are at least 2 actions necessary. The first is to be in communion with the Spirit in prayer and the second is to be connected to a local assembly of believers who you know and are known by.  Ironically these are some of the least attended disciplines of the western christian.

Prayer is not just the communication of our needs to God, is it the seeking after his face, the integration of his word and will into our lives to the point that every prayer includes” your will be done in my life as it is in heaven”. In order to commune deeply with the Father,  I must first set aside the time energy, and focus to meditate on what God has spoken. God is speaking and is not silent, heaven and earth will fade before one of God’s words fail.

Another simple way that God speaks is through his people. The church after all is his body, his instrument to work his purposes in the world. God often uses people who commune with him to speak into our lives but occasionally he will use an “ass” to do so as well, just ask Balaam.

Without neglecting the first two, we must stay vigilant and observe the events happening in the world. Jesus scolds the Pharisees because they  continually had the wrong focus and failed to notice the son of God who was standing right before them; they refused to see the signs.

In Matthew 16:3 Jesus says,

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

Jesus was specifically talking about the prophecies that were being fulfilled before their eyes. The argument that Jesus makes is that we often pay attention and focus on the minor and neglect the weightier things.How is it that you can notice the change in the atmosphere physically, but fail to see what’s happening spiritually? Such is the flaw of the natural man; his focus is on the flesh. The spiritual man however is able to make inferences and see how the natural reflects the spiritual; just compare Joshua and Caleb with the rest of the spies, Jacob with Esau,  and in general the kings of Judah with Israel. This theme is written all through out the Bible.

One of the reasons that Daniel and his friends prospered, was because they knew that the Babylonian conquest just wasn’t about changing their traditions, but it was a greater attack on the worship of their God.

The worship of Christ, the authority of God’s word, and the historical faith of christianity is under attack in the West like never before. Before we are locked up for believing, before even things like Home Schooling are eliminated, and gay marriage becomes internationally accepted we have to be in prayer. What would happen to your faith if the economy continued to plummet, unemployment continued to rise, social security and medicare were abolished. What if and right now it seems like a very huge if, the United States turned into Greece. Some scoff at the idea, but no empire is impervious to a fall. Even in our decline the United States is one of the greatest countries if not the greatest in the world; but our trust cannot be in our country, our elected officials, or even our ministers, it has to be on God. Returning to the issue however,  it is important to be aware of the events that are happening around us because God is at work.  This is not about politics, nor economics; its much deeper, this is about our faith. What are we putting our trust in?

The signs are all around us, Christ coming is nearer than ever before; but even still his judgment against his church has already begun. There will be greater scandals with religious leaders, more deals cut with the government, greater appeal to universalism within religion, more relativism, and the gospel of Christ will continue to be watered down by preachers. The offense of the cross is disappearing, instead what is being preached is  peace peace; when there is no peace. For the God who is a consuming fire is sitting in judgment upon our individual and collective rebellion.

Let me return back to the story of Paul Revere. History tells us that Paul Revere was not the only rider, but there were others. It is safe to assume that many were disturbed and startled, by the message of these early riders. I’m sure there were some who were sleeping, some who were eating, or writing letters to their family, until they were interrupted. Something of greater urgency not only seized their attention; but it shifted their actions as they prepared for the invasion from abroad.The reason that the colonialists were ready to respond to the British invasion is because they were at their posts watching where the enemy was coming from, but also heeded the message and relayed it to others.

Paul writes in his second letter to Corinth how ignorance of  Satan’s schemes allows him to take advantage of us. Just as the Spirit of Christ is active in saving the souls’ of men, the mystery of iniquity is at work as well; in our homes, schools, jobs, government, our minds. Let us be vigilant in prayer, fellowship and study that we may offer warning to our brothers in the Lord.

Someone reading this has a vital message to communicate to their brother, to their sister, friend, coworker. This message is to get ready; put on your armor, the enemy is advancing he’s at the gates; but fear not God is on our side.

(If you have time the following link is a sermon that is relevant to the issue ). God’s people are not prepared, by Mark Case

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