The Break – Struggling With Identity

In this episode KC, Chris, Tash, Darius, Leisha, Shelby, Darralynn, Rahda and Malcolm continue their discussion around transgenderism, touching on where your identity lies, and how it is affected by religion, society and genitalia.

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The Break – Preachers of L.A.

The Black Is crew discuss the TV series Preachers of L.A. and its effect on the christian community.

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The Reverend Fred Luter, Jr.

As the black community overwhelmingly celebrates the re-election of our first black President, I’ve been surprised to note how few of us are aware of another groundbreaking rise to higher office achieved by one of our own. This office is pastoral, not political, yet the social implications of this occurrence are perhaps no less significant than that of President Obama’s election to the office of President of the United States. I’m talking about the Reverend Fred Luter, Jr. and his own election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention, (S.B.C.), for those who don’t know, is the largest body of Baptists in the entire world. It is the second largest Christian body in the United States with 16 million members, second only to the Catholic Church. Given that most American Christians are Protestant, you could argue that Fred Luter, Jr., a 56-year old black man from New Orleans, stands as the most powerful religious figure in America. This is a significant fact in its own right. But it’s all the more amazing when you consider the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The S.B.C. has an old and venerable history in the United States, and particularly in the south. But to say that the S.B.C. has a questionable history with respect to race would be putting it mildly. It became the Southern Baptist Convention in the first place in 1845, having split with the northern Baptists because it refused to prohibit slave holding churches from sending out missionaries. Though the Baptist community even in the south had a history of racial tolerance and acceptance towards blacks throughout the 1700’s (even allowing blacks to be preachers in the south and opposing slavery), the southern Baptists gradually changed their attitude towards slavery as their membership expanded among the elite, wealthy planter class of the Southern Gentry. (Perhaps ironically, conversions of blacks in the south increased significantly as well during this time, especially among the slaves. Black Baptists formed their own organizations after the Civil War, most notably the National Baptist Association.) From that time onward, and even after the Civil War, the attitudes of Southern Baptists with regards to civil rights closely tracked that of white Southerners generally. Conservative Southern Baptists would support Jim Crow laws (though there was a moderate faction that favored desegregation) and were generally not allies of the Civil Rights Movement.

All this of course makes the election of Fred Luter, Jr. to the presidency of the S.B.C. (he was elected unopposed by the delegates at the convention; itself a first in S.B.C. history) all the more striking. A jovial yet fiery personality behind the pulpit, the senior minister of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans Reverend Luter was born the third of five children and raised by his divorced mother who made ends meet as a seamstress and as a surgical scrub assistant. He turned to God at the age of 21 after a motorcycle accident nearly killed him, leaving him with a head injury and a compound fracture. He began as a street preacher and ultimately found his way to Franklin Avenue in 1983, ultimately leading the growth of the church to 7,000 people prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005; after which Reverend Luter was noted for his leadership in rebuilding the congregation following unparalleled devastation left in the Hurricane’s wake, rebuilding a crushed and demoralized congregation back up to a membership of 5,000 as of his election to the presidency of S.B.C in June of last year. He finishes his one year term in June of this year.

If it is a testament to the degree to which minds and hearts have changed over the many generations of this country’s racial history unto now that Revered Luter could be elected President of a body of primarily white Christians with roots deep in slavery and segregation, it is also perhaps a testament to the power of the Christian message of love and forgiveness, even when articulated across the boundaries and tensions of the color-line. Reverend Luter recalled having been invited to preach at a Baptist church in Crowley, Louisiana, in the early ’90’s (the first time he preached outside of New Orleans). It was a strictly white congregation, and the pastor who invited Reverend Luter to speak had become nervous about how his congregants would react to a black preacher.

“Just don’t put my picture up,” Luter instructed him, preferring to leave it a surprise. Indeed his audience was silent and tense when Fred Luter astonished them with his presence. But then he spoke of the grace and the goodness of God in the warm, approachable manner for which he is known. Their attitudes changed even that night. One woman from the crowd would approach Reverend Luter afterwards, admitting to him that she had begun by feeling angry that a black man was preaching at her church…and ended by thanking God he came.

