Monday, April 21, 2008

The Kings are Coming

We're having a little trouble in my neighborhood these days. The Latin Kings are attempting to move in, or maybe back in. It's not that the Latin Kings are necessarily worse than the gang that's already here, but rather the transfer of power that I'm concerned about.

This is a picture I took tonight of the viaduct a half-block from my house as I was walking my dog. The graffiti was not there two days ago. ALKN means "Almighty Latin Kings Nation" and "MLDK" means "Maniac Latin Disciple Killers". And they're serious... they really do kill each other. While the politicians pontificate about more gun laws, broken young men in broken homes and broken families kill each other instead of playing baseball together and nobody seems to be asking why.
But we know why. Broken people break things. And we're broken because of sin - generational sin, institutional injustice, personal immorality, sinful choices, and our innate depravity.
Of course the Gospel addresses this powerfully.
Will we take it to the streets?

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black Megachurches and the African American Reformation

Please read the following article very carefully and tell me what you think.

Megachurches, Megaphones
The Primary Issue is Theology, not Economics
© Eric C. Redmond, 2006 – 2007.
Reprint permission is granted by the author.

In the last year, much attention has been given to the phenomena of African-American megachurches. Black Enterprise presented “The Business of Faith” as its May 2006 cover article, highlighting the financial power of four megachurches. In its July-August 2006 issue, The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, portrayed many of the shortcomings of African-American megachurches associated with the Word of Faith movement with respect to the pursuit of civil rights for people of color. In June 2006, The National Conference and Revival for Social Justice in the Black Church, organized by Rev. Al Sharpton, brought sharp criticism of the megachurches, particularly their lack of help to the poor and disenfranchised while they seemingly promote the political agenda of the Christian Right and the Republican Party. From all sides, the megachurches are being challenged to speak loudly on behalf of God for something other than material prosperity.

At the center of these critiques are names of clerics known to American households, including T.D.Jakes, Eddie Long, Creflo Dollar and Charles Blake. Many of these men have been assisted in the growth of their memberships by preaching material success, and by being visible through name recognition associated with their books, festivals, and movies. Coupled with these large memberships have come millions of dollars for the purchase of large, multi-use facilities and people resources that help secure outside funding for church businesses. The formula has worked, providing new schools, assisted living facilities, ex-offender re-entry programs, and many other social uplift aids.

The new era of mega church pastors are not the first to be recognized for wedding the Black Church’s large coffers to the plights of poverty and joblessness of its community. Charles Adams and Mangedwa Nyathi dawned the cover of Black Enterprise thirteen years ago for similar success. But the recent attention given to Jakes and others has taken prominence because of the differences of their message and philosophy from that of the mainstream, traditional African-American church. Whereas the featured leaders of the 1990’s developments were largely Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Methodist, and Clinton democrats, the leaders of 2000’s endeavors are garden variety Charismatic or conservative Evangelicals and Bush Republicans. For all of the words of praise for these churches’ success, it is this latter relationship, which is portrayed as turning African-Americans from political issues visceral to our community, which has drawn the ire of the Black clergy establishment towards the bishops of the megachurches.

Despite the eye of skepticism cast toward the practices of the megachurches and their leaders, the above laudations and criticisms do not address the heart of the issue of their successes and deficiencies. Nor is the issue addressed by simply recognizing what appears to be a disregard for the New Testament’s cautions against greed as a corrupter of motives: “Be on your guard against all covetousness,” said Jesus himself, “for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” (Luke 12:15, ESV). Instead, the real issue is the theology (or lack thereof) that drives these churches. This truth is missed in most evaluations of the movement because megachurches are simply a microcosm of the larger African-American church. In embracing the American Dream, and in placing hopes in political parties of either persuasion, our churches have lost the counter-cultural message of Jesus.
The New Testament portrays Jesus as one who drew crowds of people, much like the megachurch heralds. Great numbers would come from far and wide to gain a touch of healing from him. Groups would cross lakes in boats to seek him out. One of the most famous of Jesus’ miracles, recorded in all four New Testament gospel accounts, is the feeding of a crowd of more than 5000 people. This crowd “was following him,” states the account in John 6:2.

