BEWARE OF MEDIA BIAS

outofblanceTwenty-five years ago, I got my first real education into the way that media bias can drastically transform a story. Being an eye witness to what took place and then seeing how those same events were portrayed in our evening news helped me to recognize that a story can be distorted just as easily through creative editing as it can by an outright lie. Tragically, objective and impartial news has become something that is almost extinct. Too often, news reporters today (right or left) are more interested in proving their narrative of the world than they are in objectively and unbiased reporting the news and we, who are the consumers of the news they report, need to compensate for this shortcoming. Impartiality is always difficult, but it is something we must strive for if we care about the truth at all. And when those who report the news no longer willing to strive for impartiality, then we need to work even harder to overcome their failings or we will end up being taken in by their lies.

 

How my education began

Our local school board had introduced material into the Jr. and HS curriculum that contained significant portions of text that were nothing short of pornographic. This curriculum was introduced under the guise of “multiculturalism” and our community was outraged when content of that material was revealed. At the school board meeting following that revelation, the room was overflowing with angry parents. During the portion of the meeting reserved for public comment, the normal rule of alternating speakers on each side of the issue had to be changed because those desiring to speak in opposition to the schools board’s decision so vastly outnumbered those who were supporting it. After a tally of all speakers was made, it was decided that for each person speaking in support of the school boards decision, five people would be permitted to speak against it. About half way through the public address, the principle from one of the schools spoke in support, her speech began as follows “You, board, should be ashamed of yourselves because you have already allowed parents to have far more input into the curriculum of our schools than is proper! These are not professional educators and they should not be influencing……” This is about as far as she got before the room full of angry parents erupted. It took several minutes for order to be restored, and one man, who would not calm down, was escorted from the meeting by the police.

 

What was presented on all of our local news channels that night

The news that evening showed excerpts from five speakers during the public address section. They chose excerpts from four speakers who had supported the school boards decision, and they chose the most well articulated portions of their speeches, even though these four speakers represented only a tiny fraction of the total number of speakers, and they choose one of the least educated and least articulate speakers to represent the views of the vast majority who had attended. Then they showed video of the irritate man being led away by the police, but did not air the portion of the school principle’s speech that led to the rooms eruption or make mention of the reaction of the rest of the room to her comments. Those who watched the news that night were left with the impression that almost everyone in attendance, with the exception of a few uneducated angry parents, supported the schools decision.

 

What I learned that night

  1. It is important to consider both what has been reported and what may have been left out.
  2. It is important to look for other sources to collaborate what is being said. For example, a review of the published school board minutes would have revealed a perspective that was contrary to the reports on the news that night.
  3. It is important to consider the biases of those who are reporting the news, and what story we believe that they would like to tell.

When we watch the news, we need to recognize that far too often the story we hear is the one the reporter wants to tell, even when it is very different from the actual events that took place. We need to do our do diligence and look for reliable source to collaborate the story we have been told. And we need to be even more careful to verify sources that appear to support our own perspectives, knowing that it far easier to blindly accept information that seems to support our perceptions.

Stand United

UnitedI think that Jason Foster has a lot of good things to say and his articles are often thought provoking, but in his article, Why ‘God And Country’ Christianity Is Just Another Phony Prosperity Gospel, he really took a wrong turn. The “false gospel” he confronts in this article (while it is truly a false gospel), is not something that is taught in our churches. This false gospel is the invention of Emergent church leaders like Bell, McClaren, Evens, etc… who needed something to rebel against and, sadly, too often we have uncritically given legitimacy to their false narrative and then beaten ourselves up over it.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t some merit to the issues he raises; there is, and Jason has almost hit the nail on the head as he tries to identify them. But, as he rightly pointed out in another article, “in a spiritual context, being almost right is often the same as being all the way wrong.While I share many of the concerns Jason raises in this article, issues that should deeply concern all of us, and I too have been appalled by some of the rhetoric voiced by a number of our prominent evangelical leaders during this political season, I believe that mis-characterizing their beliefs and exaggerating their errors does not help to bring correction, but only deepens our division.

I, like I believe Jason also does, truly hope that we, as the body of Christ, will take a hard and critical look at the mistakes we have made and be unafraid to loudly voice those concerns to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but let’s stop using the false narrative of those who truly hate the church to beat one another up.

Racism: What is it?

Racism Definition3

It is become quite popular, especially in our media and our universities, to suggest that only those who are “white” can be racist. Frequently new definitions of “racism,” not found in any of our dictionaries, are offered in support of this claim. Armed with these new definitions CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill states that black people don’t have the institutional power to be racistand Huffington Post reporter Zeba Blay tells us that Reverse racism isn’t real.” The core of their argument is that “racism” cannot be committed by those who do not have the political power to institutionalize it. And while It is true that the potential for harm caused by racism is greater when those controlling political power are able to institutionalize racist polices, racism isn’t defined by the amount of institutional power that a person or group controls; racism is simply prejudice against another person because of their race. And that kind of prejudice frequently harms those who are targeted by that prejudice, even when it is not institutionalized. Racism is always wrong whether it is being perpetrated by Klu Klux Klan against black people or by Louis Farrakhan against white people. If we truly want to end of racism in America then all of us, regardless of the color of our skin, need to stand united against all forms of racism, recognizing that it is ALWAYS WRONG! In his march on Washington speech, Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This is a dream worth fighting for, and it is time for us as a nation to again strive towards that dream and to stand united against anyone who, black or white, dares to stand in the way of achieving it.

 

LET’S STOP PRETENDING!

What happened to Alton Sterling is NOT the same as what happened to Philando Castile!

Not_The_SameThere has been a rush to present both tragedies as identical by far too many on both sides of the political spectrum. Our president, and much of the media, has presented both incidents as identical examples of unjustified police shootings and a pattern of police abuse against our black citizens, neighbors, and friends (even before  the evidence is in). Their irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled response to these tragedies has only served only to widen an already growing division in our country and has escalated violence against the men and women who put their life on the line to serve and protect our citizens every day. Now some conservative sources have begun responding with the same irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled tactics, vilifying both men who were shot (again before the evidence is in), and placing the blame for both of these deaths on the shoulders of the men who were shot and killed. Doing this serves no one and only hurts our neighbors who, regardless of their political leanings, need our love now more than ever. ENOUGH ALREADY, JUST STOP!!!

Portraying these two incidents, that are so very different, as if they were the same is unjust and leads only to distrust, hurt, and anger that further divides us all. While it is still early in both investigations, and it is possible that new information could come to light in either of these investigations that would paint a very different picture than what is known today, it doesn’t seem likely. Without new evidence, justice requires that we look at each of these incidents very differently. If we, as a nation, continue to huddle into our own political corners, looking for “facts” to fit “our” narrative, while ignoring the facts that don’t, we will only exasperate the problems that continue to further divide our country.

