Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Careless Talk

It seems we have mistaken our constitutional right to freely express our thoughts as a freedom to disregard, humiliate and disrespect others. (It’s just a guess, but I don’t think that is what the founding fathers had in mind).
Disrespect is not dialogue! 
Blog Careless Talk
It is intriguing, but even more disturbing, that meaningful discussion and dialogue have been lost in an environment where name-calling has become the most honored debate strategy. We are being subjected to that every day; from both leading presidential candidates and from every corner of the twitter-sphere.
Don’t argue your point by a rationale presentation of facts when you can simple disqualify the validity of the other person’s existence by simply calling them out as a libertard, a right-winger, a homophobe, a racist or bigot, a liar, a pharisee, a heretic, or simply an idiot. Those with whom we disagree are no longer people with different views. They are enemies to be exposed, devalued, and defamed.
And sadly, it is not just secularist unbelievers that have resorted to attack speech. Careless talk has become, far too often, the common vernacular of those who call themselves Christian.
Is this the kind of interaction that Jesus was promoting when he instructed his students: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? 
Have we forgotten the condition placed upon “speaking the truth” in Ephesians 4:15?
We are quick to render criticism on our young people for the disrespect which has become their norm (and it is bad). However, I think we do these young people an injustice when we refuse to turn the spotlight on a society that believes it is not only normal, but acceptable, to talk down to one another, and put others in their place, when verbally cruelty is applauded as a positive character trait. Then we should further turn the light upon ourselves, and ask, “When have I chosen, rather than counter with legitimate rebuttals, to assassinate someone’s reputation through name-calling?”
Could it be that our greatest cultural crisis is none of the issues that our politicians are peddling? Could it be that what we are seeing in our presidential candidates is our biggest failure being put on display before our blinded eyes? Maybe our most critical cultural crisis is a gross loss of civility in which we can’t show respect toward one another as fellow beings created in the image of God, tarnished as it may be.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:29, 31-32 ESV
— Pastor Steve

Behind the Numbers

crime sceneAre we confronting horror and holocaust or are we looking at hype, hoax and hysteria?
The shouts can become deafening. Black America shouting, “Stop killing us’, and many in conservative white America are shouting back, “The cry of injustice is hype, a hoax.”
Who is right? Is it true that blacks are not killed more often than whites? Well, the answer is “Yes and no.” It depends how you look at the data.
There is a couple of popular memes circulated among conservative media outlets that compares the number of people from different ethnic groups that have been shot and killed by police in 2014 and 2015. In both years twice as many white people were shot and killed by the police as blacks.
The cumulative date from January 1, 2015 to today validates those findings. Since January 1, 2015 the police have shot and killed 1502 people; of those 732 were white, 381 were black. These conservative meme are accurate — or are they?
Just looking at the raw data it certainly appears that whites are more frequently victims of police shootings than blacks. However, there is problem with the raw data. It doesn’t give us the real picture.
The raw data does not account for population difference between the two populations. Whites account for 62% of the US population, blacks account for 13%. In other words there are roughly 5 white people for every black person.
When you account for this difference in population, what we see is the 2/1 higher ratio of whites/blacks killed flip to where blacks are the victim at a rate 2.5 times higher than whites.
When black people are the victim of police shootings at a rate 2.5 times (note: times, not percent) higher than whites, it needs to give us reason to pause. Our hearts should be broken for what is happening in the African-American community.
Does it imply universal racism among those in law enforcement? No, that is where I believe Black Lives Matter Movement (contrast that the the little “m” movement) oversteps their diagnosis. But it does demonstrate an issue of social justice that we need to be concerned about. While the problem may not be universal, it is undoubtedly indicative that something is broken in the system.
However, to deny there is a problem is at least just as egregious as any overstatement that may come from the Black Lives Matters Movement. I hear others whites rationalize that white people don’t protest when a white person is killed. Yet, I wonder if even that claim we have declared in honor of our restraint would be tested if year after year over the coming decade we saw white deaths triple … when it is not longer enough to tell our children when pulled over by the police be respectful, and that instruction has to be replaced with “Keep you hands on the steering wheel. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t reach for your wallet. Have the police get your wallet.”
Solving this issue is not just a matter of fixing racial prejudice in policing. The problem goes much deeper than that. However, we will never move toward resolution as long as we continue to deny that there is a problem.
(For more information read this Washington Post story.)

Revisiting a 2000 Year Struggle

Blog Crucified With Christ“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I love by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20
That verse is a strong passage that speaks to our identity as believers. But do we know the context in which that verse appears? Sadly, it is a context perhaps very similar to many churches over that last two weeks.
The church’s response to the events of the week of July 4 may be reminiscent of the early church. Many don’t understand that the early church was severely stuck in a struggle with racism and prejudice, and it took some serious struggle to see the church move out of that rut.
The culture was not stuck in a struggle between two groups: white and black. It was stuck in a struggle between five groups:
  • Jews who thought they were God’s people and thus better than everyone else;
  • Gentiles who knew that the Jews thought that they were better;
  • Freedmen who had bought or earned their freedom from slavery;
  • Slaves who hated the freedmen for becoming free;
  • Women who had even less rights or protections.
Into that culture the church was thrust. As the Gospel message begins to burst forth into Greco-Roman society, the deep wounds of prejudice begin to show up. Paul and Barnabas have been working with the church in Antioch to pioneer a Greco-Roman church plant. Peter comes for a visit, and has his first taste of pork chops and pigs feet. But when his anti-pork Jewish friends make an appearance, Peter moves away from the table.
Now, remember this is the same Peter who received a vision from God of “unclean” animals being let down from heaven for him to kill and eat. Out of that vision God taught him that nothing (or shall we say no one) that God has created is unclean.
When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, his first words are a startling: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile of visit him” (Acts 10:28). Not really the best words to ingratiate yourself to your Gentile host.
But here we are sometime later, and Peter is again struggling with his association with those who were unlike himself. He was quick to back off in order to maintain a reputation among his Jewish friends.
I have to wonder if the Gentile believers felt something like my African-American friends during our recent troubled week. More than once I heard people say, “Where is the white church? What do they have to say about these events?” Yet, many in the white church either quietly moved away from the table or ridiculed those who remained seated.
Peter was ultimately publicly reprimanded by Paul for his prejudice behavior. It is immediately in this context that Paul writes that about our identity in Christ, and Christ living in us.
Sadly, the church has often be complicate in the reconstruction of racial prejudice in the intervening 2000 years, notably with the enslavement of millions of Africans, but also in various ethnic and religious struggles.
As believers, we cannot stand idly by and become silent advocates for the advance of racism. Jesus tore those walls down. How dare us take part in their reconstruction, either by our active prejudice and racism or by our silent consent.
Martin Luther King, Jr. shared the following in 1967: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Black people are simply saying, “Stop killing us.” Yet, the response they receive, even from much of the white Christian community, is, “But …” if they say anything at all. But is such an effective immobilizer!
On Tuesday, July 12, President Bush, at the memorial service for the slain officers in Dallas, shared, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
We should weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. Our hearts should break with those who are broken-hearted.
If Christ has been crucified in me then the walls I have used to define my difference from others, to limit the parameters of God’s grace, need to come down. The old way of thinking that allows me to restrict grace to those like me has to be hung on the tree. I need to actively engage in being an ambassador across racial and cultural lines. I do this because it is no longer for me just about “black and white”. It is about living life in Christ, living life by faith.
In the next chapter he would write, “There is neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When will we see this oneness in the church? When will we hear the church unified speak for this sense of unity?
— Pastor Steve