Yet the crowds did not continue to follow Jesus after hearing his claims and demands. Once the healing of the lepers and the lame ended, and the preaching of his own work on the cross was established as binding judgment on the practices and destinies of all people, the crowds left him. Once he began proclaiming that evil within all people separated them from God, he lost his popular appeal. Rather than being able to establish a church of thousands and meet the physical and economic needs of the socially disenfranchised, Jesus was rejected. His message offended the crowds. His words only appealed to a few. Even raising people from the dead on multiple occasions, and the promise to do the same for others, did not have strong enough appeals to overcome the offense people felt by being told they were morally bankrupt. In spite of being the CEO of history’s greatest religious social justice program, Jesus lost his following to his theology. In spite of losing his followers, he continued to warn people to consider their souls over gaining all of the material success in the world.

In contrast to the megachurch credo and craze, there is another hope on the horizon for our churches and community in the form of a growing movement of younger African-Americans. The members of this informal coalition identify themselves around the Reformation and Calvinism’s “doctrines of grace.” They identify themselves around theological commitments. Their commitments are based on centering core doctrines around the message of the Scriptures—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as solution to man’s moral dilemma before the Creator (as opposed to economic empowerment).

Stated differently, this coalition’s identity rests in a message that all people are radically depraved in the sight of their Creator. The Creator has made a provision of mercy for some through the work of Christ. Christ and his work must define the belief and practice of the recipients of mercy, and the message of the mercy of the Creator through Christ is the only means of life-transformation that brings true satisfaction to individuals, families and communities. This message is for the poor, the rich, the African-American, and all people. However, the message these men preach offends.

This African-American “Reformed” network is not united by the sizes of their congregations, nor does it look at size or receipts as a measure of success. Largely united through conference speaking, published writings, and the blogsphere, this group is slowly finding home in the hearts of mainstream and traditional churches.

The preaching of these young reformers recognizes there is a sense in which the church should be separated from culture rather than totally immersed therein. This separation is not because of an Establishment Clause, or because of the need to keep the IRS from challenging a church’s tax-status. Instead, it is because the church is intended to be a spiritual and theological entity like no other—one that transforms culture rather than assimilates to it. Therefore, this group’s message is not a proclamation of economic success, but of Christ as the center of all things. In fact, these men and their churches tend to identify themselves as gospel-centered and Christ-centered. Dissimilarly, the megachurch pulpits are so immersed in the prosperity message of the American culture they cannot pull people above the ills of human nature, including ills that follow riches like greed, bribery, theft, selfishness, and exploitation of the poor.

The younger movement offers the hope of righteousness. For what is needed to bring lasting change to every community is people who deny themselves of selfish ambition and excessive living, make personal sacrifices for the good of all others, refrain from committing crimes against members of the community, submit themselves to governing authorities, and raise their children in homes characterized by love, forgiveness, joy, delayed gratification and discipline. This hope is in great contrast to the philosophy of the megachurches in question, which seem to derive their theology from utilitarian thought: It is drawing the masses, so it must be right.

If there are faces for this movement, one of them belongs to Rev. Anthony Carter, itinerant speaker and author of On Being Black and Reformed. In his “new perspective” on the Christian faith, Carter demonstrates the consistency of the Reformed Theology with the African-American experience of sorrow, suffering and oppression. But the discourse he takes to pulpits around the country does not challenge his readers to leave mental poverty in order to begin gaining their piece of the bourgeoisie pie. Neither is he naïve about the connotations of Calvinism for great-great-grandchildren of slaves. His message is that God is the only hope in whatever economic status one finds oneself.

Another face may be that of Thabiti Anyabwile, the newly appointed pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Caymans. A former senior associate and project manager with the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Anyabwile was an elder at a Baptist church in Washington, DC, woven of Reformation woof. In his new position on the island, Anyabwile has begun to work for social reform and revival through the reformation of the souls. He has two forthcoming publications that challenge the African-American church to recover the greatness of its heritage by embracing a theology of reformation. An early preview of the first publication suggests there is nothing in print known to be like it. With the calling of Anyabwile to be pastor in Grand Caymans, the movement has reached beyond U.S. borders to proclaim hope to other lands.