The Break: The Chick-fil-A Controversy (PODCAST)

Listen in as KC and the family (after a long night of podcasting) discuss Chick-fil-A’s announcement of their anti-gay marriage stance. Podcast guests include, Chris Lehman, Toria Williams, Malcolm Darrell, John Wood, and Jamila Farwell. If you have commentary about this topic, feel free to call the hotline at (323) 455-4219!!!

PODCAST: Homosexuality In The Black Community

Listen in as KC and the family discuss homosexuality in the Black community. Guests include Chris Lehman, Toria Williams, John C. Byrd III of Sickly Cat Magazine, Obinna Obijiaku, Craig Stewart, John and Triawna Wood, and Ivy Lindsey. Feel free to call our new hotline and leave a message about today’s show! You can reach us at (323) 455-4219!


Salvation: For Christians Only? (Part Three of Three)

Can God cast a good man to Hell for not being a Christian? That is to say, not simply a man who does good things out of obligation or expectation, but rather one who acts from the goodness of his heart, a man (or woman) who has never heard of the name Jesus, or perhaps has heard but has not understood His word enough to adopt it as his own, and yet from the goodness of his heart live his life in the way that Christ would have had him live it ? Will a just and loving God send such a person to Hell, or will He who can do no evil judge such a person according to the purity of his heart and the Christ-likeness of His character? I let the Bible the answer:

“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:12-16)

So this the truth: no person with a pure enough heart to keep the Spirit of God’s commands, whether he knows or understands them or not, can be turned away from His eternal kingdom because such a person can only be of that Kingdom. Christ’s own words, as we previously detailed, testify to this fact explicitly, more than once. For indeed, to show the work of God in one’s heart is to show the work of Christ, whether one is baptized in His name or not. For does that righteousness come from the devil? How then could it be any other way?

Having said all this, it is legitimate to ask how one should go about preaching the gospel if the lynchpin of such preaching is not Christ as the only path to salvation. That is, it is a legitimate question, but a flawed one, because Christ, rather the Spirit of Christ, remains man’s only path to salvation. But given that our relationship to God and Christ is a spiritual one, that our walk with God is a spiritual one, our belief in Christ and our walk with God must bear supremely moral and spiritual fruits in our own beings and our own actions. It is therefore the faith in the Love that is the source of these good works and these spiritual fruits within ourselves that we must understand to be the point of our believing in Christ in the first place. In other words, the point of Biblical teaching, when all is said and done, is to teach us how to love God, and even at that, to teach us to love one another as we love ourselves in so doing. The very life of Jesus makes this abundantly clear. As Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (Corinthians 11:1) For the outward profession of faith in Christ is only the beginning of the Christian walk with Jesus and if one does not grow beyond that beginning one has never started the journey at all. For to truly be saved is not merely to profess belief, nor is it to believe as a mere matter of fact. Rather it is to embody in all one’s being the teaching’s of Christ and his disciples. Needless to say that is not easy. It requires the whole relinquishing of oneself to God, to the Spirit of love which subdues all feelings of arrogance, bitter or vindictive anger, lust, self-pity, hatred, and perhaps most of all: fear. The great classical philosophers; Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, understood that the true aim of life is to obtain an inner fulfillment which allows one to see the world in a manner unimpeded by the corruptions of our wayward desires and emotions, our flesh in Biblical parlance. Indeed this falls in line with that which the scripture teaches, yet in acknowledging and focusing on God as the spiritual source of such peace scripture gives us a way of focusing on it clearly in our hearts and our minds which makes the gift and instrument of faith the indispensable element in our making ourselves more content, more moral people and for making our world a more peaceful, more moral world.In believing that a spiritual force of love and goodness is the Source of all things, ourselves included, we receive a confidence in the power of that moral force to prevail against all forces that oppose it and truly man needs that faith to persevere into the future in a moral way. So then must we do as Christ taught us:

1.We must love God will all our heart, soul and mind, understanding that God is Himself the Spirit of love as the apostle John shows. To truly be saved in Christ is to love love, acknowledging that God is love. This sincere belief changes the entire way a man looks at the universe and his place in it. All discord can be seen as part of a greater harmony, dissonantly moving towards a harmonious end.

2. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So too must we love our enemies, earnestly praying for them and not out of obligation but from a truly caring heart. To that point, we must know ourselves well enough to realize that we all long to be understood and to be forgiven for our flaws, our imperfections. But because man does have a conscience and because God and the laws of the universe ultimately demand balance in all things, one cannot be inspired to think himself worthy of God’s grace if he does not extend such grace to others.