Why “All Lives Matter” Is Unhelpful

Blog All Lives Matter Unhelpful

For many the response to the clarion call, “Black lives matter”, is to respond with “All Lives Matter.” I understand that response for it was my initial reaction, as well. However, I have come to understand that response is unhelpful.
Imagine that your spouse’s mother were to die. Would you say to him/her, “All mothers matter”? I think not, though it be true. He/She would perceive that as condescending, uncaring, unsympathetic, and completely lacking in understanding. You would, rather, relate to him/her as if only the death of his/her mother mattered in that moment. In doing so he/she would feel you relate to his/her pain and grief.
Or imagine that your house is set aflame. You call the fire department. They show up on your street and pull out the hoses. But instead of dousing the flames that are consuming your house, they start hosing down the house next door. You question the Commander why they are hosing down the wrong house. But his response is an unhelpful, “All houses matter.” You would surely be convinced that the Commander was either insane or unfeeling.
Of course, all lives matter. That issue is not up for debate. What we are talking about is racial injustice that has set the nation on fire.
However, the “All Lives Matter” response to the pain of the black community communicates the same unsympathetic, uncaring response to the black community as “All mothers matter” would communicate to your spouse. “All Lives Matter” comes across as a dismissal of the particular plight of blacks. The lack of understanding entertained in ALM says to the African-American community, “I don’t really care,” rightly or wrongly.
Acknowledging that black lives matter expresses concern for the plight of black people as an individual group. “All Lives Matter” can only be true if all black, brown, red, yellow and white lives are recognized as valuable individually.
When we demonstrate understanding particularly to the black community that their lives are valued we will make steps forward.
At the same time it remains helpful to differentiate between the “black lives matter” movement and the “Black Lives Matter” Movement.
–Pastor Steve
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Seeing A Way Forward On Issues of Life and Death

Life and DeathWhen we approach the conversation of life issues, it is helpful to keep this verse in mind: “Give justice to the weak and fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the week and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps 82:3-4).

The issue of life and death is paramount throughout Scripture. The seriousness of murder is strongly stated even before the law was given to the people of Israel. Following the flood, Noah is told, “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His image.’” Understand that this verse is saying that it is a personal affront to God when one human being robs another human being of life because it devalues His image that has been placed within each person.

The sixth commandment given to Moses at Mount Sinai is “You shall not murder.” Over the last 40 years, there has been ongoing conversation about how that sentence can be understood and recast in light of current cultural “life” trends.

One way that people have attempted to recast the prohibition to murder is applying it only to those who have already been born. Let’s not be misled. The discarding of unwanted children is not a 20th-21st century issue. The early church intervened in the practice of “exposure” when children were left out in the garbage to die by making nightly rounds to collect those children and raise them as their own.

The argument proceeds this way: Murder is taking the life of a person. The unborn are unable to survive outside of the mother’s womb and care for themselves; therefore, they are not people. Since they are not people, killing the unborn is not murder.

Yet, the government’s inconsistency in applying a clear logical argument is apparent in cases when a woman, who could abort her child with no repercussion, is physically harmed by another person causing the loss of her unborn child resulting in a charge of murder. More recently, prosecutors have battled that contradictory position by choosing not to file charges related to the loss of the unborn child.

However, numerous verses consistently express that life begins at conception. David recognized his own personhood prior to birth when he said, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). Elizabeth attributes human emotion and activity to the baby (the same term used for a child after birth) John upon hearing Mary’s voice. Finally, perhaps the most significant passage for our discussion of abortion is Exo 21:22-25 which speaks of the penalties that should be imposed in cases where the life and health of a pregnant women and her unborn child are endangered.

Additionally, the abortion debate has been carefully couched in terms of a woman’s right to make her own health choices. I mean, who would be for their health choices to being forced upon them by some outside authority, right? However, the right of the woman to choose is not a choice for which the only impact of choice is with the woman. The choice of the woman runs squarely into the right of the unborn child to live. This becomes the ultimate case of the sins of the “[Mother] being visited upon their sons and daughters to the third and fourth generation.” To think of all of the generations who have never had the opportunity for that first breathe because someone made a decision to end the life of their child, which would have become a mother or father for a succeeding generation.

The right to choose ought to be exercised prior to conception through a choice to abstain from sexual activity or to take precautions to protect against pregnancy, instead of after when another life is put in jeopardy.

The argument for a woman’s right to choose is often made in tangent with arguing for maintaining abortion rights for women in cases of rape and incest, which statistically make up less than 1% of abortion procedures.

However, should we not also seek to safeguard the emotional health of a woman who faced with an unwanted pregnancy aborts the child only to be confronted with overwhelming and ongoing grief and guilt for her decision? Yet, the current strategy for abortion advocates is to limit the amount of information a woman receives in preparation for such a decision.

God created and values all life, and one’s right to live can never be trumped by another person’s right to choice. Even in cases of rape, when a child is conceived as a result, the resulting life is valued by God. Not disregarding the painful experience that the rape was for the woman, is it fair to the child to sentence it to death because of the illegal actions of an immoral progenitor? Would it not be much more humane to offer the child for adoption to a family that would love it without reminders of the pain of rape?

Finally, the shield of politically-correct protection around Planned Parenthood needs to be broken down The recent video exposés which have revealed blatant criminal activity within Planned Parenthood through the selling of baby body parts needs to be welcomed with sound condemnation of Planned Parenthood’s actions.


  • The government should enact laws restricting, if not prohibiting, abortions except to save the life of the mother. Restrictions should include such things as parent notification for minors, a reasonable waiting period, and full disclosure of the ramifications of the procedure to both the mother’s well-being and the child’s.
  • No government policies should promote or fund abortions as has been done in the mandate that all health insurance coverage plans approved under the Affordable Care Act carry abortion services as a covered service.
  • No government policy should compel people to participate in abortions or the dispensing of drugs that cause abortions when it runs counter to their conscience as has been done through the abortion services mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
  • No funding or support should be given to the process of creating human embryos for the purpose of destroying them in medical research.
  • Any organization engaged in the trafficking of “fetal tissue” ought to be prosecuted with the same severity as someone charged with illegal trafficking in human organs.


