Not Normal

sinister side-effect of sexual assault is the corruption of an individual’s very essence. Their soul, their core, their being. I’m not being theological with the terms here. I’m reaching for the words that describe what it means to be a human being at our crux. That’s where the wounds of sexual violence fester, and the prospect of complete waste and devastation hardens.

Last year’s self-reported, sexual abuse declaration of survival, #MeToo, spread around the globe with lightning speed. One study sought to measure the “me toos” and discovered the rates of even sexual harassment were breathtaking. The rates of unwanted sexual contact are so pervasive, one could argue it is normal. It is in and out of churches, affects men and women and children, seniors, and at a shocking rate—the disabled—people who are vulnerable to caregivers, people who have little voice, and people for whom society at large pays little attention. 

According to Vox.com, Stop Street Harassment’s survey released in February 2018, disclosed that 81% of women have been sexually harassed, while 43% of men report being sexually harassed at some point in their lives. Gay and bisexual men report higher rates of sexual harassment than straight men.

Further “normalizing” the problem is the heterogeneous nature of the perpetrators. Rarely, strangers, they are often trusted family members or friends. They are seemingly well-adjusted, fully functioning members of society who find it normal, and simply rationalize their violent behaviors away. According to the University of Michigan, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the risks come at any time of the day, and the perpetrators are operating under any number of rape myths, erroneous ideas about sexual roles, beliefs, or they are operating under the sanction of all-male peer groups, or they are operating under an often correct assumption that they will not face sanctions. Normal.

“[M]ost men who violate women’s spaces, rights and bodies sexually would not meet clinical diagnostic criteria as either sociopaths or sexual deviants,” wrote Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., author of the novel The Good Psychologist in a Psychology Today blog. “Most violence against women is committed by normative people—around campus, at work, or on the base. This raises the possibility that the violence they perpetrate appears, in context, normative to them.”

Balance that “normative violation” with the spectrum of effects for victims. The anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the enduring sense of worthlessness and self-blame cling to the inner core of each sufferer. Of interest to us, moreover, is the spiritual distortion taught and indelibly received by the sexual invasion.

Most of all, their question is, who is God, and where was He when this happened to me?

The spiritual dimension is very much affected, according to Sue Mcgrath, author of Healing the Ravaged Soul: Tending the Spiritual Wound of Child Sexual Abuse. During her 14 year counseling and then subsequent spiritual guidance career, Mcgrath’s clients who suffered sexual abuse questioned everything from their own personhood, their capacity to be saved, and the availability of God’s grace, faith, goodness and holiness. They wondered, “where is the justice in the world?” “Where are the consequences in this world?” Most of all, their question is, who is God, and where was He when this happened to me?

This is where we can step in, to answer questions and model God’s attentiveness. Not to take matters into our own hands, things are too far gone for trying to mete out mob justice or adopt some system of honor violence. After all, today’s predator very likely may have been yesterday’s prey. Today’s evil perpetrator, may have been yesterday’s innocent sufferer. And, ironically, honor violence can target the one who was violated.

No, we must start at the point of education. Educate families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, said Houston based marriage and family counselor Wilma Kirk Lee. Make sure the bathrooms at church are stocked with abuse hotline numbers, she said. Then make sure we encourage the “victims” to seek therapeutic intervention. “Our churches, the black community [in general, doesn’t] do therapists because we’re not crazy,” said Kirk Lee. “Spiritual people will tell you, ‘all you need to do is pray,’ but not so. You need some help. You need to know it’s not your fault. You can’t learn that on your own.”

I hope that in the process—we can reintroduce to people a God who understands their context, knows how to—and will indeed—mete out lasting justice, and indeed, His heart is wrapped up in theirs.




The Romans 13 Challenge, Part 1

They Quote It, But Do They Believe It?

Because imperialists have used it to crush dissent ever since Constantine baptized the Church into Romanism and militarism; and now Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III, and some Evangelical preachers are reviving the use of it; and because it is a serpentine slander of the life and teachings of Jesus; we cannot let their use of it disappear beneath the latest deluge of distractions.

Immigrant Border Crisis: We should not let the latest misapplication of Romans 13 disappear in the distractions.

What is it? It is the misapplication or the “scriptorture” of Romans 13:1-4, most recently used to rationalize the separation of families of immigrants and asylum seekers. It has been a reliable tool of “Christian” colonizers for the last 500 years. They used it to justify unjustly wresting two continents from their indigenous peoples, and then worked the newly acquired land with enslaved Africans.

Belief in a Higher Power

Want to know what’s amazing about it? While wool-covered wolves (see Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29) misrepresent this passage’s alleged command for compliance, they don’t actually believe or practice it themselves. Look at the evidence of resistance:

  1. Independence Day—American preachers of Romans 13’s supposed principle of subservience will be celebrating 4th of July fireworks today, glorifying the bloody revolt of British colonists against their God-ordained British government, because they felt oppressed.
  2. The Civil War—While Southerners were mentally whipping their slaves with Romans 13, they started the bloodiest war of U.S. history when Abraham Lincoln was duly elected president. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with the Confederacy’s first general, P. G. T. Beauregard raised arms and an enemy flag against the nation whose military and congress they used to serve. Many of the states that rebelled against their national authorities still have official state flags with patterns based on rebel flags to show that Romans 13 doesn’t apply to them.
  3. The Civil Rights Era—Soon after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and other Civil Rights advances, Southern states began flying the Stars and Bars at their government buildings in defiance of the very same government they now say is God-ordained.
  4. President Barack Obama—Many of the same right wing religious leaders and politicians quoting Romans 13 today became “The Party of No” to anything President Obama recommended:
  • No to increased health care access, in spite of how underserved their constituents might be
  • No to criminal justice reform, which should interest all those concerned about a militarized police state
  • No to environmental protections, in spite of the water crises many rural, as well as urban, residents are suffering from
  • No to fuel efficiency standards, despite their arguments that we should be less dependent on foreign oil
  • No to consumer protections, in spite of how many vulnerable people are hurt
  • And definitely no to his judicial appointments, because we don’t want activist judges—except to overturn stuff we are against!

Ministers of God?

Wool-covered wolves misrepresent  Romans 13’s alleged command for compliance, and they don’t actually believe or practice it themselves.

When leaders have been voted into office by their supporters, it becomes their turn to manipulate the law according to their ideology. As the power shifts from one party to another and policies swing from one side of the pendulum to the other, that’s politics as usual.

When the party in charge, however, tells opponents that they’re carrying out God’s will as God’s ordained agents, then they’ve gone from politics to hermeneutics. They’re proclaiming to do more than just speak for the people who elected them; they’re pretending to speak for God.

What is the basis of their pretense to speak for God? They say Romans 13 claims they’re ordained by God by virtue of being government leaders. If God hadn’t ordained them, they say, then they wouldn’t be in power. Them being in power is offered as evidence that God is speaking and working through them. Expanding from this, it is then argued that only ungodly people would dare to resist and therefore deserve whatever punishment comes to them.

Problem With Inconsistent Biblical Application

As shown above and repeated many times throughout history, politicians only preach Romans 13 when they are in power and have things going their way. When they don’t like what’s going on, they quickly find a different text.

Since they don’t believe it, don’t you buy it!

Stay tuned for part 2.

 




Jesus Loves the Little Children, (Some of) the Children of the World

 

They seemed surprised, as though they didn’t see this coming. Who is they? The 60% of white Catholics and 81% of white Evangelicals who embraced President 45’s message. What is it they didn’t see coming? Children being herded like cattle into chain-link fenced warehouses, reports of nursing infants being pried away from their mothers, and government officials abusing scripture to support severing family ties.

As a candidate in 2015, the President of the 81% voiced his admiration of and intention to reproduce Operation Wetback (yes, they really called it that) of 1954:

“Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him. ‘I Like Ike’, right? The expression. I like Ike. Moved a million 1/2 illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border. They came back. Moved them again, beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier. They moved a million 1/2 people out. We have no choice.”

Clear Choice

They didn’t see it coming? The “Two Corinthians” president wasted little time pardoning the racial profiling, tent city architect, Joe Arpaio. Why not pardon a man who shares the same contempt of the courts? Doesn’t it follow that the President would pardon a man who pioneered, on a local scale, what he promised to implement nationally?

Embed from Getty Images

Heart-breaking Images

Why don’t they see the recent images and soundbites as the logical products of their values votes at work?

What did the defenders of family values think it was going to look and sound like when law enforcement exercises “zero tolerance” on people characterized as rapists, drug dealers, thugs, and bad hombres? Didn’t we already have photos of Arizona’s tent cities? Didn’t we already have the courts demanding a halt to the racial profiling that kept those tents full?

Embed from Getty Images

 

Haven’t many of these MAGA-church members raised funds for overseas missions after seeing heartbreaking videos of scared, lonely, grieving, hungry, parentless children? And, haven’t they read about children who have been separated from family because of natural disasters, civil unrest, disease, crime, and war?  So, why didn’t they see that those images would be reproduced in our land if we implemented the political rhetoric of the last few years?

Ask about Indian boarding schools. While you are at it, ask about Japanese internment camps. Ask about the Children’s Crusade of Birmingham.  The “melanated” masses know what violence against children looks and sounds like. Why don’t the Christians who supported the candidate and now the President on these issues?

What happened to their Bibles?

What happened to “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts share its suffering. If one part is praised, all the others share in its happiness. You are Christ’s body and each of you is an individual part of it” (1 Cor. 12:26-27, God’s Word)? Why don’t the majority of “non-melanated” evangelicals empathize with the suffering that Christians of color articulate?

What happened to “He [God] makes sure orphans and widows receive justice. He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothes. So you should love foreigners, because you were foreigners living in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, God’s Word)?

What happened to “’Whoever deprives foreigners, orphans, or widows of justice will be cursed.’ Then all the people will say amen” (Deuteronomy 27:19, God’s Word)?

What happened to “The LORD protects foreigners. The LORD gives relief to orphans and widows” (Psalm 146:9, God’s Word)?

What happened to “This is what the Lord Almighty says: Judge fairly and honestly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor people” (Zechariah 7:9-10, New Living Translation)?

And What About What it Says About the Little Ones?

What happened to “Beware that you don’t despise a single one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:10, New Living Translation)?

What happened to “And he [Jesus] will answer, ‘I assure you, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me’” (Matt. 25:45, NLT)?

What happened to “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9, NKJV)?

What happened to “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10, New King James Version)?

