Tag Archives: Black History Month

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

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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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How Do I Tell My Son He’s Black

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I have two mixed sons. They are beautiful. One is still an infant the older just started school. They are Black and Salvadoran part Cuban. My oldest knows he is black because I have told him. But I haven’t told him. He is still to young to understand the weight of that word, the subliminal meanings, the connotations, the burden, and the blessing of that word. Black.   So how do I tell my son about his blackness?

I have taught him that old song by James brown, I’m black and I’m proud, but that song in a vacuum without context can not reveal the pride and against from which it was composed.

I ask this question in light of being dazed  from reading Between the World and Me. In it the author writes to his own son to prepare him to understand what it means to be black.

So how do I tell my son about his blackness?

This question will always be personal, and yet always collective. My blackness was gifted to me by God, and then customized by my father and mother. Different shades, different stories collided and merged forming one new hue,  a new chapter, a new page to the narrative of being black in America.

My father grew up in the inner city on the West Coast, my mother in the south. They were raised a different era, an era before mine, one where Jim Crow was still in tow, where one could be beaten simply by looking a white man in the eye while walking the street. My uncle told us of a time where they got into a fight in Texas on vacation because one of the white youth called them niggers. Overt racism wasn’t limited to the south. Even on the West Coast blacks weren’t allowed in certain beaches and to go into certain parts of town. Things were worse back then. My parents were alive to witness MLK ‘s assassination, Malcolm X’s assassination. Kennedy’s Assassination. When we watch films like Selma or the Butler those are not just past footage, but memories. Memories of times where nigger, was more prevalent than nigga, when schools had not yet been integrated. My parents witnessed the fruits of the civil rights era, but also became parents during the beginnings of crack and gang eras. Their generation and the generation before has probably seen more change than any before, but they’ve also seen how much has not changed.

How do I tell my son that daddy’s grandma’s grandma was the daughter of a slave? I mean what other race in America has that legacy. When you see images of victims of  police brutality, you see the face of a black man. When you see the victims of inner city gun violence; its a black man.

Thankfully my son was alive to witness the face of a president; a black man.

I have isolated and shielded my son from much of the world. He is still young. His school has a decent number of mixed children,  but is mostly white and white hispanic and hardly any all black. Most of the churches he has been a part of where either multicultural, or mostly white. There’s a story for that, but that’s for a different time.

Soon he will know and discover that for many to be black means people will lower expectations except when it comes to athleticism, or music.

If he gets into a good college people will by default ask whether it was through affirmative action.

If he gets upset, people will assume he has an anger problem.

If he’s walking down the street at night with a hoodie, people will feel more threatened.

If he talks proper they will assume he is trying to be white.

If he can’t dance, they will ask why not?

If he doesn’t get an opportunity that he was qualified for he will always have to wonder if it was because of his lack of talent, or due to his blackness?

He will be a minority in many places, and see things from a different lense.

Fortunately for my sons some of these they will experience, others they will not simply for the fact that they are mixed. In fact the darker or blacker one is, the more intensely they will have to deal with these questions.

Despite all of these stereotypes, like scripture says I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That when God made his blackness, he called it good. In fact Adam was most likely a black man. As most scientists claim the first man and women came from Africa. I will tell my son of the early kings, of the inventors, the Dubois, the Douglasses, the Equiano’s and Whitely’s, the Washingtons and of Simon of Cyrene, of Jethro, and others.

I will tell my son that there’s a beauty in our blackness. A special strength. A special burden. That God has gifted us with a special song for the world to hear. A song for every mountain he brought us over, through every trial he’s seen us through. A special hallelujah from a faith that has been tested in scourgings, lynchings and beatings. That despite the worst intentions to destroy this race, and destroy our faith. Our enemies have failed. This is our legacy. That in the darkest of nights, we stood fast and have held tight to the master’s hand. That even in the shadow of death, our God has always been with us.We have a testimony, and if the last shall be first and the first shall be last, trust me there will be a lot of dark skinned people sitting close to Jesus at that banquet in heaven.

I will tell my son that he will have tribulation for three things; knowing Jesus and being black & latino. Yet to be of good cheer because Christ over came the world.

So how do I tell my son of his blackness? With a grave face and a smile, with a stern voice and a song. Say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Am I the only one here?: Being a minority in Church

Changing churches can be a very stressful exercise. About a year ago, my family and I decided to move from our beloved city back to an area I grew up in. On top of our priority list was finding another church. Off the bat I knew I didn’t want to go to a thousand different churches, having to awkwardly stand up a thousand times during the meet the visitor segment of church services. That is just too much pressure. So I decided to do a little research, and try to trim the list of a thousand  down to a couple. Fortunately it didn’t take too long to find the church as God guided me to a really great church. But before I joined the church I had to address one big issue, can I go to a White Church?