At the same time, the church should so grace to those who have had abortions, helping them to come to terms with their loss and grief, and experiencing the forgiveness of Christ.

Additionally, we should not just advocate a pro-life position that is pro-birth, but disregards the quality of life that the child is born into. Our pro-life position should also advocate for a healthy quality of life for those who are born (which will be discussed in the position paper on poverty). John in 1 John equates the disregard for those who suffer in conditions of poverty as a matter of murder, for by failing to address the issue of poverty they are sentenced to an unjust livelihood.

The other way that there have been attempts to redefine the prohibition for murder is in the euthanasia debate. Here the debate is often cast in the phraseology of “dying with dignity.” Yet, ignored in the conversation is the not so subtle distinction between letting die and helping die.

The direction a society takes on the question of euthanasia is a reflection of how highly it values human life and how highly it values God’s command not to murder. In societies where physician-assisted suicide becomes legal, this will set the stage for a further erosion of the protection of human life. Some people will be thought “too old” to deserve medical treatment. Compassion and care for the elderly will diminish, and they will be more and more thought of as burdens to care for, rather than valuable members of the society.

Moreover, concerns about a “slippery slope” in public policy have some persuasive force. If euthanasia is allowed for some patients who are suffering, then how can we prevent it from being applied to more and more patients who are suffering? In fact, “nations that have allowed physician-assisted suicide find that a society can quickly move from merely allowing ‘the right to die’ to the belief that there is ‘an obligation to die’ on the part of the elderly.”

The situation in the Netherlands has become particularly notorious, where approximately 2000 people per year are put to death according to the Netherlands’ “adult euthanasia vetting commissions.” In 2005, the Dutch announced their intention to expand its euthanasia policy to allow doctors to end the life of infants with the parents’ consent if it is determined that the child is terminally ill with no prospect of recovery.

In most states, euthanasia is still prohibited. However, Oregon voters enacted the “Death with Dignity Act,” which approved of physician-assisted suicide, in 1994. The law was upheld by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997. In November 2008, Washington also legalized physician-assisted suicide.

The Affordable Care Act took a first step to establishing a national policy on euthanasia in the creation of boards to make determinations for continued treatment rather than leaving that decision in the hands of the patient and doctor.

Governmental laws against murder should continue to be applied to cases of euthanasia, and laws that have been passed that open the flood gates to the slippery slope need to be rescinded.
This blog is an adaption of a position paper written by Steven Chapman and approved by the FCC Elders as part of the God’s Politics message series in 2012.  We believe that Christian voters should approach the casting of their ballots as an act of worship which brings honor to God.The goal of these position papers was to present a reasoned and Biblical statement on critical political issues of the day that will let us consider how we may best honor God with our votes.

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Seeing A Way Forward On Immigration

Peter addresses us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world …” (1 Pet 2:11). He then proceeds to instruct believers how to live in a manner that rejects the world’s values. What is his point? I think it is fair to say that at least Peter is suggesting that our national identity is not as important as our kingdom identity. Being American is of secondary importance to being a believer and living in a manner that honors God (see also, John 17:14-16).
Issues of immigration involve both those who enter the US through legitimate channels and those who enter without proper documentation. For the sake of this article, the focus will largely be on undocumented immigrants.
Any conversation on immigration has to address the estimated 13 million undocumented immigrants purported to already be within the US borders? The debate has been framed as if there are only two options: deportation or amnesty. Others prefer to address the issue by building walls in an attempt to keep illegals out. However, these structures have not proven successful, as those who seek to get in go over, under, around and through them. I believe that Scripture gives us a rough framework for a third option.
I feel that I need to begin a conversation on immigration with an acknowledgement that for some people this debate is only a thinly veiled attempt to promote racial bigotry and prejudice. If that is the mindset or motive behind any person advocating and promoting any position, it is wrong.
Scripture is filled with stories of immigrant, sometimes being unwelcome and fraudulent … Abraham is repeatedly identified as an alien in this sense (Gen 17:8; 19:9; 21:23; 23:4), as is Jacob (Gen 28:4; Psa 105:23), Moses (Exo 2:22), and Ruth, so it should be acknowledged illegal immigration is not a new problem. It dates back to as long as nations have had borders. As we look at what Scripture explicitly states, far more is said about God’s view on issues of immigration than on abortion and homosexuality.
What is interesting in Scripture is the identification of Israel as aliens, and the consistent command for Israel to extend understanding to other aliens because of their plight. “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt” (Exo 23:9). The law then continues to advocate for the immigrant when it says, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for (here it is again) you were aliens in Egypt” (Lev 19:34). Perhaps herein is a point that needs to be remembered by some as they advance their arguments: some of us can trace our own roots to entering this country illegally, including my own wife’s great grandfather. Yet even before that, the European nations did not apply for entrance visas when they entered the New World to displace the existing population.
Yet that is not the most pressing, powerful or peculiar piece of the text. That piece is found repeatedly after referencing how aliens ought to be treated God includes the statement, “I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:10, 34; 23:22). For some reason, protecting the aliens in their midst was something that God took personally, in such a manner that he calls upon his full authority and identity to frame our conduct toward them.
However, at the same time, God has an expectation that the alien living in our midst should abide by the common rule of law (Lev 20:2; 22:18; 24:22; Num 9:14; 15:14, 29, 30). “You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you” (Num 15:15-16).
So let me acknowledge those who have been adversely affected by undocumented aliens who have entered the country with bad intentions. You have a right to be upset about a system that is supposed to protect you, but has failed. If we work from the outside-in in developing a Biblical position on immigration, these verses would open up the alternative of deporting undocumented immigrants that are involved in crime. Those with evil intentions ought to be dealt with justly, however, we need to be careful about advancing a policy that does not regard fairly those who are otherwise abiding by the laws.
In the prophets, God goes on to advocate a position that condemns those who would treat foreigners unjustly just as he does for those who oppress the poor and needy … “The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice” (Eze 22:29, also Jer 22:3, Zech 7:10).
God even goes to the extent of determining a process for aiding those who are on the outside of society, including the alien … “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God” (Lev 23:22; also Lev 19:10). The foreigner Ruth picks up on this practice, as a manner of caring for herself and her mother-in-law.
Here is the rub: The ethics of the immigration debate cannot be disconnected from the reason that linkages are made in Scripture between immigration and poverty. Why are “undocumented” coming to the USA? Usually, it is to escape overwhelming poverty that exists in the land of their birth. They see hope for something other than empty stomachs and dilapidated houses on the other side of the border. Large chunks of their wages are sent back across the border to help alleviate the poverty of members of their extended families. Represented are countries that receive large amounts of aid from the United States, however, that aid is not effectively used in a way that relieves the overwhelming poverty in these neighboring countries through the development of jobs at home.
Further, it is helpful to understand how US immigration policy can have devastating effects on neighboring nations, and contribute to the flow of illegal immigration. The US immigration policy prefers those who because of economics or education have something to offer the US economy. However, while this may advance the US’s global positioning, it intensifies the downward spiral of poverty in the countries of the immigrant’s birth by producing a brain and economic drain on those countries.
Yet, God promised blessing on the Jews for proper conduct … “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place … (Jer 7:5-7).
I think it can be quickly clear to the astute Biblical observer that simply arresting 13 million undocumented immigrants and transporting them back across the border is not only an unrealistic alternative, it is inconsistent with God’s compassion for the immigrant. Beyond that, special considerations should be extended to families that have children who are natural-born citizens. It would not honor God’s priority on the home as the primary institution for relationships and wholeness to have parents ripped from their children and set back across the border, while the children are left here.
This blog is an adaption of a position paper written by Steven Chapman and approved by the FCC Elders as part of the God’s Politics message series in 2012.  We believe that Christian voters should approach the casting of their ballots as an act of worship which brings honor to God. The goal of these position papers was to present a reasoned and Biblical statement on critical political issues of the day that will let us consider how we may best honor God with our votes.