If Jesus loves all the children of the world, why don’t His followers?




Inadvertent Oversights and the End of Time

stood at the check-out line on Easter, or as I prefer to call it: Resurrection Sunday. It was in that Spirit that I noticed the woman behind me in line. She was petite, a senior, and white. Her faded print dress once was rich with hues in blues, greens and purples. Her crocheted turquoise shrug and matching fingerless gloves, let me know she had been somewhere special.

“Did you have a good day today?” I asked her, smiling. “Yes, I went to church this morning. I’m an usher, and usually have to wear black, but today we could wear anything we wanted.”

Her keys were on a tattered “US Army” lanyard around her wrist. My eyes flitted over the items she placed on the conveyor belt—a stalk of broccoli, a couple of lemons and tomatoes, a package of chocolate meal replacement drinks, and a Red Bull.

“That’s my one sin,” she said, pointing to the energy drink.

“Wooo, don’t hurt yourself,” I said jokingly. She laughed with me, and it was time for us to move on. Just then, she put her hand on my shoulder and told the cashier, “My granddaughter here is going to pay for mine.”

My eyes must have glazed over. Did this woman in Huntsville, Alabama just call me her granddaughter? Funny. Wow, I thought. I laughed and walked away.

Missed Opportunities and Shirked Responsibilities

The Spirit pricked my conscience ever so slightly. But, I sadly confess, I was too preoccupied, too selfish, and too disconnected to pay for her. It certainly wasn’t too much for me. I just wasn’t plugged in, and my natural inclination was to keep walking. The fact that I did not recognize the opportunity to extend a little grace, was a substantial mistake. It was not willful, but inadvertent. And, that is what haunts.

Well done?

In an extensive discourse about the end times Jesus tried to explain to His disciples, the signs of the end, in Matthew 24. He discussed the preparation needed to make it through this life  (Matthew 25), in which the “wise virgins” prepared by having enough oil to last the night—the oil being interpreted to mean the Holy Spirit to guide us through to the end.

Then, in His parable of the talents, Jesus taught His people to work until He returns, using whatever means and ability they had. He ended by painting a word picture of the judgment.

To the right, He motioned for His blessed people. “Come with me, because when I was hungry, and poor and was in prison, you fed me, clothed me, and visited Me.”

“Oh?” the blessed must smile in surprise, “we didn’t know that was You, Jesus! That’s just what we do!”

“Because you did that to the least of these, you did it to Me. Enter!”

Their pattern had been ingrained; it was the substance of their characters, and by then, an unnatural tendency in a world so selfishly inclined. (See Matthew 25:34-40 instead of my personal paraphrase.)

But, it is with the same sense of surprise that the wicked, the ones bound for destruction, wonder, “Where were You, Jesus? Certainly, our oversight was inadvertent.”

“I was right there, the person you didn’t help, didn’t feed, didn’t love on, didn’t visit, didn’t care for, the one you cursed, and disrespected. You didn’t help them; thus, you didn’t help Me” (See Matthew 25:41-46 ).

Reflexive and Automatic

We draw closer to that day. We have the witness of God’s Word to remind us, and the prophetic voices behind us. During the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, we celebrated the life of one who advocated the recognition of personhood for everyone. How much of our lifestyle and collective practice comport with our reflexive and automatic, selfish inclinations?

I think we can find the answers as we examine everything from immigration, taxation, militarization and nationalism, to mass incarceration, and church participation.

We may revisit Memphis and that fateful day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a bullet for the oppressed and disrespected, but this Golden Anniversary must not overshadow the golden opportunity to change.




The Starbucks Moment: Take a Second Look

May I offer you a puzzle that I would like you to experience?  Please take a moment and identify the confusion in the following story:

A father and his son, while driving cross country, end up in a terrible car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son, bloody and badly injured, is rushed to the hospital.  In the operating room, the surgeon looks at the boy and shouts, “I can’t operate on this boy. He is my son.”  Fifty to 75% of people have stumbled in finding the solution.   The solution, recounted in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Delacorte, 2013), is this: the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Snap Judgement

Blind spots, or implicit bias, or hidden bias is the tendency to make hair-trigger associations.  Our unconscious takes over, and from among those thousands of mental artifacts and images housed in our brain, we come to a snap judgment or evaluation of a different person. We are left wondering in a conscious moment, “Now why did I think that?” 

In the story above, the very word surgeon was associated with a male by the majority of readers.  This is because of the history of gender-association in the medical profession.  We could change just one word in the story. “The nurse looks at the boy and shouts, ‘I can’t operate on the boy, he’s my son!’” Then the dilemma would have been easily solved—but not for the right reason!

Embed from Getty Images

Real-Time Application

Now, I offer you a second, more recent story—except this time it is altogether true.  On Tuesday, May 29, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores to educate its employees in the science of implicit bias. They explored those unconscious attitudes, perspectives, and assumptions often triggered when encountering the “other.” 

Bias is caused by overriding the sub-surface differences in favor of superficial, stereotypical evaluations. African American boys and African American college students and job applicants suffer explicit consequences due to implicit bias.

This decision by the Starbucks’ CEO arose from the April 12, 2018 arrest of two African-American men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson. The two men had been sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks awaiting a visitor who was a part of a real-estate transaction.  The Starbucks’ employee assumed that two black men “hanging out” in the store, and not ordering a product, must be up to something nefarious.  Video of the arrest of the two gentlemen, filmed by another customer, and taking place over the protests of a white customer, triggered a worldwide conversation about race, prejudice, and of course, implicit bias.