Why are they different?

Philando Castile had no criminal record and apparently was legally carrying a firearm and informed the officer of this fact. His girlfriend, after the shooting, was completely compliant with the officers and there is currently no reason to believe that Mr. Castile was not also fully compliant with the officer’s orders before the shooting took place. While there are some rumors that suggest that he may have been pulled over based on a case of mistaken identity, that alone does not justify the shooting. Having been in a similar situation where I was held at gunpoint by officers who believed I was a criminal fleeing from a crime scene, I am very thankful that most officers do not shoot their suspects with such ease. In this situation, not only was someone shot without cause but after the shooting took place, neither officer handled the situation appropriately. Neither officer made any attempt to administer medical aid to the person whom they had just shot, but instead they arrested, handcuffed, and transported the girlfriend to the police station, treating her as a criminal. She was not permitted to be with her boyfriend who was shot and dying, nor was she permitted to be with her daughter who had just witnessed this tragedy. While I would not conclude, based on the evidence we have today, that this shooting was motivated by race, I do believe that it is an example of extremely gross negligence by both officers, and if what we know now proves to be true, both officers should be fired, and the one who pulled the trigger should be charged with felony manslaughter.

Alton Sterling was a felon with an illegal firearm and was unwilling to comply with the officer’s orders. Because of his unwillingness to comply, he was wrestled to the ground by the officers and was still fighting them when one officer believed that he was attempting to use his gun against them. While, given the evidence we have at the moment, it is unclear whether the officer was mistaken, there is little doubt that this is what he believed at the moment he fired his weapon. In the midst of a struggle, like the one that was taking place, it is entirely understandable that something could have been miss-perceived but such a miss-perception (if it was a miss-perception) would not change the circumstance of this case. People need to put themselves in the shoes of the officers involved and recognize that if the officer was right and had hesitated for even a tiny fraction of a second, one or more of the officers could have been killed. Officers, who put their lives on the line daily to protect and serve their community, deserve to come home to their families at night, and the constraints that many desire to place on them would mean than many more of them would not make it home. While it is horrible tragedy when anyone is killed, the blame for this killing must lie on the shoulders of the one who initiated the situation and, in this case, that person was Mr. Sterling. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, anyone who chooses to become physically violent with a police officer should understand that he is putting his own life at risk when he chooses to do this.

Please, please, let us step out of our political corners and come together to look for real solutions to the real problems that confront our nation! If we are going to survive as a nation, we must be willing to truly listen to those on all sides and set aside our own misconceptions. Ultimately this begins when we are willing to look at everyone through they eyes of the one who created us all and who loves each of us so dearly. Only then will we begin to understand the value of each life that has been lost and weep, as God does, for each and every one of them.

 


 

Note: For those who will automatically assume that I wasn’t shot only because I am white, I can assure you that the officer in my case could not have known the color of my skin until after the perceived threat was over.  He saw only a man in a car with his high beams aimed at him. Additionally, while I was completely unaware, the officer had more reason to believe that I was acting aggressively towards him than it appears that the officer who shot Mr. Castile did.

My response to a Millennial

MillennialDear Jonathan,

I read your letter to the church, and while I am not a Millennial, I personally share many of the same preferences espoused by you in your letter; I too often long for the liturgy and music of prior generations. Many of the criticisms you raised really have merit and they are things that we should prayerfully consider. That being said, I want to share with you some of the reasons why I believe that any church that responds to your letter by making any of the changes you suggest, would be making just as big a mistake as the churches a generation ago did when they abandoned these very same things in favor of everything that they were told would attract the next generation to their churches. While nothing you have suggested is bad, and some is even necessary, our change should always be motivated out of a desire to conform the church to the call of Christ that is communicated to us in his word. We should never seek to change in response to the call of anyone telling us what their generation desires.

More importantly, what your “Dear church” letter, like so many before it, communicates is a complete misunderstanding about what the church truly is. To the believer in Christ, the church is NEVER “them,” it is ALWAYS “us!” And if the church has failed, it is WE who have failed. The church should never be seeking to conform itself to the desires of any one group, it must always be seeking to conform itself to Christ, who is its head. The church isn’t here to capitulate to the desires of any generation, nor do the failings of the church rest on the shoulders of any single generation. Anyone, from any generation, who wants to place blame for the failures of the church on those from another generation doesn’t understand the church at all. Please, instead of writing another letter to church explaining what the church must do in order to attract those from your generation, please start asking how you, as part of the body of Christ, can strive to be Christ to every generation!

As for your questions, I am very sorry than many of the tough questions that you have asked have been too often ignored, please don’t stop asking! I understand because I too have many questions, and while I have found answers to many of them, often those answers prompt many new questions and so I too am still asking. Here are some things I have discovered as I have sought answers. First, God has not created us all with the same curiosity, nor has he given us all the same gifts. Many will not be able to provide adequate answers to life’s deepest questions because that is not how God has gifted them. Seek answers from those, who share the same God given curiosity and desire for answers that God has placed on your heart. Second, take the time to really read the works of the great theologians of ages past. You will quickly find that there have been many godly men throughout history that have also struggled with many of the very same questions you that you struggle with, and often they have discovered some really good and thoughtful answers through their struggles. Third, recognize that many who claim not to have found answers to their questions, really have had no interest in seeking those answers. While some really do struggle to find answers to questions that nag at them, many use the claim of “unanswered questions” only as an excuse for not following God. The difference is that those who are truly looking for answers quickly engage when there is hope that some of their questions may be answered, but those who only want an excuse become immediately disinterested when any answers are offered. Learn to recognize the difference between the honest seeker of truth, and “intellectual” rebel who has no interest in the truth. Last, but most important, invest your heart into the study of God’s word because the ultimate answers to life’s questions lie within its pages. It often takes time, prayer, and hard work to discover them, but I am convinced that you will find that it is always well worth the effort.

In closing, I would like to share with you my very favorite “letter to the church.” It is a prayer that was prayed by the prophet Daniel, a man whose life exemplified godliness. Notice that when Daniel speaks of how God’s people have fallen short, he always includes himself (count and see how many times Daniel says “we/our/us” in this passage), and notice how often he holds himself (as one of God’s people) accountable to obeying God’s word. Daniel’s desire is to see God’s people conformed to God. Not once does he ever suggest that God’s people should conform to the desires of any man (or generation). Let’s take a look at his prayer, I really believe it is the model we should follow as we seek to encourage the church (which includes all followers of Christ) to change:

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan. 9:4-19 ESV)

May God bless you,

Mike Tisdell

If you are white, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!

