The Death of Character

The essence of character is behavior, morality, and good will. Character is encompassed in one’s thoughts, words, and deeds and is not reduced to the quantifiable standards that so often measure success. Nor is it confined to the visible metrics used to determine one’s personality and fit for roles and responsibilities. Rather character is what is not seen, easily measured, or often valued. Character does not sustain fame or secure multi-million dollar deals. Nor does it usually result in being the face of movements or social change. Character is valued in principle but not in practice, because the forces in our society are as superficial as the surface of land and as marketable as pseudo pornography on film and social media.

Character cannot be developed or improved by conforming to and being consumed by the folkways and mores of elite. In American society for example, the core values are wealth and individualism, which are aspects of the American dream. These values say nothing about character and consequently, few people strive for or speak on the need for good character, as it pertains to the goals of life. Even in our religious institutions, there is an individualized focus that encourages self-fulfillment and satisfaction above humility, honesty, and other character-centered ideals.

The lack of character in our society is seen when looking at social media posts or reading blogs and articles. It is heard when listening to politicians spew raw garbage that creates long term litter which is eaten up by rats that are attracted to pure rubbish. It is felt when you walk through universities and churches, tasted through the bitterness that has inflicted so much of humanity, and smelt through the nastiness in the elite circles across America.

Those who exhibit strong character endure challenges living in an age of chronic consumerism and cut throat commercialism. The superficiality that is upon us suffers from any attempt at being sincere and sells people to shackles of financial, commercial, and emotional slavery. While future generations could witness innovations and individual successes never dreamed of by our forefathers and fore-mothers, the character drought and famine that will inflict our land will make people even more numb to pain and suffering, and will transform faith and religion into thought processes to ponder and pick and choose from when convenient. Activism and voluntarism will be reduced to snap chats and video clips while the cries of the oppressed will continue to go unheard. Loneliness will skyrocket in leaps and bounds and a sense of community will become extinct, because accountability will turn into a taboo concept that controls and limits people’s ability be independent. The thickness and closeness of family will never be more thin and “God” will be reduced to and thought of as an outdated intellectual theory. That will signify the death of character in our society. 


5 reasons why Black Lives Matter is essential and necessary: Lessons from Pienel Joseph’s article “Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters”

University of Texas historian Peniel Joseph recently wrote an article for the New Republic entitled Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters. In this article, Joseph explores how the Black Lives Matter movement is establishing a new and unique form of civil rights activism and organizing that builds on the strengths of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement of the 1960’s. He responds to criticisms of Black Lives Matter that suggest that the movement is devoid of goals and leadership by highlighting the intersectional nature and focus of this new movement. This article provides a timely and thoughtful analysis on the relationship between Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights and Black Power movement in the 1960’s. Furthermore, this article, while not targeted specifically for Christians, provides some necessary and essential lessons for Christians interested in engaging in the struggle for racial justice in their church communities. There are 5 important lessons from this article.