How pervasive is implicit bias?  According to experts in research on implicit bias, implicit bias is resident in every person they tested but in varying degrees.  In-field testing shows that real-time bias continues, and is widespread. For instance, white job applicants get about 50 percent more call-backs than blacks holding the same qualifications. College professors are 26 percent more likely to respond to a student’s email when it is signed by Brad rather than Jaquan.  And, physicians recommend less pain medication for black patients than for white patients with the same injury was what we learned from the 2004 Institute of Medicine’s healthcare disparities research. 

How Martin Luther King, Jr. Addressed Bias

But implicit bias is not new.  One of the classic exposures of implicit bias came from the civil rights era.  Dr. Martin Luther King insightfully attacked implicit bias in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.   King was responding on April 16, 1963 to the “Christians-should-model-law-and-order” criticisms of southern white clergy against the Civil Rights Movement.  We did not have the language, then, but the indictment of bias is central to what he wrote:   

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham.  But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.   I am sure that none of you want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.  It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro Community with no alternative.” [Emphasis supplied]

King skillfully called out the implicit bias of his colleagues by appealing to reason and justice.

Self-Check

How can we become aware of the implicit bias in each of us?  We can first begin the process by assessing personal attitudes and biases using the Harvard Implicit Associations Test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/.

Second, can we honestly acknowledge that all of us are prone to make snap decisions on surface appearances?  Please indulge my premise—each of us reflects implicit bias in varying degrees—whether gender bias, or racial bias, or class bias, or nationalistic bias, or cultural bias, or numerous others.  These biases are triggered by overriding the sub-surface differences among us, and losing individuality to a stereotypical association. Let me illustrate.

I shall never forget my first trip to Africa 30 years ago.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  I had desired to visit what we warm-heartedly called “the motherland.”  Accordingly, I was steeping myself in the art, culture, and writers of the continent.  I landed in Lagos, Nigeria but my clothes were mistakenly sent to Cairo, Egypt.  My host, seeing my challenging condition, arranged for me to receive some beautiful and colorful Nigerian garments to wear.  Then my host said to me, “Dr. Pollard, let’s go to town center in Lagos so that you can see the city.”  Dressed like the exquisite Nigerian, that’s exactly what we did.

Sub-Surface

While strolling downtown, a little Nigerian street child of no more than six or seven years-old, and his little brother (I assume) approached me. With his upturned palm he began speaking in Yoruba (a tribal language of western Nigeria).  I played along by nodding as if I understood his attempts to get me to give him a donation.  After about two minutes of entertaining his best and most animated appeals, I finally said to him, “I am so sorry, but I don’t understand a word you are saying.”  Then the strangest thing happened.  At the sound of my American accent, a smile crawled across his face as he turned to his little companion and began speaking in perfect English. Giggling, he said to his little companion, “Hurry, hurry!  Come over here and meet the black white man.”

I expected that I would be welcomed as a son of the soil, and of course, I was accepted during my three-week stay.  However, in that moment, the assumptions of my African-ness were restructured by the reality of a small boy’s insight. My little visitor’s quick and comical analysis revealed a profound insight. Surface appearances can trigger responses that confuse situations.  People may look alike, but subsurface differences make the difference. 

Can we honestly acknowledge that all of us are prone to make snap decisions on surface appearances?

See Me

And that’s the third point—let’s do the critical second look at our assumptions about others. Let us view them through critical lenses of their individual story and experiences.  That requires that we get to know them and to dialogue with them. And to “see” them.

So, let’s go back to Starbucks.  The tendency to associate a black male with “trouble,” “criminality,” and/or “social deviance” is unfortunate, but all too common in our society.  In fact, from their earliest years, black boys suffer from implicit bias. According to an April 5, 2018 article by Valerie Strauss published in The Washington Post, “Implicit racial bias causes black boys to be disciplined at school more than whites, federal report finds.”  As early as kindergarten, black boys suffer disproportionately from bias.  So it’s no surprise that Nelson and Robinson were singled out on that April day.  What is surprising is the comprehensiveness of Starbucks response. My prayer is for this Starbucks moment to be transforming for our society!

 

 




Jerusalem: A Prophetic Challenge

Exactly seventy years before the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, President Harry Truman was among the first heads of state to recognize the newly established state of Israel. Sanctioned by a vote by the United Nations in 1947, this new nation was to be a sanctuary, of sorts, for mostly European Jews who were seeking refuge from centuries of government sanctioned persecution in their European homelands.

Jerusalem, Israel – view of the Mosque. Jewish worshipers pray at the Wailing Wall, Friday evening starting Shabbat in the sunset, Old City of Jerusalem.

The historical record provides a morbid picture of Christendom’s England, France, Portugal, Spain, Poland and Russia carrying out terrible atrocities against their Jewish neighbors. This seemingly coordinated genocidal quest culminated with Adolph Hitler’s dreaded Holocaust that claimed an estimated six million Jewish lives!