Keep Your Mouth ShutOne of the most troubling aspects regarding the current national dialog about racism in America is the almost unanimous presumption that only people of color have anything valid to say about racism. Those who’s skin is not black are expected to listen and agree with what blacks have to say on the topic of racism and this expectation has only been exasperated by events at Ferguson, MO. It is frequently insinuated that white people cannot truly participate in this dialog because racism runs so deep within them that they don’t even know when they are acting out on their racism. CNN reporter John Blake argues this point strongly in a recent article. He begins making his case by citing the following “classic study” on racism, here is what he says:

In a classic study on race, psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that produced a surprising result. They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man. When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people — black and white — incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

However, while frequently cited, this “classic study on race” simply does not exist. The actual study was a study on ‘rumor chains’ conducted by G.W. Allport and L. Postman in 1947. Ironically the frequently inaccurate and changing portrayal of this study in the psychological literature demonstrates, as the real study shows, how stories can evolve as as they pass through the ‘rumor chain’ but it does not support the claim of racial bias so frequently claimed when this study is cited. In 1989 Molly Treadway and Michael McCloskey from Johns Hopkins University Department of Psychology published a paper titled “Effects of Racial Stereotypes on Eyewitness Performance: Implications of the Real and the Rumoured Allport and Postman Studies” in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 3, pgs. 53-63 dealing with the facts and rumors regarding this study. Here is an excerpt from their paper.

This account [as described in the CNN article] of the Allport and Postman study has appeared widely in the eyewitness psychology literature (e.g. Clifford and Bull, 1978; Ellison and Buckhout, 1981; Marshall, 1980; Luce, 1977; Sannito and mcGovern, 1985; Woocher, 1977), and in expert psychological testimony on eyewitness performance (e.g. Shomer, 1984). As we pointed out in an earlier article (Treadway and McCloskey, 1987), however, the account is seriously inaccurate. The Allport and Postman experiments involved a ‘rumour chain’ procedure in which a subject described a picture, while looking at it, to a second subject who could not see it. The second subject then recounted the description as fully as possible to a third subject who had neither seen the picture nor heard the initial description. This procedure was continued until six or seven subjects had listened to a previous subject’s description and then attempted to repeat what they had heard … the only people who actually saw the picture described the scene while looking at it.

In their paper, they document several attempts to produce a study that mirrors the one that was rumored to have taken place; however, none of their attempts produced the results claimed by those who have wrongly cited the Allport and Postman study in support of the conclusion on racism. It turns out that the study that is most frequently cited to support the conclusion that people are unknowingly racist is nothing more than a rumor itself.

What about the many anecdotal stories that black people tell us about being stopped by cops without cause? Surely these stories demonstrate that blacks are being unfairly targeted by police, right? Let’s take a look at a couple examples of the kinds of stories we are told that are intended to demonstrate that cops are racist against blacks.

“I was just sitting in my car, minding my own business, when three cops approached me with their guns drawn and asked me to get out of the car with my hands up. They said that there had been a robbery in the area and that they believed that I might be the robbery suspect. They humiliated me by frisking me in front of a dozen of my friends.”

“I had just purchased my first vehicle and was driving down the freeway when a cop began to tailgate me. I wasn’t speeding and yet this cop continued to tailgate me for about 15 miles, occasionally pulling along one side of my car or the other side and then back right behind me. I was quite nervous because this continued for what seemed like an eternity. Despite making sure that I didn’t exceed the speed limit the entire time, the cop eventually turned his lights on and pulled me over without cause. He then proceeded to ask for license and registration and then began inspecting my vehicle, looking at my tires, having me demonstrate that all of my lights were working, etc…, the cop eventually cited me for not having transferred the title of my vehicle to my name. I showed the cop the bill of sale dated that same day and the note on the pink slip (a legal document issued by the state of California) stating that I had 14 days to transfer ownership. He told me that the instructions on the pink slip were not the law and issued the citation anyway. When I did get my day in court, the courts disagreed with him but I still had to spend about half a day to get this ticket dismissed.”

One question that no one ever asks when stories like these are told is “How do you know that the motivation was racism?” The assumption when stories like these are told is that the only explanation is that the cops were racist. However, neither of the stories above indicate that racism was a factor! How do I know? I know because these are my stories and neither the cops involved nor I were black. In the first incident, the cops were simply doing their job and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (this happens to people of all races all of the time). While it was frightening at the time, it is now a story I laugh about today and had I been the cop, I probably would have acted in the same way. In the second case, I was stopped by a power hungry cop that should have chosen a different profession. While this cop was clearly out of line, the motivation behind his inappropriate behavior wasn’t racism! Unquestionably, there are some racist cops (both black and white) but not every cop who pulls over a black person is motivated by racism nor is every cop who pulls over an innocent black person wrong for doing so. Some may be racist, some may be power hungry, but most are probably just doing their job to the best of their ability. They, just like you and I, are not “all knowing” and they frequently need to investigate before recognizing that they have apprehended the wrong person.

Here are some questions we should be asking:

  • How frequently are false accusations of “racism” the result of misperceptions fueled by the distrust that results when one is continually told that they will be stopped by “racist” cops without cause?
  • How frequently do situations with the police escalate as a result of unnecessary tensions created because black people are continually told that they will be stopped by racist cops ONLY because they are black?
  • When all sides are given a fair hearing, how frequently does the evidence support the claims of racism made in the anecdotal stories we so frequently hear?

Proverbs 18:17 reminds us that “the first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” It is time we stop acting after hearing only one side of the story and allow those who hold a different perspective to present their case. And just as we all recognize that racism is wrong, we must also recognize that it is just as wrong to falsely accuse someone of racism. Yes, it is time for a national dialog about race but a true dialog requires that both sides be allowed to freely speak, both sides be willing to listen, and both sides be willing to recognize that their perception may not be entirely accurate.

 

 

 

The Wilberforce Test: Preaching and the Public Square

The following thought provoking article was written by Owen Strachan,  professor of theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. It was originally posted on the 9marks site. He raises some important questions that our churches really need to begin to think about. We need men like Wilberforce today; why are our churches not producing men like this any longer.


William Wilberforce was born with life laid out like a Persian carpet before him. He was from fantastic wealth, had access to high society whenever he pleased, and had the social graces to charm most anyone he encountered.

Wilberforce was raised by an evangelical aunt but had drifted from a close connection to Christianity. When as a 26-year-old man he found himself empty and unfulfilled by his worldly trajectory, he secretly contacted famous pastor John Newton for counsel. Through Newton’s influence, Wilberforce soon embraced the religion of the “enthusiasts” of England, a derogatory term for Christians who zealously preached the new birth.