3. We must forgive others, no matter how many times they sin against us. For grudges poison the world don’t they? But to the degree to which we cannot forgive others is the degree to which there is something for which have not forgiven ourselves because we have not accepted the forgiveness of God. We are not open to it because we hate something within us and that hatred extends itself outward to everyone and everything in which we see something similar. Our outer attitudes reveal the spiritual wounds we hold within.

4. We must not judge others, for the judgment with which we judge is how we shall be judged. Indeed there is a paradox here, for we cannot help but make judgments and have our subjective opinions. But to allow God to judge through us, we judge from the Holy Spirit of God’s love and understanding, understanding therefore that righteousness judgment looks to acknowledge the goodness in a person’s heart and to correct that person’s errors for the sake of that goodness. This sort of judgment (the suppression of our unrighteous, fleshly judgement in favor of the equitable evaluation of God’s love) brings people to Christ in time, for it paves the way for forgiveness.

5. We must sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, indeed not foremost the material good of others, but the spiritual good of others. This thing requires first that one live by the first elements I’ve mentioned, for if one cannot love and forgive others suppressing one’s own personal opinions about them in favor of God’s equanimity one cannot see the good in others for which he should sacrifice himself for. But the service of self-sacrifice was the center piece of Christ’s life, of any true Christian’s life (take Martin Luther King, Jr. as a telling example, and a man who did not believe that God’s eternal glory was reserved for Christians only). For even beyond the written commandments of the Bible we have a living illustration of God’s righteousness in the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this He saves us, for he shows us a way both to live and die that words alone cannot tell.

Salvation then is a process that consumes the entire walk of a Christian as well as of a non-Christian, and it is for us who are Christians to help others on their walk to salvation by showing them, as Christ showed us, how we come to believe in Love so as to live from Love. For to do so is ultimately to believe in God and to be reborn in Him. It is to not be afraid of the wiles of the devil or the evils of the world, for how can you fear anything when you are confident of the indispensable value of your own person to the universe? How can you fear death when your heart tells you that you have planted the seed of life in the soil of the hereafter, and that you still expect to reap them? So then when Christ tells us that that which we bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven and that which we loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven, He is telling us that it is the sum of our works on this place that will return to us in eternity. When Christ tells us that to those who have faith, more will be given but to those who have not even the little they have will be taken away, He is telling us that the faith which we have that leads us to love earns to the love we are given that leads us to believe. What we reap in this life, as Paul says, we sow in eternity. So though it is indeed the work of God to believe in He whom He has sent, that is only the beginning of that work. For true belief brings with it the Holy Spirit, for it comes of the Spirit., and along with that the fruits of the spirit which make for a truly Holy life. So as we preach Christ we preach the path to such a life. Yet those who do not believe as we do are still punished and are still rewarded for the degree to which they live such a life, for the degree to which they have such faith and such heart to live such a life. And indeed, we already know that there have been many who have not called themselves Christians who have lived more Christ-like a lives than many of those who do. Does God discount their righteousness? Does he ignore the love they bear in their hearts for the Spirit Whom He is? Do they who fulfill the law blasphemy the Holy Spirit?

“Owe no one anything except to lvoe one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,“You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

Indeed, the whole world would be better served if all were to come to believe in Christ as the very Son and image of God, finding new life within Him. It is to the detriment of all who do not believe His words that they do not, but it so because they must now chase the light of God’s glory with a veil over their eyes. That does not mean of course that they will not find it, only that they must contend with what they do not know, as must we all. But it has never been God’s plan that all should do so in the Christian sense.  Yet we may still share with others who do not believe as do we Christians the grace of the Christian message. And furthermore, we must. Indeed I write none of these words to dissuade those who read them from accepting Christ as the Lord, but rather to clarify the true quality of the God that you, should you not believe, would be accepting so that you might accept Him truly and not falsely, that others will preach Him as He truly His and not as the devil would have us believe. At the end of the day it is up to fate and the Father of the universe as to whether or not their hearts accept it or reject in the day when all our deeds are brought before us, both good and evil. But fate bodes well for all those non-believers who, though not believe, nevertheless uphold the righteous requirements of God’s commandments. For the God of conscience holds us all to account. And again Who is that God but the Love by which He seeks to bring all His children home one day in the Kingdom of Christ the Lord.