  1. The necessity and impact of the Black Power Movement: In this article and in his book Dark Days Bright Nights, Joseph dispels the myths surrounding the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s. Many people refer to the Black Power Movement as the evil twin of the Civil Rights Movement and argue that the movement was violent, leaderless, and disorganized, accomplishing nothing. Furthermore, people canonize and embrace Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement while completely demonizing and rejecting Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement without any evidence or analysis of the movement. The Black Power Movement, like every other movement had many serious flaws and disorganized aspects. However, the movement was essential and had a significant impact on American society. The Black Power movement, which included the Black Panther Party for self-defense (not to be confused with the contemporary New Black Panther Party), forced a dialogue and understanding of racial consciousness and political power. The movement inspired black people to embrace their culture and identity, which created a space to advocate for greater black representation and value throughout society. The Black Power Movement inspired and fought for black representation in literature, art, politics, and intellectual scholarship which helped establish black studies programs throughout the country, black history month, and greater political power within the black community. The election of Barack Obama can be attributed to the push for greater black influence and representation in society by the Black Power Movement. This push has helped society better integrate black literature, art, and intellectual scholarship into the mainstream. While our academic institutions and public spaces are far from being inclusive and fully engaging of black intellectual, political, and artistic value, the movement forced a recognition of black achievement. Furthermore, the contemporary discussions around mass incarceration and police reform were in part inspired, not by Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, but by groups like the Black Panther Party within the Black Power Movement. Christians who are passionate about celebrating black culture and taking a stand against prison and mass incarceration must understand the vital role the Black Power Movement played in this discussion.
  2. The lack of inclusivity in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement: One of the biggest flaws of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement was its lack of representation and value of minorities within the black community. Leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X harbored some of the most vicious sexism of their era, where women were not valued and were reduced to submissive and inferior roles in the movements. Martin Luther King had once suggested that women had no place in the front line of the Civil Rights Movement. Furthermore, gay Civil Rights champion Bayard Rustin critiqued the Civil Rights movement for it’s lack of inclusivity and extreme homophobia. In fact, Rutstin was often shamed and disrespected by other Civil Rights leaders for his sexuality. Many Christians look to the Civil Rights movement as a model for faith-based work around racial justice and other social justice issues. What many ignore is how the movement, with all its glories, failed to address other systemic issues including sexism and homophobia, and in so many cases, contributed to the oppression of marginalized groups within the black community.
  3. Why the intersectionality of Black Lives Matter matters: The Black Lives Matter movement embraces and values intersectionality, which highlights and focuses on the intersection between different social identities and the struggle against oppression. This focus has inspired Black Lives Matter to focus its policy agenda on issues that impact all of black identity. Rather than focusing exclusively on the voices and perspectives of black men, like movements of the past have done, Black Lives Matter engages with and addresses issues impacting black women, LGBT blacks, and others who have been traditionally excluded and ignored by the heterosexual patriarchy within the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded by 3 queer women, which is far more inclusive and democratic than the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. This intersectionality matters because a fight for racial justice must include fights against sexism, homophobia, classism, and other social injustices. One cannot be fully committed to racial justice if he/she is unwilling to recognize the complexity of structural racism and how it intersects with other forms of oppression.
  4. The need for multiple approaches: The Black Lives Matter movement rejects the either/or fallacy that suggests that they must adopt one perspective of black liberation. Many black Americans have tried to align themselves with one philosophy for racial justice, generally comparing Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The reality is that both perspectives are necessary and valuable and there needs to be multiple approaches to addressing racial issues. The Civil Rights Movement emphasized things that the Black Power Movement did not and vice versa. For Christians, this means recognizing the value of different perspectives in fighting racial justice and understanding their role in this struggle.
  5. Why Black Lives Matter is necessary: Black Lives Matter is necessary because it offers a new and unique approach to Civil Rights activism and represents a critical movement in the fight against institutional racism. This movement forges the nonviolent approaches of the Civil Rights movement and the substantive critiques of systemic racism in the Black Power Movement, upholding the strengths of both movements. While there are legitimate and understandable critiques of Black Lives Matter, the movement is necessary and essential.

Peniel Joseph’s article provides a solid understanding of Black Lives Matter and dispels many of the myths and misunderstanding surrounding the movement. This is an important article for Christians to read in understanding a significant movement to fight against injustices that black brothers and sisters face. The movement is not perfect and without flaws; however, it is necessary and it must be understood.

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t be a Voice for the Voiceless

I majored in Social Work in college because I wanted to help people who were marginalized and discriminated against by society. I wanted to live out my Christian faith and “do justice” in our world. When speaking to many in my Christian college circle, I talked about my desire to be a “voice for the voiceless.” The phrase “voice for the voiceless” is a common cliché in both religious and secular communities that is used to express a deep desire and conviction to help others. It sounds like a good and noble thing and those in helping professions are often commended for using their career to help others. However, there is one problem. Attempting to be a “voice for the voiceless” is a toxic and counterproductive mission.

Many people who desire to be a “voice for the voiceless” are well-meaning and good-hearted. They are genuinely concerned about the plight of the disenfranchised in our world. Unfortunately, many of them are ignorant about how paternalistic and oppressive social justice and mission work can be. They fail to recognize that their desire to save and “speak” for the “voiceless” can further harm the very communities that they want to help. As I mentioned in 6 Wicked Ways of the White Savior, many people who attempt to do good work domestically and abroad end up doing more harm than good because they reinforce systems of oppression. Being a voice for the voiceless is a good example of doing more harm than good. Below are 7 reasons why you should not be a voice for the voiceless:

1. Being a voice for the voiceless censors the voices of the oppressed: When people say that they want to be a voice for the voiceless, they mean that they want to stand up for the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves. The problem with this idea is that it suggests that marginalized people are somehow incapable of speaking about their conditions in an articulate and concise way. Furthermore, it sets up a strategy that ignores the real perspectives, ideas, and worldviews of the oppressed. When you speak on behalf of a critical social injustice without actively engaging and connecting with people directly affected, you are using your privilege to achieve a social good through your own means.