Two Paths Out of TrialsWilberforce became the champion par excellence of abolition in Great Britain. He lived to see the defeat of slavery and the slave trade in his homeland and its imperial territories. The striking thing about Wilberforce’s story is this: he did not work alone. His pastor, John Venn, the Rector of Clapham, is basically forgotten. Yet week after week, Venn fired the conscience and stirred the heart of Wilberforce and his activist peers. The public work of Wilberforce—world-changing work, that is—was shaped by the pulpit ministry of Venn.[1]

In considering this example, I would like to pose a question: could our preaching today raise up a Wilberforce? Could it pass, in other words, what we could call the Wilberforce test? In what follows, I will sketch out how it is that a pastor can meet this mark. Every pastor, I argue, is a public theologian, called by God to bring biblical truth to bear on all of life such that his people storm the gates of hell and promote righteousness and mercy in a fallen world.

THE CORE OF A PASTOR’S LABORS: EXPOSITORY PREACHING

Too often, we are presented with just two choices when it comes to the pulpit and public-square witness. Either the pastor is a political activist, or he is effectively removed from cultural concerns. Both of these models have serious problems.

The central conviction of the pastor is the truthfulness of the gospel. This gospel announces that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified for our justification and raised to life for our vindication. This message is the foundation of every minister’s work, which means that every minister stewards a theological reality. Every pastor, in other words, is a theologian. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. has noted that “The pastoral calling is inherently theological. Given the fact that the pastor is to be the teacher of the Word of God and the teacher of the gospel, it cannot be otherwise.” Mohler sharpens the point: “The idea of the pastorate as a non-theological office is inconceivable in light of the New Testament.”[2]

This is a very different conception of the pastor than we often hear today. The pastor in the historic model is not a coach, executive, administrator, cheerleader, or entrepreneur. Fundamentally, the pastor is the steward of the most precious message there is. But the pastor does not only loft this message into the air. He preaches it to all who will hear and watches as the Word and the gospel build a church. This church is not incidental to the gospel. As Mark Dever has said, “Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.”[3] To a degree that we rarely acknowledge, the church is a living picture of the gospel.

This means that the pastor is a theologian, but a theologian attached to a people. The pastor serves as theologian to his people not primarily by writing dense articles in the church newsletter, but by preaching the truth and shepherding the flock. This is, as noted, expressly theological work. Mohler has said it like this: “There is no more theological calling than this—guard the flock of God for the sake of God’s truth.”[4] Pastoral ministry is not a retreat from theological work, an escape to the adoctrinal hinterlands of what is sometimes called “practical ministry.” Pastoral ministry occurs on the front lines of the great theological conflict between God and the devil. Every pastor a theologian, then; every pastor a warrior-priest, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Melchizedek, following the one who is greater than he.

Pastors are not politicians. They are appointed by God, however, to shape the worldview and thus the convictions of their people. Faithful handling of the Word of God means preaching the whole counsel of God. Preaching the whole counsel of God, in turn, cannot help but form and enliven Christian conviction, the principles that a believer must advocate in a fallen world, for the world lacks them even as it desperately needs them. Christian conviction is not made only for business meetings and quiet times. It is forged in the furnace of biblical exposition. Christian conviction looks like fire. It smells like smoke. It feels like a burning ember plucked from the flame. It emerges from the furnace of Scripture, and it is fashioned to sear and to awaken.

THE PASTOR PREACHING IN PUBLIC

Too often, preaching is described in much quieter terms than this. The grandeur and daring of biblical exposition is damped down. The private, solitary nature of the homiletical event is emphasized—each person quietly considering the claims of Christ. Preaching, to be sure, is aimed at the human heart. In biblical proclamation, God does business with the sinner. Though a pastor exposits the Word to dozens or hundreds or thousands of people, he understands that through his exposition, God meets with each individual person.

Let us hold fast to this “private” dimension of preaching. But perhaps we should ponder the recovery of the public dimension of preaching. As we have made clear, preaching is centered in the gospel of the Word. The gospel is a public announcement of a public event. Jesus was not crucified in private. He was spread out on a Roman cross, humiliated before all who would cast an eye upward at his foaming mouth and his heaving chest. His death was orchestrated and approved by the Roman political hierarchy. But the public nature of his horrific death goes far beyond Christ’s humiliation. His death, unlike every other death, was not only a cessation of life, but an act of atonement. No other person has atoned for sin in their passing. Only Jesus.

In paying for the sins of his people at Golgotha, Jesus accomplished a public work with profoundly private dimensions. All who will ever be found in him had their “record of debt cancelled” at the cross, according to Colossians 2:14. This cancellation was a “public spectacle” (2:15). It was the enactment of triumph over “the powers and authorities” of Satan’s kingdom. The cross that paid for private—or individual—sin was public, in other words. It was a display of divine force. It was a celebration of theistic power. It was an act of public shaming. Though Rome and her soldiers looked at Christ’s cross with disdain, God and his angels knew the truth. The power of Satan was broken. The head of Satan was crushed. Though hidden from the world, the defeat of darkness and death was accomplished.

Every time a pastor preaches the cross, they preach publicly. By this I do not only mean that they deliver a sermon in a forum to which the broader community is invited. I mean that from Bangladesh to Bangor, Maine to Bristol, England they announce to the cosmos that Jesus has won and Satan has lost. The church in which a pastor preaches is local. But the “theater,” to use Calvin’s language, is universal.[5] Every Sunday, across the world, 100,000 pastors announce together that the Messiah-King has come, and has triumphed. Satan must hear this every week, and must gnash his teeth every time he is reminded of his certain destruction.

There is another dimension of this public ministry to consider as well. The pastor’s message is not only addressed to the broader world, but is applicable to it. The Word and the gospel lay claim to all they encounter, advancing the kingdom of Christ over all the earth. The kingdom is dynamic. It does not shrink back. It is not overcome. It is undefeated, even as Jesus is undefeated, and his gospel is undefeated. The kingdom is inherently spiritual. It is the reign and rule of God. But though spiritual, the application of Christ’s Messiahship to this realm has powerfully public effect. By the preaching of the Word of Christ, human hearts are claimed, human behavior changes, churches are birthed, and Christians live out their faith in their community and culture. When all this happens, the gospel is working in the private sphere to influence the public sphere. The city of God, to quote Augustine, is ministering grace to the city of man.

The church, in other words, is the true culture. The community of God is created by the very mind of God. It is no mere organization. It is a living-and-breathing body, the spiritual entity that displays the glory of God and advances the kingdom of God. This means, as William Willimon has said, that the church is not only a change-agent in the world, but “is a world.” The church dares to “claim that this world, this culture—the church—is God’s way with the world, the appointed means by which Christ is bringing all things unto himself.”[6] To join the local church is not only to mark oneself as a believer as part of a larger body. It is to enter a new world, the true world.

