Tag Archives: conferences

so you want People of Color to attend Christian conferences?

Today, I feel like I am going to attempt to articulate the frustrations of a number of my friends, shared experiences that we have.  This post isn’t about me but something deeply troubling with institutional Christianity.

Recently, I had a white friend who attended a conference on Missional Christianity. From the looks of the promotions for the three day event, he was under the impression that it was going to be a diverse gathering. As a youth pastor who is working for a pre-dominantly racial minority church, my friend was hoping to become better equipped to minister to a diverse congregation and community. In the course of seeing and listening to the keynote speakers, my friend took a quick census of the attendees & speakers, and posted the results on Twitter, 99% white, 1% POC. 90% male, 10% female. Are these numbers really reflective of the Church located in the United State? Compared to the Church Universal found throughout six continents, do these numbers add up? Can we honestly say that conferences like these are truly about the future of Christianity? The backlash that my friend received was both hostile and utterly predictable. “Well, why don’t YOU DO a better job of inviting more POC and women?” or how about, “Are you trying to say that all the members of the entire planning committee are personally racist and sexist?”

A long time ago (precisely well over FOUR years ago), my good friend Drew Hart wrote about his experiences at a similar missional gathering. What brother Drew faced was what Austin Channing Brown calls a metaphysical dilemma. This is based on the fear of marginalized persons of feeling “devalued, unimportant, sidelined, monolithic, or invisible.” Will Persons of Color be able to stand out (as individuals)? Can we be made visible without any negative stereotypes hindering us? Why do justice conferences and missional gatherings persist in being focused, centered, and dominated by white persons and limit themselves to the interests of men? What did Jesus have to say about religion, and the building of brands and platforms?

In many instances, seminaries and other institutions for theological education have the same problems as these conferences. Due to the lack of diversity in the student body and faculty as well as support, Persons of Color in seminaries and bible schools are left to create their own resources and pressured to recruit more students of color on their own. This overwhelming burden placed upon POC by the institutions renders POC into further invisibility.  Having have been part of a campaign to make curriculum more cultural pluralistic, I know first hand that POC are always blamed for their own lack of resources. This “boot-straps” mentality manifests itself both in progressive and conservative institutions. Rugged Individualism, and the White Privilege defended by Christian institutions and conferences, are both unbiblical and break the law of Christ. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Racist practices unintentionally isolate POC individuals and communities, leaving POC to fend for themselves. But if we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, we are to choose the model of intercultural neighborly love over and against privileged, elitist notions of formation of Christian leadership.

Recently, I was both saddened and enraged when a close friend of mine told me yet another story of how a gathering of missional Christians had taken the time to reach out to him, and ask his advice about diversity issues. Yet when the time came to make final decisions, the meeting that was planned to be held is still going to happen in a white suburban area, safe from at-risk POC youth, and their issues. Is Missional Christianity showing itself to be another form of White flight, an escapism away from the joyous celebrations and oppressive realities of People of Color? Could this Emergent Christian movement (assuming it isn’t dead yet) be just another re-hashed version of a Post-Christendom Christian hegemony? I think that the label “Post-Christendom” itself is highly problematic. Exactly what type of Christendom are we referring to? There would have to be an assumption that the U.S. as a nation-state had practiced a some form of Christianity to begin with. Given the history of African enslavement and genocide that many good Christians are still in denial about, I believe that the belief of a US Christendom in the distant past needs to be called into question.

My friend who tried to help this Missional gathering deal with this issue was told that rather than have a conference reflect the Kingdom of God, the planning committee wanted to honor leaders who had brought the movement into being. In other words, the power players, the movers and shakers were to be given yet another opportunity for their platform. These approaches and practices are once more anti-Christ, and anti-Gospel. In Mark 10:42-43, “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” The Christian Conference Industry reads more like Corporate America and Wall Street, choosing the rulers and leaders who are already on top. Yet, Jesus said that greatness is defined not by the blogger with the largest platform and cleanest name-brand, but the woman or man who says, “NO!” to the world, and yes to humility and suffering servitude.

I think efforts to make Christian conferences and educational institutions more diverse are noble, however, we must get beyond diversity. There will be no such thing as a perfect seminary or a perfect conference , but the Emergent church should not allow worldly commitments prevent them from putting perfect love into practice. Missional Christians must work to intentionally co-create just spaces for people on the margins because that is where Jesus and His mission lied, with the least of these, the downtrodden, the despised ones.  This means actually listening to women and People of Color, valuing their input and their labor, sharing in the burdens of marginalized persons, and rejecting Thrones of Privilege(s).

Inerrancy: Which methodologies? Who Decides?

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

So unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Baltimore for the American Academy of Religion meeting. Apparently two other academic organizations, something called SBL and theEvangelical Theological Society also meet at the same time. Apparently there was a debate between a few evangelical leaders and Pete Enns, and I thought Michael Bird’s questions were right on the money, the same inquiries I have been asking:

““Which methodologies and who decides?” My complaint has always been that many inerrantists preach the inerrancy of the text but practice the inerrancy of their interpretation. In other words, inerrancy is not just about scripture, but about setting up fence posts against certain interpretations of scripture.”

You can find the rest of Bird’s thoughts here.

As for my post on inerrancy as white evangelical folklore from so long ago, I don’t really think I can say it better than Jim West.