Forgetting “Never Forget”

Gripped by global guilt, the Europeans that controlled the United Nations thought they were righting a wrong when they voted to carve out more than fifty-percent of the land of Palestine and gift it to the mostly immigrant Jewish population. They were totally oblivious to the fact that the creation of this new “state” would mean that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would be immediately colonized and disenfranchised. This callous insensibility was undoubtedly based on the fact that the very governments that sanctioned the partition of Palestine were themselves colonizers over nations and islands in Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Caribbean.

When the newly created “Jewish” Palestine became “Israel” in 1948, the “Israelis” officially aligned to the colonial quest of their European counterparts. Sanctioned, equipped, protected and trained by their former oppressors, this new “nation” fashioned a society after Jim Crow America and Apartheid South Africa—a society in which the Palestinians were the “negros.” While screaming “Never Forget” to their western compatriots whose shameful inaction had almost led to Jewish extermination, these survivors of the cruel concentration camps had themselves “forgotten” what it meant to be victimized.

Embed from Getty Images

Ignoring—and sometimes embracing—the overtly racist concept of a “Jewish” state, American Evangelicals have been firm in their support of the State of Israel. As far as they are concerned, God had masterminded the 1947 vote in the United Nations. They are steadfast in their conviction that the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob personally commandeered the return of His dispersed people to their ancestral homeland in fulfillment of select biblical prophecies. Evangelicals throughout North America proudly profess their love for the so-called “Holy Land” and its people.

A Triple Irony

Ironically, Evangelical “support” for Israel is not as pure as it appears. As far as they are concerned, the “return” of Jews to Palestine is a necessary chapter in their prophetic book. As a number of Evangelical influenced apocalyptic movies have recently demonstrated, the next chapter in the scenario features the catastrophic Battle of Armageddon that will take place in that very region and end in the deaths of many of the very Jews they now claim to love! In no uncertain terms, their support of Israel is based on theological selfishness. Unless the Jews maintain political control of Israel, they reason, Jesus cannot execute the secret rapture that leads to the Millennium.

The bigger irony lies in the fact that the Evangelical scenario is eerily similar to the same Islamic Salafi apocalyptic interpretation that has inspired ISIS and Al Qaeda. They too expect a final battle in the region when the Mahdi (the “rightly guided” Caliph) is confronted by the Dajaal (false Christ) and the forces of Gog and Magog. The disastrous war can only end when Jesus the Christ, the Son of Mary intervenes and defeats the forces of evil.

The irony behind the Evangelical and Jihadi extremist support is trumped by the irony behind Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Embassy opening. The entire world watched as the jubilant Zionist leader lauded praise on President Donald Trump for his defiant violation of international law. Bolstered by words from the prophet Zechariah, Netanyahu interpreted Trump’s rogue decision as an undeniable fulfillment of prophecy.

Embed from Getty Images
Even as he delivered his speech with the intonations of a Baptist preacher, Netanyahu was undoubtedly aware that the Christian ministers who accompanied him on the dais embraced a completely different interpretation of the events that day. He was well aware that both John Hagee and Robert Jeffress viewed this as the beginning of the end for the Jewish state. However, his eschatology tells a different story. His vision of the future sees the appearance of a Messiah who would establish the global supremacy of Israel. In his mind, this is a sophisticated game of chess, and Trump was the essential piece on the board that had placed the Evangelicals in check mate and had consequentially immobilized the Salafi jihadists.

Not A Game

The opening of the Embassy in Jerusalem may seem like an apocalyptic chess game to those Christians, Jews and Muslims who view themselves as the exclusive beneficiaries of Divine favor. However, real people are being seriously harmed by these theologically based political decisions. Even as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump posed for photos and sipped champagne with their ideological counterparts, the Israeli Defense Force was engaging in yet another massacre of oppressed Palestinians.

True believers in the God of peace will not see this as an opportunity to celebrate the fulfillment of a chapter in their prophetic timeline. Even if they are correct, what is there to celebrate when this audacious act will only lead to the shedding of more innocent blood and the fomenting of more unrest in the region? If anything, this event highlights the need for a renewed understanding of prophecy. Not prophecy in the sense of foretelling the future, but the type of prophecy where men and women of God confront societal injustice.

As the recently deceased Dr. James Cone recognized, Divine justice always sides with the oppressed. Those who claim submission to God’s will have no choice but to be God’s channels of love to those who need it most. As you ponder these words, never forget that a tree is known by its fruit.

 

 

 




Jesus Still Walks

Kanye West Wanders and Wreaks Havoc

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been renewed speculation into what’s wrong with Kanye West. He made his debut with “Jesus Walks,” and the Negro spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” playing in the background. A song in which he proclaims “the way school need teachers” and “the way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I need Jesus.” Kanye’s lyrics demonstrated a level of humility, remorse, and a desire for a new beginning:

And I don’t think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long
God show me the way because the Devil’s tryin’ to break me down

Yet Mr. West had confidence that Jesus would not only walk with him, but also:

To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers
(Jesus walks for them)
To the victims of welfare for we living in hell here hell yeah
(Jesus walks for them)

Embed from Getty Images

So Kanye seems to have gone from recognition that he’s on the wrong path and repentance for what he’s done along that path to becoming an evangelist—inviting outcasts to come to Jesus. He seemed to be on the verge of taking part in the church’s mission to reach people the church struggles to connect with.