So it is that preaching is public, for in preaching, the doorway to this other world, the true world, opens.

PASTORS AS PUBLIC THEOLOGIANS IN A FRAGMENTED WORLD: THREE CONSIDERATIONS FOR TODAY

Thus far we have sketched out what it means to be a pastor. I have argued that every pastor is a theologian, stewarding and announcing expressly theological realities. All the work of the pastor—discipling, counseling, evangelizing, leading, and everything else—proceeds from theistic truths. If God is not Triune, if the Word is not inerrant, if Jesus is not the only Savior, then pastoring is just community service with a spritz of spirituality. But it is not. Pastoring is essentially and inescapably theological work.

It is not only this: it is public. The pastor has the privilege of declaring that another world exists, and that this world is not far-off, but has broken into our own world. The kingdom of Christ is advancing with relentless pace, and though it suffers violence, no one can stop it (Matthew 11:12). Thus far we have a general understanding of the pastor as public theologian. In what follows, let us look briefly at three specific ways that pastors can function as public theologians for the good of their church and their world.

1) Pastors can publicly speak the truth in love on all kinds of ethical matters.

John the Baptist is a major forerunner in this regard. Consider the account of his death in Matthew 14:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:1-4 ESV)

John sets a bold example for us in calling public sin to account. This example of ethical courage is for pastors and leaders of God’s church. We minister in continuity with John the Baptist. He is the original herald of Jesus Christ. He had no pulpit to call his own, but his work was the pastor’s work in its essence. John preached the truth. The truth is no respecter of feelings. The truth is no respecter of monarchs. The truth is no respecter of public/private divides. As Shakespeare said, the truth will out. If we were to put it more biblically, the truth must out.

We do not have the option, then, of quieting our theological witness on certain matters. Where wrong is being committed, the truth compels us to confront it. Where sin is being practiced, the truth inspires us to denounce it. Where evil is flourishing, the truth moves us to oppose it. This holds whether we are counseling a young believer with bad Internet surfing habits, discipling a world-making politician caught in a sinful relationship, or preaching to a church body perplexed by transgender identity. The truth is theological in nature, but it does not stop there. When it makes contact with the world, it creates an ethical witness. Pastors have no choice but to fill this role.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has fitted every pastor to call out sin and to promote goodness. This is not necessarily a complex calling. Ethical issues surely take on complexity, but at base, the ministry of John the Baptist that ends his life is a simple one. Pastors need not have written a dissertation on Reinhold Niebuhr’s applied theology of depravity to be fitted for public witness on matters of sin and righteousness. They need to know Scripture. They need to have a biblically informed conscience. Then, they need to search their world and see where Herod still reigns, and where he must be opposed and called to repentance.

2) Pastors can train their people to be salt and light.

No text more speaks to this sense of identity than the call to be salt and light of the Sermon on the Mount.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

This means that as a pastor, you are called to equip your people to be salt and light. This in turn necessitates that you train them in knowing how to be a set-apart Christian. This sort of training comes by hearing sermons, week after week, that describe and differentiate the Christian as a blood-bought witness of Christ. It is also crucial that the church body understand that it needs no degree, no credential, and no voice from heaven to be activated as an embodiment of salt and light in their community, their world.

We discussed this in terms of William Wilberforce in the introduction. Wilberforce was not a pastor. But he was profoundly moved by the preaching and activism of John Newton and John Venn. If there was no Newton, there would have been no Wilberforce. No Venn, no Wilberforce. It is this simple in historical terms. If we would have the slave trade ended, we would need not only a high-flown politician of sterling talent and an enviable network, but a preacher of the Word. The Word is what made Wilberforce what he became. Sermons were his diet. Exposition was his food. He practiced public ethics because his pastor and his mentor commended and preached public theology as the Bible presented it.

Newton awoke a young Wilberforce to the evils of the slave trade in 1787. On October 28, a Sunday, the two men had a lengthy conversation that led Wilberforce to pen a now-famous entry in his diary. “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.” We do not know the specifics of the conversation that preceded this momentous—and ultimately predictive—statement, but it is clear that Newton exercised a powerful effect on his young charge. The very next day, Wilberforce contacted the Quakers, who were known for their persistent if underappreciated campaign to end slavery. Clearly, through Newton’s vibrant pastoral counsel, God set the wheels of history in motion.[7]

Newton continued to talk with Wilberforce over the years, and the politician came to hear him preach at St. Mary’s Woolnoth in London. In the late-1780s, Newton wrote the famous pamphlet Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, testified before Parliament on the horrors of slavery, and supported the burgeoning abolitionist cause among evangelicals. He was a powerful force in British society for the cause of abolition and lended Wilberforce no small amount of aid in his work.

But it was Venn who provided Wilberforce with a steady diet of pulpit instruction. Were every person to live godly, Venn once thundered, “No scenes of cruelty would shock the eye; no cry of oppression would wound the ear. Tyranny and slavery would be only remembered with a sigh that human nature should once have suffered them.”[8] Every person did not live in such a way, however, and so it was the duty of Christians to show the world the virtues of faith:

Benevolence towards our fellow-creatures will produce [true religion] by depriving the heart of every angry passion, and leading us to sympathize in all the happiness of our fellow-creatures. The hope of glory will gild every prospect in life, and render all its afflictions light. Trust in God will impart abiding comfort to us, “for God will keep him in perfect peace who trusteth in him.” Above all, the love of God is an unceasing source of happiness; for this will make us satisfied with every dispensation of our Heavenly Father, and gladden our hearts in the view of his infinite goodness.[9]

These swatches of Venn’s preaching show that his heart was attuned to human suffering and the need of justice in the world. He did not hold back from preaching on ethical matters relevant to his Clapham context. In one famous address for the Church Missionary Society, he suggested rhetorically that Christians had done much to advance the cause of justice in the world:

Was a single hospital founded through their persuasion? Were schools provided through their suggestions for instruction of the inferior orders? Did they bear testimony against slavery? Or was the civil state of the poor at all meliorated by their labours? [10]

Venn preached directly against the slave trade. Yet his sermons also suggest that the primary way that believers could influence their context was by living godly lives characterized by love, hope, and trust. This life was no mere exercise in piety, but was anchored in the very nature of Almighty God.[11]

This pulpit ministry moved parishioners like Wilberforce to action. Yet the young man came to see that many Christians did not have what he had. Believers had too often seen their faith as inherently private and thus without connection to the greater struggles unfolding in their world. In his famous book, A Practical View of Christianity, Wilberforce decried the severing of theology from ethics in his native land:

The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.[12]

It is appropriate to read this passage as a verdict on the sleeping consciences of English Christians. Why did so few speak out against slavery and the slave trade? Why were the Quakers a lone voice years before the Clapham Sect mobilized against these evils? There are likely numerous factors, but a crucial one is this: the church’s doctrinal interest was weak. Where this happens, as Wilberforce notes, “the moral system itself” also begins “to wither and decay,” for it has been “robbed” of its ballast.