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Red Letters And Missing Verses

Blog Red LetterLet me proudly proclaim, “I am a bibliophile.” Now, before you think that is some kind of sociopathic disorder, or a propensity toward certain criminal behavior, let me let you in on a secret … a bibliophile is someone who loves and collects books.
I’m proud, as well, that I have been able to pass the love for books on to at least one of my children — I don’t know what illness has befallen my other children that they would not enjoy a love for books.
Each time my shelves fill, and am tortured by the gut-wrenching realization, I must part with some of my books to create space for more. A couple thousand have passed through my hands, some of which I have been able to place into the hands of others who would love and use them as I would myself.
Of the thousands of books I have read, one still remains my all time favorite … so much so that I have 32 different copies (make that 33 for I added another today) that I can reach from my desk, and another 4 a short walk across the office. As a matter of fact nearly all of the 2000 volumes in my office have a significant connection to this most cherished of books.
I’m sure you have guessed what it is. I am a vocational minister after all.
“The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God. The B-I-B-L-E!”
Over the last two months the FCC Chicago family has been cultivating a love for God’s word as members have participated in a 90-day challenge to read through the entire Bible. Being so closely connected with the Bible during this reading has also made me more keenly aware of what is being said by others about this “good book”.
Alarmingly, the Bible is under serious attack. Over the last two week, two particular streams of attack have caught my attention. Interestingly, they come from divergent extremes on the cultural and religious spectrum; one comes from a quite liberal persuasion, the other an extremely conservative one.
However, both viewpoints have the capacity to deceive those ill-equipped to defend the veracity of the Bible. The effect then is to embrace a lie that erodes their faith by undercutting trust in the authority of God’s word.
One side proposes a low view of the authority of most of scripture, a view that is culturally conditioned. The other has too high a view of a single translation’s authority, raising questions about the authenticity of all other translations and thus the reliability of God’s Word.
Let me mention the two issues, and give a response to each:
1) Weighted Authority Driven by Agenda
One of the complications obstructing a meaningful discussion for Christians of differing theological persuasions in the gay debate, as well as some of the other cultural issues, is that we appeal to a different Bible. Well, it is not literally a different Bible. It is that the two sides attribute different authoritative weight to different texts.
In response to my recent blog post on the FCC webpage, “ The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same“, which addressed the constants that were not changed by the Obergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS opinion, I received a provocative email response. Here is the relevant quote:
“Your biblical references quoted in this article are all advice directed toward the early church. This is NOT THE WORD OF CHRIST. There is a marked difference between Christ’s actual words and inclusive ministry, and the exclusive behavior advised by certain early leaders of the Church …”
Do you see a problem with this response? According to this respondent, my blog presented an erroneous position since the texts quoted or alluded to throughout the piece came from the pens of the apostles, and not from the mouth of Jesus. Words spoken by Jesus then penned by a disciple or his associate are considered more authoritative than words penned by one of the disciples alone. Only Jesus’ words carry cultural transcending authority.
Did you notice in the above quote the insinuation that the apostles’ letters are bigoted? Jesus was inclusive. Paul was exclusive (never mind that the two texts which may say the most about the inclusivity of the church were penned by Paul — Romans 15, and Ephesians 2:11ff).
Yet, it would be a mistake to believe that this approach to the New Testament is new. In fact, it has been developing over the last 30-40 years. It didn’t originate with the “gay hermeneutic.” It’s seeds were actually spread in the development of a “feminist hermeneutic.” Over the last decade it has become known as “Red Letter Christianity.”
How did people arrive at this view? Quite frankly, an agenda drew them there. Both the feminist and gay movements promote this “Red Letter” approach to Biblical authority, where Jesus’ words are considered authoritative, while other Biblical texts get relegated to the cultural waste can, because Jesus seems to be a better advocate for their cause than Paul, John, Peter or James.
However, the rationale that advocates of this selective authority hermeneutic must face puts them in a catch-22:
1) This first rationale is at best fanciful … “I can’t accept what a disciple wrote as authoritative, but I can accept what he wrote that Jesus said is authoritative!”
The logic is dizzying or mind-numbing or both.
Obviously, there is the belief that there are at least two levels of Biblical inspiration and/or authority. What Peter, Paul, John and James wrote was only useful to a specific church within a specific context, be they churches in Rome, Greece, Asia or Palestine. They have concluded that 2000 years later, whether the text speaks to contemporary issues or not, it is not longer relevant for us.
However, Peter affirms the equal authority of Paul’s writing with the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:16).
It appears not to dawn on the “Red Letter” advocates that Jesus was also speaking to a first century crowd. A crowd of Jews, quite unlike ourselves. How do we deduce that words spoken to a Jewish audience are relevant, while dismissing words written to a European church?
Further, if I can’t trust the authority of letters written by the apostles, how can I trust the apostolic record of what they say Jesus said?
The Jesus Seminar which was convened in 1985 by atheist Robert Funk asked that vital question. Their response was to vote by placing colored marbles into a bowl based on the “certainty” that each of the statements of Jesus were indeed authentic. When the marbles were assessed it was determined whether or not each statement had enough votes to be considered authentic or not. Their completed findings were printed with nearly 75% of the words attributed to Jesus being found inauthentic based upon their own arbitrary criteria: (1) short, catchy statements; (2) impossibilities; and (3) trust in God. Anything that Jesus might have said about himself, such as “I am the way, the truth and the life”, were looked at suspiciously. You see, the Jesus Seminar’s answer was basically you can’t trust the disciples’ record, either.
2) Which brings us to the next rationale – “While I advocate for the authority of Jesus’ words, I actually practice a selective acceptance of Jesus’ teaching.”
We have been thoroughly bombarded with these two phrases: “Do not judge,” and “Love your neighbor.” (Needless to say, these phrases are also misinterpreted and misapplied). Further, the “Red Letter” crowd loves texts that advocate for the poor and the oppressed.
However, there is a curious absence of quotations by “Red Letter” advocates on the morality, discipleship and holiness teachings of Jesus. Absent are: “Not everyone who calls to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but him who does the will of my Father’,” or “You will know them by their fruits.”