That Was Then

However, that was before he publicly confessed that he sold his soul to the devil. It was also before he referred to himself as Jesus. And none of the former humility was present when he boldly stated that if the Bible was written today, then he would be in it—because of how important he is. (You can look all that up on YouTube. I don’t want to deprive you of the thrill of discovery.)

His defenders will say critics just don’t understand his musical genius. They’ll say he was just entertaining or being parabolic when he said he sold his soul. He’s just a deep, independent thinker. . . Perhaps I should let another line of “Jesus Walks” answer that:

We rappers is role models: we rap, we don’t think

The “Choice” of Many

Perhaps a little more thought is in order before a black man says that black people chose to stay in slavery. Perhaps a little more homework would have informed West of freedom fighters like Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, Madison Washington, and Charles Deslondes. Such homework will point out that freedom was often thwarted by blacks who sold their souls and their own people to stay in the good graces of their masters. Such homework will point out that every effort at freedom only resulted in stricter, more inhumane slave codes —upheld and enforced by every branch of government.

Negro spirituals like “I want Jesus to walk with me” developed not because there was a market for them, but because there was almost no physical or familial consolation available. Enslaved people were treated worse than animals and maliciously separated from family on a regular basis to maintain social control. Jesus heard their cries and He did walk with them. That’s the only reason they–we–didn’t become extinct. Jesus walked with and preserved blacks (and Natives) in America, as a testimony against it.

Wishful for Yesteryear

Whenever zealous movements to return to yesteryear “greatness” when the founding fathers were all “christian” champions of liberty and justice, the historical witness of hundreds of years of stolen land and labor confront the conscience of the United States of Amnesia. Lowercase “c” is intentional because many of them were Deists and even those who proclaimed Christ, practiced and cooperated with the devilish subjugation of other humans. They weren’t merely products of their times, but producers of their times. Just review this portion of Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence:

“He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incure miserable death in their transportation hither. This piratical warfare, the opprobium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain.”

White-washed

Wonder why the condemnation of slavery didn’t survive the final edit? Since they were establishing a new nation upon the virtues of life and liberty, couldn’t they have ended this “cruel war against human nature”? Why did Jefferson continue to build his fortune on the backs of hundreds of “people who never offended him”?

These are questions that anyone, especially a black man, needs to answer when promoting MAGA (Make America Great Again). What era of greatness do you want us to return to? Who was it great for? What did that greatness cost others? And would Jesus walk in support of that? The redcap PR specialists know the historical references they’re rallying around, but West has betrayed the historical figures that helped him live the life he now enjoys.

Where Jesus Walks Now

Yes, Jesus still walks, even when we go astray. I hope Kanye still acknowledges his need of Him. We all need Jesus. Many of us still sing in one way or another of our desire for Him to walk with us. How can we know we’re walking on the right path to meet Him? Should we save up for a tour of Jerusalem to see where He once walked? Or is church the only place He’s walking now?

Thank God the answer to the last question is NO!

Church is a good place to reunite on a weekly basis with others who enjoy walking with Jesus. But He is much more accessible than that. If walking or talking with Jesus scares you because its been a long time, consider the next few passages.

  • Romans 8:31-34 (God’s Word): “If God is for us, who can be against us? God didn’t spare his own Son but handed him over [to death] for all of us. . . Who will accuse those whom God has chosen? . . Christ has died, and more importantly, he was brought back to life. Christ has the highest position in heaven. Christ also intercedes for us.” In other words, Jesus is only a prayer away. He sees, hears, and is acting on your behalf. God has already shown there is nothing He won’t do to give you a meaningful and eternal life.
  • Psalm 34:18 (God’s Word): “The LORD is near to those whose hearts are humble. He saves those whose spirits are crushed.” When we’re at our lowest, that is when Jesus is likely the closest. Call on Him during good times and bad. Our great need is our most powerful argument for Him to walk us. But pride and self-sufficiency is like repellent in His presence.
  • Romans 8:26 (God’s Word): “At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words.” Praying isn’t so much about knowing the right words to say. God is looking for quality time and honest conversation with us. His Spirit knows our intentions and helps get our thoughts together.

Finally, an interesting perspective on that trip to Jerusalem in order to walk with Jesus:

“Some. . . feel that a great object would be gained if their feet could tread the soil of old Jerusalem. But God’s cause and work will never be advanced by His workers wandering about to find where Jesus traveled and wrought His miracles. Would you trace the footsteps of Christ, behold Him in that hovel, ministering to the poor; see Him at that sick bed, comforting the suffering, and speaking hope and courage to the desponding. Those who walk in the footsteps of Jesus will do as He did. ‘Whosoever will come after me,’ He said, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’” (E.G. White, Pastoral Ministry, p. 224).

Jesus still walks. Are we walking with Him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Heaven’s Help for Our Addictions

Someone I knew who was highly educated and highly respected in his profession became addicted to cocaine for several years. There was a serious problem that he found out about, and it devastated him. I heard that he thought he could use the drug once, and stop. Obviously, he needed counseling. He didn’t seek it though. Because of his professional degrees he knew that what he was doing could kill him if he didn’t stop.

I believe in the power of prayer, so I prayed for him for him, and it took several years. I saw what prayer does. He finally quit, and gave his life totally back to God. Sometime afterward, he became very sick and wound up in the hospital.