2. Being a voice for the voiceless reinforces poverty and powerlessness: Many people define poverty exclusively through material lenses. What people fail to realize is that much of poverty is the feeling and reality of powerlessness. The very nature of oppression is to marginalize people in a way that they have little power. Systems of racism, sexism, classism, and imperialism are designed to marginalize and oppress people. Unfortunately, much of the charity and social justice work does little more than reinforce poverty. While social justice advocates and missionaries offer articulate and brilliant critiques about systemic issues (domestically and internationally), they are often unwilling to recognize how their very presence contributes to the oppression and marginalization. When you claim to be a voice for others who are suffering, you are reinforcing the very system that you want to fight.

3. Being a voice for the voiceless ignores and undermines that activism of oppressed communities: One of the biggest problems specifically with some of the mission work around the world is that many missionaries are ignorant of the actual work that is being done by communities overseas. Such assumptions result in many white missionaries going to other countries and advancing their own agendas. The same goes for churches that seek to do church planting in poor neighborhoods without understanding the dynamics of particular communities and learning about the churches that are centralized in key neighborhoods. When you ignore the work that is already being done to a dismantle a problem, you undermine, and in many cases, disrupt any movement and momentum to address a social problem. Furthermore, you prevent yourself from being an effective advocate with those who are affected by the injustice.

4. Being a voice to the voiceless prevents you from building relationships: When you try to simply be a voice for someone else, you are preventing yourself from building relationships and getting to know the “voiceless” people. Without relationships and actually understanding the problem, your work is meaningless. One of the problems with a lot of public policy work today is that proposals to fix a particular problem (criminal justice, homelessness, sex trafficking, ect.) is being proposed without any input, information, and instruction from people who are directly affected. When that happens, laws become passed without any meaningful impact.

5. Being a voice for the voiceless is selfish: It is selfish because it assumes and suggests that you are the right person and most moral human being to be that voice. People who think this way do not consider how they may be perceived (and the unintended consequences of their platform) or the reality that those who are marginalized need to be heard and valued. It so frequently becomes an attempt to show how committed you are to achieving a social good.

6. Being a voice for the voiceless is not necessary: It isn’t necessary to be a voice for others. It does not make you a more moral and passionate person nor does it remedy social ills. Do what is necessary to stand for justice. Don’t try to censor others voices and control the conversation around an injustice.

7. Being a voice for the voiceless is not effective: The bottom line is that being a voice for the voiceless is not effective. It merely does not work. It does not work to speak for others and share experiences that you aren’t qualified to share. What works is being effective partners with marginalized communities and learning from them.

It is important to understand that this critique is not suggesting that you shouldn’t want to help others or be vocal about injustices. It does not mean that mission work and advocacy is inherently harmful. There is absolutely a need to use your platform to speak out against injustices. It is important for white people to use their platform to call attention to white privilege within their own circles and ranks. It is important for Christians to support and call attention to the egregious injustices both domestically and internationally. It becomes a problem when white people censor the voices of minority communities and suggest that they have the answers to racial justice. It is a problem when pastors do church planting in poor communities and undermine the great work that established churches have been doing in such neighborhoods for decades. As a Christian and an advocate by profession, I think it is essential for people to stand up against injustices (through education, information, and involvement). It just needs to be done in a way that does not reinforce oppression. Advocate, educate, inform, and use your platform to do good. Just don’t try to be a voice for the voiceless. It is harmful.

7 Dangers of Charity

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring”-Martin Luther King

Charity is noble and necessary, but it cannot and should not replace justice. Charity, if done well can be selfless and well-intentioned; but meaningless if the barriers that create the need for charity remain. We live in a world where giving to charity is seen as a noble and altruistic act at its surface. Wealthy people donate to charities regularly and college students and young adults volunteer at soup kitchens and food banks to serve people in need. Few people would scoff at the idea of voluntarily giving your time and/or money to serve someone in need. Yet too many of us give and volunteer irresponsibly and/or selfishly. Furthermore, so many of us see charity as the end all of helping people in need while ignoring the systems that place people in their situations and how our mindless and thoughtless charity is contributing to and reinforcing people’s conditions.