I believe that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be fully equipped for every good work”. God has not given us the authority to do a cut-n-paste Bible that only includes the texts we approve.
Yet, in some ways the third is the most perplexing.
3) The final rationale – “I might be more interested in what Jesus didn’t say than I am in what he did say.”
They doubt Biblical authority. They only appeal to certain words of Jesus. But Jesus’ silence is suppose to be a convincing argument!
Now, let me get this straight: If there are such serious reservations about what the text says about Jesus, how can we read so much into what Jesus doesn’t say?
This argument is like my son asking me if he can go to the park. But when I say, “No,” he and his friend decide they will go to the movies without permission. Imagine my response when he gives his explanation, “You didn’t say I couldn’t go to the movies.”
Here is the argument – Jesus didn’t teach about homosexuality, therefore, he would have supported the rights of gays.
One could use “there are a lot of things that Jesus doesn’t address” to unlock the door to legitimizing many hot button activities. Jesus never talked about pedophilia. Jesus never talked about beastiality. He never taught on abortion. He never mentions euthanasia.
I could say that Jesus not addressing those topics is like my parents never warning me against indulging in internet pornography. Since, I am old enough to predate home computers, let alone the internet, my parents never had to talk to me about something they never imagined. However, that analogy doesn’t quite match.
Jesus’ perceived failure to speak about these issues doesn’t suggest that Jesus was okay with them. Remember, God had established the law for the Israelites at Sinai which addressed these issues — while the specific terms may not be there, the ideas are present. Jesus was born and grew, and spent all of his life within the Jewish community. The Jews knew that these kinds of activities were sinful abominations to God. In other words, Jews knowing God did not approve did not participate in such things — so Jesus didn’t have to talk about it. That is the hard lesson in obedience and holiness that Israel struggled to learn throughout their Old Testament history.
Even then it is a stretch to say that Jesus didn’t say anything about these topics. On some of these issues, you simply have to read what he did say through different lenses.
Now, before I go on let me ask a few questions to those who don’t adhere to a “Red Letter” hermeneutic: Do you ever find that you want to pick and choose verses? Are you prone to give more weight to verses that prove your point, and conveniently downplay  other verses that don’t so easily fit into your theology? Have you ever forced the silence of scripture to support your conclusions?
I think that all of us are more prone to these bad interpretive habits than we care to admit. In essence, we are attributing the same weighted authority to texts which fit our agenda. We need be sure that we are taking the same care to properly handle the word of faith that we expect of others.
2) Weighted Authority Driven by Tradition
The other issue is rooted in a meme that is floating around the internet about the conspiracy by the NIV, ESV, etc. to remove verses from the Bible. I have seen this meme in my FACEBOOK feeds that lists 47 verses that are not in the text proper of recent translations for nefarious reasons several times a day over the last week. According to the meme there is a subversive intent to neuter the message of the Bible theologically. This conspiracy theory is chiefly driven by KJV-only advocates, but an ill-informed church has been sucked in. It is a matter of tradition over substance.
Let me assure you if you have seen these posts it is much ado about nothing. Aside from the point that if someone wanted to corrupt the Biblical message much more theologically significant verses could be removed, what you really have is an issue of textual criticism.
What we really have is some people who are so attached to the Bible that they have always had, their precious KJV, that they don’t believe God would allow it to be replaced … because it was good enough for Jesus and Paul it is good enough for them. Any new translation is the work of the devil.
(BTW – Just in case you believe the above paragraph is accurate: Jesus and Paul didn’t read the KJV. It was written 1500 years after Jesus’ death.)
Here is the background: The Old and New Testament texts were written on papyrus. As it aged, the papyrus would disintegrate requiring replacement. A church which possessed copies of a Biblical text would produce copies of their texts to share with other churches. As copies became copies of copies of copies, extra words and phrases could find their way into the text. As copyists hand copied the Biblical texts they sometimes wrote notes in the margins.  Later copyists might then copy those notes and interpolate them into the text. One such example would be the extended ending to the Lord’s Prayer, “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.” Or a copyist’s eye may jump from one word or phrase to a similar one, and perhaps the text is copied twice. At other times in the course of copying the eye of a copyist may jump to a similar one, and thus omit something.. 
As we have recovered more (in the several thousands) and older (from the early 2nd century) copies of the New Testament text, it has allowed scholars to reconstruct a more accurate text. Texts with poor/late evidence can be recognized as interpolations or as missing original content.
(As a point of reference the Iliad has just over 640 extant copies, compared to the thousands for the Bible. The King James Version was translated basically from one text, the 3rd edition of Greek New Testament by the Parisian publisher Stephanus in 1550, which relied heavily on the Textus Receptus edited in Basil by Eramus in 1516.)
Yet, these verses in question have not been removed. They have been relocated to the footnotes in your hard copies, usually with a note that explains that the text does not appear in the oldest and/or most reliable manuscripts. also includes these verses in the footnotes.
Besides the confusion that this causes people who have a real affection for the Bible, here is where this issue really gains traction. The more liberal crowd grabs ahold of this criticism and asserts: “The Bible has been copied so many times, and we have so many translations of translations we cannot be sure that we have anything that was originally written in the Bible.” I am sure that you have heard that statement lately.
But the reality is that with the quantity of extant texts that we have from the Old and New Testament, we have more evidence substantiating the authenticity of the Bible than any other document in the world. Additionally, each new translation is not a translation of a previously translation, but a new translation from the compiled Hebrew and Greek texts.
We all love our traditions. Some of those traditions that we hang on so tightly too are nothing more than our preference which we have come to codify as that is the way the Bible says it should be done. Many times those traditions that we insist on were the battles of the previous generation that we have come to baptize as true to the word.
My first Bible was a KJV. I bought it with my own money at a wholesale retailer in Sterling, IL. I remember sorting through piles of these Bibles with praying hands in front of a stained glass window on the front cover and studded with rhinestones for the date of birth of the owner. It was my only Bible for about 10 years. I studied it veraciously. This was the first Bible that I read through from cover to cover. My first sermon was preached from that Bible while in Jr. High school.

