Friday, January 18, 2019

Reconciling Good News: Moving with God in Welcoming Justice and Building Beloved Community

The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community. + Martin Luther King, Jr.

In continuing to consider the Gospel of Jesus in light of how Martin Luther King Jr. inspired and challenged the Church in America, this post is another in a growing collection to help us grasp the Good News that is for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

If you have spent a little time with me or with Emmaus City, my hope is that you will hear about the hope, grace, and perseverance we desire God to give us as we seek to believe and practice a holistic view of the Gospel that impacts Emmaus City, Worcester, and New England over the years. As a white, middle class, majority culture male, God has been gracious to reveal more and more of the privileges I have been given that others do not have from birth, and how my walk with Jesus includes and needs the voices and impact of friendship with ethnic minority sisters and brothers (as well as other white sisters and brothers who are seeking God's joy and justice in relation to these issues) who continue to have much to teach me about God's heart. 

This exploration into God's justice and shalom for all people and all of creation has been a good, holy journey for me, and Jesus continues to teach me how to share about these things with other majority culture sisters and brothers with Emmaus City and with other churches as an invitation for them to consider thinking about injustices or blind spots that are often foreign to them, yet very biblical even if they haven't heard such things before. You can read more about the biblical foundation for justice in these posts: The God Who Loves Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Part 1 of 2 and Part 2 of 2 and Jesus Calls Us to Embody His Righteousness and Justice Together.

Due to history, assumptions, misunderstandings, sin, and more, this process is slow and can be frustrating when you want to see yourself and others change to be more like Jesus in relation to justice and equality more quickly. Too often, I can come on too strong in my zeal. Our dominant, Western American cultural waters are thick and it takes time for a fish to realize s/he's been breathing an invisible water with a one-sided perspective for decades. But the Gospel is strong enough to transform! In Christ, the ultimate goal is not to crush or to put people on the defensive (though I have too often done this in my weakness), but to invite them to see a holistic view of the Gospel of Jesus that amazes them even more in their worship, and brings them to a greater realization and repentance before Christ, and a greater appreciation for His redemption for the life of His people and His world, rather than sounding "too passionate" or "too political."

In order not to overload this post with too much content (which I'm failing at already), I'm going to include quotes from Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community (Resources for Reconciliation), a very important book written by a white professor at the University of Virginia and an African American pastor and civil rights leader in Mississippi, followed by: | 1  links to 12 accessible, thoughtful, and story-driven books (written by women and men of various ethnicities and backgrounds); | 2 | blog posts notes from two excellent conferences; and  | 3 | 10 current practices we have started with Emmaus City that continue to shape us. 

All of these quotes, links, notes, and practices are just a tip of the iceberg, but I hope this introduction encourages people across cultures with thoughts, prayers, and hopes for seeing Jesus' Kingdom come, His will be done for all people spiritually, ethnically, socially, and economically as we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and justice in the years to come.

The Puzzle of Just Good News: Welcoming Justice and Building Beloved Communities for the Sake of the World

God gathers us into the family of faith not only for our own sake, but also so that we might welcome justice and build beloved communities for the sake of the world. That is the purpose that drives the followers of the risen Christ. It is the movement of the Spirit that began at Pentecost and has continued in faithful communities of discipleship throughout every generation. It is the theological vision that we need desperately to reclaim in our time. We need "Amazing Grace for Every Race" as I heard my father preach as he questioned his Laurel, Mississippi's segregationist town and churches' "closed-door policy." And Dr. John Perkins would later reveal to me the Good News of Jesus' call for a holistic faith, about the renewal of the church's mission to take part in the healing of our broken and violent and blistered world. 

+ Charles Marsh (Ph.D., University of Virginia), director of the Project on Lived Theology

Reconciling Good News: Hope for Our Time + Charles Marsh

The Civil Rights movement teaches us that faith is authentic when it stays close to the ground. And it reminds us of faith's essential affirmations:

+ showing hospitality to strangers and outcasts; 
+ affirming the dignity of created life; 
+ reclaiming the ideals of love, honesty and truth; 
+ embracing the preferential option of nonviolence; and 
+ practicing justice and mercy

like Jesus did as He declared Good News and demonstrated the Kingdom of God to prostitutes and tax collectors, lawkeepers and lawbreakers, the faithful religious and the hypocritical religious.