I received a call one day that his life was hanging in the balance. He was in a coma. When I walked into his hospital room, I saw peace radiating on his face.

Sometimes a person in a coma can hear, even though they can’t respond. I prayed about what to say while I was there, and God gave me words of encouragement to say in Jesus. Then, I decided to turn on the television just to see what was on.

As Providence would have it, a Christian choir sang passionately the beautiful hymn, “Amazing Grace.” This dear man had sung in some of the best choirs, and he was an equally gifted instrumentalist. The music stirred something deep within him. He started to make sounds as if he was trying to sing. When the choir got to the words “and He saved a wretch like me,” he turned over and said, “I’m sorry.” His face shone so peacefully. Those were his last words. This was on a Friday. He died after I left the hospital, just before the sun set.

I know this story to be true because he was my brother. I know this story to be true because I know only God can turn things around like that!

No one is beyond help, if they choose to be helped. Most cities operate counseling and group resources for people and families dealing with substance use and abuse. For family, friends, church members, and co-workers, one of the keys to helping people is showing love, not condemnation. Along with these, however, the ultimate Counselor can, and will help.

Substance abuse

Definition: pathological use of alcohol or drugs, characterized by daily intoxication, inability to reduce consumption, and impairment in social or occupational functioning; broadly, alcohol or drug addiction. www.dictionary.com/browse/substance-abuselong-term

His name is Jesus, our Creator and our Savior. He came down to this earth from heaven on a rescue mission, to rescue all of us from the devil. He took on our sins, and gave His life for us on the cross of Calvary.

When He was on this earth, He reached out and hung out with people who had all kinds of issues. He healed people physically, mentally, and spiritually. He is willing and able, even now to help anyone who asks. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Read verses 24-26).

No matter what a person has done, even those who have committed crime, he or she can and will be forgiven by God. All any of us needs to do is ask for His forgiveness, and help from Him to live the life He wants us to live.

God the Father gave His Son Jesus, who willingly died on the cross for all of our sins (Read John 3:16). The ground at the foot of the cross is level, I always say. Jesus rose from that tomb and is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God our Father, praying for each and every one of us.

Think about this, our Creator and Savior is praying for each and every one of us. Finally, here’s another dose of hope from the words of Jesus (John 14:1-3): “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”



This article is part of our 2018 March / April Issue
Subscribe –>

 

 

 

 

 




Golden Opportunity and the Golden Anniversary

I missed my chance to be the change I want to see this week. Change, however, is more than chance.

This week saw the death of Winnie Mandela, and the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was no shortage of commemoration or memorialization. But, what happened to me on Sunday, shifted my consciousness and course for the rest of the week, and caused me to contemplate the golden opportunity in this Golden Anniversary.

I stood at the check-out line on Sunday, yes Easter, or as I prefer to call it: Resurrection Sunday. While shopping, I noted how far we’ve come since I was a child when Easter was a holy day and the stores were closed, gas stations shuttered, and the roads were clear. Though Sabbath keepers who celebrated the day before, or perhaps attended a sunrise service that morning, we learned to dress appropriately and conduct ourselves with requisite respect for a day recognized as the day Christ rose from the grave.

In was in that Spirit that I noticed the woman behind me in line. She was petite, a senior, and white. Her faded print dress once was rich with hues in blues, greens and purples. Her crocheted turquoise shrug and matching fingerless gloves, let me know she had been somewhere special.

“Did you have a good day today?” I asked her, smiling. “Yes, I went to church this morning. I’m an usher, and usually have to wear black, but today we could wear anything we wanted.”

She was alert and friendly. On her game. I could see why she is an usher.   Fun to talk to. Her keys were on a tattered “US Army” lanyard around her wrist. My eyes flitted over the items she placed on the conveyor belt—a stalk of broccoli, a couple of lemons and tomatoes, the package of chocolate meal replacement drinks and a Red Bull.

“That’s my one sin,” she said, pointing to the energy drink.

“Wooo, don’t hurt yourself,” I said jokingly. She laughed with me, and it was time for us to move on. Just then, she put her hand on my shoulder and told the cashier, “My granddaughter here is going to pay for mine.”

My eyes must have glazed over. Did this woman in Huntsville, Alabama just call me her granddaughter? Funny. Wow, I thought. I laughed and walked away.
Embed from Getty Images

 Missed Opportunities and Shirked Responsibilities

The Spirit pricked my conscience ever so slightly. But, I sadly confess, I was too shocked, too preoccupied, too selfish, and too disconnected to pay for her. It certainly wasn’t too much for me. I just wasn’t plugged in, and my natural inclination was to keep walking. Oh, but while He prodded gently there, in grace, He came back to arrest my sensibilities, full force.

While I didn’t care that she was little, old, or white, and I didn’t care about the $20 it would have cost me, the fact that I did not recognize the opportunity to extend a little grace, was a substantial mistake. It was not willful, but inadvertent.  And, that is what haunts.

Well done? When selfishness becomes our reflex, meditation upon the suffering, sacrifice and resurrection of Christ enables His servants to change.

In an extensive discourse about the end times Jesus tried to explain to His disciples, the signs of the end, in Matthew 24. He discussed the preparation needed to make it through this life to the end (Matthew 25), in which the “wise virgins” prepared by having enough oil to last the night—the oil being interpreted to mean the Holy Spirit to guide us through to the end. Then, in His parable of the talents, Jesus taught His people to work until He return, using whatever means and ability they had. He ended by painting a word picture of the judgment, in which He decides who comes with Him, and who suffers destruction that will last forever.