Salvation: For Christians Only? (Part Two of Three)

We ended part two by noting that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Love, according to the Bible. We also noted that Paul himself refers to God as the savior of all men and especially those who believe, but not exclusively or only those who believe, making it rather difficult to suggest that the God of the Christian Bible is a God only interested in allowing Christians into His kingdom. But if this is so then why does Christ Himself say in the scriptures that “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)? And if explicit acceptance of Christ as Lord and savior does not constitute the fundamental prerequisite for human salvation, what, Biblically speaking, does?

First, let me preempt a criticism someone would be sure to level at me. “There is no way Christ can be Lord and savior,” I know many think, “if He is not the only way to salvation.” Indeed. But in saying that non-Christians may be saved I’m not saying that all religions are equal, nor that one may find salvation through Buddha or Muhammad, etc. Yes, I do believe that many great spiritual teachers have contributed mightily to the goodness of the world and have served God in their own ways. But I believe in Jesus Christ, not only as my personal Lord and savior, but as that of the world. Yet when I say this I am not speaking with simple religiosity as many Christians do, but rather I am speaking of spiritual truths which, incidentally, is the manner in which the Word of God speaks.  In this vein there is an absolute standard for salvation which the Bible lays out, the meeting or missing of which determines where all of us will spend eternity. That standard is whether or not we accept within us the very Spirit of love itself: God’s Holy Spirit.

Prominent atheist author and intellectual Sam Harris made a documentary that focused largely on the claim that Jesus suggests all atheists (and virtually all non-Christians, though I suppose that using his logic most Jews would be exempt, a thing that apparently did not register to him ) are going to Hell. In it he seizes upon one passage to make his point, but interestingly that passage is not John 14:6. It is in fact Matthew 12:31,32, which is the very passage I see as underlying the Biblical truth that all people who are born of love (regardless of religion) are ultimately saved. How could two people have such radically divergent interpretations of the same words? Well the truth is, many Christians would probably agree with Sam Harris’s interpretation of Matthew 12 over mine. Nonetheless, they are all wrong. Jesus’s words here are as follows:

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31, 32)

What did Jesus mean when He said these words? Sam Harris took these words as meaning that all those who did not believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit would be cast into Hell. This was the basis of his argument with respect to the unjust premise of Christ’s teachings. But in truth, these words in the gospel of Matthew have nothing to do with accepting or rejecting the existence of the Holy Spirit. I wish Mr. Harris had consulted a few more Christians before publicizing this argument because context is key here, and Jesus is not here nor is He anywhere else in the scriptures conversing with atheists. (The subject of atheism is in fact only rarely addressed in scripture, for there were even fewer atheists then than there are now.) Jesus is instead speaking with the Pharisees (the Pharisees represented a sect of Judaism), men who obviously believed in the existence of the Holy Spirit (the Old Testament does mention the Holy Spirit several times). Just prior to these words of Christ, he was seen by these Pharisees and others healing a man who was blind and mute of his afflictions, allowing him to both see and speak. Upon seeing this, these Pharisees who were enemies of Christ charged him with acting on behalf of Beelzebub (Satan), of using the devil’s power to heal the sick and the lame. But Jesus was using the Spirit of God’s love, His Holy Spirit, to work His miracles. Therefore, in saying that those who speak against the Spirit are not forgiven, what He means is that it is those who identify the Spirit of love and call it evil who are truly evil, and it is these and these alone who are damned. So then does Christ say in the gospel of John that “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).