In his 1967 address "A Time to Break Silence," at Riverside Church in New York City, Martin Luther King, Jr. affirmed his "commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ" and proceeded to preach the hard message that the Christian's basic obligation is obedience "to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them." King resolved that America's only hope lay in repentance – in a repentance that took the form of willingness to be a servant nation to the poor of the earth. Sadly, King would not live to say much more.

More than forty years after King's assassination, his theological vision of redemption, reconciliation and the creation of beloved community has never been more important. Especially at a time when the language of faith is so often trivialized and politicized in the public square, we need people who help us see what an enfleshed church looks like. This is why the life and witness of John and Vera Mae Perkins are so important.

In February 1970, John Perkins was beaten nearly to death by police officers in the town of Brandon, Mississippi. While recovering from injuries in a hospital in the black hamlet of Mound Bayou, he received a vision of Jesus suffering on the cross. Perkins emerged from six months of treatment at Tuft Medical Center with a new conviction that Christian love could not rest content until it found space for the neighbor and the enemy. He would make his life a parable of forgiveness and reconciliation: "I might go so far as to say that I experienced a second conversion while I lay in that hospital bed. It was a conversion of love and forgiveness." 

After 1970, John Perkins began using the term prophetic to describe the countercultural practices of the Christian community. An evangelical Bible teacher, Perkins moved away from the fundamentalist preoccupation with the fate of the individual soul and began asking questions of a directly social intent: "What is God's program on earth and how do I fit in?" This is essentially the question of the kingdom. To be a public disciple means finding a place in the world where the kingdom of God is taking shape and getting yourself there.

Yet Perkins's new message was not a simple shift to the social gospel or liberation theology. An evangelical emphasis on personal relationship with Jesus remained at the center of his social vision. Perkins's point was that individual transformation required a disciplined and impassioned commitment to the healing of the social order. In the creation of the world, God fashioned man and woman with the basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, clean air and health. These needs signal a "certain haunting equality," he said in his classic work A Quiet Revolution – a bottom-line description of human dignity which shapes the Christian's entire outlook on social existence and political community. 

Though many conservative supporters of Perkins's ministry would praise his candid assessment of welfare's disincentives to work, he made clear as early as the mid-seventies that the gospel involved "redemptive release" from all forms of physical and economic oppression, and that Jesus Christ identified with the poor "to the point of equating himself with the poor person." The presumption throughout Perkins's theology of community is that a people transformed and mobilized by Jesus Christ in their institutional behavior will consistently support economic policies preferential to the poor, not out of obligation to law but as an expression of public discipleship. John Perkins might be considered the father of the faith-based movement, but the faith-based movement in its historical origins was about reading the Bible as the comprehensive divine plan of human liberation with resources for countercultural action and community building.

Perkins says, "God made His love visible to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ made His love visible to the world in His unselfish death on the cross for our sins. So it becomes our responsibility as the Body of Christ to so live out His life on earth as to make the love of God visible in our time and in our community." Against the political and cultural captivity of American Christendom, Perkins claims that nothing less than the credibility of the gospel is at stake. Discipleship to Jesus Christ requires us to reevaluate our political preferences, personal desires, prejudices, opinions and economic policies in the light of God's moral demands. Christians in North America must be known as people with a burden for the poor and oppressed, who "plead the case of the poor, defending the weak, helping the helpless ... We must as Christians seek justice by coming up with means of | 1 relocating towards each other as God came as Jesus to incarnate among us, | 2 reconciling with each other as we are reconciled to God through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and He will ultimately reconcile heaven and earth when He returns, and | 3 redistributing goods and wealth to those in need as Jesus did not find equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself a servant for us to ransom us, coming not to be served but to serve us because though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich."