Yes, the King James Version does have some sense of poetry to it that is missing in newer translations. Yes, the King James does carry that sense of familiarity to those who grew up with it like a welcomed return of a good friend.

However, we can’t misapply that fondness for a particular translation to lead us to condemnation of other accurately translated versions of the Bible and those who use them. As we conduct ourselves in this way before a watching world, their embrace the conclusion they hear, “The Bible is unreliable.”
Here is a thought to take home: We all have to be careful that we don’t attempt to force our traditions on the Bible. Those traditions may be traditions that have a long, storied history, or they may be the current cultural winds. But we have got to let the Bible speak for itself — without us trying to put a gag on it no matter which side of the theological spectrum we come from.
Let God’s word speak. You might learn something …
— Pastor Steve
Interested in further study? Read Neil Lightfoot’s book, How We Got Our Bible.


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The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

On Friday, June 26th, the internet went a buzz with the announcement that the Supreme Court had made a 5-4 ruling in favor of Jim Obergefell in this national headline case which resulted in the national legalization of gay marriage.

The gay rights lobby loudly exclaimed the win just in time for a weekend of “gay pride” parades. FACEBOOK profile pictures turned the color of the rainbow. And some Christians joined the banter with statements about it all being about “loving like Jesus”.
Other Christians interpreted the situation much differently. It was as if “Chicken Little” had been set free to once again lament, “The sky is falling. This is the end of civilization as we know it. Expect the Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone at any moment.”
Yes, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling is a tremendously significant decision. It seeks to redefine the most basic of structural institutions within society. At the same time it raises the specter of other cases and rulings this opens up in the future: multiple spouses, young love, etc. The ripples of this decision will be felt for generations upon generations.
However, as I have had time to contemplate the decision, I have come to assess the entire event in light of this old axiom: “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
Yes, the Obergefell ruling is huge. It is a head spinning societal shift. But much more of significance has stayed the same, unaffected by the celebration or the laments.
Here are some examples of things that have not been altered by this monstrous cultural shift:
1) Governments often make decisions that are repulsive to people of faith and the God they serve.
Upon reading 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles over the last week, I feel like I can relate to the Israelites. Our contemporary political leaders, like the kings of Israel and Judah of old, have been unfaithful in the discharge of their responsibilities and have played a significant role in supporting or leading the turning of the heart of a nation away from God.
As we flip through the pages of history, we see Antiochus Ephiphanes IV who slaughtered an unholy pig on the Jerusalem altar and raised a pagan statue in the Temple to humiliate the Jews. We see Herod calling for the mass execution of Bethlehem infants for fear that a challenge to the throne had been born. We see the Caesars raising a society on gratuitous violence and sex in order to keep them settled and supportive of the empire. We see the flipping back and forth between Protestant and Catholic kings in Britain, along with the massacre of adherents to the competing faith with each swing of the pendulum. We’ve heard of Marie Antoinette’s blithe retort that the poor who were complaining about food shortages could eat cake (or sweet rolls). We still have in our recent cultural memory, a dictator that sought the eradication of an entire ethnic group – Hitler (while, the “confessing church” church sought ways to remove Hitler from power). And another that sent millions of his own subjects to the Gulag – Stalin. We remember the news reports of Saddam Hussein committing genocide on his own people. But we don’t have to limit our talk to the actions of those foreigners.
We can bring the conversation home to our own backyards. If we limit our consideration to decisions handed down by the Supreme Court we would have to begin by wrestling with Dred Scott, a slave who was transported by his owners from the slave states of the south to the non-slave north. When he sued for his freedom, the Supreme Court, in 1857, denied him the right because as a black man, whether slave or free, he could not be an American citizen thus had no right.  That decision is near universally condemned today.
We could next turn our attention to the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling which resulted in deepening segregation, as it entrenched the legal doctrine of “separate, but equal.” Indeed, it did result in separate, yet it was far from equal.
We could turn the pages to 1961 when the Supreme Court banned the practice of teacher led prayer in schools. That ban has been gradually broadened, either by uniformed school administrators, ignorant teachers, or irreligious politicians who pushed that decision far beyond the principles therein.
Finally, we can attempt to find the right to discard life through abortion which the Roe v. Wade court told us could be found within the Constitution.
No wonder Peter emphasizes that we are strangers and aliens in the world. We, as believers, will often feel as if we are outsiders because we are.
Government will never save us, but they can do indeterminate societal damage through the legitimization of evil.
2) God still sits on His throne.
To hear some Christians, you would think that the Supreme Court decision effectively dethroned God. As they presented a ruling that was contrary to God’s will, they accomplished a divine coup and have ascended to His throne.
However, God has not been removed from his seat of authority. Throughout the Old Testament poets and prophets, the message is that God is still on His throne. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and Romans were unable to dethrone God.
In the book of Revelation as the world authorities aligning themselves against God … as they promote a wide assortment of immoral and unsacred religious practices, God is unmoved from His throne.
“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was the throne in heaven with someone sitting on it” (4:2) And as the book comes to an end, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making all things new.'” (21:5).
For centuries, the Roman emperors tried to unseat God. They declared their glory. They nurtured the support and love of their people. Some willfully executed those who would not submit to their authority and proclaimed “divinity”. But in the end the emperor’s died, as did the emperor cult. And as the centuries passed, we could see into the portals of heaven … God was still on his throne.
No matter how hard we may attempt to remove God from His throne so that we can erect our own thrones that enshrine our own brilliance and wisdom, there will come a time when everyone will recognize that Christ alone is Lord:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)
No government whatever the decision will be able to unseat God. A ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States does not threaten His position.
3) Marriage is still a covenant relationship between a man and a woman.
At fifteen, my son said that he was going out with a girl, so I asked him where he was going. His response was, “Nowhere,” to which I replied, “Then you aren’t going out.” He might have called her a girlfriend. He might have said that they were going steady. But given that they never had a date with one another, you can hardly say they were “going out.”
Our culture may want to define the relationship of two gay partners as marriage, but it completely misses out on the “two becoming one flesh” intimacy that is described in Genesis 2 when Adam and Eve came together as two differents combined into a complete.
What was really accomplished by the Supreme Court ruling? What was accomplished is not what we might think. The court ruling made “gay marriage” legal, but it didn’t make it legitimate. It may have granted the gays a civil “right’, but it didn’t make it righteous.
The ruling simply changed what is considered legal in the United States, but because God is still on His throne, I don’t think God is at all impressed.
God is the one who formed the covenant of the marriage relationship. Try as we might to redefine marriage, all of our efforts amount to nothing more than doodling a mustache on the Mona Lisa. God’s design is not changed because five people in robes said that two people of the same sex have a legal right to call their relationship a marriage.
Changing our chosen designation of a relationship doesn’t change what it is.
4) People still attempt to redeem themselves in their sin by making it culturally acceptable.
God, throughout history, has had to deal with others who attempt to rewrite the narrative he has penned, and redefine the right which he designed. From the introduction of sin into the world, people have attempted to misdirect or rationalize their sin. Adam said his eating of the fruit was God’s fault because He gave him “that woman”. Eve said it was the serpents fault.

