In It For the Long Haul: Gracialized Vision & The New Black Panther $10,000 Bounty

Well, whether some like it or not, we have been thrust into a national dialogue on race, violence, and the legal system. I can’t lie, I can often get very frustrated by the same old story being played out over and over again. How many more young black males have to die? Since slavery has ended thousands and thousands of black men have been killed, being seen as disposable, in contrast very few black killings happened during slavery because we were seen as valuable property. Ida B. Wells, a brave and courageous black woman, spoke up and brought national attention to the lynching crisis that exploded after slavery and went well into the 1900’s (Last recorded tree lynching took place in the 1980’s). In the 1950’s, Emmit Till’s murder became a national symbol after the country reacted to the images of Emmit Till’s 14 year old deformed dead body that was placed on the cover of black magazines. Originally from Chicago, Till was visiting family down south when he was dragged from his uncle’s home, beaten, and had an eye gouged out. He was eventually shot in the head, and had barbed wire and a heavy cotton gin tied around his neck as his body was disposed of in a river. His crime, supposedly whistling at a white woman.

There is a long legacy of black life being disposable and unvalued in American life. While there have been tons of senseless murders that have taken black life, some particular names have continued to shape Black American historical memory, probably because of the details surrounding each situation. Let’s remember some folks who have had their lives abruptly ended because of America’s pathological racism. Michael Donald, lynched in the 1981, James Byrd’s dragged to death behind a truck for 3 miles in 1998. Amadou Diallo shot at 41 times (hit 19 times) while unarmed and pulling out his wallet in 1999. Sean Bell was shot 50 times and killed the night before his wedding in the Bronx in 2006. Oscar Grant’s murder while handcuffed and on his stomach by a cop in Oakland was recorded by several camera phones and uploaded online in 2009. And more recently of course we have been mourning the death of Trayvon Martin while also dealing with the unarmed shooting of Ramarley Graham last month. There are so many other folks who have lost their lives similarly, but these names for most are familiar and recognizable names which remind us how vulnerable it is to be a black male in America, and also how the legal system often fails to uphold justice for ALL.

How should we (Black Christians) respond to such a legacy of racism or to the apathy towards black life? The New Black Panther Party supposedly has put out a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman. While I can sympathize with their frustration with our legal system and the reality of how many black people never find justice in it, I continue to believe that we can not utilize the same violent tactics imposed on us if we desire to see a new humanity usher into our world. That said, I find the legacy of the Black Panther Party and the spirit of Nat Turner and his violent slave rebellion as very natural and normal responses to injustice and oppression. While I reject the use of violence, I do share that same spirit of frustration with racial injustice in America. In fact, sometimes, that same natural response emerges in me in greater amounts than other times. I hate the negative ways black people are treated and the apathetic and cold responses that come from some in the dominant culture. And it is hard not to project those feelings onto all people who participate in the dominant culture.

And then I am reminded of the Oppressed and Crucified One being made a public spectacle and shamed on the cross. Jesus, like many other vulnerable Jews at that time, experienced the weight of an unjust and violent system that didn’t value Jewish life. According to all the gospels, Jesus was a threat to the Jewish-Roman power system in Jerusalem. In response, they employed their technique of public torture and humiliation, which was always just as much about intimidating the masses as it was to punish the individual. James Cone in his most recent book, rightly compares Roman crucifixion to American lynchings of black men. This offers us a helpful glimpse culturally into the horrendous nature and role of crucifixion in 1st century Palestine. Yet it is there hanging on the Cross that Jesus cried out…

 Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

He didn’t demonize them, he didn’t call for a violent revolution like Peter or Barabbas. He graciously asked the Father to extend his forgiveness to them. The vision of Christ was a gracialized vision, in that those that his eyes laid on, burdened him, in that even those who were oppressors in the traditional sense, were ultimately enslaved and broken people needing to be shown the way back to the humanity originally intended by God. It’s as though his gaze continually made distinctions between the horrendous acts that he opposed, and the people who were enticed and enslaved by those systems which temporarily benefited them. His ability to see oppressive dominant peoples through gracialized gazes allowed him to make the root of the problem opaque and highly visible, that is he saw the evil systems and forces that enslave humanity rise to the surface, while graciously seeing the transparency of all humanity which desperately is in need of a Victor and Liberator. This doesn’t mean that Jesus responds the same way to all people, it is very evident in the Gospels that Jesus takes sides with and extends extra compassion towards the socially marginalized. However, folks like the young ruler and Zaccheus, who both hoard wealth, are both given the opportunity to accept the grace being extended towards them which would liberate them from the grips of this world. Just like then, some now will accept and some will not accept such grace, but that is not our issue to worry about, that is between them and God. Our responsibility is to hold firm to that same gracialized vision Jesus did, in that we see EVERYONE as needing liberation from invisible yet powerful forces.