This is a powerful charge from a wise man. If the pulpit is theologically weak and ethically disengaged, the church’s call to be salt and light in a decaying, darkening world will go unheeded. The people will focus on their 401ks, their vacations, their school sports. Their faith will shrink. They will embrace “prosperity lite” theology such that they come to think that Christianity is fundamentally about their security and comfort. They will lose sight of the fact that they have been appointed as gospel agents in their communities, and that if they go silent, few exist who can take up the work.

The pastor is the one who stands against these woeful trends. The pastor must fundamentally and continually remind the people of their distinct identity and their divine calling. We are not here for ourselves, the pastor must regularly preach. We are here for the lost, and we are called to work while there is day to oppose evil and promote righteousness.

In this way, the pastor avoids making the pulpit political in the stereotypical way. He does not usually comment on ballot initiatives and candidates. But he is fearless in forming in his people the theistic and ethical convictions embedded in the Word. He is unapologetic about calling sins both ancient and modern what they are. He nurtures his people’s instinct for justice, debasing injustice wherever appropriate—social, racial, economic, and otherwise. Like Newton with the young Wilberforce, he offers counsel to his congregants that helps them probe the dimensions of their vocations and callings.

He does not hold back from encouraging his people to be who they already are in Jesus Christ: salt and light.

3) Pastors can call their people to love their neighbors.

In Mark 12:31, Jesus details the second greatest commandment, the one that follows from the first: loving God with everything you have. Jesus tells his disciples that “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Christianity suffers from a malnourished doctrine of “neighbor-love.” Such a doctrine does indeed mean baking cookies and befriending our neighbors, each a revolutionary action in a world that celebrates bowling alone. But it means much more than this. There is a world of activity and agency in the second commandment. We would be advised, like the crew of a spaceship in a Christopher Nolan space epic, to explore this world.

Texts like James 1:27 illuminate what neighbor-love can and should look like. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father,” James says, “is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” If we would claim to walk purely before God, we must be practicing “actional” faith. The Lord wants our faith to have an edge, to be directed in some way at those who cannot care for themselves. Christian faith is not only vertical, aimed toward the heavens. Christian faith is aimed at the whole world.

We cannot singlehandedly “change the world,” as we are sometimes told. We yearn to instantaneously overcome evil and instantiate goodness, but we are finite, limited creatures. So much of what is wrong in our realm will only be made right by Christ when he comes in glory. Until he does, however, God intends for us to be reaching into the darkness. He wants us to love our neighbor not only by speaking, but by acting on their behalf. He wants us not simply to critique the darkness, but to plunge into it.

We do so not as lone rangers, but as the church, led by faithful pastors. As the pastor preaches the whole counsel of God, he builds the convictional framework of his people. The gospel creates ethics. The people, in turn, begin to see in ways great and small how they can love their neighbor. They can volunteer at a homeless shelter, counsel abortion-minded women at clinics, mentor fatherless boys in their neighborhood, start a soccer league for struggling teens, and invite refugees from war-torn countries to their homes for dinner. None of these actions will likely make the evening news. None of them require a massive programmatic structure or even budgetary investment on the church’s part. All of these and many other forms of neighbor-love are small, incidental, humble, and gospel-driven. All of them are deeply meaningful.

As the church hears about such efforts, and prays for members who are loving their neighbors near and far, a cycle of investment begins. The gospel is seen not as a means to an end, but a message that creates a way of life. As this happens, the church shows the world that Christ’s body is a dynamic, others-centered institution. More than this, it reveals that it is not a culture, but the true culture. As Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon have argued, it demonstrates that it “embodies a social alternative that the world cannot on its own terms know.”[13]

TRUE CULTURE IS OFTEN COUNTER-CULTURE

If pastors do not preach the true culture, then no one will. This is the essential reality of our modern situation: voices who speak for the permanent things, who advocate for the good, true, and beautiful in the public realm, are disappearing. In days past in America, pastors could assume that a coalition of institutions and individuals stood alongside them in their work to strengthen marriages, help the weak, rescue the fatherless, and champion the good of the family.

Today, there are fewer and fewer like-minded partners in the public square. Our government looms ever larger, suggesting in a friendly but insistent voice that it can solve our problems, fix our families, and cure our ills. With hesitation, and a vague sense that this might not be a good choice, we cede it the ground it requests. With resignation, we sigh, Sure, government. You can fix my problems. You can teach my children sexual ethics. You can regulate my home. That’s fine—after all, who else is offering to help?

Christians increasingly buy into this mindset, failing to see that Caesar offers us not only a political program, but a theological system. The state can be our god, and our friend. The state can be our salvation. The state can give us meaning. The state is ready and eager to teach us theology, a theology of itself. If we doubt this tendency on the part of the state, we must reconsider the lessons of the totalitarian twentieth-century. Have Whittaker Chambers, Hannah Arendt, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoken—and suffered—for nothing?

When Caesar encroaches, Christians go numb. Pastors stop forming principles in their people borne of Scripture. They leave it to other voices to shape their people. But the church today must rouse itself. Pastors today are tempted to think that they need not equip their people for public-square witness. That, they have been told, is the job of professional ethicists. They do not see that they have been appointed by God to stand on the front lines of theological and ethical formation. The view that others will take up the public cross we are called to carry is a fiction, a pleasing illusion. In reality, those who would stand for the good, true, and beautiful are vanishing like shadows passing on the mountains.

Let us make this as practical as we can.

  • If pastors will not speak for marriage, who will?
  • If pastors will not speak for the unborn baby, who will?
  • If pastors will not equip the congregation to reach the fatherless young men who tear up their communities out of anger, who will?
  • If pastors will not speak a word on behalf of religious liberty, but will allow it to be taken from them with nary a word, who will?
  • If pastors will not instruct the youth of the congregation in biblical sexual ethics, views directly opposed by the culture, who will?

Let us see a generation of pastors who does not go quietly into the night. Let us witness a generation of pastors proclaim the whole counsel of God from Scripture, forming their people both theologically and ethically as they do so. The pulpit is not political. But the pulpit must be convictional. We are not yet a people weakened by the state, crippled by Caesar, as pastors were in Germany and Russia and China in the twentieth-century. They lost their voice. They could not offer protest. They could not equip the church to be what it fundamentally is: a witness, a sign and symbol of the true culture, and the dwelling-place of God.

In a fallen world, the true culture must often be a counter-culture. It must make the case that a secular kingdom does not want it to make. It must, like Christ and the apostle Paul, offer protest against injustice (John 18:23; Acts 22). We must not muzzle ourselves, for the prophets and apostles did not do so. We must make our case and preach the gospel. As long as we have strength, we must speak and act as the true culture. By our word and congregational witness, we must be a counter-culture to bring life to a secular culture that is in many respects an anti-culture.

CONCLUSION

Filling this role will be a lonely task. It was for William Wilberforce. It was for John Venn. We laud Wilberforce today for his successful campaign, but he paid a mighty price for it. We note Venn’s name, but he is unknown today, forgotten despite his epoch-making influence.

But as we think about Venn, and about Newton, we are reminded that the cause of Christ is a humble one. It is not a call to glory. It is a call to self-sacrifice. It is a call to be a man of conscience, unafraid of what the world may do, unashamed of the gospel. It is a summons to equip the church to be salt and light, to love its neighbor, to collectively seek and pray for the advancement of the kingdom over every corner of the earth.

The pastor who preaches for the transformation of his people is equipping them for service in this life that will echo into eternity. As he forms the doctrine and ethics of his flock, he is pleasing the Lord. To return to our original query, he is passing the Wilberforce test, preaching such that his people can plunge into the darkness.

The question before us today is this: will we?

Editor’s note: This essay is an expansion of the author’s talk at T4G 2014: “The Pastor as Public Theologian in an Increasingly Hostile Culture.” In 2015, he has a book coming out on this topic with Kevin Vanhoozer entitled, The Pastor as Public Theologian (Brazos, 2015).

*****

[1] See Jonathan Aitken, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway, 2003), 314-17; Eric Metaxas, William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (HarperOne, 2007), 185.

[2] R. Albert Mohler Jr., He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 106.

[3] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville: B&H, 2012), xi.

[4] Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 107.

[5] See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.6.1.

[6] William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Abingdon, 2002), 209.

[7] See Jonathan Aitken, John Newton, 309-312.

[8] John Venn, “Godliness Profitable to All Things,” Sermons of the Rev. John Venn, M. A., Rector of Clapham, Three Volumes in Two, vol. II (Boston: R. P. & C. Williams, S. Etheridge, 1822), 22.

[9] John Venn, “On the Nature of True Religion,” Sermons, 247.

[10] “John Venn—The Forgotten Center of the Clapham Sect,” Kairos Journal, accessible at http://kairosjournal.org/document.aspx?DocumentID=5092&QuadrantID=2&CategoryID=10&TopicID=17&L=1.

[11] Venn also derived into more directly political matters at times. Wilberforce sometimes took Venn’s sermons home with him as a guide to thinking through governmental policy. See Michael Hennel, John Venn and the Clapham Sect (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 198.

[12] William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Preferred Christianity (Cosimo, 2005), 205. Originally published as A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes, Contrasted with Real Christianity (1820).

[13] Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 17–18.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

see+no+evilThe very public failing of Mark Driscoll and the troubles faced by Mars Hill have been discussed repeatedly. While reports seem to demonstrate that Driscoll was overly arrogant and abusive towards many who were under him, I don’t believe that he bears the majority of the blame for the problems Mars Hill is facing. The failure at Mars Hill was caused both by Driscoll’s actions and the actions of a majority of elders who refused to hold him accountable. While I believe that Driscoll’s failings were very serious, I believe that the greater failure was that of the elders who failed to hold him accountable; Driscoll could not have caused the damage he did at Mars Hill if good men had not chosen to do nothing. If Driscoll’s sin had been addressed by the elders years ago, he might have repented, matured, and still be a leader of a healthy and thriving church today. Because of Driscoll’s celebrity status and the failure of the elders to act, those outside of the church, who have demonstrated a hatred for both what Mars Hill was doing wrong as well as for what Mars Hill was doing right, gained a foothold that began a witch hunt that propped up every accusation, legitimate or not, against Driscoll until both he and the church were destroyed. The damage at Mars Hill was far greater because the sin was ultimately addressed by those who wanted nothing more than to see the church destroyed rather than by those who should have addressed it in love. However, before we place too much blame on the leaders of Mars Hill, we should recognize that the problems that led to the downfall of Mars Hill are not unique. Ignoring spiritually abusive actions by those in leadership is a problem that arises far to often in many churches today. And, just like at Mars Hill, our silence is allowing many to be driven away from our churches. We need to remember that the damage done by abusive leaders who are not held accountable is just as troubling when it happens in our own churches. We need to be asking questions like:  Are our own churches are tolerating the same kind of abuses that were tolerated at Mars Hill? Do similar issues in our own churches remain unaddressed only because no one committing these kinds offenses has the celebrity status that would attract the attention of those outside the church? And most importantly, will I stand up and be counted in the face of issues like these at my own church or will I do nothing and allow evil to triumph?

 

Ferguson and the problem of Racism in America

RacismIs racism a problem in America? Absolutely! And it is a problem that seems to be getting worse everyday. We talk more about racism now than ever before but the more we “talk” about it the greater the divide between the races seems to grow and the “solutions” we offer seem only to exasperate the problem of racism in America. Why is that?

I believe that much of the reason we have failed to address problems of racism in America today is because we have failed to understand the motivation for the racism that exists in our culture today. The motivation for the majority of racism we see today is very different than the motivation for the racism that existed in America when slavery plagued our country, but we are still offering the same kinds of solutions that were used to address the racism found in the pages of our history books. What’s the difference you may ask? When America endorsed the evils of slavery, significant portions of our population truly accepted the idea that black people were inferior to white people. Our country decided that a black person would be counted as 3/5 of a white person, our courts said that a black person could be deemed the property of a white person, our government prohibited black people from voting, etc… At that dark time in our history, racism was actually seen as something good rather than evil by much of America.

While there are fringe groups that are still motivated by a “white supremacy” ideology, these groups no longer represent the mainstream of racism in America today and their ideology is recognized as evil by most of Americans. Today’s racism is different because it is largely a reaction to unjust treatment rather than the result of a belief in the superiority of a particular race and today’s perpetrators of racism are no longer limited to only one race. Today’s racism stems from a growing frustration and anger over seeing “privilege” given to others in our society only because of the color of their skin. And because our anger has far too often distorted our own perception of “justice,” we often fail to see “privilege” given to those who are members of our own race while far too easily seeing “privilege” given to those of another race, sometimes even when no “privilege” was actually received.