It is hard to go from a multicultural to monocultural environment. One of the great qualities of my previous churches was the fact that they were very multicultural.  There’s nothing better than worshiping with other brothers and sisters from all nationalities. If I were to rank my level of comfortability in terms of church diversity I would prefer multicultural worship over a predominately black church. I  would even considered going to a spanish evangelical church where I would be a minority, but that would be okay because like some black churches they know how to get down( meaning they have passionate worship and preaching but at times extremely long services). Ironically, despite my preferences the two churches that I visited were both predominantly white.

One of the first things I do and I’m sure many others do as well when visiting a church is look for people that they can connect and relate to. This happens no matter what type of church you go to. If you are a teenager you will look for other teenagers, if you are single you will look for other singles, if you have a young family you look for others with young families. One of the most disappointing things to happen is to go to a church and feel like there’s no one or only a handful of people like you there. So when I visited the first church which is a good thriving church, I was immediately taken back by the lack of black people or diversity there. I felt a little uncomfortable, not because of anything that anyone said or didn’t say in particular, because the greeters and ushers were kind. The discomfort came because I felt that I would only be able to connect superficially, and because I felt like I was in a place where no one would really understand me.  I didn’t know it until processing it later but I actually experienced culture shock.   Its funny to think that culture shock can come in the same city that a person grows up in because we usually use the term when people go overseas to mission trips but here I was in the middle of church thinking this is probably not the place for me. In fact I must confess I actually had a little condescension for the one black guy I did notice, thinking he must be the token black guy.

To put things in context, I felt more out of place at that church then at the Korean church I where I served as the English Ministry Pastor. Ironically the Pastor of the Korean Church is a great example of displaying diversity. He first hired an Indian and then myself an African American to work with the korean  youth and young adults at his church. Part of my search for a home church was simply because the only other church services at that church was in Korean.

Often times we create self fulfilling prophecies when we put up guards before even getting the chance to know someone who seems different. This doesn’t just happen with race, but with language, class, gender etc.  Though we should embrace the opportunity of change , we have be honest with our experiences and our own makeup; sometimes juggling those conflicting feelings can be difficult.

God gave me another chance to do just that. While browsing online I found a great church.  It had great teaching, a great missions program, and did local outreach. The only downside I found was when I looked at pictures of the staff. At first glance I looked and saw that there were no people of color, but after checking again I saw that one of the pastors was Asian, not a total strikeout I thought.  So I decided to check out the church on Sunday with my family. This church though predominantly white, had a small mixture of other races, and a small amount of blacks. Like the other church the greeters were friendly, but for some reason I felt more comfortable. Though the church was not as diverse as I wanted it to be, all the other factors more than made up for it. After a couple of weeks I came to the determination that this was the most balanced church I had ever been to or seen.  So my family and I joined.

It was after joining and meeting the pastor that I understood why I felt more comfortable. My pastor in the new members class said something that I will never forget. When he assumed the pastorate there weren’t too many black families, and one of the most faithful  black families was considering leaving precisely because they felt unwelcome. After talking to that couple my  pastor told the church something amazing. “I will not pastor an all white church”. He told the church that he wanted more diversity,and that the church would have to change the way it looks at those who are of different ethnicities.  He explained to the new members in class that day, how that moment transformed the ethos of the church, and how though not perfect they became more conscious of how to treat others. This is one of many reasons that I love and respect my pastor. He cast a vision for the church and made a stand that diversity sometimes means challenging the status quo.

I’ve been at my church for over a year and have had to from time to time wrestle with the idea of what it means to me to be a minority in my church. I have to say that in the year I’ve been attending the church has grown a little more diverse, and that there are so many wonderful men and women of God who are genuinely loving and don’t see skin color. This doesn’t mean however that there have not been awkward or uncomfortable moments as well. But there will always be awkward moments, even without race, its just a part of fellowship.

One of the reasons that I write this is to partially share part of my journey in being a minority but also to give a little perspective on how some minority’s may think. In honor of black history I would like to close with a few recommendations for churches who want to become more diverse.

  •  The call for diversity is heard loudest when the Pastor is willing to not only communicate it, but stand for diversity.
  •  Sometimes minorities may feel a little uncomfortable even when you may be friendly, they may just be dealing with their own experiences and doubts of whether they will be accepted.
  • Minorities feel a little more comfortable when they see other minorities in leadership positions.
  • One of the ways to make others feel welcome is to just love on them.
  • Talk to them and get to know them without stereotyping.
  • Experience their culture; films, music, books, food
  • Recognize that even within ethnic groups theres great diversity of personalities that they are not one monolithic group.

The church is the one institution that God has left to testify to the world of his great love. This is why I get so excited when I see Koreans and Japanese, White and Black, Palestianian and Israeli brothers and sisters worshipping together. It proves that the love of God has no boundaries. I’m so glad to be at my church and want to encourage all my fellow minorities who may feel a little out of place, that God may have you there for a reason; to spice things up. My prayer is for all future pastors and church planters to build churches that are reflective not only of their local communities, but of the beautiful and colorful bride of Christ.