Saul tried to explain his way out his error by saying Samuel hadn’t arrived so he took care of it himself.


Paul anticipates a time when people will be more concerned about fitting into societal pursuits than into the kingdom of God: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). As I read this text, I can’t help but think Paul was talking about a time such as ours.
But when all is said and done, we will find ourselves at best draped in soiled diapers (Isaiah 64:6), or at worse “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Like the emperor we proudly display our new wardrobe to a people set aghast by our nakedness. An interesting connection of that story to our time is that the emperor had been convinced that the commoner would not be able to view the exquisite design of the emperors wardrobe because of their unrefined taste. Could it be that we are culturally parading around in our nakedness?
It seems to me that the Bible teaches that believers will not nicely fit into the world because they are citizens of another kingdom. “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your souls. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
5) People still need a saving relationship with God through Christ to truly redeem them from their sin.
Because people outside of relationship with Christ are dead in their sins, cut off from a life-giving relationship with God … because apart from Christ we are “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts”  … we are objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3), “for we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As objects of wrath, they are unable to do anything to redeem their broken relationship with God. This is where all of our lives meet. All of us are subjects of this sad state apart from Christ’s redeeming work. That is not a happy place in which to find oneself.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, we see the inept and ineffective efforts that we make to attempt to fix our relationship with God. The people understood that their relationship with God was broken, so they built a tower in an effort to allow God to come down to be with them. However, God made clear by the confusing of their languages that He will not function by man’s agenda. He is not answerable to our plans.
However, what we were unable to do ourselves, God does for us as we come into relationship with Him. He makes us alive in Christ by His grace. Into our spiritually dead corpses God breathed new life into us, as He did with Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones.
Jesus’ sacrifice has made full payment for the sins of those who would receive him. Redemption will only be found in the saving sacrifice that he offered once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Further, the wrong will not be made right until we meet God on His terms, which means that we repent and turn away from our sins (Acts 2:38) calling on His name.
6) The mission of the church is still to reach lost people and bring them into a transforming relationship with Christ.
When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, he set the agenda for his followers. They were instructed to “make disciples” by converting them to faith in baptism, and continued instruction in the life that Jesus taught to his followers (Matthew 28:19). He later says for them to be his witnesses around the world through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Paul shares his commission with the Corinthians to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation. And through history we as believers have received that call to partner with God in accomplishing his mission of bringing the whole world under the covenant blessing.
The Supreme Court’s decision has not done anything to change the agenda of the church to serve as ambassadors and witnesses of God’s work of reconciliation. It has not altered that God desires for people to be transformed into the likeness of His Son (Ephesians 4:13).
One things that we may learn is that attempting to legislate morality is not the best use of our time. Rather, we should spend time engaging in knee-to-knee conversations. We need to mix with the sinners as Jesus did in order to gain the relational capital to speak to them in a manner that demonstrates both the grace and truth of Christianity. We need to really learn how to graciously expend God’s love toward the sinner, while not giving them the impression that their sin is acceptable in God’s eyes. We need to be willing to walk with them through the long-haul of life transformation, never being satisfied with bringing someone to conversion, but aiming for a new creation, a transformed life.
So let the nations rage. Let people lift their fists in defiance toward God.
Very little has changed.
— Pastor Steve

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Time For the Church to Redeem the Racial Narrative

