Your Image of Dr. Martin Luther King is Likely Wrong

(Here is the first part of a piece I wrote for Biblical Seminary’s Blog. You can click over to read the post in its entirety).

Everybody loves Martin Luther King Jr., or at least they love the idea they have of him. There is nothing provocative about naming him as one of your favorite American heroes, quoting lines from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, or referring to him in one way or another to suggest how we can become that “beloved community” he often spoke about. In fact, our usage of Martin Luther King Jr., more times than not, would be in direct conflict with Dr. King himself, and the actual life and commitments he held to.

“Our” Dr. King that we celebrate each year has been completely co-opted by the right and the left to further the shallow partisan ideological work in American society. Dr. King’s legacy has been thoroughly domesticated, like a house cat after being de-clawed and neutered. He is now safe. Safe to mold into our projections of who we want him to be. Dr. King is no longer a radical prophetic voice of a Christian preacher crying out in the wilderness. Instead, after he died, we built him a monument to adore, after our liking, and gave it a seat at the emperor’s table. However, the prophet never sits and fellowships at the table with an imperial ruler. The prophet is not accepted by the social order it speaks life into because he is always seen as a threat.

Read the rest at Biblical Seminary’s site.

Book Review: Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking

I had the pleasure of reading Bonhoeffer The Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking, by Mark Nation, Anthony Siegrist, and Daniel Umbel. In this work, the authors have one primary and focused goal, that is to challenge the language used and assumptions held by many surrounding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy, specifically as it relates to his participation in the Abwehr and the resistance plots to kill Hitler. These assumptions we have about Bonhoeffer provide hermeneutical lenses through which we read his later work, particularly Ethics. This book does not argue that Bonhoeffer wasn’t in the Abwehr, nor does it suggest that he did not know about the assassination plots or was distant from those engaged in those realities and plots. However, while recognizing and affirming those historical facts, the authors challenge what this actually means in terms of the nature of Bonhoeffer’s actual involvement and his ongoing theological positions.

One of the strongest historical arguments that challenge our assumptions about Bonheoffer’s legacy in the book is how the book explores Helmuth James Count von Moltke’s own legacy and participation in the Abwehr, in his own words. Considering Moltke’s actual participation, and all that it involved has considerable import for expanding current imagination around role participation possibilities. On paper, “His job description said that he was to gather military intelligence for the Wehrmacht, the Armed Forces, using his expertise to assist Germany in its war efforts. This entailed reading reports regarding German military efforts as well as those of other nations; it also involved extensive travel.” (3) However, Moltke was involved in the resistance, and therefore that was only a cover. In reality, “Making allies where he could, he attempted to work against the escalation of the war as well as to mitigate atrocities masquerading as legitimate war tactics” and this “involved gathering specific data and communicating with relevant German officials, attempting to convince them of the need to obey international laws, sometimes utilizing arguments of self-interest—such as mutual, respectful treatment of political prisoners—in order to be convincing.” (3) Along with this, he “improved local conditions for people where he could through invoking legal principles. After he knew that Jews were being deported, he attempted to get them rerouted to countries that would be a safe haven for them. When possible, he personally helped Jews escape to safe territories.” (3) Finally, he also used connections in England to communicate that there were Germans that were opposed and actively resisting Hitler. (5) What becomes pretty clear, is that Moltke was an important figure in the resistance, had military background and expertise, saw his participation as a way to avoid conscription in the war, and sought to resist German through nonviolent means (and actually participated in the Kreisau Circle which mostly rejected violence as a viable option). The authors make a compelling case from here, to at least reconsider what Bonhoeffer’s actual activity and reasoning for joining the Abwehr might have been.

All of that is covered in the introduction, but the first three of the seven chapters is primarily a biography of Bonhoeffer’s life. These chapters, as expected, detail Bonhoeffer’s geographic movements, significant friendships, and theological shifts (like his “grand liberation” and “conversion” to the Sermon on the Mount). For the books argument, chapter three holds significant weight in its importance in setting out to accomplish its objective. This part of the book engages Sabine Dramm’s work that has already significantly challenged many assumptions made about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s conspiracy activity, and more controversially it questions Eberhard’ Bethge’s accounting of events, upon which most of the vague but implicit assumptions about Bonhoeffer’s activity emerges. However, from both of their writings, the authors highlight the following point:

What is striking about both the accounts of Bethge and Dramm is that Bonhoeffer’s life as an agent of the Abwehr was truly a cover: a way to avoid military induction while continuing his theological reflection and ministry. Not only did he receive no income from his work for the military intelligence agency, but he continued as much as he was able in his work as a pastor and theologian. (76-77)

However, leaning especially on Dramm’s work, he clarifies Bonhoeffer’s activity as being more of a cover so that he could avoid conscription and uphold his convictions rather than because he desired to participate in assassinating Hitler. Similarly, his actual everyday responsibilities and actions had nothing to do with assassination plots. However, it is from Bethge’s important biography of his friend, which leads most to interpret his participation as implying more active involvement in assassination plots. So, the challenge turns towards challenging Bethge’s depiction of Bonhoeffer at that time. Readers will have to wrestle with these points being brought up for themselves, because they are both compelling and yet controversial in their questioning of Bethge.