The neo-radicals like Carter and Anyabwile do not deny the need for institutional justice for African-Americans to achieve social justice. Instead, they place the role of the State under the hand of a good Savior. They are not the first to wield a theology of humility as the path to prosperity and justice. Boston’s Eugene Rivers, who would not identify himself with any of the aforementioned church movements, is ahead of all of us in practice, results and reputation.

The Afro-reformers do not belong on a pedestal. However, I hope they will be placed on a high mount above megachurch steeples as beacons to guide our people through the rough waters that we must come to experience economic contentment and justice.

Counter criticisms to this new movement abound, and the lasting fruit is still years in the making. But its leaders stand true to being driven by a theological impetus, despite typical unfounded denunciations of being white, Uncle Toms, sellouts, and Oreos. Yet in the face of naysayers, buds of the Reformed movement are beginning to sprout in the lives of second and third generation seedlings. Carter’s generation is successfully wedding Reformed orthodoxy and African-American orthopraxy by seeing the former as the tree and the latter as the flower. Of course, the root to this movement is the Gospel.

The Word of Faith megachurch movement will not go away, but will progress further into exurbia. It will take with it masses of enthusiasts and critics. It may overshadow the work of the fledgling Reformed movement if measured in terms of dollars, cents, franchises of 501(c)(3)’s, and congregation sizes. However, the message of the Black Reformation will not be dimmed. It has the potential to have the impact of its theological forbearers, of whom it was said, “after darkness, light.” I am hopeful that the preaching of the Reformed movement, combined with the faithfulness and integrity of the movement’s members, will bring about an African-American Great Awakening, even as did the preaching of Calvinistic Puritans for the Colonies.

Most importantly, the leaders of the new reformation are not coming into question as phonies, since they reject what is faddish and popular, and they are not driven by the pragmatic. Their message is gaining appeal as listeners discern that their gospel is all-encompassing because it seeks to reach the whole person, not just one’s wallet. May history record that the attention given to this movement will be because their preaching rang out with life-transforming impact, like megaphones for God. For, salvation for African-American church and community is found in prioritizing theology, not economics.

Rev. Eric C. Redmond is the Pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Temple Hills, MD, and formerly Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology at Washington Bible College, Lanham, MD. He is the Theology Editor of the NAAF Outlook: Newsletter of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and a Trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX. He is currently working on a book about African-American men’s disenfranchisement of the African-American church. More about Eric Redmond, Anthony Carter, and Thabiti Anyabwile is available at (forthcoming). This article was written August, 29, 2006.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

...And Then They Came for the Mormons...

Is anyone else bothered by this?

I mean, where's the outrage?

If I understand the story right, a 16 year old girl at a Mormon ranch makes a single phone call alleging abuse (she was forced into a marriage with a man in his 40's) and the government comes to the ranch and takes 413 kids away from their parents.

Based on one phone call.

From a girl no one has actually ever interviewed and whose whereabouts are unknown.

Now don't get me wrong...

1) I have no doubt that this girl was telling the truth and is an absolute victim. She needs justice.

2) Child abuse is horrific. I feel no mercy towards its perpetrators.

3) I consider Mormonism a cult religion. Its doctrines are harmful, bizarre, and I would argue Satanic.

4) I consider polygamy a travesty. Just another mockery of God's design for human sexuality.

5) In the final analysis, it may even end up that the taking of these kids was justified.

But none of this is my point.

My point is that it cannot be right, just, or good in any way that the government can take kids away from their parents, subject them to cross-examination by biased social workers and invasive probings by gynecologists, traumatize and scar them for life, and destroy their families based on the allegations of a single teenage girl in a single phone call.

But of course these are those freak fundamentalist Mormons, right? I mean, they aren't doing this to Baptists, right? It isn't like they're targeting Black people or Muslims or homosexuals, right?

Just fundamentalists. Those people are dangerous even without the possibility of child abuse, right?


So nobody says anything. Nobody expresses outrage over the fact that families are being destroyed over a phone call and no live witnesses.

But surely they are guilty of incest and polygamy and child abuse! That's how all those fundamentalists are. So we shouldn't wait for evidence. We shouldn't presume "innocent until proven guilty". We shouldn't give these families due process.

