Category Archives: Theology

The #BlackLivesMatter Creed

The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed (Long Version)

If you want to sign the Black Lives Matter Creed, please follow this link: Signing the Black Lives Matter Creed.

An Appeal to Christian Congregations and Christians Worldwide

We, the heirs of Black Churches and their traditions, in the Spirit of the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Early Church

1.1 We believe in God Our Creator and the Father, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Source and Fountain of Love (1st John 4: 8) who loves all people from every tribe and nation and who is the same God who appoints seasons of justice and peacemaking (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

1.2 We believe in Jesus of Nazareth – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary – to be the risen Son of God who Ministered and Healed the Sick, Liberated the Oppressed and suffered under the occupation of the Roman Empire where he was persecuted, brutalized, and executed on Calgary. We celebrate the power of God bringing life into that which we thought was dead, represented by the resurrection of Jesus, giving us victory over sin and death (Colossians 2:14-15).

1.3 We believe in the Holy Spirit, Our Comforter and Guide throughout every dispensation who continues to prepare the World for the Good News that the Church Universal is called to proclaim and embody. The Spirit blows where God wills (John 3:9), breathing life in every generation (Ecclesiastes 7:10), making a better tomorrow possible until Christ’s return.

1.4 We believe Black Lives Matter. Scripture speaks of the infinite worth of ALL of humanity (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 9:6), and the Triune God distinctly created us with intentionality and purpose. God loves us in our DIFFERENCES and reveals that the Body will only find true unity in this midst of seeking the purpose of our divinely composed diversity (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:6). The holy writ portrays a sovereign God as caught up in the scandal of particularity moving through the lives of the powerless from the election of Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrews out of Egypt to their Gentile neighbors in ancient Syria, Ethiopia, Persia, Egypt, and Palestine (Amos 9:7). In each of these circumstances we are able to testify to God affirming our differences and addressing unique plights throughout human history.. In the Gospels, we see that Jesus heard the cry of the Syrophoenician woman and healed her daughter (Mark 7:25-30). By sitting and listening to someone who was a cultural minority and recognizing her unique plight, Christ worked to set her and her daughter free from their captivity. The authors and signatories of The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed, express solidarity in word and deed with the movement begotten by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Collors, and Opal Tometi. This solidarity also includes but is not limited to, all other resistance movements such as #SayHerName, #AMillionHoodies, and #JusticeForFlint committed to nonviolent resistance as opposition to racism for the sake of the Common Good.

1.5 We believe the Scriptures reflect God’s Preferential Option of the Poor from Genesis to Revelation (James 1:27, Psalm 68:5, Exodus 22:21, Proverbs 17:5). The Prophets of old taught that God loved and provided for all people, and yet widows, orphans, and migrants found favor with God. God requires justice for the poor and judges each government accordingly (Micah 4:3-4, Daniel 4:25-26). Jesus Christ the Son taught Divine Providence, and before he sent out his disciples, he assured them that God’s loving-kindness reached even the smallest of birds, the sparrow (Matthew 10: 26-31). God’s will is for the lowly of society to receive justice so that all persons in the human community can be made whole.

1.6 We believe in the Sanctity of all of life and that the Church should work with society to look after the general welfare of all persons from womb to tomb (John 10:10). We affirm that humanity was meant to live in liberty rather than chains, and that God has bestowed upon women and men the capacity to choose goodness and love. Worship of the Resurrected Savior should lead us to stride towards freedom and a Culture of Life (Romans 5:17).

Given this commitment to life and humanity’s sacred worth, we are troubled throughout this planet, as our brothers and sisters of African descent continue to live under the weight of oppression:

2.1 “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:11-22) We receive the Word through the Apostle Paul that the LORD Jesus was sent to bring peace (Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 2:14) to the nations. Our goal is for a social and spiritual renewal of our cities, our towns, our states, our country, and our planet, and the Gospel stories tell us that such restoration requires a confession of our sins. We reject the false doctrine as though Racial Reconciliation could happen apart from collective Repentance of White Supremacy (Acts 17:30, Luke 19:8-10).

2.2 “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” and “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” (John 8:32;John 14:6-7) We reject the false doctrine that love of country means avoiding
telling the Truth about our history. Neighborly love mandates that the Black church speaks truth to power, in love, so that the Church Universal and the World can see where Christ is (Ephesians 4:15): in the lives of the oppressed (Matthew 25).