The last few chapters engage Bonhoeffer’s theological work, exploring its continuity and discontinuity. It is less controversial, though no less important in its place in the book. The authors easily demonstrate the theological continuity of Discipleship with the positions being presented in Ethics as well as Bonhoeffer’s Prison Letters. Their careful theological work will either win over their reader, or at least will leave a reality that there is some tension between what Bonhoeffer wrote in his theological work and what he said informally to Bethge.

This book, despite some responses from the Old Guard of Bonhoeffer studies, is not reaching that far beyond what is already known in Bonhoeffer scholarship. In fact, it relies heavily on the work of others to make its point. However, it does question Bethge (in a manner that I found actually very respectful and transparent in relation to its challenge). This book at the least will make a great reading conversation partner with Schlingensiepen’s biography which is certainly following the lead of Bethge in this regard. I would expect that most, regardless of whether one agrees with the approach of questioning Bethge’s account or not, will be challenged in this book in a manner that will change the way they describe Bonhoeffer’s role in the Abwehr, and his overall reasoning for being there to begin with. Finally, the book will help draw out much more continuity in Bonhoeffer’s theological work from Discipleship to his death. I gladly recommend this book as a stimulus for further consideration to those who already have some familiarity with Bonhoeffer’s life and thought.

You can order the book here.

Dr. B. Sam Hart: A Tribute to my Grandfather

When I was little, I am told that on Sunday mornings after having been dressed up in my little suit and of course also wearing my clip on tie, I would find myself standing in the kitchen. There I would proudly hold my bible tight and proclaim “teachings of the gospel, teachings of the gospel”. I was imitating my grandfather, who happened to also be my pastor when I was a little guy. That story probably doesn’t surprise many who know me now, given my particular vocation and love for preaching. However, my current ministry ought not to be understood without considering my grandfather’s legacy. I stand on the shoulders of him, my great grandfather, as well as my own father as ministry is concerned.

My grandfather was born on April 8, 1931,  in New York City. He was named after B.M. Nottage and the prophet Samuel.  He attended Grace Gospel Chapel in Harlem, a church from the Plymouth Brethren movement, comprised of mostly Jamaicans and other West Indies populations who had immigrated from the islands to NYC. His own father who originally was from Jamaica, took his family back to the island to be a missionary and plant churches. My grandfather lived in Clowmill, Jamaica from 1932-1948.  His british and dignified preaching style can be rooted back to the british style schooling he received in Jamaica (Jamiaca was colonized by England).

Grace Gospel Chapel, Harlem, NY.

He returned to the U.S and to the assembly in Harlem as a teenager. In the 1950’s he attended Gordon College in Boston. My grandfather married my grandmother Joyce in June 1951. In 1953, while a junior at Gordon College, he had the idea to start the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship. His desire was to church plant strong biblically grounded black churches in urban centers. Roxbury Gospel Chapel in Boston was the first of many churches that he would plant. Upon invitation, he came to Philly to church plant. The first church was Calvary Gospel Chapel and was planted in West Philly. It continues to be pastored by Bro. Joe Ginyard who helped church plant that church alongside my grandfather. My grandfather would continue to plant several churches in the Philadelphia area and hand the leadership and oversight over to godly men. As Pastor Sam Butler (Montco Bible Fellowship) has mentioned, it was almost completely unheard of  at that time to plant churches and move on, and not have people call you bishop. The Grand Old Gospel Fellowship was officially formed in 1960 and was incorporated in 1961.

Dr. Tony Evans both responded to the call of ministry and served under my Grandfather as a young man. In many ways, much of the ministry he does now is directly an outflow of what he saw while working with the GOGF.

One of the notable accomplishments for my grandfather was that he started the first black owned radio station in Pennsylvania, WYIS 690 out of Phoenixville, and serving the black population in Philadelphia, PA.

Likewise, my grandfather was nominated to be on the Civil Rights Commission on February 9th, 1982. However, as I understand it, his views on homosexuality were too conservative, and therefore he was never actually elected onto the commission.

One of the people he partnered with in ministry and crusades was the late Tom Skinner, who also attended Grace Gospel Chapel in Harlem for a period of time. I know they had done crusades together in both Harlem and Jamaica, possibly other places as well. Skinner, is most notably known for being a black evangelical author and speaker who was outspoken on issues of race and justice as well as for being a great evangelist.

Tom Skinner (Back Center), Dr. B. Sam Hart (Back Right)

One of the ministries that were started by my grandfather was Hart’s Children’s Home in Jamaica, which cares for orphans from the island. Since then the GOGF has also started another home in India for orphans.

GOGF Ministries (current name) has a three-fold approach to ministry as an organization; Planting Churches, Preparing Leaders, and Proclaiming the gospel. There are currently 14 churches in the GOGF network. And the Grand Old Gospel Hour ministry continues to be broadcasted nationally, internationally, and online. While my grandfather has been declining in health, my dad Dr. Tony Hart has taken over the leadership of the ministry as President of GOGF ministries.