John MacArthur's #StrangeFire And Arlene Sanchez Walsh's Latino Pentecostal Identity

English: Pentecostals Praising Location: http:...

During my first year as an undergrad, I struggled to find a Christian community where I could fellowship with others. I began to notice that a number of my neighbors attended a predominantly white “nondenominational” mega church. The church site was located in the middle of a predominantly Latin@ neighborhood, and over the years there had been a few conflicts over construction. Yet, virtually all of the membership of the church came from outside of the church’s setting. I didn’t ask questions because I was young, and I wanted to be in with the in-crowd. I thought that just because a church was “nondenominational,” that meant that we could all get along merrily as Christians without “doctrine dividing us.” It wasn’t until one Sunday that the pastor started to preach on cessationism that I got nervous and I stopped going. It turns out that the church had very Reformed theological commitments, and cessationism (the idea that the miracles and healings have stopped after the time of the apostles). I also happened to be at that time part of a small Pentecostal student ministry. For various reasons that fall, I left both settings to “settle” into Baptist life.

Папуас William J. Seymour (Apostolic Faith Church)

Папуас William J. Seymour (Apostolic Faith Church) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In grad school, I worked on an independent study on histories of Persons of Color in evangelicalism. I eventually went on to present a paper at the regional American Academy of Religion about two years ago on the topic. One of the texts that I used for my research was Arlene Sanchez Walsh’s Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society. Sanchez Walsh describes the history of Latin@ Pentecostalism in California and the Southwest and how it was placed within the broader context of Pentecostalism, a subculture of evangelical Christianity.

Pentecostal historians of Mexico and California tend to make the issue about conversions from Catholicism to Pentecostalism.  Sanchez Walsh intentionally interviews persons who were either nominally Catholic, agnostic, atheist, or Protestant to avoid the trend making the issue about Catholicism versus Pentecostalism.  These first missions coincided with the Mexican Revolutionary War.  This crisis convinced many Mexicans of the need for a religious source for meaning. Mexicans in California were attracted to the healing traditions of Pentecostals rooted the Azusa street revivals.  In order to solidify Latin@ Pentecostal identities, the Latin American Bible Institute was started in California and Texas by the Assemblies of God.  Men and women were allowed to take classes there; this is a phenomenon that is strange because on one hand the anti-intellectual strand of Pentecostalism depends upon only the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and on the other hand, lines of orthodoxy had to be drawn somehow to keep members from sinking into error.

According to Sanchez Walsh, in 1967, LABI graduate ‘Sonny’ Arguinzoni had a vision to reach East L.A. for Jesus Christ.  It was through him that Victory Outreach was started to address the at-risk youth and drug addicts.  Pentecostalism served as a spiritual hospital to help Vietnam war veterans and former gang members get off the streets and off drugs and into the churches, living as productive citizens.  The emphasis on deliverance and holiness with strict codes of moral conduct, along with the Latin@ vision of family aided Victory Outreach’s mission to reach the lost.  Sonny Jr. served as youth minister and began to evangelize to gang members on the street, while ignoring some of the strict guidelines against secular music.  Street dramas and Christian hip-hop were used to invite the Latin@ gang subculture to participate into the Latin@ Pentecostal subculture.

Pentecostal scholar and personal friend Ekaputra Tupamahu first showed me the theological roots of the Azusa Street Revival, which was grounded at first in the highly problematic Anglo-British-Israelism theory.  It was more likely the continuationist leanings of the early Pentecostal movement in the U.S. that lead participants to open up itself to people of various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.  What better religion for bodies of color who have been injured and experienced hurt than one that affirmed belief in supernatural healings?

My problem with cessationism is that once pastors lead churches into believing that the Holy Spirit does not work as God does in Acts, then the Bible held captive by limited cultural interpretations.  Take for example, take dispensationalist pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference this week, where polemics and mischaracterizations have held sway.  The scary thing that happens when  you study church history, is that you find some troubling things.  When it comes to the more Calvinist-leaning dispensationalism of MacArthur, one will find that part of its founding lays in the deep in the heart of the Confederate States of America; what better theology to preach than the one of the premillenial rapture for Christians who felt that God had betrayed them by taking their “property” away from them, losing their livelihoods and family members in the process? One of my friends once went to hear John MacArthur speaking at a megachurch, and he went on to provide a defense for the enslavement of African Americans on American shores. (linked is the sermon, trigger warnings for apologizing for the Confederacy). Seems like a bad habit for Christians. A really bad one.

A commitment to cessationism is more likely to make pastors and churches close themselves off from communities that may not look like them. The same could be said of continuationist/Pentecostal churches, but theologically, continuationist churches are committed to opening themselves up and receiving the Word of the Lord by way of their neighbor and the Holy Spirit. One possible theo-political implications of Arlene Sanchez Walsh’s research was that continuationist theologies of Pentecostal/charismatic congregations could serve as sources of hope for persons who have experienced a great deal of traumatic violence in their lives. The driving existential crisises that Sanchez Walsh alluded to, the Mexican Revolution, the Vietnam War, and War on the streets between the gangs played major could be seen as ministry moments whereby Latin@ Pentecostalism’s healing tradition offered an alternative to racial violence. We should pray that the Holy Spirit disrupt events like Strange Fire, and that the Spirit leads the leaders at that conference to be conformed in the image of our Liberator and Reconciler, Christ Jesus.

 

 

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