So it is that those who speak against the Spirit of love itself are damned from the beginning because they have a nature which rejects the Spirit of God. But wait, doesn’t this mean that those who do not believe in Christ are condemned already? Only in the spiritual sense, which is the only relevant sense. For we have already heard Jesus say that those who speak against Him are forgiven, and surely one cannot both believe in Christ and speak against Him. Hence by Christ’s own words we understand that speaking against Jesus is not in and of itself a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, though He be one with God. So then does Jesus clarify the nature of the ultimate transgression in the following verse in John, which is not that one has not believed in Christ, but rather “that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (john 3:19). Of those who do not believe in Christ, there are those who do not understand His place under God nor His divinity. These, if they do not blasphemy the Spirit of love, of God’s love, will be forgiven. Then there are those who understand Christ’s goodness, and reject it precisely because they in their hearts reject that which is good. It is these who will not know forgiveness. For as the gospel of John says, those who believe in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit. But it is the Spirit Himself Whom Christ (being born of the Holy Spirit as the physical manifestation of such) identifies as being solely critical to the salvation of a man’s soul. Not that Christ and the Holy Spirit are separate, of course, in New Testament theology. They are one. To accept the Holy Spirit in one’s heart therefore is indeed to accept Christ, whether one ever achieves an adequate scriptural understanding of Jesus or not (something the large majority of Christians never have and never will. Through most of the history of Christianity the vast majority of Christians could not even read the Bible). When Christ said that He was the only way, therefore, He was again speaking of the Holy Spirit with Whom He was One. He was not speaking of Himself as a Man, but as a vessel of the Spirit and a servant of God the Father whose will alone, not Christ’s will (understanding of course that Jesus’s authority only derives from His oneness with God) is sufficient to deliver one into the Holy Spirit and into salvation. Why else would Jesus say what He said in Matthew? Why else would He speak these words in John?

Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:44-47)

So it turns out that God is just. Why should anyone be surprised?…

Salvation: For Christians Only? (Part One of Three)

We live in a majority Christian nation (83 percent of Americans, according to a recent ABC News poll, identify themselves as Christian) and studies show that African-Americans constitute the most religiously adherent subgroup of America’s very large Christian majority. As such religious and perhaps more particularly theological issues carry great importance in our Christian community generally and the African-American Christian community in particular. There is no shortage of controversial topics of discussion relating to Christian beliefs, what the Bible really says and what it actually means. But the most important, I would argue, is the question regarding that which constitutes salvation and, specifically, whether or not non-Christians can be saved. Because in a very real way, the way in which a Christian answers this question indicates the vast trend of all the rest of her or his spiritual and theological thinking.

My firm opinion is that non-Christians can, and often are, saved. It is a controversial point of view within the church but one that I imagine a significant portion of worshipers white, black and otherwise in this country yet share, whether minority or majority however I’m not sure. Socially conservative evangelical Christians however are among all other Christian groups least likely to believe that salvation is available to those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior and these represent the single largest group of Christian believers in this country, whether white or black, so the view that non-Christians cannot be saved should probably be regarded as, both historically and contemporaneously, the dominant view. It’s entrenched, supposed obviousness gives it quite a convincing advantage in religious debates on the subject, and while I’m always heartened to hear the likes of professor Cornell West and professor/minister Michael Eric Dyson (both of whom I have precious little in common with politically but whose personal philosophies I find much to admire in) opine on this matter in the direction of God’s limitless love and forgiveness for all his righteous children, I’m often a little embarrassed by the inability of proponents of this point of view to deliver a sound theological argument for it’s merits, rather than retreating to extra-biblical platitudes which can be of very limited persuasiveness to those who are more religiously conservative and those who are rooted in the technical substance of the Word. (I squirmed to watch popular and fashionable pastor Rob Bell, author of the book Love Wins, being interrogated like a guilty child by MSNBC’s Martin Bashir for seeking to manipulate the Bible into being  “palatable,” to a modern audience, never managing to give a solid scriptural response for his position.) The truth is however that it is the traditional point of view regarding the accessibility of salvation that is so clearly weak from a scriptural perspective. It is time for those of us who take the word of God seriously to explain why.

I could call upon many passages in the Bible to support the idea that salvation goes to all righteous people, and I will, but in truth I only need call upon one verse to make this clear for in fact it is stated quite explicitly. For Paul writes to his junior in ministry, Timothy, the following saying “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1rst Timothy 4:10). Now Paul says quite clearly that God is the savior of all men, especially those who believe, in saying so he is quite clearly not saying that God is exclusively the savior of all men who believe, for that would render his words non-nonsensical. I do think there is some context to be taken into account here, inasmuch as I do not believe that Paul means to suggest that un-Godly people are saved by God. (I do feel strongly that there is a Hell to which evil people go for eternity, thus disqualifying me really as a liberal theologian.) But it is clear that God can be and often is the savior of non-believers. Of course, those who believe otherwise who are aware of this blatant statement hidden in the many under-perused passages of scripture will argue, as a friend of mine did to me once, that what Paul meant was that God had prepared salvation for all in the same way a person might prepare a meal for many, but that just as many who were invited might not show up for that meal, so will many not believe in the Christ who has offered them salvation. A worthy attempt at a rationalization, I think, but woefully unconvincing simply because the analogy so misunderstands the statement. Paul does not say that God has prepared to save all but has not, in the way that a mother might prepare to feed all her children but is unable to. Paul says that God has and will save all, as a parent who has and will feed all his or her children. There is no other way to interpret this without betraying what it is the Word says.