It was my grandfather’s crusades and the ministry of the Grand Old Gospel Hour radio program that put him onto the national stage. He was a long time board member of the National Religious Broadcasters and while he was still living he became a NRB Hall of Fame recipient for his national and global radio ministry. Thousands of people have been impacted by his ministry. Since his death I have had a lot of people sharing with me how my grandfather impacted their life.

While I am not as traditional as my grandfather was, I definitely stand on his shoulders. Likewise, I was reminded that my grandfather was actually not very traditional for his time, but rather was innovative in his ministry and vision. Similarly, his very calling and invitation to Philadelphia is the reason I am planted where I am. It gives me a different perspective on vocation and calling, and how I can take hold of the spiritual inheritance that has been passed on to me and make a difference in Philadelphia myself, in continuity with his original decision to move to the city, back in the 60’s.

I will miss my grandfather, but I will always remember my time with him.  I still smile when I remember seeing him eat pizza with a knife and fork, my grandparents taking my siblings and some cousins to The Ground Round to eat, and just spending time with him. He loved his Grand kids very much. We love you Grand Dad and we know that you are finally at rest in the Lord!

Picture with my grandparents with most (not all) of their grandkids and great grandkids

 

Funeral Arrangements:

The homegoing service will be held Friday, January 27, 2012, 11:00 am at New
Covenant Church of Philadelphia, 7500 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA
19119. An opportunity to view will precede the service from 9-11am. In lieu of
flowers, donations can be made to GOGF Ministries, the ministry to which he
dedicated his life.
If you need additional information, please contact the GOGF Ministries
office at 215-361-8111 or admin@gogf.org.  www.gogf.org

 

 

White Man’s Religion???

Did you know?

During the 4th century A.D., that both the church father of the east and of the west were both African.  Yes, that puts a ruffle in the Islamic claim that Christianity is “the White Man’s Religion”.

In the east, there was Athanasius of Alexandria.  It is noted, that some people even called him “the black dwarf” back then.  Nonetheless, he was the church father of the eastern church, and is noted for valiantly defending the full deity of Christ, even to the point of being temporarily excommunicated.

Simultaneously, Augustine of Hippo was the patriarch over the west and was also from North Africa.  His massive works and development on theology are still studied vigorously to this day. It is his theology that Calvin and Luther would later draw from to arrive at what we call today western theology. While their theology is very different and distinct from Augustine, making some claims and assumptions he never did, it is indisputable that he is the Father of Western Christianity and Theology.

While some could argue that the western tradition has used theology to promote and justify slavery, racism, and apathy towards social justice, those current ideologies were not held by these church fathers.  In fact, at that time the church was much more multi-ethnic, and its face was very diverse.  The amazing thing is that simultaneously both the two primary church fathers were African, yet few are aware of it.   Check it out for yourself.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Hope you enjoyed the interesting rendition of King’s famous Mountaintop speech given the day before his assassination. As it is often said, while may don’t have work or school today, let it be a day on rather than a day off.  A day on of service, compassion, love, and sacrifice for your fellow neighbor, as we reflect the significance of King’s prophetic life.

A Child is Born

We don’t know exactly what Jesus looked like, in the Occident most portrayals of Jesus are blond haired and blue eyed. Some scholars are describing him as Afro-Asiatic in descent given his background, geography, and the common ethnic mixing of that particular time. While we don’t know exactly what he looked like, I always appreciate various African and Black expressions of Jesus.  While many are offended by such pictures (while never giving a second thought to European depictions of Jesus), I think it is important for those who have been oppressed (socially and psychologically) to be able to identify with the God who came down and incarnated to identify with us.  It is not a visual message of colonial oppression, power, and dominance, but rather of liberation, empowerment, redemption, solidarity, and love.

Granny Chen (Great Grandmother past away).

My Great Grandmother past away yesterday at the full age of 103 years old.  She was blessed to keep her mind together basically for her entire life, which is often rare these days for those who have the privilege of living that long. The picture below was taken during her big 100th birthday a few years back, with all the (blood-line) fellas who are children and grandchildren of my grandfather, Granny Chen’s son (there are others, but these are who could make it out).

During her party, she actually took sometime to speak to everyone, I wish I could remember everything that was said, but basically she reminded us of who we are, as well as to remind us of our Rock (Jesus the Christ) who we ought not let go of.  I imagine after living a long life like that (over a century) you have a particular vantage point, especially as you see all the various families that have sprung up. Yet that was the message she wanted to pass on the next generations.  The things she has seen, I can not imagine. But now, we are believing that she is at REST. Love ya Granny Chen!

March 4th, 1968

image

Everytime I am in Memphis and go to the Lorraine Motel I get emotional. Standing there where King was shot always takes me into the moment. All I feel is loss… loss of this leader, OUR leader, who was taken from us. King died at the young age of 39 leaving us wondering what other great accomplishments he would achieved in his life. He would never get the chance to grow old, instead he was killed while fighting for the rights of garbage workers.