On June 17, people throughout the country were shocked to hear about a 21 year-old young white man going to Emanuel AME, a Charleston, SC church with black membership. The shock was not from his attending this spiritual families Bible study group. The shock was due to the reason for his attendance; sitting through a Bible study with the folks from the congregation before pulling out a gun and massacring 9 believers gathered to learn God’s word simply because their melanin levels were higher than his own.
Since then a number of attempts have been made to change the narrative of this tragic event. Some have wanted to make it a story about the need for more gun control. President Obama quickly jumped on the event as another example of his call for stricter gun laws. Yet, the gun that was utilized was not the piece of “military hardware” with high capacity rounds which has been the stated target of tighter laws, but a hand gun that was reportedly reloaded 2 to 3 times.
Others have suggested that the narrative is about the persecution and oppression of the church. However, if the issue was simply religious persecution, Mr. Roof could have stopped at any of a hundred other churches he passed enroute to this black fellowship.
Others have offered that the real narrative ought to focus on the influence of drugs on young minds. Mr. Root was found to have a history of drug usage, like many of the others involved in mass shootings over the last two decades. However, this again doesn’t address why this particular church was chosen.
Sure, some people never want the racial problems of this country to settle, so they strain every episode to make it about race, whether it was or wasn’t.
Numerous police shootings over the last seven months have been assigned to “the growing heap of shootings by racist cops”. While different episodes are highly suggestive of negligence or ineptness, there are details in these events that make it hard to determine if these events were actually racially motivated. Yet, there are significant questions about some of these events that raise the specter of racism.
This single event, however, removes the remaining shadow of doubt that we have a race problem in America. This event wasn’t about guns. It wasn’t about drugs. It wasn’t event about religious persecution. It was about a white person who acted on a deep-seated hatred of black people. A hatred so deep-seated that he carried the symbols of apartheid Rhodesia and South Africa, as well as the slavery Confederacy.
Here is what I want to know: Where has the voice of the church been in the developing the narrative on racial intolerance and prejudice? Aside from Promise Keepers movement of the 1990’s and the Mosaic movement of the 2000’s, most churches have remained strangely silent.
Worse, yet, are those times when church people have contributed to the false narrative by their poor Biblical scholarship as proponents of black subhumanity or the endorsement of slavery “because it was in the Bible”.
Sadly, I belong to a couple of FACEBOOK forums exclusively for ministers, and the tenor in those rooms has often been a narrative of denial — “We don’t have a race problem. People are just making everything about race.” Often the preferred narrative was more one of deflection — “If they weren’t so immoral, or so lazy …”
At other times, the church was the principle author of the narrative in the development of social views about race. The were primary agents for the growing anti-slavery movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. The church again stepped to the front as proponents of the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, at other times the church has seemed to write itself into the background as race issues persist.
It is time that we believers wake up. The United States has had a race problem since the rise of African enslavement to cultivate the plantations in the southern colonies. Naively, many in the church have accepted a narrative that said the racial problems have been solved, if not by the North’s victory in the “war between the states”, than by the civil rights activities of the 60’s.
Where was the church during the 1870’s when the immediate advancements of the Civil War were lost to passage of southern Jim Crow laws, the establishment of new laws that essentially returned former slaves to the oppression of the plantation? Where was the church during the terrorism of the Klu-Klux-Klan in the late 19th and most of the 20th century? Where was the church in the 1940’s and 50’s when the GI-bill ushered in another era of segregated housing by mandating that GIs may only purchase new homes in like ethnic neighborhoods? Worse yet, why did historically white churches abandon ethnically changing neighborhoods in the urban centers in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s instead of find ways to minister to the changing face of the community? Where has the voice of the church been over the last 50 years? How has the church offered their voice to addressing the issues of ethnic poverty since the war on poverty was waged?
But when a young white man walked into an African-American church to ruthlessly murder its members just because their melanin levels where higher than his own, some people were rocked from their slumber.
We in the church ought to lead our country toward the drafting of a different narrative, a Biblical narrative of race and unity. It ought to be the kind of narrative hinted at in verses like Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for they are all one in Christ Jesus.” Or Ephesians 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility …” The narrative ought to reclaim the multi-ethnic expression of a loving and active community of faith as found in the church of Antioch. It ought to introduce people to the eternal “every tribe, every people, every language and every language” nature of Christian eternity in the here and now.
In Christ there is only one race. All people are created in the image of God, and the honor of that image must be shown.
We got a hint of that as the families of the Emanuel AME slain plainly spoke forgiveness to the murder of the loved ones, instead of returning hate for hate.
However, the engagement of the church in developing the narrative shouldn’t be reserved only for times of crisis. The church should be constantly engaged in a growing narrative of multi-ethnic unity, grace and love that can become a sweeping force of societal transformation in our country, and an example around the world.
I am proud to be a part of a church that intentionally seeks to build a community in the midst of ethnic diversity, where people can be judged, not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Yet, even this church carries the stain of “white flight” of the late 50’s. When our current neighborhood began to change the Elders repented of the sin of their past. They determined to remain in our current location and minister to a changing community. God began bringing together a “family of believers” who chose to worship together because we didn’t look like one another. This week, we are mourning and celebrating the life of one of the first to intentionally cross that racial line and attend “the white church.”
God has placed churches like ours in the unique position to demonstrate that different ethnic groups cannot only stop living in hate, but learn to love one another. Through our loving each other, we speak against hate.
Yet, we as Christians need to use our voices as well to denounce intentional racism, and call out latent racism. We need to open our eyes to racial gap that is not narrowing as much as we wish it were in our society.
I’m finishing this blog this morning in a hotel room in Cincinnati, OH mere blocks away from the Red’s home field. As I sit here I remember hearing the story of Jackie Robinson’s first visit to play Major League ball against the Red’s. The Cincinnati team and fans had demonstrated the reputation of being extremely racist. On May 13, 1947, as the Cincinnati players and fans called out names like “snowflake” and “shoe-shine boy” at Jackie Robinson. The captain of the team, a slight, southerner, wearing #1 and playing shortstop, walked from his position across the infield and placed his arm around the young man wearing #42. Pee Wee Reese just kept his arm on the shoulders of Jackie Robinson. Years later, Robinson would say, “After Pee Wee came over like that, I never felt alone on the baseball field again.”
That is the kind of role the church ought to be writing for itself in the ever unfolding racial heritage of this country.
It is time for Christians to redeem a narrative that moves us from racial prejudice to racial harmony!
— Pastor Steve

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Do Christians Share Responsibility For The Dispossessed?

Do we as the people of God have any responsibility to the dispossessed; the poor, the under-served, the oppressed and the powerless?
I ask that because a recent thread lead me to believe that we no longer believe that we share any of that responsibility. More particularly, those of us with less skin pigmentation have no share in the responsibility as it relates to the plight of people of color. More than once statements where made in the thread that suggested black people should just fix themselves. Their own actions got themselves into the morally and socially corrupt culture they have developed for themselves.
Yet, I would seriously challenge the premise in that last statement:  in a historical context, consider the following implication from the development of African-American culture. When in slavery, most slave-holders did not allow slaves to marry. Couples, if identified, might be intentionally separated. The slave-holders promoted promiscuity because it would advance the owners wealth by producing saleable offspring. When children were weaned they would often be removed from their parents and sold to other owners. Is it possible that generations of slavery was instrumental in forming this Black culture that is said lacked “character” – particularly promiscuity and fatherlessness?
A ministry acquaintance expressed recently that “we can’t escape two other realities – One, the land was stolen. Two, labor was stolen for approximately 200 years. Those sins create deep systematic and enduring poverty that only can be addressed by deep repentance.”
Following slavery, the conditions of African-Americans only changed marginally. They were no longer slaves held under the whip. Yet, economically the situation did not provide much relief as former slaves found themselves in a new form of slavery as share-croppers under the hands of the landowners.
Is part of our struggle here that we have adopted a minimalist perspective of the Fall (sin is a problem between me and God), rather than seeing the Fall as a ripple effect that affected every corner of human existence and culture?

In the first salvation can also be minimized to a God and me thing. But in the second, redemption also includes seeking correction of the damage done by the ripples.
God summed up, through the words of Micah, his concern for His people to engage in taking responsibility for the poor:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Over and over God expresses his concern for those caught in the clutches of poverty; the fatherless, the widows, and the aliens in the land. Repeatedly he offers words of judgment on those who turn their back on the plight of these cultural groups.
The story of Ruth is the story of a poor foreigner who takes advantage of the God ordained provisions of leaving the edges of the field unharvested, and the spillage untouched, so that the poor and the stranger may be able to provide for themselves out of these.
James comes back to exprSDess similar sentiments in James 1:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
When you can chart an ethnic median wage gap of $20,000 over a 45 year period that has never gotten any better it ought to raise our level of concern, and not just our level of suspicion. How are the under-classed, regardless of color or social position, supposed to deliver themselves from the economic pit they are in? They don’t hold the keys to the businesses. They are unable to give themselves a wage increase, or even give themselves a job.
These are the same groups that tend to be at the poorest schools as well — to which it was suggested that they should start better schools of their own. How are they suppose to do that without financial means?
Shame on us for misusing Jesus’ statement that “you will always have the poor with you” (as I have heard used – I mean misused) as an excuse for not seeking economic justice, of not standing beside those who have been burdened with systemic issues that have exiled them outside of the concern of others.
That doesn’t mean that we have to become the support agent for those on the dole. The answer is not to give more hands outs, but more hand ups. It, also, doesn’t imply approval for the poor choices that the underserved are presently making for themselves.
But it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Solutions are usually more nuanced than this way or that way.
No, the social gospel does not displace the gospel message. However, to disengage social concern from the gospel that advances “shalom” is to miss a huge piece of the healing peace God desires to see manifested in His Kingdom.
How can we do that? … Do you have any ideas?
–Steven Chapman Read more…