Tag Archives: immigration

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Life in Transition: A short devotion for immigrants, refugees and the unemployed

The world is in chaos. Those of us in the west, especially the states are ignorant of the chaotic effects of wars and fighting that is happening abroad.

No one wants to become a refugee, but there is a moment when a person acknowledges that their best hope of survival, or escape from prison and torture depends on them leaving home in search of a safer place. More recently refugees are likely to be from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq. Right now  according to the UNHCR there are approximately 11 million people around the world who have fled their countries, and around 4o million people who either have no state to call home, are displaced in their own country, or have fled outside of their country due to violence and threats of physical harm.

Besides this you have millions upon millions of families, men, women who have left their home countries in search of a better means of living.These two groups are different, but they both share a common understanding; the best hope for a better life is to leave their country.

There are many scriptures that speak about being immigrants, and even refugees but the two I want to highlight are these:

Psalms 84:5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage

and

14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:14-16)

Every believer in Christ must acknowledge that they are in a foreign land. There’s an old expression that says this world is not my home, we are just passing through. I love the Psalms 84 verse because it talks about a mindset that we all must have. Our hearts are set on a pilgrimage. We have left everything behind in the hopes of meeting something better. We have our hearts on seeing God, but not just seeing God but on living with God.

What empowers us on this journey is what the Psalmist says in verse five. Blessed are those whose strength is in you. We must hold on to our trust and hope in God. When we understand that God is with us, it empowers us to face the uncertainty, the pain of leaving loved ones and possessions behind, the fatigue, the tired muscles, and tearful and sleepless nights. Draw your strength from God. When you feel you are at your breaking point, realize that God is with you. Peter tells us to cast our burdens on the Lord because he cares for us. God cares for you. You may not know where you are going, but God does. He may not show you everything, but hold on to him, let him take you and carry you step by step.

 

The other idea that this verse communicates is that this life is a journey. We should be prepared to move. The early Patriarchs understood this, because they were nomadic people. Even if they settled down, they had an understanding that they would not be there forever. They were constantly pitching their tents.

Our bodies are our tents, and for many they are wearing down fast. They often are torn, they suffer wear to where they begin breaking down, lose their luster, and get harder and harder to pitch. These bodies are just temporary, so we too should prepare one day to lose them in hopes of better ones.

For those of us in relatively affluent countries we should realize that there are practical elements for us too. Sometimes you lose your job, some family, friends, and even health. This is all part of the journey. We can’t hold on to these things, because their temporal. They don’t last. Yet we know that God has something better prepared for us.

In the event of loss, we should believe that God will provide comfort and blessing in this life, but know with certainty that he has something better for us in the life to come. What I’m saying is that God is a good God, and he often times heals when we are sick, gives us other jobs when we lose them, other homes when our old one’s leave, and a new family when some of our family members pass. There are times when we lose things that God immediately gives us something better or just as good than what we had before. Other times when we leave things behind,  the new place isn’t always as good as the old. Sometimes you have to start at the bottom again, and work your way up. It’s not guaranteed that you will surpass your old condition in this life, but we don’t live for today. We live for tomorrow, for our kids and the next generation. Remember the second temple did not possess the same external glory as the first, but God does promise something better in the life to come.

For believers in your home countries

  • Pray for our brothers and sisters who are forced to leave. They are in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, all over.
  • Don’t fear the immigrant, share Jesus with them. Often some of these immigrants are muslim. If you are in a western country share the Love of Christ with them, and the hope that they can know that they can go to Heaven if they trust and believe in Christ.
  • Extend hospitality. Invite someone to dinner. Share a meal with them. Share your life.
  • Teach them your countries language.
  • Volunteer at your local camp.
  • Give money to reputable agencies who are providing assistance

To all of you who have left your homes, remember for those in Christ God is preparing you a better home. My prayers are for you, take comfort in God and may he send his angels to comfort you.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Will a man rob God?

We are robbing God of his glory. We are the greatest thieves, on  15, 30 to 80 year crusades full of heists, stick ups, and are ignorant of the inevitable; you can’t outrun God. The irony is that whether we acknowledge Him or not God will be glorified. God is glorified as much in his rewarding of the righteous as his condemnation and judgment of the trespasser, the robber, thief, murderer, and immoral,;ie the wicked.

Let me however speak a little to the christian; to myself.  Time is allotted to each human in different measures. In the allotted time that God has given,he allows us to experience his wonderful creation; but ultimately it is to experience him. This experience it meant to shape us and conform us to his image and his likeness. We were made in his image, but marred by sin; to where the glory that once reverberated through all creation has been blocked out by the roaring of sin; it has become a fleeting shadow at the setting of the sun. Only those who notice the light from the son are able to see the flickering shadows in the background. As David writes in his light we see light.  Yet time ticks on, and we continue ignoring him, shutting our ears to his invitation to join him  as his ambassadors for the redeeming and the great reconciliation of mankind.