Should we?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Collapse of the American Mind

The following article by Mark Morford on the state of American education appeared late last year in the San Francisco Chronicle. Its conclusions are terrifying...

Mark Morford: Kids these days ...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I have this ongoing discussion with a longtime reader who just so happens to be a longtime Oakland high school teacher, a wonderful guy who's seen generations of teens come and go and who has a delightful poetic sensibility and quirky outlook on his life and family and beloved teaching career.

He often writes in response to something I might've written about the youth of today, anything in which I comment on the nefarious factors shaping their minds and their perspectives and whether, say, EMFs and junk food and cell phones are melting their brains and what can be done.

His response: It is not bad at all. It's absolutely horrifying.

My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.

Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don't spend enough time outdoors and don't get any real exercise and therefore can't, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new.

No, my friend takes it all a full step further. It is not only a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that.

As far as urban public education is concerned, we are essentially at rock bottom. We are at a point where we are churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults, and society will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.

It's gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is seriously considering moving out of the country to escape what he perceives will be the collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the destruction, the shocking - and nearly hopeless - dumb-ification of the American brain.Now, you may think he's merely a curmudgeon, a tired old teacher who stopped caring long ago.

Not true.

Teaching is his life. He says he loves his students, loves education and learning and watching young minds awaken. Problem is, he is seeing much less of it. It's like the melting of the polar ice caps. Sure, there's been alarmist data about it for years, but until you see it, the deep visceral dread doesn't really hit home.

He cites studies, reports, hard data, from the appalling effects of television on child brain development (i.e.; any TV exposure before age 6 and your kid's basic cognitive wiring and spatial perceptions are pretty much scrambled for life), to the fact that, because of all the insidious mandatory testing teachers are now forced to incorporate into the curriculum, of the 182 school days in a year, there are 110 when such testing is going on somewhere at Oakland High. As one of his colleagues put it, "It's like weighing a calf twice a day, but never feeding it."
But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens' decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple of recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words "agriculture," or even "democracy." Not a single student could do it.

It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he's taught during the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph. Recently, after giving an assignment that required drawing lines, he realized that not a single student knew how to use a ruler.

In short, it is, nothing less than a tidal wave of dumb, with once-passionate, increasingly exasperated teachers nearly powerless to stop it. The worst part: It's not the kids' fault. They're only the victims of a horribly failed educational system.

Then our discussion often turns to the meat of it, the bigger picture, the ugly and unavoidable truism about the lack of need among the government and the power elite in this nation to create a truly effective educational system, one that generates intelligent, thoughtful, articulate citizens.

Why should they? After all, the dumber the populace, the easier it is to rule and control and launch unwinnable wars and pass laws dictating that sex is bad and TV is good and God knows all, so just pipe down and eat your Taco Bell Double-Supremo burrito and be glad we don't arrest you for posting dirty pictures on your cute little blog.

This is about when I try to offer counterevidence, a bit of optimism. For one thing, I've argued generational relativity in this space before, suggesting maybe kids are no scarier or dumber or more dangerous than they've ever been, and that maybe some of the problem is merely the same old awkward generation gap, with every current generation convinced the subsequent one is terrifically stupid and malicious and will be the end of society as a whole. Just the way it always seems.

I also point out how, despite all the evidence of total public-education meltdown, I keep being surprised, keep hearing from/about teens and youth movements and actions that impress me. Damn kids made the Internet what it is today, fer chrissakes. Revolutionized media. Broke all the rules.

Some of the best designers, writers, artists, poets, chefs and so on that I meet are in their early to mid-20s. And the nation's top universities are still managing, despite a factory-churning mentality, to crank out young minds of astonishing ability and acumen. How did these kids do it? How did they escape the horrible public school system? How did they avoid the great dumbing down of America? Did they never see a TV show until they hit puberty? Were they all born and raised elsewhere, in India and Asia and Russia? Did they all go to Waldorf or Montessori and eat whole-grain breads and take long walks in wild nature? Are these kids flukes? Exceptions? Just lucky?