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Black History Month: Some Reasons Why and How your Church should Celebrate

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In 1976 after celebrating two hundred years of independence the United States government under the leadership of President Gerald Ford decided to ” seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Ironically, after almost 240 years of independence, the church especially the evangelical church is often behind the world in terms of race relations. The saying is truer today as it was 200 years ago that on Sundays churches remain some of the most segregated places in the country. Though there are a couple of factors that contribute to this, the fact is that most evangelical churches need to really come up to speed on how to connect with other minorities, black churches included. But because this is a post on black history month, I will focus on why and how churches can take advantage of this month.

The first reason that your church, particularly those American ones should celebrate black history month is to seize the opportunity to not only to reflect on its history with blacks but also the opportunity to connect to its local black community. Today there are many churches that pay lip service to the ideal of being multicultural or diverse. Yet when it comes to acknowledging or connecting to the minorities in their midst they do nothing beyond state that they have a desire to be multicultural.

One of the easiest ways to honor and celebrate black history month is to simply inform people of its occurrence. One can easily debate over what to do and how not to look silly observing black history month, but a first step is communicating to the congregation that black history month actually is worth their attention. Often times unless someone has a child in school we can sometimes forget or be ignorant that we are in black history month. We may catch Roots, the Color Purple or some other programs on civil rights on television, or just change  the channel without thinking, its black history month. You know the evangelical church has failed in its prophetic role to speak to race relations and unity when it openly announces upcoming Super Bowl games and fails to acknowledge the people living in its pews and shadows. Acknowledging black history month is a first step, but I think another step is to actually find out how your church is doing in serving the black people in the congregation or in the community.

My church has been going through the book of James, and one of the points that James makes is that it is a sin to show partiality. In context he is speaking of treating people different because of their class, but here’s a question that your church should ask itself:

Do the minorities attending the church feel that they are treated differently because of their race? There are nuances to this as well, but ultimately everyone should feel loved and welcome when they enter our church doors regardless of their class, race, looks, or sexuality.

Another question that should be asked is to what extent do we make others feel welcomed and loved? I think the church should take months like black history month to assess, how they are doing in reaching, connecting and loving the blacks and minorities in our church and in the community. I don’t think this should just be limited to African Americans, but to all minority groups.  I understand that an individual church may not  be able to successfully reach all people groups, but I think they should ignore the groups right around the corner simply because they are not like us. As churches begin to become more multicultural they are prone to have Acts chapter 6 problems, but some of our churches haven’t even gotten to chapter 6, we are still in Jerusalem. (Read Acts 6:1-6 and how the church encounters its first race/cultural problem)

Here’s another way to observe black history month. Why not bring a gospel choir from a black church to come and sing during praise and worship? Scriptures point out how blessed it is for brothers to dwell in unity, and worshipping under the leadership of a different choir would be an awesome chance for many in your church to experience gospel music outside of watching Sister Act.

An even greater way to honor and celebrate black history month is to invite a black preacher to preach to your congregation. I can already hear the gasping. I don’t know about that. For some pastors or leadership teams that is too far. Just think about how you feel when hearing that, some of you may have already made a racist thought that automatically presumes that there are no black preachers theologically up to par to be able to preach to your church. Your church is too good for them. Now I don’t want to rock the boat, because I know that black preachers are often identified with prosperity and Word of Faith teachings and for churches who seek to be biblically sound and reject those teachings,  they simply just want to protect their congregation. Yet there are black preachers who are solid bible teachers and if you as a pastor are not familiar with solid black preachers in the area, maybe you can work on that. Here’s something else, maybe you can even develop minority leadership in your church.

One of the last ways and I think critical areas the church should observe black history month is in memory and repentance. There’s a reason that the church is one of the most segregated places on Sundays and if you check your history books you will see why. I think the church should reflect on its role whether positive or negative on the plight of black Americans beginning at slavery. One of the items that I’ve been reading and really boils my blood is The Negro Church, a report made by W.E.B Dubois. This should be required reading for every pastor. Its actually available for free on pdf online. This is an early sociological study of the history and development of the black church as it emerged out of slavery. As we know slavery was horrible, and the romantic notion that slaves just automatically converted is a lie from hell. There were many souls that were lost, because of the stubbornness and failures of the church;failures that still have repercussions today.

Celebrating Black History Month should not be a burden, but an opportunity to seize and connect with the people of color in your midst and in your community. If your church doesn’t do it, you should with your family. There is more to black history than just Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. There’s Dubois, Carter Woodson, Frederick Douglas, Washington Carver, Oladah Equiano, Lemuel Haynes, and others. Knowledge is power, while ignorance only breeds contempt. Lets stamp out ignorance and begin to learn about some important figures in our nation, our communities and our churches. Let’s celebrate black history, because its not just black history its our history.

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