I am not sure how much longer this national dialogue will go on. We continue to be the United States of Amnesia, quickly forgetting recent history, or as Dr. King called it, “a 10 day nation”, which moves on to the next big thing after 10 days. But for me, I am in it for the long haul. I will be like a persistent poor widow demanding justice from an unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). And as I confront empires, systems, and forces that enslave people and oppose God’s Kingdom, my prayer is that God would help me have Christ’s gracialized vision towards others, especially for those in the dominant culture who participate in oppressive practices and who are blind in their ability to see Jesus in those they harm (Matthew 25:31-46).

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

 

 

Kenya: Who Am I?

In America black people constantly wrestle with racial identity. As a young black man I have to consciously resist the stereotypes of dominant society, as they attempt to define who I am. Likewise I have to resist dominant society’s portrayals of who they think I ought to be. While that is easily communicated on paper, actually walking the tight rope of identity is difficult. One of the most fundamental questions asked by all of humanity is “Who am I?”  As Christians we go a step further wanting to know who we are in Christ, and how do we reflect the unique aspect of the Imago Dei that has been imprinted upon us.

I do not want to sound cheesy, but being in Africa, spending time alongside my African brothers and sisters was a spiritual, psychological encounter that gave me an even deeper glimpse into myself. It wasn’t merely being in a context where blacks are the majority of the population, because I already have that in the neighborhood where I live (Philly). However, I think it was the knowledge of the fact that I didn’t have to worry about stereotypes or archetypes from white or black folk, but could comfortably be me without judgement. The racial climate doesn’t easily allow for  much of that in America. We must intentionally seek it out, even when it seems subversive to some who think we ought to all assimilate into one bland and uniformed cultural expression, disregarding the diversity created by God.  I believe that the better we truly know ourselves and who we are, the more capable we will be in ministering to others. Kenya was a timely gift.

Kenya: My Cohort

I have been sitting on my Kenya experience for awhile, probably good to share it with you all. Here is my cohort from Biblical Seminary outside Tsavo National Park. I am right in the middle sporting the drifit baby blue shirt and shades.

I love these guys, and there would have been no better team to organize and go to Kenya with than them. Many of us really bonded over the trip, even more than we had previously over the past 3 and a half years.  Everywhere we went in Kenya we were greeted with “Welcome Home!”, which felt good.

Many of us expressed how welcomed we felt while there, in many ways we were more accepted and appreciated there than our home country.  The conflict of what it means to be African and American was something we rapped about after our return. That type of paradox is our history, our legacy. Our ancestors were unfree people in the land of the free. And then we come to Kenya, and felt so welcomed everywhere we went.

Race is something we never avoided talking about in our group, we didn’t always agree on the solution (or even sometimes the problem), but it was all apart of our daily existence and could not be thrown in the closet and ignored. Here in Kenya, race came up more, but even more so colonization. I will have to share more of that in a later post. Stay tuned as I share my experience in Kenya.

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.

Evangelical Split, Piper Imperialism, & a Search for Postcolonial Christian Expression

Many evangelical bloggers have just finished chiming in on Rob Bell’s new book.  While there have been a couple nuanced positions, overall most have fallen into two camps; conservative modernist evangelicals (especially reformed conservatives) and postmodern missional  evangelicals (especially emerging church leaders).  What I and others realized was that this internet and blogosphere battle that was unfolding really was not about theological and doctrinal difference (even while those tensions do exist), but rather the real underlying issue was a matter of control, influence, and power.

Younger, fresher expressions of church are “emerging” and are winning over many from white America. Simultaneously, the old guard is losing relevance, and feels threatened. Rather than working together as as the Church, imperial and colonial instincts have kicked in as folks gaze upon all the religious authority that could be attained. Domination over American Christian theological direction has quietly been the real story & narrative when you stop and read between the lines.

A war is unfolding and the victor of the war will take over (or continue) as the theological overlords of American mainstream Christian thought. They will be the de facto referees, deciding whether any given theology is in or out of bounds. Therefore these two streams of American evangelical Christian tradition fight over which white male dominated group will inherit the reigns of 21st century Christendom.  At the heart of all this hype is a thirst to reign over the Church, it is not primarily about Rob Bell and his views on heaven and hell.

John Piper jump started everything.  He personally took on the role of theological referee, wanting everyone to know Rob Bell stepped out of bounds. That’s where his “farewell Rob Bell” comes in. To be able to pull off such a ballsy move like that, John Piper must convince American Christendom that he knows the fine line between theological curiosity and theological heresy.  Repeatedly he and many of his conservative reformed entourage have basically claimed that their understanding of God, scripture, and overall theology is indeed truth. They have grasped the universal, neutral, objective, biblical, and fully truthful realities of God and the Bible. In essence, the conservative Christian tradition has arrived and know all there is to be known about truth and God (my assertion and words not theirs). 

via Google Images

Piper does not only use his comprehensive understanding of (his) god to deem people as heretics, but he also uses his knowledge of his apparently small god (one that can be fully explained by finite humanity), to assert divine will over the horrific earthquake in Japan that killed thousands. He offers 5 reasons why God kills thousands of people. Yes in the midst of tragic human suffering, confusion, and pain, Piper decides to boldly assert that God caused the earthquake killing tens of thousands as a warning to repent and to show off his magnificence.  This is a disturbing, ugly, and untimely depiction of God that vandalizes his Image in this world. Whatever happened to “good news” for those struggling?