I am not opposed to giving to charity or volunteering in and of itself. However, I am skeptical and cautious of people’s intentions (including mines) and conscious of the dangers and consequences of how charity is done. At its best, charity can educate people about the social conditions people are living in and motivate them to act and give in a way that does not reinforce the plight of the oppressed. At its worst, charity will contribute to unhealthy thoughts and practices including the White Savior Complex and in many cases, contribute to more oppression and greed around the world. As you give money and volunteer during this holiday season, there are 7 dangers that you should be mindful of. These dangers, if unnoticed will further contribute to the systemic oppression of marginalized people domestically and globally.

  1. Charity is selfish: There are many benefits to giving to and volunteering for charities. This includes tax deductions, public acclaim, and good experience for your resume to name a few. Why wouldn’t someone want to give some of their income to a charity or spend a Saturday morning volunteering at a food pantry? The benefits seem great. The selfish ambition of charitable people breeds a lack of concern for the intended population and in so many cases, it breeds more oppression. If you are so unconcerned about the plight of the communities you give to or serve, you will do little to listen to the real experiences of people directly affected. Furthermore, you will be unconcerned about where your money or time is really going towards. It is all about you and your fame and success. If you are planning to volunteer over the next week for Christmas and your only concern is getting good experience, don’t waste your time. Your selfish attitude is not needed and it will create far more harm than good.
  2. Charity ignores social problems: Many people who give to charity genuinely believe that doing so helps address a real social need. While short term charitable work in the wake of disasters can be necessary and organizations that are active and involved in neighborhoods and countries do meaningful and sustainable work, without addressing the root causes of a condition, charity is merely a unstable band-aid. People who are experiencing homelessness need far more than just a hot meal for dinner or some clothes, they need housing and justice. People experiencing racism and poverty in America’s cities need far more than Christmas toys and new shoes. They need justice for their daughter who was harrassed and killed by the police. They need better and closer schools for their son who walks through rival gang neighborhoods every Monday through Friday morning. These little charitable gifts and volunteer work don’t even crack at the problem in most cases. There are many who give money to support non-profit advocacy organizations that advocate for social change and in particular, organizations that actively engage with and take guidance from people who are directly affected by social injustices. Giving to these kinds of organizations is one of many steps to supporting work that addresses root problems; but more needs to be done. We have to be active and involved in addressing systemic issues that affect our brothers and sisters around the world. This starts by acknowledging that there are social injustices that exist. We tend to recognize this when looking at international problems but we fail to admit that America is a major agent in the oppression of marginalized people both domestically and internationally. We are so patriotic and idolizing of this country that we ignore the many evils of this empire. We have to be honest with this. We cannot be so naive as to think that giving to a homeless shelter is all we need to do to “help the homeless.” We cannot be content with shipping clothes to refugees in Syria; we cannot stop at “giving a dollar to feed a kid in Africa” or “feeding kids the local neighborhood.” If you charity causes you to ignore or avoid learning the real institutional problems that affect marginalized people around the world; your charity is dangerous.
  3. Charity is not relational: When many churches feed people experiencing homelessness, they don’t share a meal with them. Instead the give them food and expect the homeless person to be grateful. Some humiliate and talk down to people in shelters as if its OK to disrespect someone experiencing homelessness. There are countless problems with how churches do charitable and mission work, one of them is the lack of relationship building. One of the best ways to break down social barriers is to build relationships with the very people you are serving. This includes having lunch with him/her and getting to know his/her story and experiences. The lack of humanization of people experiencing homelessness or people experiencing poverty is toxic and shameful. I often hear church people complaining that a homeless person “smells bad” or that a person with mental illness is “annoying”, and use that as a reason to be distant from the people they serve. Let me be clear, if you cannot humanize and build relationships with the people in communities that you want to serve and work with, you should stop helping because you are only hurting. Your protective and insensitive attitude is more toxic than one who refuses to give or volunteer. Relationships are a crucial need for every human and so much of the poverty and pain that marginalized people face is being humiliated, lacking recognition, and being dis-empowered. If you want to help people, build a relationship with them and let them be human and powerful.
  4. Charity is convenient: Charity is convenient in a sense that it allows people to give and serve as little and meaningless as possible and still be comfortable. The best way to address this is to think about and act in ways that are not convenient for you. Take action and make a stand against the oppression of people when its unpopular. Spend time engaging and learning from people without any expectation. Learn how to do justice and humanize people when it requires more work and effort or when it’s in an environment where your actions may not be as receptive. Whether it’s in your corporate work environment, with your friends at a bar, or with your family for Christmas, you should embrace the inconvenience of your environment and be an advocate for justice and a moral humanizer.
  5. Charity keeps people in bubbles: Similar to the point of charity not being relational, charity too often keeps people in bubbles. For example, if your environment consists of upper middle class white people, and you think you have the knowledge and “answers” to helping and serving people on the other side of town, you are wrong. First of all, you will never have the “answers” to solving complex issues like racism, poverty, and economic exploitation. Second, if you have not attempted to learn from and build a relationship with someone experiencing the problems that you want to “help with”, you are nothing more than a white savior who is setting yourself up for the further dehumanization and marginalization of impoverished people. Get out of your bubble and listen and learn. Stop giving and planning to serve mindlessly. 
  6. Charity can do real harm: Many countries in Africa have become dumping grounds for charitable gifts including clothes and shoes at the expense of people’s lives and families. Many people who sell clothes and shoes in other countries to provide for their families end up bankrupt and out of work because of the constant gifts from America. Why buy clothes from a native businessman who sells t-shirts when Americans will give them for free? What this results in is thousands of people with t-shirts who are unable to provide for their families. We have to be really careful that our charitable giving of money, other material things, and time does not result in harming and starving communities and nations. We have to think more critically and selflessly about what we are giving towards. We have to think about the unintended consequences because good intentions are no longer enough. People’s lives and well-being are at stake. Stop thinking about getting a quick benefit for giving a few thousand dollars or some shoes overseas and think instead about how you can do long-term things that aren’t harmful.
  7. Charity is oppressive: Finally, to sum up all of the other points, charity is oppressive and if you are not careful about what you give to and who you serve, you will further contribute to the oppression of others. If you aren’t careful, your “Jesus work” to black kids on the Southside of Chicago will reinforce your racism and power over them. If you are not careful, your one click donations to a “kid in Africa” will go to support greedy international businesses that exploit other countries. If you are not mindful, your charity will lead you to believe that people who are homeless “choose that lifestyle” and you will lead a generation that is ignorant of the root causes of homelessness. If you are not paying attention, you will support policies that continue to exploit black and brown people, policies that further deprive Middle Eastern people of their well-being and safety, and policies that subsidize businesses that traffic young women.