But this is just the first step in unwrapping the paper tiger that is the unbiblical, mostly conservative Christian belief in Christian-only salvation. For if Paul means what he says, then we still have to consider what it is Jesus means when He says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) and others like it. The true meaning of this verse reveals the true spiritual message of Christianity that we will expound upon in the second and third segments of this series, one which stands in such stark opposition to Christianity in it’s typical, religiously oriented conception.

The spiritual root of the scriptural message is contained in the oft-cited words of the apostle John, who wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1rst John 4:7, 8). Notice that John says that everybody who loves is born of God, making no distinction between believer and non-believer. But the more relevant point in these words for our purposes are in the simple phrase “God is love.” Those of you who have a decent command of the scriptures probably recall Jesus informing the disciples that “God is Spirit.” God is not a man like deity in the clouds, but an omnipotent spiritual force and the essence and nature of that force, John reveals, is love. The Holy Spirit therefore, the Spirit of God, is itself the Spirit of love. Only in understanding this can we truly begin to understand the Bible…

The Ascendancy of Black America (Part Two of Four)

What does it mean to be an American? I suppose it would mean, or should mean at least, that one stands for liberty, for equal opportunity, and the right of all peoples to have a say in the governing system that oversees their existence. In this, we as black Americans are Americans like any other. But to be an African American does make one the heir of  a unique history and a powerful legacy that runs through the heart of the overall American experience. It is a history that gives us strength, but only in proportion to the degree to which we know it and embrace it. In my opinion therefore, it is important for us to claim this legacy knowing that ours is an American legacy. We, as much as the whites who brought us here, built this country. We, man for man, woman for woman, have helped to shape it by our endurance and our innovation as much as  European Americans. Our struggle has been different from theirs. Indeed, our struggle has been against them, to a significant degree. Yet our pains followed us here from Africa as well, sold into the hands of one group of slave owners by slave owners whose colors were our own. As such we were forced to start over, in a way that perhaps no people has ever had to before. Indeed, we are still starting over. In the last fifty years we have called ourselves negro, black, African-American, then Nigga with an “a” because, (I suppose), that makes a difference, and indeed some black people will take exception to any of these labels because as a whole people we have still not agreed upon who precisely we are. No, not after all this time. Part of the reason for this, I’ve decided, is because we are still uncertain as to whether or not we with our tormented history at the hands of the mighty in this country should really consider ourselves American at all. The answer to this question is that we should because we are, and that our Americanism is more than just a technicality. Our experience has colored the American experience, our culture lies at the heart of America’s culture, and our minds claim great shares in the authorship of America’s ideals as they’ve been further defined through the many generations succeeding the moment of this nations founding. But all of that is for not if we don’t see ourselves as Americans.

Though I was never ignorant of the struggles of African-Americans in this country, I was raised by both my white father and my black mother to think of myself as an American, and to be proud of that fact. That’s why, one day in the seventh grade, I was more than a little shocked when, after we we’re all asked to stand for the pledge of allegiance, one of the black girls in my class pointedly refused. Our teacher asked why she refused and she said, “why should I? This is the country that enslaved me, that wouldn’t let my people use the same bathroom or go to the same schools as white people. Why the hell should I pledge allegiance to that?” Though she wasn’t talking to me I vividly remember feeling hurt by her words. “We’re all in the same schools now,” I thought. Still, her anger struck me and I wondered, was I naive to love this country? Later in my life, and after having argued the case for black American patriotism many times, many ways, I heard another man artfully put in words what I had long understood and had long tried to explain to those black friends of mine who wanted still to hold tightly to their anger towards this country.

When Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was shaken by the uproar over the anti-American tirade of Pastor Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church in Chicago,(then Senator Obama’s longtime pastor), Barack Obama delivered a speech in Philadelphia to address the issue. In this speech he said a thing that sounded curious to many people, that didn’t satisfy many of his critics, but which I understood perfectly well. His words were as follows:

“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love.”

Many critics of the president’s felt this to be not but an artful alibi for suffering the anti-American rhetoric of a radical religious figure, something that should have disqualified any candidate seeking the presidency from obtaining that office. But as a black and as a (if you will) mulatto myself, I recognized both sides of the coin which he described. For many of the people I love most in my life, black people of intelligence and integrity, have disparaged America in my presence in similar terms, something I have often cringed at. Yet how can I be angry at them for reacting to a pain that didn’t end with the passage of the Civil Rights Act? How can I judge them for expressing the bitterness that still trickles into our hearts as African-Americans from the time of slavery to now? I need inform no black person with the slightest bit of awareness of our circumstance of the statistics: we are the poorest people in the nation. We are the most undereducated people in the nation. We are the most imprisoned, the most murdered, and the latter by our own. We are self-hating so why would we not hate the country that left us this legacy of poverty, that actively sought to turn us against each other, destroying our hearts and minds and all that in the name of God? Yet hatred and distrust is not the only dynamic that exists between white and black in our society. For while we can bare witness to the prejudice of whites directed towards us throughout our history, we can also see that the power of love and God has also been present in the midst of our American confusion. How else could Barack Obama’s grandmother love him as she did in spite of the fear she may occasionally of felt towards black men? How could I myself have come to be so loved by my own white grandparents in spite of their segregationist tendencies, in spite of the fact that at the time my grandfather learned of my father’s marriage to my mother he angrily felt that my father had committed a disgrace? But love transcended these fading lines of color, both for Senator Obama and myself, and through the painful process of time for America herself to a great degree. So then did Barack Obama identify the mistaken cynicism of Jeremiah Wright and the many blacks who share his point of view regarding America, saying:

“The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress had been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope — the audacity to hope — for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

Some countries never change. Throughout history, many nations have not emerged from their tribal conflicts but have burned to the ground in such fires. America however has changed. Not enough of course, but enough to where we whose faith is not so great as a warrior like Martin Luther King, Jr. can too say that we have glimpsed the mountain top of which he spoke. We must recognize the moment we’ve come to as black people, a moment that allows for us to take the lead in rescuing our country from itself, a moment when our nation and our children white and black need us most. For today our national peril is not so dissimilar from what we faced back in the 1960’s, except that today the roots of our divisions are not-primarily-racial, but rather we suffer from an ideological and a cultural divide that prevents us both from solving problems in our government and coming together as a people. With respect to these near insurmountable problems they cannot be solved unless the lessons of the African-American experience are applied and our special position on the societal spectrum utilized. How will we do this? By digging deep into the soil of our pain to raise the flower of our faith as a people, which once made us the moral leaders of a nation. We, the African-American people, have the power to move hearts and minds because of who we are and what we’ve been through, and in this potential lies our power to lift ourselves out of our own tragic circumstances in the process. We who have healed from the wounds of generations long persecution must now be the delivers of healing for an injured nation and our injured brothers and sisters who struggle to see the power that they have. In this is the Christian promise of triumph and reconciliation of which King wrote when he penned these words that are as relevant to our time and mission as they were to his: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our condition.”

Black America, we have a choice to make…

Black is…Atheist?

Blackness and Christianity are at times, almost synonymous. There’s no discussing our sordid past without mentioning the role of the Black church as both the meeting place and support system of the community. And of course there’s no overlooking the fact that many of our leaders that helped get us to the promise land were men of the cloth. So it is a rare occurrence when one of our own claims to be a non-believer.

When a group of Black folks get together to discuss their non-belief it’s newsworthy. Most recently in Washington, DC, the largest gathering of Black Atheists came together to discuss “coming out” and being more vocal about their stance and their role in the Black community. On one of my favorite Black websites, The Root, a writer, and member of the atheist group, shares her experience of that DC event.

The article begs the question: Are Black people brainwashed by Christianity? Has it been more of a help or a hindrance to our community? Talk to us!

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