via Google Images

I can understand why younger white evangelicals would want to break away from this brand of American Evangelicalism. While I can appreciate many of the theological nuances expressed by this zealous group of white 20 and 30 somethings, they have their own set of problems. Before we get too excited about this coming shift in influence over American religious life, we must acknowledge that the practice of hegemony and domination will still continue through these “emerging leaders”. Overall, I have been pleased with the theological shifts being expressed, because they express desire for racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the Church… wanting the Church to be ONE church, which we were called to be.  However, it did not take very long for me to realize that the proclamations and the practices of this group were not lining up. Everything that is done is done to cater to white middle class suburbia. They cater to the priviliged despite affirming Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. As far as hegemony goes, Black and Latino pastors and theologians still continue to be uninvited to the infamous “table” Even these newly formed tables under banners of emergent or missional are starting off on the wrong foot, being almost completely homogeneous. Of course these Evangelical 3.0’s have learned from their predecessors that you must at least grab a token black for your entourage or program (however the 2.0’s actually did a better job at pulling in tokens), often this GED effort of token representation is not even being done at many of their gatherings and events. Unfortunately the white control and supremacy over religious life in America is not going anywhere if left on track.

This leaves many black leaders who are open to partnership feeling skeptic about the actual intentions of these young leaders who have all good stuff to say, but no follow through.  Many black christian leaders (fully missional minded) have told me that they have quit trying to join the white dominated table, and instead have determined to create their own table where all people groups are truly welcome.  A table that finds solidarity with the oppressed before it does with Starbucks. A table made up of people that are tired of the colonial and imperial practices of Western European Christian Empire. Such anti-racist, post-colonial Christian communities will not be endorsed by Zondervan or the billion dollar Christian industry. Nope, this movement is taking place on the corners, porches, courts, homes, and church basements of America.
In the end, neither Piper and his peeps, nor Bell and the boys represent me, and billions of other Christians globally.  We have absolutely no stake in this growing feud (that is just heating up in my opinion). No stake, because for many it still leaves us in the same place (except with fewer tokens) of not being heard or taken seriously, and not being treated with dignity as though we lacked the Imago Dei in us.  It is now more than ever that we need to take our attention off of superstars like Rob Bell and John Piper… and begin learning from those who have been crying out from the margins with a very different gospel.  A gospel that is good news to the poor and oppressed.

How will you participate in Black History Month?

While most months of the year our country is consumed in white history and culture, ignoring the contributions and culture of African Americans, February (yes the shortest month) is set aside for the purpose of learning and celebrating African American history and culture. For many this month is only Black History month in name, while in reality everyone just goes on as usual. However this month I invite you to actually be intentional, listening and learning from the rich heritage and history of the black community!

How will you participate in Black History Month?

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.

Oscar Grant and 6% of the Population

Overshadowed by the hype of Lebron’s decision to sign with the Miami Heat, was the verdict of a controversial case that took place 18 months ago in Oakland, CA. See here for more info on the case.

At the end of the day, all this reminds me that we have not come too far from slavery.  What are black bodies actually worth in our society? If black men can entertain America while speaking good english, dressed main stream,  and not flashing their wealth in our face, then they seem to be valued.  However, for most of us (black men) our lives seem to still not matter that much in the eyes of our country.

This case is nothing new, it is not the first time an unarmed black man has been shot and killed by police and it will not be the last. The argument is always the same… the police officer always “accidently” shoots and kills us.  The thing I am confused about is how we are the only ones being shot and killed by police accidently, when we are only 6% of the nations population. I didn’t get an A in Statistics Class, but I am sure my math is good enough to know that the numbers and probability don’t add up right.

Black people are not the only people on earth or in human history to not have their bodies and lives valued.  In fact, in the 1st Century thousands and thousands of Jewish men were crucified under the authority and control of the Roman Empire.  In Rome, Jewish lives were desposable. In the second half of the century alone, about 6000 Jews were crucified.

Interestingly enough, we look at the crucifixion of Jesus as a unique death that no one else could bare.  The truth is that the Roman Empire saw Jesus just like they saw all the other thousands of Jews killed during that era… he was just another Jew, and taking his life was no big deal.  I mean, it wasn’t like he was Roman or something right?

America must move beyond the apathy it has towards the lives of black people. Not care about them because they can rap, ball, dance, act, tell a good joke, or speak “good english”, but because we too are created by God and in His image.  And when any of God’s beloved are undervalued, marginalized, or mistreated, we should all be troubled. We ought to rediscover our righteous indignation that disallows our comfort in the midst of others struggles. Whether someone is Black, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Homeless, Homosexual, a drug addict or prostitute we need to care about their lives, bodies, and overall welfare. Apart of our calling (if you are Christian) is to take care of “the least of these” in our society.  That is those who are most vulnerable in our society.  And that includes Oscar Grant and all the others who have been MURDERED while vulnerable and unprotected by the people who have been charged to provide safety and protection to them.