2.3 “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” and “And when [Jesus] had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Colossians 1:12-4; Luke 4:17-18) We reject the false doctrine that State-sanctioned Wrath is superior to God’s way of Forgiveness and Freedom. Black Churches proclaim the Lordship of Christ, who is the head of the Church Universal as well as all other institutions (Philippians 2:11, 1st Timothy 6:15) We believe that free societies operate in their healthiest states when models the example set by Jesus. Forgiveness, accountability, and restoration should be a community’s priorities when it comes to non-violent offenders of the law. Black Churches call for an end to the War on Drugs, militarized police, the School-to-Prison pipeline, and the closure of the privatized prisons. We support the on-the-ground grassroots efforts of the people of Ferguson as well as #CampaignZero .` Lastly, due to the fact that we value the sacred worth of all persons, and respect those in authority, we must all work together for background checks and gun control to ensure the safety of police officers and civilians alike.

·2.4 “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” and “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Isaiah 32:17-18; Romans 14:17). We reject the false doctrine that Peace should be separate from Justice. Christian justice must include economic equality and opportunity for all (Jeremiah 22:13). Just as swords will be turned into plowshares, so must jailhouses be transformed into schoolhouses. Just as no one should be profiled or harassed because of the color of their skin, no one should be discriminated by employers on the basis of race, gender, religion or, creed (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Human dignity is intrinsic to all human persons and therefore all work is valuable in God’s sight. Education and moral formation are the keys to delivering communities from racial oppression.

2.5 “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) We reject the false doctrine, as though the work of the Nation-State should be confused with the Peaceable Kingdom of God. No government official or arm of the State sits on Heaven’s throne, for only Christ reigns supreme. The Black Church calls on all religious bodies, governments and corporations here and abroad to practice the utmost humility in the quest for a Beloved Community.

Amen.

The authors and signatories of The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed declare the revealed truth that God is a God of the Oppressed for the salvation of the entire World. Black Churches and Christians worldwide affirm the statement that #BlackLivesMatter. We invite all who are working peaceably for justice to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement and other likeminded organizations.

For the latest updates on The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed, follow us on Twitter at @BLMCreed

The Black Church: Menace To Society

Kyle Canty is a married father of three. He works for Lifeway as the P2 Missions and World Changers City Representative for Philadelphia. He is also an assistant pastor at Great Commission Church located in Philadelphia. He holds a B.S. (Bible) and M.S. (Christian Counseling) Degrees from Cairn University and an MDiv (Urban Studies) from Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, PA) and is currently working on an DMin degree in Urban Missiology at Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, PA). As an aspiring blogger he looks forward to writing more around the intersection of Christian theology, African American History and the marginalized. His blog The Rooftop can be found at thecityrooftop.com or follow him on twitter at @kcanman. Check out his interview with Shane Blackshear here

Originally posted here

 

Jesus said to the angel of the church in Philadelphia;

…These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:7-8)

The African American church represents various things to many, but one universal irrefutable common characteristic is its strength in the face of oppression. Oppression is noticeable to those familiar with its sting. Sadly, many place oppression in the same category as global warming—a negotiable reality. An inconvenient truth is that slaves walked the streets of Philadelphia. In this city former slaves Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were disrupted from prayer but responded by establishing a unique translation of the church. (Genesis 50:20)  Their response came to be known as the Black church in America. This institution was a response to an oppressive system designed to distinguish Africans as individuals unworthy of real community. A door forced open became a flood gate for change. Dark skinned residents wanted to worship without restriction and so they formally set out to establish liberated space.  Here is Richard Allen contemplating establishing new space for Black worshipers;

I soon saw a large field open in seeking and instruction my African brethren, who had been a long forgotten people and few of them attended public worship…I raised a society in 1786 for forty two members…We all belonged to St. George’s church….We felt ourselves much cramped;…We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavors, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our colored brethren,  and that they were destitute of a place of worship. They were considered a nuisance. [1]

The result of the efforts of Allen and Jones is the establishment of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1791 and The African Church established in 1792, later known as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Prior to the establishment of Mother Bethel, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones established the Free African Society, an organization set-up to meet some of the social needs created by dominant class suppression. Oppressed people must be creative in their endeavor to meet the needs around them. Allen and Jones were able to step in and help a city going through a deadly yellow fever crisis. In this particular context planting a new church was a necessary step towards eventually destroying the much beloved American institution of slavery.