In the words of our Lord, He who has ears let him hear.

In  Matthew 20 where the Lord tells a parable about a great Lord who is hiring labor for work in his vineyard.  He begins with a beautiful image

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard”

The home depots, and Uhaul locations where I live are always surrounded outside by day laborers. Its rare occasion where in my trip in side these places I am not solicited by throngs of men of all ages who are in quest for a day’s work. This group is usually composed of hard working men who are desperate for work, trying to provide for their family or simply themselves. There is no guarantee of work, but every day these men wake up go to the spot and hope to be called to work. Sometimes they are fortunate to grab a day’s work, while other days they are simply left to stand.. waiting. It is a very humbling experience, one in which you rely on the generosity and the need of casual strangers.

Now imagine if a millionaire decided to get a couple of men to outside the Home Depot to work on his mansion, he promises them not only work for life, but food and an opportunity in the future to live with him in his elaborate house. Now lets say he provides the working attire, breakfast for them, and lays out the instructions for the day; and as soon as he departs they begin dancing and clowning around. These men who were once desperate, hungry, now become complacent, lazy and defiant. How would the master view such workers?

You see when the Lord saves us he hires us into his vineyard. He calls us to work for him. This call is not just limited to the clergy; the ministers, priests; and counselors; its a call to everyone skilled and unskilled, young and old, male and female; a call to serve him. Isn’t it a shame that we expect God to provide for all our needs; to pay all our bills and expenses and we refuse to work for him. I challenge any sane person to go to the HR department and tell them, you know I know you want me to work, but I am just not in the mood,  I think I am going to call in sick forever, I’m not sick, but I just want to get paid.

This is what we do to God. The thing about the Lord is that he is so generous; he knows our plight, and many times it is out of his mercy that we have our needs and sometimes desires provided for. But lets look at the two characteristics of the laborer in the vineyard. The first quality is desperation, and the next one is availability. It is natural in most jobs to get comfortable, especially if you develop a good connection with management, or HR. When you first get hired, especially after having time between jobs you are energetic, on time, and speak well of everyone. You are so excited that you have a job and want to make a good impression, you are on your best behavior. Its often funny because a lot of times the older workers will look at you funny because in their minds they’re thinking, “rookie, it doesn’t take all of that” .If you are given any instruction you listen and follow through without any visible signs of attitude or back talk, while the veteran will will respond” that’s not my job”,” who do they think they are telling me to do that”, or come up with a litany of excuses and complaints. I know this does not apply for all workers, but I know many of us can relate to ourselves or someone we know.

How many of us our desperate to work for God? You see I have a personal problem with being disciplined, and waking up everyday at the master’s gate and saying Lord what do you want me to do today? Lord I am available use me, Lord not my will be done but yours. Sometimes working for God means working your 9-5 like you were working for him. It means talking about Christ and what he’s done when the opportunity arises, or even creating those opportunities. It means serving the needy,giving to the less fortunate, befriending the friendless, helping the single mom, being the single mom, or dad.  It means being a good mom, dad, son, daughter. It means being a good friend, coworker, being punctual, loving, not grumbling or complaining but thankful because your reward is not your paycheck, but honoring the one who called you into his service. There’s a concept working for the glory, honor and name of the one who called you.

There is no unemployment in God’s kingdom. I repeat their is no unemployment in God’s kingdom, he has a job for you.

You see we clock in to this life when we are born, and the clock is reset when we are born again and clock out at our deaths, but how much time do we live serving, seeking, communicating with the King, our Lord and master. How much of that time do we really serve him; seeking to become like him, to minister to the world in our sacrificial giving up of our dreams our plans, hopes, goals aspirations; and for us  young Americans entertainment, for his kingdom purposes. We can read blogs, sports, news, gossip tirelessly, but faint a minute into reading Genesis; and 3 seconds into Leviticus.

The question I must return to is the simple question that Malachi poses. Will a man rob God? How often do we rob God by our refusal to leave our Judah and go to Nineveh. How often do we rob him by hording and hijacking him of our time, energy, and talent, and then boast about the crumbs we offer him on Sunday. Will a man rob God, the simple answer is a resounding yes, and in the words of Malcolm X we do it by any means necessary.

It is time to stop. Some of us need to repent, we need to stop calling in sick with God. We need to pray and ask God, Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? and the even better question who do you want me to serve?  For those of you without a job, work for God because his pay is out of this world.

Blessings in the name of Christ.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized