Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Soul of the Black Church

While it is tempting to get bogged down in the details and political ramifications of Barack Obama's race speech (i.e. Mr. Wright's racism was excused...), there is a bigger issue that surfaced as a result of this. Through the mouth of Obama, those of us on the outside got a rare glimpse into the soul of the black church. Personally, as a Christian and a pastor, I have been concerned about the black church for some time. While many would say it is none of my business, I would argue that as a Christian, all my brothers and sisters in Christ are my business. I am my brother's keeper, and I must stand against any teachings that destroy the souls of men. For that reason, I want to express a few of my concerns for the black church.

"For me to live is black."
For many black Christians, their lives and their faiths are defined by being black. A quick trip to the webpage of Trinity United Church of Christ (Obama's church and a member of one of the most liberal denominations in the nation) reveals that they offer a "Black worship service and ministries that address the Black community." Being black is the center of their existence. They interpret the Gospel of Christ through the lens of race. An excerpt from Obama's speech shows this. He describes his first time worshiping at Trinity UCC:

"At the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world."


From the Exodus of Israel to the Cross of Christ, everything is viewed through the lens of race and racism. Paul's words, "for me to live is Christ" are replaced with "for me to live is black." Please understand, I'm not saying that every black Christian believes this way. However, this mindset - openly expressed by Obama - is not uncommon.


"Let my people go."
Another common characteristic found in the black church is the idea that all our problems are the result of what someone else has done to us. Obama waxed eloquently on this for quite awhile. He blamed the disparities in the black community on slavery and Jim Crow. Segregation is to blame for the achievement gap between white and black students. Legalized discrimination of the past is to blame for the income gap between whites and blacks. Economic injustice explains the erosion of black families. The lack of basic services (like parks and garbage pick-up) in urban areas explains the violence and neglect among blacks.


In short, Obama has summarized the message coming from so many black pulpits: "We are victims of our heritage. It is not our fault. We were put here by 'them.' So our message for 'them' is, 'Let my people go!'" But this message only produces anger, resentment, and racism. James 3:16 says, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." This disorder and vile practice is what we see in the black church and community. And it isn't due to slavery and Jim Crow (as evil as those things were). It is due to this self-centered victim mentality preached by too many black pastors.

"Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

I know that I cannot fully sympathize with the black community; I do not pretend to. I know that black people have been terribly sinned against throughout the history of our nation. I know that even today there exists hatred and all sorts of injustice. I can even understand any deep-seated resentment on their part.

But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, black nor white, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. My concern is not with the racism seen in the black community. My concern is with the racism seen in the black church. While I may not be able to identify with the black community at large, I can identify with black Christians for we are one in Christ. To my black brothers and sisters in Christ I say, your race is my race. Your people are my people. Your concerns are my concerns. Because your God is my God! I beg you not to put your people before God's people. Do not put the god of 'my rights' or 'my culture' before the God of Scripture.

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

16 comments:

The Lindholms said...

Your slant seems to make Obama join in with Wright's divisive rhetoric.

Here's a view that is more in line with what you yourself are saying:

http://alternet.org/election08/80135/?page=1

The full speech at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/18/politics/main3947908.shtml

-Will

The Culbertsons said...

Will,
Either I missed the mark or you missed the point. This isn't about Obama for me. This is about the Church. Obama just opened the door for me to discuss this. My point is that the black church tends to be more black than biblical.

But I admit that I'm no Obama supporter. And I admit that his 20+ year affiliation with Wright troubles me (Why shouldn't it?). Yet, there's a bigger issue at hand than American politics... the souls of our black neighbors as they go to 'church' only to hear a black gospel (aka liberation theology)... a gospel which does not unite, does not save, and is ulimately no good news at all. That's my point.

The Lindholms said...

I'm not saying your focus was Obama, just that your use of his speech misrepresents him as someone who excuses extreme opinions in the black community. Via my links I tried to show how he calls us to acknowledge that black anger is understandable if not justifiable. He did not simply blame slavery for all the trouble of black people.

Just dismissing the anger felt a large part of the black community will make it impossible to ever get over it, as you seem to hope black people should do.

Also, in your concern for the black church it seems you consider this a one-sided problem. Your point would be more convincing if it included a concern for your own faction, as well. Furthermore, only seeing a problem in the other side again makes reconciliation impossible.

At the end of your blog you addressed black people directly. Yet, most, if not all of us who read your blog and hear your sermons are not black (this is an assumption on my part, obviously). Talking about another groups problems has the risk of asserting a sense of self-righteousness in ourselves.

My comment to your main point, then, is as follows: Surely the gospel viewed through a Republican, Patriotic, Conservative or any other lens, can distort the word as much as viewing it through what you call a racist lens. There are extreme cases on all sides, don't you agree?

-Will

LOUDENISE said...

While I do agree with you on some things I must say this much. As a pastor, my question to you would be this. In your church currently...how many black people are on your pastoral staff or staff period? How many black people do you have actively involved in your church? In what ways does your church accommodate African Americans and reach out to their communities? How much time does your church on a regular basis spend time actually reaching out to the African American community? Do you have close relationships with other African American pastors in your area? Would you invite them to come and minister in your church? Would African American people feel comfortable in your church? Do you stereotype most African American churches as prosperity/ wealth/health ministries. How many African American authors do you have on your book shelf? Where are the local projects in your area? When is the last time your church went there? Do you know the African American population of your town/city? How many of your white students are influenced by the black hip hop culture? How many interracial couples are in your church? Are there any black kids in your day preschool program?

I mean the list could go on and on? But how did you answer to those questions? I think before any pastor can say that he is concerned about how his brother is doing..he first needs to see how that brother is reflected in the body He minsters to.

The Culbertsons said...

Will-
I appreciate your concerns. I don't see a need to defend my comments. I said what I said.
But I do take issue with your closing remark. You seem to be accusing me of preaching a republican, patriotic, or conservative (maybe all 3?) gospel. I completely reject that. My political views are shaped by Scripture not vis versa.

Denise-
Thanks for your challenging comment. And I mean that! Here's the honest answers to your questions:
1) We have no black staff and no black members. I just began my ministry at this church, but I would love to hire black staff at some point because it shows that we are serious about racial reconciliation.
2) Our church currently isn't doing a great deal to reach out to anyone. We're working on that. We do visit and minister occasionally in an area that is predominantly black. The black population in our town is around 40%. And if a black family walked in on Sunday, I know they would be welcomed. We have one interracial couple who visit our church from time to time.
3) I've been here 4 months and I don't have a close relationship with any pastors - black or white. And inviting someone to preach at my church is an issue of theological agreement more than anything. For theological reasons, I don't have many black authors on my bookshelves... although I commend to anyone Thabiti Anyabwile & Voddie Baucham.
4) I don't think most black churches are health/wealth. Nor do I think most black churches are like Trinity United Church of Christ. But I do think there is a strong pentecostal influence among black Christians.
5) There are probably 10-15 black children who attend our daycare and whose parents have been invited to our church.

The LORD knows my heart in this. I leave it to Him to judge my motives.

Jason said...

Bro Josh,

Good to read your thoughts on the current issues of the day. I hope that you and your family are doing well; e-mail me sometime (jlkarper@yahoo.com). I'd love to catch up. Take care and God bless you sir.

Jason Karper

The Lindholms said...

Sorry to seem to imply that. You made it clear in your point about McCain's nomination that you're not a "To live is Republican" man. I was trying to address the white church as generally as you were addressing the black one, to show that distorted views are found on all sides.

Basically, I mean that every single human reading of the Bible is colored by our own imperfect experiences and beliefs.

I'm if my remark offended you. We read all your blog entries here with great interest. Hope all is well with you and yours.

-Will

PS. Yes, it is a Cain Rd roadsign you saw in the background there.

Chris said...

Josh, to add to the question whether you would invite a black preacher to your pulpit, might I remind you of Charles Juma.

Denise, I know from first-hand knowledge Josh has invited Charles (a Kenyan native) to speak at a previous church he pastored. Charles spoke none of racial equality, but only of bringing the Gospel to his native people of Kenya and all around Africa, as well as anywhere he happens to be.

Josh invited him because I know they share similar theology and a passion to reach the lost and had absolutely nothing to do with race.

I'd invite anyone to look into Charles' ministry...it's definitely an exciting one to follow.

Jason Vaughn said...

I think it really comes down to authority.

Where is Josh coming from? Is it from a personal preference, a bias, or is it from authority?

If Josh is basing the arguments on Scripture and Scripture alone then the attendance of his church shouldn't matter.

We cannot base whether someone is truthful or not on their experiences.

To say josh cannot speak on race is like saying I cannot speak on marriage. If what I say is based on a study of Scripture and prayer then I indeed have such a right. Just as Josh has the right to talk about race.

If the authority is not the Word of God the it is faulty.

LOUDENISE said...

To Josh-
I only ask you those questions to challenge you. I only ask those questions because I hear alot of white pastors say they care about black people, but their congregation does not reflect nor does any type of evangelistic or outreach reflect that. And if I understand you correctly you are from Laurens which is currently in the middle of racial crisis due to the KKK store mess going on. So right now I would see your challenges. And for the authors/ministers that you mentioned I do love them as well. And lastly, although their is a strong pentecostal influence among african american churches please dont be mistaken, there are qualified pentecostal preachers who do preach the gospel/holiness. And pentecostals do some of the most extensive outreach. I am a member of Redemption World Outreach Center, and I can say that I am proud that my church is well rounded. In the pulpit, and on the street. So please dont round up all pentecostals in one group.

To Chris-
I was juat asking a question! Ha Ha Ha!

To Jason-
I didnt say he couldnt speak on race. He can speak on race as much as he wants to. Im just challenging him to place action behind his words. Authority comes from the excercise of what you speak. How can you have authority if you dont act out the Masters command. People think they have authority but they are rather powerless. A tree has a presence because the size of the tree, but no one cares for the tree unless in bares fruit.

Chris said...

loudenise,
I tried to answer your overall questions about Josh by addressing one which I thought had a reach through them all. I mentioned Charles in relation to Josh because I think it shows Josh does try to follow up his words with his actions.

The church he was at before had a weekly attendance of a medium sized Sunday school, at best. With so few, resources aren't exactly in abundance, so it's not like he could start a soup kitchen and feed all races of the small Indiana town. Instead, he used the resources he had and brought a perspective most in that church probably never had (I know I'd never heard from a Kenyan native trying to bring the Gospel to his people). That church is a really neat group of people and I hope nothing but the best for their spiritual growth; as I know Josh does as well.

You seem to be addressing Josh's authority to be able to speak on race by saying he needs to back those words up with action. And I would agree with you wholeheartedly. No amount of theory is ever going to help ANY situation, good or bad. But, since tone of voice never has communication over a blog, it seemed you were automatically dismissing what Josh had to say in his blog by assuming Josh wasn't backing up his words. If I am wrong, I sincerely apologize.

I think Josh is one heck of a pastor. I have no doubt given time to work, his church will be quite a beacon to the people of Laurens, no matter of race, and doing everything it can to light a dark world with the brilliance of the Gospel. I can assure you, Josh is not the sad image of the stereotypical small country preacher who only reaches out to those who are like him. And anyone who dismisses him as such will be greatly mistaken (and not that I'm saying you are doing anything of the sort).

LOUDENISE said...

One way that a church can maximize their influence in the community around them despite of budget is to partner with other churches/businessess and have a consistent and profound impact of a group of areas.

Operation Go! of RWOC in Greenville is an amazing example. The hoods they work in are Jesse Jackson, Nicholtown, Spring Grove, Fleetwood and many more. They have a consistent presence(visitation, block parties and bible studies). They look to minister to the needs (jobs, food, toys for holidays, etc). They work with the children and teens (Super Saturday and Teen Impact, not to mention sports ministries) and there is much more.

If you are interested in learning how you can be more effective in your community. Contact me. I can set you up with a time where you can come in and see how it's done. Pastor Hasker can help. He loves souls.

Outreach is the key to outstanding church attendance. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

This blog never ceases to amaze me. A white, straight man (who has not experienced what it's like to be a minority in this country) commenting on the "Soul of the Black Church" with more judgment and racism than I've ever heard from the mouth of Rev. Wright.....wow. You simply have no room to make this call, Pastor.

The Culbertsons said...

Anonymous,
I'm glad I bring amazement to your life. I can appreciate your opinion that it's not my place to talk about these things. But I defy you to find one racist remark in my post.
I, too, stand amazed at how quickly any white person who dares to speak about the black community is labeled a racist.

Anonymous said...

You challenged me to find racist statements, so here goes:

"Another common characteristic found in the black church is the idea that all our problems are the result of what someone else has done to us."

"This disorder and vile practice is what we see in the black church and community. And it isn't due to slavery and Jim Crow (as evil as those things were). It is due to this self-centered victim mentality preached by too many black pastors."

"I beg you not to put your people before God's people. Do not put the god of 'my rights' or 'my culture' before the God of Scripture."

You make HUGE stereotypes (aka, racist statements) about the Black Church, you blame 300 years of persecution in this country alone on Black preachers (wow!), and you have the arrogance to imply that the Black Church is self-centered, not righteous, and puts its racial identity before God. And even putting these racist (yes, racist) comments aside, I say again: you simply have no room to speak on this. You are not black, you are not Latino, you are not gay, you are not even a woman. You simply have no idea what it means to be part of an oppressed group or how that experience might influence or shape your relationship with the Lord.

Don't be so threatened by those of God's people who choose to view their relationship with God through a lens that is different from yours, Pastor. And if you don't want to be called a racist (while at the same time calling others racist!), then maybe you should consider how to be a little less judgmental of a group you yourself do not belong to, and display a little more of Christ's compassion towards your Godly brothers and sisters.

The Culbertsons said...

Anonymous,
In an attempt to heed your warning, I re-read my post. I know I'm not above the sin of racism, but I know I didn't write this post out of a racist attitude and, in my opinion, the excerpts you gave were not racist (and the 2nd one was terribly misunderstood).
Here are 2 excerpts you skipped:

"Please understand, I'm not saying that every black Christian believes this way."

"I know that I cannot fully sympathize with the black community; I do not pretend to. I know that black people have been terribly sinned against throughout the history of our nation. I know that even today there exists hatred and all sorts of injustice. I can even understand any deep-seated resentment on their part."

Friend, how can America ever dialogue on real issues (like race relations, homosexuality, abortion, etc.) if evangelical Christians are always written off as judgmental, racist, homophobic women-haters? I appeal to you not to silence my beliefs by dropping words like "judmental" and "racist."

I do sincerely appreciate you challenging my ideas, but please don't ignore those ideas by assuming that you know my motives. To steal your line, "You simply have no room to speak on this."