 

The elites of Philadelphia wanted a pure worship experience, free of their ‘other’, ‘less human’ neighbor.  These elites carried their Bibles alongside their accounting logs. These Philadelphian’s were prudent entrepreneurs who used others to accumulate and maintain wealth and status. These Quakers, Methodist and Congregationalist were all astute in their theological positions, but it must be said that they were also astute concerning their property; human and otherwise. Many of these religious explorers landed on shores desiring freedom from oppression, but once they achieved a desired order and stature they systematized a comfortable existence through the exploitation of others.

Allen and Jones seemed to recognize two key things; they could no longer acquiesce with the current church paradigm and serving their neighbor was both necessary and godly. The formal genesis of the African American church came out of protest and it just seems right that this would mark the practice of the contemporary African American church. This church was founded under the premise of ‘hearing and doing.’ Although many are convinced that the Christian life is best experienced following one’s favorite expositor or purchasing instructions to obtain the ‘anointed life’ or ‘coming up under’ a personality—in reality these preoccupations devalue the rich past that reach back to the example of both Allen and Jones. The fresh new fades that ‘chuch folk’ like to follow will not keep young black men and women from being tossed on the ash heap of urban life.  Allen and Jones decided against praying in their place, far away from the ‘others’. No more balconies carefully constructed to keep sensibilities intact all while deepening self community scars. These kinds of contradictions work in the world of artistic expression where colors and hues are bounced against one another but these contradictions strike a raw nerve for those enduring inequality and hypocrisy.  The St. George Methodist Episcopal Church of Allen’s day represented a kind of privilege that benefited those in the dominant class but disassociated the ‘other’.

The church needs to rediscover its past. Revisiting the early black church (much like the first Christians in the first century), we observe leaders willing to experience the discomfort of going where no one has gone before. Looking at history through the experience of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, we observe real disciples willing to follow Christ into systems of injustice in order to establish ‘shalom’ where social and relational confusion shapes the ungodly narrative. These men were prophetic in their action—they recognized, like Elijah and Elisha, that working outside of the established system can be more Christ-like than the elites would have you to believe. Paradigm shifts can be beneficial, and oftentimes, necessary.

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk to some church planters in Philly and burbs about their efforts and why they’ve established new works in specific neighborhoods. Those who have spent any significant time in Philly will be aware that there seems to be a church on every corner. I’m sure there are some who would suggest that more churches are unnecessary. I would have to agree—we don’t need any more buildings occupied by concert goers or preacher groupies. However, there is a real need for liberated space where those in real need can come in contact with the Savior and find freedom. Its sad that there are places in this great city where the burdens of tradition are heaped onto the backs of wearied people. Folk need freedom from sin and stale expressions of religion. What if there were ministries grounded in sound Biblical teaching, authentic community and vibrant worship of the Savior?  What if there were churches not afraid to ask questions and listen in order to meet real tangible needs knowing that we must not only share good news but be good news.? Imagine a city that produced women and men who recognized the culture and demographics of neighborhoods and held a strong commitment to Christ and understood that a marked up Bible does not necessarily equal real discipleship or Christ like living but “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

We need leaders who understand what systemic injustice looks like in all its forms and are not afraid to claim that Jesus speaks to real social issues that black people face as a perpetually marginalized people. The boldness to found the Free African Society proved instrumental in the effort to establish shalom for a broken people. Allen and Jones were the fathers of a prophetic Church which was seen as a menacing religious presence in a White Supremacist society. It is remarkable that these two men and those who followed their leadership did not give up on the church that persecuted them. They were able to establish the true church as a means for liberation and sanctification rather than one of oppression and comfort.

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  1. Mays, B. E., & Nicholson, W. J. (2003). Origins of the Church. In C. West, & J. E. Glaude, African American Religious Thought; An Anthology (pp. 14-28). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. p.15

On Canonization and Colonization: Junipero Serra

 

The canonization of Junipero Serra, who used the militaristic fort-mission system to become the Evangelizer of the West, is puzzling, paradoxical, leaving me to wonder, is it pardonable? I mean why would a pontiff who demonstrates progressive overtones, like his “Who am I to judge” statement towards gay priests; his support for women having a greater role in the Church; or his hand out onto the world political stage brokering a rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S, make such an affront to the plight of Indigenous peoples in the Americas still coping with the legacy of colonial oppression? Why on earth, would the Pontiff sanctify the role of a friar, Serra, whose missionary zeal caused irreparable damage to countless numbers of native peoples in California? Should the Pope, the first from the Americas, have been more sensitive to the shared experience of the people who bore the brunt of the Spanish crown’s imperial program and its handmaiden, the Catholic Church? The answer is both yes and no.