My friend would say, well, yes, that's precisely what most of them are. Lucky, wealthy, foreign-born, private-schooled ... and increasingly rare. Most affluent parents in America - and many more who aren't - now put their kids in private schools from day one, and the smart ones give their kids no TV and minimal junk food and no video games. (Of course, this in no way guarantees a smart, attuned kid, but compared to the odds of success in the public school system, it sure seems to help). This covers about, what, 3 percent of the population?

As for the rest, the evidence seems overwhelming, to the point where it might be no stretch at all to say the biggest threat facing America is perhaps not global warming, not perpetual warmongering, not garbage food or low-level radiation or way too much Lindsay Lohan, but people far too ignorant to know how to properly manage any of it, much less change it all for the better.

Too fatalistic? Don't worry. Soon enough, no one will even know what the word means.

Mark Morford columns with inset links to related material can be found at
Mark Morford's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays in Datebook and on E-mail him at
This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

…Is it really that bad?

How much of our kids' ability to think or play or reason is the responsibility of the government?

How much should we blame 'the system'?

What really is the parents' job?

What do you think?

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Bernard's Story

Back in the early 90's, a young man named John Opiyo from Nairobi came to Chicago to go to Moody and providentially landed at our church. He said he joined because, in his words, we "worship like Africans." I considered that the highest compliment and encouragement.

He went on to become a pastoral intern here, and eventually went back home to plant a church in Nairobi. Over the years, we have developed an intimate relationship with the church he planted there - Kahawa Sukari. About every two years, we send a team from Armitage to partner with them in various ministry ventures, and they send teams here.

On one of these trips (2002), a rather mystical and amazing guy named Mike Freeman was on the team and had a remarkable experience in Nairobi that resulted in a daughter church to Kahawa Sukari being planted in the slum. More on that later, but first a bit about Mike...

Mike was once a drug abuser, a drunk, and a gang banger with the Simon City Royals. His life and marriage were eventually broken - all by his early 20's - when he encountered Jesus. The transformation was nothing short of radical. Mike is one of those people who just exudes love for God, to the point where even other Christians consider him a little different and don't always know how to take him. He has a tremendous heart for evangelism, not surprising considering where he came from, and as I said, tends to be a bit mystical.

I heard the story about his Nairobi encounter back in 2002 when the team returned. I thought, "How cool! Mike witnesses to a guy who gets saved and starts a church in the slum." I really didn't think much more of it after that.

Then I went to Nairobi.

There I met a man named Bernard. Bernard was one of the guys that Mike evangelized on that day six years ago. Bernard had come to Kahawa Sukari from Hope Baptist Church in the slum for the conference we were having last month. He made it a point to introduce himself to me and tell me his story. To say the least, it was a lot more amazing hearing it from the guy who was on the recieving end of the Gospel.

Back when Mike was in Nairobi, our team stayed at a hotel. This particular hotel was across the little gorge from Mathare, one of the largest slums in Africa, and I believe the largest in Nairobi. Acre after acre of hopelessness.

Mike was washing his face early in the morning when God told him (Yes. You read that right) to go out and preach the gospel in the slum. Being the mystical guy he is, Mike walked out, stood on a culvert adjacent to the slum, and began preaching John 3:16. Loudly. At 6:00 in the morning.

Three guys from the slum heard him and said, "What the %#@* is that racket?!?!"

They decided to go and encourage the white guy to shut up. However, they got within earshot and began to listen to what he was saying. They believed.

Bernard told me, "I got down on my knees and was born again, right on the spot." They then asked Mike what to do, since they had no church in the slum. Mike suggested they start one, so they did. With the help of Kahawa Sukari, Hope was born in the slum.

Hope now has two or three pastors, a school that ministers to 200 slum children, and 60 or so worshippers on a Sunday. God has provided land for a building - in the slum - and a cluster of houses they are using now that they have knocked the adjoining walls out of to have a 20' x 20' space to gather. They just got a generator for electricity.

Bernard now oversees the school and wants to come to Chicago to study at Moody. He has this crazy idea that God can do anything. This guy from the slum that now pours his life into making a difference because one day somebody obeyed the voice of the Spirit and preached the Gospel.

And even though these church leaders could all now leave the slum, they have decided to stay. Imagine that. They seem to think God can take care of them there. I wonder how they ever got that idea...

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." Romans 1:16

Don't ever forget.

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