If we are going to address racism in our society today, we need to look to the root of the problems we face today and come up with solutions that address these problems. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Recognize our own propensity to see the “privileges” that others have received while failing to recognize the ones we have received. It is far too easy to only see the advantages that others have received while failing to see the advantages that have been available to us. Take time for self examination and remember that it is often easier to see the spec in someone else’s eye than it is to see the “log” in our own.
  • Don’t assume that every advantage given to someone of another race is because of their race.  While some people do receive advantages because of their race, not every advantage is a result of racism. The world we live in is far more complex than this and conclusions that fail to recognize the complexity of the world we live in will almost certainly lead to injustice.
  • Don’t rush to judgement until all sides have been presented. Proverbs reminds us that “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” If we, as a nation, had heeded this advise when the events in Ferguson had first begun to unfold, we could have avoided many of the tragedies now before us. While there are still many questions about what really happened in Ferguson, it is clear that much of the information that we heard at the beginning was inaccurate. Sadly, very few were willing to wait to hear both sides before making their judgements and now people are so entrenched on their “sides” that it is unlikely that the facts about what really happened, when they are known, will change anyone’s perception of what “justice” should look like in this situation.
  • Support only people and organizations that stand against all forms of racism. Any organization that exist to protect the rights of only one race is itself a racist organization and we, as a country, should no longer support these organizations. We need organizations that look to protect the rights of all our citizens regardless of the color of their skin!
  • Punish individuals rather than corporations for racism. Racism is never a crime committed by a corporation, it is crime committed by an individual who work for a corporation. If our goal is really to end racism, we then should be prosecuting the individuals who committed the crime rather than the companies for whom they work. If individuals truly had to take responsibility for their own unjust acts towards members of another race then there would be a much greater incentive for change. The way we handle racism in the courts today is not designed to stop racism, it is designed to be a money making endeavor.
  • Punish those who practice racism regardless of the race of the perpetrator. Those who suggest that only members of one race can be the perpetrators of racism are themselves expressing a racist ideology and it is an ideology that should no longer be tolerated. Treating anyone unjustly because of their race is racism and nobody, regardless of their race, should get a free pass on this.
I too have a dream that we will one day live in a nation where people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, and I have an greater dream that we will one day learn to truly love all our neighbors as we love ourselves. But these dreams will never be fulfilled until we, as a nation, are willing to confront the sin that exists in our own hearts today instead of wallowing in the mire of sin committed by generations past. Only then will be able to forgive, love, and cherish everyone from every race that God has brought into our world.

For the Kingdom of God

Paul GarnerWritten by Paul Garner (His blog can be found here)

As Christians we try to influence our society for the Kingdom of God much like yeast or leaven influences a batch of dough hopefully becoming bread. In doing so we are often in a struggle about whether we Christians are influencing society or if society is actually influencing us.

Recently I heard a Christian woman justify her affair with the phrase, “You don’t know the whole story”. Even more recently we have heard that a pastor of a large evangelical, charismatic church has come out to support the gay lifestyle including involving gay people at every level of his very large church. The context seems to imply that gays in his church are eligible for all levels of leadership including pastor. The pastor has a tremendous heart for people especially young people. “When a married man in a congregation has an adulterous affair with another woman—and he’s confronted about it—we don’t have suicides as a result. But, we do have teenagers committing suicides at higher rates when they are part of congregations that have these exclusionary teachings about homosexuality. Is this really the teaching of Jesus when our exclusion of people is contributing to a rise in suicide?”

The problem with this pastor’s view and the view of the woman above and many others claiming to follow Jesus is that they are defining God and God’s Word through their emotions and experience. Instead they should be defining their experience of life by the Word of God.

When we come to Christ we hear of His Love for us and how he gave His life for us that we may have eternal life. How do we know this? We found it in the Word of God. We trust our eternal destiny on what we believe is actually the living and active Word and words that have come to us from the Living God.

Still though we put our faith in the Christ of the Bible as savior some people stop there and live as though the rest of the Word and words of the Living God are irrelevant because they don’t line up with how they feel.

Consider what Jesus might have said to the woman who was brought to him having been caught committing adultery (John 8). Jesus asks “Where are those who condemn you?” “There is no one.” she answers. “Neither do I condemn you. Go on. Continue as you were. I know that life is hard for you and that you have good reasons for why you do this.” Is that what He said? Jesus, who loves all people and gave His life for everyone without bias or favor, did he say that to her? The Word of God says that Jesus told her “Go and sin no more”. Jesus demonstrates that Love speaks strong words about what is right and wrong. Jesus loves completely but He also calls people to a life without sin. I believe that Jesus would be found in Gay bars and at Gay parties. He loves people. But He would not be there to affirm their sin but to call them out of it. He is the great physician. It is not the healthy that need a doctor (Matt 9:12) but those who are sick. He was accused by those who thought themselves righteous of hanging out with all sorts of sinners. I love that about Him. But while He does not condemn He still does not condone.

The problem with many in the Body of Christ who are trying to bring the Kingdom in the world is that too often they bring love without truth. They allow human experience to determine what God meant rather than applying the Word of God that they claim to believe in to life and experience. The same Word of God where we find our invitation to eternal life through Christ. It’s either all the Word of God and worthy of our obedience and faith or it is nothing but literature and our eternal destiny is a sham.

Most of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul writes that even though we possess all knowledge and practice all of the spiritual gifts but don’t have love we are useless. And so some people may take this out of the context of the whole Word of God and say Love is all there is and that’s the end of it. There is no call for righteousness. In 1 Corinthians 6, the same letter and same author, Paul writes this, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” And so we have the same author in the same letter to the same church writing about lifestyles that will not inherit the Kingdom of God as well as loving people with a passionate love as Jesus did. Some will over emphasize one or the other and some may exclude one or the other. However, if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then we must accept that both chapters are true and both are God’s Word.

The odd part to me is that somehow Christians can feel comfortable carving out homosexuality from this list in 1 Cor 6 for special treatment because of pressure from our society or maybe because they have a friend or family member living that lifestyle and leave the others as conventional lists of sins. Even though most of these other lifestyles are portrayed daily in the common entertainment media, no Christian leaders I know are coming out claiming that adultery and other immorality is acceptable as a lifestyle for church leaders. That’s just crazy business.

How can someone rationally say that the Bible that tells us that Jesus died for us to give us access to eternal life by faith in Him is the true Word of God and then not accept the rest of the Bible as God’s Word and apply it? This makes no sense.

We know that Jesus invites all of us to confess our sin, turn away from it and trust Him for our eternal life. No one is outside of this invitation. But we cannot deny our sin and still accept His invitation. 1 John 1:8-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” Homosexuality is not different than other sins. All sin leads to death. Homosexuals are not different than other sinners like us. They can accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and join him in eternity in the same way as all other sinners.

The Bible also tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Make sure that those leaders you are paying attention to are teaching properly from the Word of God, all of it. We must reach out to our culture with the Good News of God’s love for all but we cannot exclude parts of the story that make people uncomfortable. Jesus had to die for us because we are all sinners. We must all repent and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.