 

As a scholar of colonial Mexico, I can assert that when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they came in contact with an ethnically and linguistically diverse Indigenous population who had varied settlement patterns. In the areas furthest from the sedentary lifestyle of the central power, the people moved with the rhythms of the agricultural cycles and resisted domination from within or abroad. For Spanish missionaries, this posed a pastoral problem – How do you convert “barbarian” Indians when you have to chase them and they resist? Father Serra took his cue from 5th and 6th century missionaries preaching to the heathens: St. Colomba who did so to the Picts, St. Patrick to the Celts and St. Augustine of Canterbury preaching to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The titles before each speaking volumes and probably not lost on Serra. Hence he implemented a clever tactic in the ecclesiastical arsenal of preachers since the mid 16th century – the practice of Congregecíones, or congregations. This institution grouped Indians from outlying communities into a central settlement that facilitated conversion and also supplied a steady labor force. Brown robed, roped and tonsured, Serra preached, like the great Saints before him, evangelizing the neophytes. For those who did not subjugate themselves, which among the free thinking Indigenous of the Americas, there were many, they were convinced with a little help from the mighty sword.

 

Given the irreversible damage this caused to the very fabric of native life, the loss of land, the separation of families, the enslavement of an entire people at the hands of evangelical missionaries, I think the Pontiff’s choice of canonizing Junipero Serra perplexing. And then I remember, the Pope is still a man of the institution. When I look back at the millennia of ecclesiastical history, I see the church chockfull of contradictions, the human condition overwhelmed by the irony of its interdependence, the predicament of expressing free-will dysfunctional. Yes, I see the contradictions. While Serra propagated the faith this way in the 18th century, a Dominican Friar in the 16th century, Bartolomé de Las Casas, was ablaze in his criticism of the violence and injustice the Spanish conquistadors and the Church committed against the natives of Mexico.

 

I see the contradictions in Las Casas as he took pen to paper, waging a bitter invective against his coreligionists, though he himself once having profited from the very institutions he decried. I see the contradictions as he used his missionary post to speak out against the Encomienda system, the obligatory labor and tribute forced upon the Indians, the bread and butter of Spanish livelihood. I see the contradictions as Las Casas, armed only with his knowledge of Christ’s teachings and canon law, used his pulpit to advocate for the Indians, earning the title Protector of the Indians. I see the contradictions that the very same religious convictions and powers of persuasion that emboldened Serra to advocate for Congregcíones, a system like Encomienda, emboldened Bartolomé to advocate bishops, cardinals, monarchs and popes against it. Yes, I see the contradictions. And the bottom line is yes, the Pope should have been more sensitive to the political and moral climate of his decision, but the papal faux pas is pardonable.

 

I also see the contradictions in what I am saying here, so let me explain – I am no apologist for the Catholic Church, nor am I a crusader for its progressivist program. But as a scholar in the history of colonial Latin America and law, I see an institution, like most others, including our own government, reaching for a higher progressive moral ground in an ever widening, growing and evolving moral climate. And in that evolution lies exactly the problem: progressive and Institution (i.e Catholic Church) forever illusive by their very nature. Hence that expectation is a cross too heavy even for Pope Francis, the sweetheart of liberals, to bear. By liberals, I mean the hopeful: hopeful in expecting an immediate world-wide hospitable climate for gay marriage, hopeful in expecting to see world-wide respect for women (including their ordainment as priests), hopeful in expecting the amelioration of global economic inequality, hopeful for world wide vindication for native peoples who suffered the enslavement and violence of evangelization and imperialism. They probably won’t be seeing that any time soon. Although I concede that the Holy Father straddles a political tightrope within his own institution, the complexities and contingency of history compels us more than ever to bring a consciousness to the leaders we heroize. As for Bartolomé Las Casas’ Sainthood? Well, maybe when hell freezes over.

 

Maria Ornelas is a doctoral candidate in the department of History at UCLA where she is specializing in the colonial history of Mexico. Her dissertation focuses on how indigenous communities in Oaxaca used the Spanish legal system during the colonial period to challenge the abuses of power by Spanish and indigenous officials, and how indigenous communities influenced Spanish law in the process.

Photo Description: Picture of a statue of Junipero Serra, located at Mission San Antonio de Padua in Monterey County, CA. Photo found on Flickr.