Reconciling Good News: Driving a Wedge in the Status Quo + John Perkins

When I was a young man, the Civil Rights movement had to tell us "black is beautiful." We started wearing Afros to say that black hair was just as good as white hair, and we grew beards to insist that we were men, not boys. I still wear a goatee, and I don't plan to shave it. But for me the whole "black is beautiful" movement exposed the depth of the damage we had suffered as black people. We were so broken down that we couldn't even see our own God-given beauty and dignity. We had to stand up in public and shout just to remember we were human. But for so many of us, our identity got wrapped up in being black. The role of the black church was to speak out against oppression and get folks access to power. We didn't offer our children a new identity, so the ones who could leave the community did and those who couldn't leave got stuck in their anger and hopelessness. The wound of the black church is an open wound, bleeding in public for everyone to see. Our communities are broken and for too many, the best thing we have to offer is a prosperity gospel that says, "Turn to your neighbor and tell them, 'I'm better than blessed.'" We've developed a church culture where we tell each other what we want to hear but don't take the time to listen to what God wants for our lives.

I've also learned to see the hidden wounds of white Christians. No one ever put a chain on another human being without tying the other end to themself. We know this. But it can be hard for white folks to see how race continues to hold them captive. This makes it hard for them to accept the freedom Jesus offers in God's kingdom. I've been the first black man to preach in more churches than I can count. And I still can't believe how imperialistic white churches can be, celebrating "progress" when they finally get around to seeing that they might be able to learn something from a black person. Race continues to hold white Christians captive. One of the most lasting effects of racism on white churches is an intellectual wound that makes people think they'll do right if they believe right. So they put all of their emphasis on believing the right things. Preachers work so hard to get their doctrine right, and then they try to think of clever ways to get their congregations to sit and listen to their good theology. I ask them, "How are you helping your church learn to love?" And they tell me, "Well, if they're Christians they will love." But I've met a lot of Christians who don't know what love means. I talk to white Christians all the time who say, "I love black people. I had a black nanny growing up, and I really loved her." Love isn't just a good feeling. It's an action that requires conversion. 

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves," James says in his epistle. "Do what it says" (James 1:22). But so many white Christians today don't believe they can do anything. They've caught on to the fact that white people have done wrong in the past, so they've decided not to do anything at all. They've bought into this idea that our cultures are so different we can't do anything together. I don't understand. General Motors doesn't believe in this radical cultural difference. They make the same commercials for us that they do for white people, and we buy more of their Cadillacs than anyone else. If ads can cross these racial walls, why can't the church? And why do the same white churches who think they are too culturally different to do anything in the black community send mission teams to Africa? Is the cultural barrier easier to cross in an airplane? We've let the world define us to the point that we don't trust God to transform us and make community possible across racial and economic lines. It's easy to give out of abundance and help the poor Africans "over there." But white Christians hesitate to cross the tracks in their own hometown and meet their brothers and sisters on the other side.

And poor white folks are in such a sad condition. No one likes them. Black folks don't like them because they're racist. Immigrants don't like them because they compete for jobs. White folks don't like them because they're failures. They don't have someone to fight for them. Poor white folks have been rejected by everyone. If I have any regret about my own ministry, it's that I haven't done more with poor white people. Sometimes I go out into the country here in Mississippi on a food distribution day, which we usually have at a black church in the community. But I watch the poor white folks when they come. They're so ashamed. Their faces are turned down to the ground and they hardly say anything. No one likes them. Not even their pastors. I always ask the student pastors over at the seminary we have in Mississippi who serve the little country churches during their studies, "How can you win people you don't like?" I think the Ku Klux Klan has been so powerful among poor whites because it offered them a community where they felt accepted when everyone else rejected them. Poor white people found some false sense of purpose and dignity in terrorizing black people. I saw this in the officers who beat me in the Brandon County Jail. They didn't have much meaning in their lives, but they thought they were doing something important when they tortured me. Hurting me made them feel like somebody when everyone else said they were nobodies. The Klan offered poor white people a sense of self-worth, but they still had to cover their faces with a hood when they paraded in public. Dignity that comes from terrorizing other people will never last.

I really believe that the first truth God wants every one of us to know is that we are created in his image and therefore have inherent dignity. True dignity can't be about anything you do to prove yourself, even though we do have to stand up and affirm dignity when it is denied. In the end, dignity is a gift all of us receive from God. Sin has messed us up so badly that we sometimes don't recognize that dignity in ourselves or in other people. This may be the deepest wound that any of us carries: our desperate need to know that we are loved for who we are. But Jesus came down from heaven and gave his life to show us how much God loves each one of us. Even while we were his enemies, Christ died for us. That's the greatest love you'll ever know, and it has the power to transform both our lives and our society.  