To the right, He motioned for His blessed people. “Come with me, because when I was hungry, and poor and was in prison, you fed me, clothed me, and visited Me.

“Oh?” the blessed must smile in surprise, “we didn’t know that was You, Jesus! That’s just what we do!”

“Because you did that to the least of these, you did it to Me. Enter!”

Their pattern had been ingrained; it was the substance of their characters, and by then, an unnatural tendency in a world so selfishly inclined. (See Matthew 25:34-40 instead of my personal paraphrase.)

But, it is with the same sense of surprise that the wicked, the ones bound for destruction, wonder, “Where were You, Jesus? Certainly, our oversight was inadvertent.”

“I was right there, the person you didn’t help, didn’t feed, didn’t love on, didn’t visit, didn’t care for, the one you cursed, and disrespected. You didn’t help them; thus, you didn’t help Me” (See Matthew 25:41-46).

Like a scene straight out of “Maury” or “Jerry Springer”—or a “Housewives” or any Tyler Perry film—they get hot, curse, and fight. Church wigs and pocket squares flying, the fire of everlasting destruction licks at their heels.

As the angels usher them through the door on the left, they scream, “Wait! We never even saw You!

Reflexive and Automatic

We draw closer to that day. We have the witness of God’s Word to remind us, and the prophetic voices behind us. In the King celebration we celebrated the life of one whose aims and energies advocated for the basic personhood of everyone. We also learned the results of an autopsy that confirmed that police resorted to shooting another unarmed man, in the back. A few days later, in a different city, another shooting resulted in the death of a mentally ill black man who wielded a plumbing fixture.

This pattern, while not readily acknowledged as such, certainly is reflexive and automatic. How much of our lifestyle and collective practice comport to our reflexive and automatic, selfish inclinations? I think we can find the answers as we examine everything from immigration, taxation, militarization and nationalism, to mass incarceration, and church participation.

We may revisit Memphis and that fateful day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a bullet for the oppressed and disrespected, but this Golden Anniversary must not overshadow the golden opportunity to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Mass Shootings Have Led to Mass Numbness

Half a million kids plan to wake us up.

Can we find solutions by seeking the interests of others?

Even in the painful aftermath of the February Parkland, Florida school shooting, the gun debate has gone nowhere. The reoccurring cries of proponents and opponents of gun control continue to rise again. Instead of seeking a policy solution, Americans seem numb.  From Columbine to the present, we have failed to find meaningful solutions to reduce mass shootings at schools through gun control.

This weekend’s March for Our Lives, with its expected turnout of at least 500,000, hopes to jolt Washington out of the cycle of rhetoric, soundbites, and inaction.

Embed from Getty Images

2018 Mass Shooting Deaths, By the Numbers

According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of March 21, 2018, America has had 48 mass shootings. Those shooting led to 63 deaths and 189 injuries. The Archive defines mass shootings as four or more killed or injured, not including the perpetrator. The Parkland Shooting remains the most devastating mass shooting this year, 17 deaths and 17 injuries.

Known for its unyielding fight in the right to bear arms, The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a leader in firearms education training. The NRA website includes more than 125,000 certified instructors that train more than 1 million gun owners a year. The group began as a firearms training and education association for marksmanship. It has strengthened its focus to defend Second Amendment through the years. With the “right to bear arms” central to its cause, has the NRA become numb to its roots?

“Ineligible” Voters, but Eligible Voices

For nearly two decades, the NRA has fought challenges to gun control legislation at the federal and state level. The NRA faces its toughest test in the survivors of the Parkland Shooting. These survivors, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, show no signs of letting up, though most of them are ineligible to vote. Through social media and mass protests across the nation, these survivors demand support in forcing national and state legislatures to pass meaningful laws to reduce gun violence.

Embed from Getty Images

Although these survivors are ineligible to vote, they do have a window of opportunity to make change. According to the independent Quinnipiac University National Poll, American voters support stricter gun laws 66-31 percent. This represents the highest level of support conducted by this organization. In addition, the Quinnipiac University National Poll cited support for universal background checks as 97-3 percent among gun owners, 67-29 percent for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and 75-17 percent that Congress needs to do something to reduce gun violence.

Twenty-two years ago, Australia banned rapid-fire guns after 35 people were killed in Port Arthur. According to a 2016 Journal of American Medical Association article, Australia has not had a mass shooting incident, a single incident in which five or more people are killed, since. Could the United States reap the same benefits if we banned rapid-fire guns the way Australia did, or are we content remaining numb?

Embed from Getty Images

Serve the Interests of the Vulnerable

In light of the Parkland Shooting, The Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence identified three policy solutions that relate to this incident: prevent access to guns by enacting laws for safe storage, raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy semiautomatic weapons, and disarm dangerous people.

From a biblical perspective, I found our motive and policy solution to reduce gun violence in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others.”

In considering the victims family and the survivors, I support conducting universal background checks.  We should require training for anyone who wants to purchase a gun, at age 21 years or older. I also support banning rapid-fire guns as they did in Australia, and enacting laws for safe storage.

It’s hard to be numb when you look out for the best interest for others, more than yourself.