Charity is noble and necessary but it cannot and should not create justice. Charity is dangerous and without real justice-oriented people is detrimental and often deadly. Recognize the dangers of charity and remedy them.

4 False Doctrines that Whitewash Churches Globally

​Christianity is the most diverse world religion. According to Christian pastor and author Tim Keller, Christianity is the only major world religion that is not centralized in one particular region in the world. The religion is practiced by billions and has been a liberating force for good in many communities.  

While Christianity at its core is a gospel of liberation and hope, the reality is that the faith has been abused and institutionalized. It has been used to justify so many evils around the world from slavery to colonialism. Professor and author Cornel West refers to Christianity that oppresses others and supports imperialism and enslavement as “Constintianian Christianity” deriving from Constantine, the Roman Emperor who institutionalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and used it as a force to oppress Jews and other non-Christians. 

Much of the oppression and evil around the world done by people who claim to be Christians has been blatant and overt. However, there are many subtle ways that Christians have oppressed and brainwashed communities and in particular, communities that they have ministered to. This is particularly an issue with American Christianity that has been responsible for a lot of missionary work around the world that, despite its good intentions has whitewashed and Americanized a Christian faith born in the Middle East and Northern Africa and practiced passionately at every end of the earth. 

When we talk about “whitewashing” or “Americanizing” Christianity, we are talking about a gospel that teaches people that white American culture is normal and ideal. Furthermore, to whitewash Christianity is to suggest to non-whites around the world that the right way to be a Christian is to adopt worship styles and customs that are attributed to predominantly white communities. This harms both white and non-white Christians. It robs non-white Christians of their culture and community and blinds white Christians to the rich diversity within God’s Kingdom. In essence, preaching that “whiteness” is synonymous with Christianity is teaching false doctrine. Below are 4 false doctrines that have whitewashed churches globally:

1. Worshipping in decency and order: Many church denominations, particularly “church of Christ” affiliation have discouraged charismatic worship. They argue that being “excited” in church is unchristian and contrary to the teachings of the bible. Other churches that are somewhat charismatic censor the way that people can sing so that it is not disruptive. Along with that, many Christians accuse preachers who adopt the black church “call and response’ rhetoric as being mere entertainers and not “serious” about preaching the gospel. Many black and brown Christians who were raised in churches where worship and preaching was more charismatic and later attend predominantly white churches, end up believing that the way they were raised as Christians was wrong. When white theologians and Christian leaders at megachurches and Christian universities shun preachers who “get too excited” they are subtly insulting church communities domestically and internationally that worship and preach in ways that inspire a generation of believers. When missionaries go to African, Asian, and Latin American countries and tell people that they have to reject all of their cultural practices and customs to follow Christ, they are creating an idol of white Christianity and turning people away from the rich cultures of their communities. I get tired of hearing people accusing black and Latino worship music as being “too excited” or suggesting that “call and response” preaching is not as “godly” as churches where preaching is more lecture based. Suggesting that Christians need to worship in a calmer and less charismatic way in order to be more “holy” is a subtle and severe racist idea. 

2. Avoiding certain controversial topics: This is especially prevalent in American churches who strategically avoid talking about racism because they think discussing the subject is too “divisive” or that it isn’t a real issue. Others take it further and suggest that discussing racism is contrary to preaching the gospel. The church’s silence and aversion to discussing America’s original sin of racism is toxic because it censors the voices of many of their brothers and sisters in Christ who experience racism, as I referenced in previous blogs. Furthermore, it suggests that racism isn’t a primary concern for Christians because it is too political. The irony is that Christians do not shy away from controversial and contentious issues. They march in droves against gay marriage and pray at abortion clinics (many preach hate and others commit violence in those instances). They speak unapologetically about the dangers of radical Islam (often in inflammatory ways) and speak about the superiority of America. With race; however, they are either silent or openly critical of what they refer to as the civil rights establishment. Unfortunately, many black churches have been impacted by this and spend countless sermons condemning the LGBT community but refuse to talk openly and honestly about racism because they don’t think its appropriate for the church. The fact that much of the American evangelical Christian community has avoided and shunned the topic of race shows the power of whiteness and colorblindness in the church. It shows that many white evangelicals have inspired churches to be resistant of systemic issues that speak to the sins of America that are embedded in our society. It shows the subtle desire to avoid critiquing majority (white) American culture and instead focusing on social the pathology of certain communities as the major sins in our world. 

3. White Jesus: I know what you are thinking, “it doesn’t matter what race Jesus was.” Unfortunately, saying that does nothing to address the reality that for the most part, Christian books and images of Christ and everyone else in the bible have been white throughout history. This is not only historically inaccurate, it is psychologically toxic to non-whites. In a world where whiteness and western culture are seen as normal and moral, the images of “God’s people” in the bible as white only reinforces feelings of inferiority among non-whites. This even results in some subconsciously believing that God is white. While logically we all know that God isn’t of a particular race, many images (including Roman Sistine Chapel) paint him as being a white man and that impacts the minds of people, particularly children. We can argue about what Jesus really looked like all we want, but we have to be honest about how the images of Jesus and everyone else in the bible as being white has an impact on non-white Christians around the world who already believe that white/western culture is morally superior. 

4. Ignoring the contributions of non-white Christian theologians: Our seminaries, universities, and churches need to read more and recognize the great theological works of Howard Thurman, Gustavo Gutierrez, and others who have contributed much to understanding and analysis of the Christian faith. Similar to the knowledge of other world history contributions, almost every theologian who is quoted from and celebrated for deep contributions to the Christian faith is a white male. This in in spite of the great non-white and woman Christian theologians who have contributed greatly to the theological analysis and understanding of the faith. 

The kingdom of God eccompases people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. It includes a variety of worship styles and speaks to the experiences of marginalized people. Furthermore, the truth is that “we” (people from various nationalities and ethnicities) are represented in the bible and throughout church history and have been prophets and messengers of God. It is important for us to celebrate our diversity in Christ but not merely for the purpose of numbers, but for the purpose of speaking to the unique and often undervalued experiences of those who are oppressed.

Doing mission work around the world is noble and often necessary. I applaud people who preach the gospel in areas where Christianity is unknown and in many cases unpopular. Yet I cringe when I hear of Christian converts from the Middle East or South Asia who despise their culture. I met a British Christian from India once who said that his country and people were “savages” and that he is glad that he lives in the United Kingdom. That broke my heart to hear someone reject his own people and accept a notion that the western world is more superior and moral. This is not to get into a debate about how governments are ran and managed in different nations. The point is that many Christian converts around the world are sold Christianity as a way to reject much of who they are and embrace a new ethnic and national culture. When you come to Christ you are a new person, but that newness transcends culture and nationality. Rejecting one culture for the sake of another is not what that “newness” in Christ is about. 

We have to reject and avoid teaching the false doctrines that whitewash and Americanize churches. Rejecting that false doctrine is for the good for both white and non-white Christians. It will help non-white Christians love and affirm their culture while recognizing their newness and identity in Christ. It will help white Christians reject their often well-intentioned mission work that does much harm and little good. It will humble the white Christian pastor who believes that his style of preaching is most holy, it will enlighten the black worship leader who has been convinced that she has to lead worship softly and slowly so that it wouldn’t entertain or distract the masses, and it will liberate the middle eastern teenager who has been told that his native culture is all wrong.

Conscious Sexism: How “Conscious” and “Woke” Men Reinforce Sexism

We live in a patriarchal society where sexism and misogyny impact social structures and institutions from religion and education to entertainment and music. This is found when churches use the bible to silence the voices of dedicated Christian women or when the music and film industry sexualize and objectify women to boost sales.

Many men who refer to themselves as socially conscious have responded to America’s misogynistic culture with more misogyny. Afrocentric scholars, politically conscious rappers, and Christian male figures have used their platforms to speak out against the objectification of women in mainstream American culture, but have either responded with an objectification of their own and/or with shaming women for their oppression.

Many Afrocentric scholars refer to black women as “queens” and create their own expectations of how an “ideal” black woman should behave. They advocate for black women who have a certain skin complexion, who wear their hair naturally and avoid the “commercial” look. By holding certain expectations of how black women are to look and behave, they are putting black women in a box and as a result, are reinforcing sexism. At the core of sexism in our society is locking women in a box and limiting who they can be. It is a form of slavery.

Similarly, “conscious” rappers critique the mistreatment and sexual objectification of women in the music industry and in particular, hip hop. However, much of the criticism is towards women, blaming the social pathology of black women for their conditions, similar to how white intellectuals and politicians have blamed the pathology of blacks (both men and women) for their marginalization.

This is evident in many examples, from Nas’ Black Girl Lost; where he lectures and shames black women who live lives deemed promiscuous, to Lupe Fiasco’s Bitch Bad; where he blames black mothers for objectifying themselves to their children through music.

While both Nas and Lupe Fiasco should be applauded for using their platforms to produce lyrically gifted critiques of social injustices and their refusal to engage in the overt sexual exploitation of women in much of their music, they should be critiqued for their failure to challenge patriarchal society and for their public shaming of black women. As a result, they reinforce much of the sexism in our society by blaming women for their plight without critiquing the institutions that create these conditions.

In the Christian community, many “conscious” Christian men critique how society uses and abuses women for sexual gain. Yet they regularly talk about the need for women to be “modest” in order to be seen as acceptable. Young men at Christian colleges around the country pray to find a “Proverbs 31” woman to marry despite the fact that Proverbs 31 is not referring to a real woman but rather positive qualities and attributes that both men and women should have. Furthermore, many biblical scholars suggested that the passage is referring to wisdom, as wisdom is referred to as “she” throughout the book of Proverbs.

The high expectation of Christian women to be “modest” in order to be justified is not a concept endorsed by Christ. It is a sexist notion that locks women in a box and expects them to fit a specific mode in order to be worthy of marriage and respect. Furthermore, Christian men who advocate for this fail to critique and challenge the sexism within their “faith based” communities and American society at large that objectify and limit the gifts, leadership, and contributions of women.

It is important for us to challenge the sexism that both openly misogynistic men and so called conscious men implore. We need to condemn the overt sexism that sexualizes women and enforces policies that prevent them from leadership and equal pay. At the same time, we need to challenge and condemn the covert sexism that at the surface appears to be valuing women, but reinforces the limitations and ridiculous expectations of what makes a woman worthy.

Being a conscious man who claims to respect women does not excuse or exempt you from using your male privilege to subjugate women. Be “woke” and challenge your “conscious” sexism.

6 Liberating Ways to Love Your Black and Brown Neighbor

blogpic10-1The greatest commandment in the Bible is to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). This is one of the most quoted passages in the bible as Christians all over the world memorize and seek to live by this. At the surface, this passage seems very simple because it merely requires us to love God and love our neighbors. However, we too often take this passage passively rather than actively and as a result, we sanitize it. When it becomes sanitized, it is used as a protection from engaging in difficult issues and holding people accountable for injustices and prejudices. The command is a subtle yet severe way to uphold and defend oppressive systems that Christians, especially in America, have long contributed to and benefited from.

One example of how Christians take the passage passively is with racism and racial reconciliation. Many Christians (both black and white) dismiss conversations about racism in the church as being “political” and suggest that if we just “loved our neighbors” everything would be ok. This is a grossly false and inaccurate way of interpreting Jesus’ second greatest commandment. Loving your neighbor is not a protection or “exit” from engaging and confronting racism but rather a way to fight and challenge it. The “love your neighbor” response to avoid discussing race in the church is another way to promote “Christian colorblindness”, which is a topic I discussed in my blog The Colorblind Christian. It is also a way to defend the oppression of Christians who are victims of racism in America.

In Martin Luther King’s Letter to a Birmingham Jail and Where do we go from here? he challenged and rebuked the hypocrisy and silence of white Christian clergy who remained silent in the midst of the oppression of their black people. He told them that they weren’t living up to the ideals of their faith. He also argued that you cannot truly love someone if you are unwilling to take a stand against the injustices he/she faces and refuse to value their full humanity.

The Christian community has to stop using a serious and important scripture incorrectly to avoid challenging what author Jim Wallis refers to as “America’s original sin” of racism in their ranks. By doing so, you are rejecting the pain and suffering of black and brown brothers and sisters who live and experience racism on a daily basis. Furthermore, you are completely sanitizing the message of Christ and walking in direct contradiction of his message. Below are practical examples to “love your neighbor” from a racial lens

  1. Listen: You cannot truly love someone until you listen to their pain. This seems to be applied to so many other instances. Christians seem to draw closer to each other when they become vulnerable in talking about the pains of depression, sexual addiction, and other deep problems. Unfortunately, with racism, we fail miserably at applying the art of listening. If you are unwilling to listen to people share their experiences and real fears of racism, you cannot and will not love them as your neighbor. You can’t expect someone to conform to your ideals or political views about racism for you to love them. This is especially true when they have actually experienced it.
  2. Expect people to know their lives better than you: I’ve mentioned this before in previous blogs and cannot stress this enough. If someone says they have experienced racism, believe them.
  3. Hold others in your community accountable for how they treat certain groups of people: In Galatians 2, when the apostle Peter was clearly being hypocritical in his actions towards Gentiles to appease the Jews, the apostle Paul “called him out” and “opposed him to his face.” Paul did this because Peter was not living up to the ideals of his faith and he needed Peter to know that. Similarly, if you know that a fellow Christian is treating an “outsider” differently because of their background, you should not ignore or avoid it, you must hold them accountable and call them out. Loving your neighbor does no good if you are unwilling to condemn the unloving and unjust actions of others.
  4. Hold people in power accountable: Christians are not afraid to speak out against the social issues of the day. They just pick and choose which issues to speak out against. In rapper Lecrae’s song Gangland, he raps “When American churches scuff they Toms on our brother’s dead bodies As they march to stop gay marriage We had issues with Planned Parenthood too We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.” Lecrae is exposing his hypocrisy of American Christians who fail at standing up for black lives.
  5. Think about the racial makeup of your church leadership and participation: If your church is multiracial and every leader and everyone participating in the “order or worship” is white, this is a problem. You can’t just simply point to the many black faces at your church as proof that your church is welcoming and loving. If you do not ask or encourage non-white people to participate and lead in the church, you are reinforcing the oppressive power dynamics in our society, whether subtle or intentional. You are also failing to “value” or “love” them fully when you are uncomfortable having a different face of leadership or different style or perspective of worship service.
  6. Stop being the White Savior: You can read my two-part blog series on the White Savior Complex (Part I, Part II), but in short, you have to love and value your neighbor enough to learn from them and let them lead rather than believing that you have the “answers” to the problems simply because of your privilege and status. Furthermore, if you are teaching people that your culture is superior, you don’t love them; you are treating them as a token and using them to display your “love for humanity.”

When Jesus talked about loving your neighbor, he called us to live it actively in all areas of our lives and in all instances. He called us to really value people and not merely “treat them well” but to really stand up for them and care for them in a deep and active way. He meant challenging whatever societal forces keep us from loving and valuing others. Whether it is 1st century “norms” that kept  Jews from talking to Samaritans, 20th century legal systems that kept and still prevent blacks from eating with or having the same rights as whites, or 21st century colorblind practices that redesign oppression to create an illusion that racism is no longer a problem while black men and women are being killed by police, we must challenge them all. Let’s go out there and actively love our neighbors and stop using that verse as an empty phrase.