Jesus is the incarnation of God's love. "He himself is our peace," Ephesians 2:14 says. But Jesus also said he came into our world to disturb the peace  to drive a wedge into the divided society that holds us captive. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth," he says in Matthew's Gospel. "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (10:34). That sword is a wedge to interrupt the way things are, not a weapon to wield in defense of the status quo. Instead of continually seeking God's will for our lives and communities, we hold the Holy Spirit captive to our own desires – our selfish materialistic desires. We see this in the prosperity gospel running rampant through the church today. But Jesus calls the church to be the prophetic voice in response to society; that's what we see in the model Jesus provided. 

I believe God interrupts us with his love. From the very beginning of God's movement in the world, God has been interrupting people with his love – disturbing our false peace in order to make real peace for something new. If we have ears to hear, the invitation is open for each of us: come and be part of the beloved community that God makes possible in Jesus Christ. 

Jesus came to drive a wedge in the status quo and create spaces where new life can happen. "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me," Jesus said; "anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37-38). 

The call to reconciliation is a call to commitment – to take up the cross and give ourselves to this community in this place. The world needs a church that does something to interrupt business as usual where we are. The cultural captivity of the church means we aren't calling people to much of anything. Sure, we have meetings where people can hear a sermon that makes them feel better or come and get their praise on. We have programs that advocate for homeless people or raise money to feed the hungry. We even have prophets and radical witnesses whom we praise for living among the poor or risking their lives to make peace in conflictive situations. But what does the church really ask of most of us? What kind of commitment is required for you to join the congregation you're a part of? I'm just an amateur historian, but one thing I've learned from my own experience and from my study of history is that every good movement calls people to commitment. Every good movement inspires each individual to make sacrifices for the greater good. Every good movement invites people into something greater than themselves – something they would not be foolish to sacrifice everything for. Jesus said, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46). I believe the ministry of reconciliation is about calling people to give everything for God's vision of a church where we love one another across society's dividing lines.

Interrupting the status quo can't just be the work of super Christians or the calling of a few. Jesus wants us to become communities of believers who give ourselves in service to one another as a new family in the world. We can't be held captive by the traditions of our parents or by fear and concern for our children. Each of us has to be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus across the dividing lines of our world. We're not called to be heroes. We're called to commitment where we are. We're called to join God's movement and enjoy the life we were made for together with all of God's children.

Reconciling Good News: Learning to Love Like Jesus

To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ today, we've got to invite people into authentic relationships where they can be restored to a beloved community and work for the common good.

We have spent a lot of time talking about who Jesus is without paying attention to how he lived. I believe in Jesus' virgin birth. I believe that he is fully God and fully human. I know that Jesus died to pay the debt for my sin and that his resurrection is the ultimate victory over the power of death.

Jesus is our Savior, but he is also our Lord and Teacher. I hear him say "Follow me" to the disciples, and I know he's talking to me. It's important to know how he lived and what kind of life he calls us into. When Jesus says "Follow me," he's inviting us to learn God's way of working in the world. He's also modeling for us the best way to invite others into the kingdom.

Jesus wanted to love a handful of people well and trust God to use that. He evangelized by loving broken people like they had never been loved before. That's all Jesus was about – and the word about him got out pretty fast. When he saw people who were crushed by sickness and exploitation, Jesus healed them. He healed the woman with the issue of blood because he loved her. He healed the man who'd been lying beside a pool most of his life because he loved him. Jesus healed people because he loved them.

One of our biggest problems as Christians is that we want the miracle without the love. We want to see the kind of healing Jesus brought, but we don't want to learn Jesus' way of loving broken people. Jesus performed signs and wonders here on earth, but he was also clear that the sign of the church ought to be love: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Love is supposed to be the abiding sign of the church. I don't think we can have beloved communities until we learn to love like Jesus loves and make that our main plan for sharing the gospel. 

+ John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries and the Christian Community Development Association; author of Let Justice Roll Down and Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win

| 1  Recommended Books:


1. NIV God's Justice Bible: The Flourishing of Creation and the Destruction of Evil 
2. The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission by Christopher J.H. Wright 
3. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah 
4. Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is at the Center by Noel Castellanos 
5. Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield  
+ City (Cliff) Notes Part 1 of 32 of 3and 3 of 3 for Assimilate or Go Home 
6. Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil 
7. Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture by Wendy Alsup 
8. Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. by Bryan Loritts  
+ City (Cliff) Notes Part 1 of 32 of 3and 3 of 3 for Letters to a Birmingham Jail  
9. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission by Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl 
10. Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation by Mark Deymaz  
+ City (Cliff) Notes Part 1 of 3, 2 of 3, and 3 of 3 of Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church 
11. The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance by Bethany Hanke Hoang and and Kristen Deede Johnson  
+ Introduction Part 1 of 2 and 2 of 2
12. Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community by Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins 

| 2  Recommended Conferences Blog Posts Notes

| 3  A Sample of Initial Practices for Emmaus City Church

1. We regularly pray for other churches in Worcester during Emmaus City services of worship, including churches led by ethnic minority pastors who are friends like Christian Community Church (Pastor Jose Encarnacion), Belmont A.M.E. Zion (Pastor Clyde Talley), The Bridge Church (Pastor Ritchie Gonzalez), and more. 
2.  We intentionally recognize and honor the pastors above as seasoned mentors we can learn from in how they declare and demonstrate the Gospel in Worcester. 
3. We intentionally quote ethnic minority pastors and theologians from throughout history in sermons as key leaders who provide us with insight we need to hear and consider about the great Gospel of Jesus for people from every tribe, tongue, nation. 
4. We are intentional in prayerfully and financially partnering with ethnic minority-led church plants in urban settings like Restoration Community Church (Pastor Rich Rivera, South Bronx), Epiphany Fellowship Camden (Pastor Ernie Grant, Camden), Epiphany Baltimore (Pastor Charlie Mitchell and Pastor Trevor Chin, Baltimore), Cruciform Church (Pastor David Rosa Jr., Miami), Epiphany Church Wilmington (Pastor Derrick Parks), and more. 
5. We have the pastors who live closest above come, preach for us, and have their families stay with us in our homes (Pastor Rich Rivera preached for us in May 2017, Pastor Ernie Grant preached for us in November 2017). 
6. We commit to going to and highly recommending ethnic minority-led conferences like Thriving's Frequency Conference in Philadelphia (2017 will be the 5th year straight). 
7. We are intentional in learning and singing songs in our services that are not majority culture songs and/or focus on God's righteousness and justice like Que Seas El Autor by Urban Doxology, Awesome by Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago, Break Every Chain and Fill Me Up by Tasha Cobb, Heal Us by Indelible Grace and Blessing Offor, Most High God by Kofi Thompson and Crown of Glory, I'll Say Yes by Shirley Caesar, Let Justice Roll by Sojourn, The Worship Medley by Tye Tribbett, and more. 
8. We set up residencies to invite ethnic-minority leaders to help inform us, serve our city, and grow with us. 
9. We continue to read books and learn from articles that focus on a more robust history of the Church than is often taught in white-led and captive seminaries (ex. The Faith of Our Fathers: Reclaiming the (North AfricanChurch Fathers" by Jason O. Evans; How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity by Thomas C. Oden; Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Bryan Loritts; The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytmsa; Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community (Resources for Reconciliation) by Dr. Charles Marsh and Dr. John Perkins; Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil; "Freeing the Captive Church" by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah; "A Life of Conversations" with Richard Twiss; "Are You Starting an Urban Church Plant or Plantation?" by Dr. Christena Cleveland; "How Black and White Christians Do Discipleship Differently" by Kate Shellnutt, etc.). 
10. We continue to pray and cry out to God to bring His righteousness and justice to Worcester, and to give us the privilege to be a church that is not only for Worcester, but in and of Worcester, as He continues to shape us to be more like Jesus in the city.

Previous posts: 

Praying Good News: Why It's Simply Good News to Pray the "Our Father" or Lord's Prayer 
Sharing Good News: Moving Beyond Awkward and Talking about Jesus Outside Our Comfort Zones 
Working Good News: Discipleship with Monday through Friday in Mind for Our Work and Workplaces 

Christ is all

+ Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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