Friday, December 31, 2010

A Biblical Theology of Race

 Just finished a provocative, insightful book, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays.

I am aware that some of my Christian brothers and sisters believe the Bible doesn’t address race, except maybe to say “all men are created equal” (which the Bible DOESN”T explicitly say). Some Bible readers know that somewhere (Galatians 3:28) the Bible says something about “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Studious Christians have learned that the Bible was (and still is) used to defend slavery, racism, apartheid, and all the rights of the racially privileged, just as faithful Christians have employed the Bible in fighting against those atrocities.

But Dr. Hays aims for something more ambitious than these tidbits of Bible and race. First, I must say (and this, too will offend some of my white brothers and sisters) that Dr. Hays is a white, conservative (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), evangelical professor (Pruet School of Christian Studies dean, and professor of Old Testament) at a southern Christian university (Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia Arkansas). I mention his credentials in hopes that his arguments won’t be dismissed as biased, which is too easily done when the speaker is African American or some bleeding heart liberal atheist/agnostic.

This Dr. Hays makes the case that race issues permeate the Bible. While the Bible may be less than direct on these issues, it provides as much to draw from as it does for the proclamation of Four Spiritual Laws or Five propositional Points. Hays traces the biblical record from Genesis to Revelation and uncovers what just might be the heart of God on race. As a starting point he reveals the hidden racial nuances in those passages that we tend to graze over in the “begats,” the names of peoples, and the tables of nations. But his primary point is that race is not a peripheral issue in the Bible. For Hays, race issues are at the heart of the biblical story, at the heart of the mission of God, at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Over the course of the next few days I hope to share Hays work by way of excerpt. I’ll begin with parts of his introduction and proceed with his chapter summaries (altered by adding in Scripture references from the meat of the chapters). I would love to hear responses to his words.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prayer for National Leaders

A 21st Century Worship Resource for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, Year CTony Peterson
(Inspired by Jeremiah 23:1 & 4)
Lord, we believe you when you say you will lead us. But we have suffered at the hands of those who would destroy and scatter your sheep. You promised that you would raise up shepherds who will gather us together so than no one will have to live in fear. So we look for those shepherds, Lord.
We pray for those who will do good and do right, for those who will protect the children, who will school the children, who will give the children hope.
We pray for those shepherds who will pursue peace, who will walk humbly, who will reconcile nations.
We pray for shepherds who will fight injustice, who stand on the side of justice.
We pray for shepherds who will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set at liberty the captives.
We pray for shepherds who will spread love, show mercy, and practice hospitality.
Lord, we pray for our shepherds; we pray for our people; we pray for our country; we pray for the nations.


Tony Peterson, Associate Acquisitions Editor for Bibles at Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, is a former employee of GBOD and a contributor to volumes A, B, and C of the Africana Worship Book.
From the Africana Worship Book for Year C. © Discipleship Resources. Used by permission.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Stuff I Learned from a 15-Month Unplanned Sabbatical

 Labor Day Thoughts from  a Guy Who is Recently Re-employed:

1. I love job security!

2. It is good and satisfying to work for a living.

3. Contrary to the human nature beliefs of some of my friends, most humans (even most Americans) believe, live by, and are motivated by no. 2.

4. There are hardworking people who can’t find a job and hard-working people who can’t provide for their families (OK, I already knew this one).

5. There are more important things than job security.

6. Looking for work is work. Looking for work during a recession takes patience, persistence and ingenuity. And the Patience and Persistence Award goes to: My wife, Laura.

7. Networking works, even if it takes 15 months (or longer) to work. 

8. Contrary to some rantings from defenders of hard-working, successful people, there is no such thing as independence. No-one gets there purely by their own actions and abilities (See no.7).

9. There is no such thing as job security.

10. blah blahblah GRANDKIDS blah blah blah (See no.5)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

For American Christians, Whose Need Matters?

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 has got me ruminating:
If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your people and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward those of your people who are poor and needy in your land. (TNIV)

If we want to apply this passage to American Christians in the 21st Century, what adjustments must we make? The “command,” “advice,” “directive,” or whatever it is, is clearly directed toward the Israelites at a particular time in a particular situation. (I am aware that I am unfairly mixing hermeneutical traditions and jumping ahead too quickly for any truly scholarly handling of Scripture.)
Can we assume that we (American Christians in the 21st Century) are the “new Israel”? If so, who are our brethren, our brothers, the people around us, the members of our community (I’m citing various translations)? To whom are we supposed to be open-handed? Is it other Christians? Christians in my community? People of my race?  People of my faith tradition, of my ideology, with my “blood”? Clearly in the original context it’s a defined people. How do we define who is in and who is out for our situation?
Relatedly, what are the towns of the land? Is it my ‘hood, my parish, my city, my state, my nation?

Or should American Christians just toss aside this scriptural passage because it doesn’t pertain to us. Maybe it pertains just to to “Israel”? If so, does that mean Jews by faith? Semites by blood? Israelis by citizenship? Does it pertain only to the “Holy Land” (whichever boundaries you accept)?

What do you think?

When you happen on someone who's in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don't look the other way pretending you don't see him. Don't keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don't count the cost. Don't listen to that selfish voice saying, "It's almost the seventh year, the year of All-Debts-Are-Canceled," and turn aside and leave your needy neighbor in the lurch, refusing to help him. He'll call God's attention to you and your blatant sin. Give freely and spontaneously. Don't have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God's, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors. (The Message)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tony’s Annual NDOP Rant 2 (of 3)

A second National Day of Prayer controversy this year opens the window on why all this matters. The dis-invitation of Franklin Graham to speak at the Pentagon’s observance of the National Day of Prayer is unfortunate, uncomfortable, and unpleasant. This difficult decision could have been avoided earlier, but once the issues were brought to officials, the Pentagon had no other legitimate option.

It is unfortunate because Rev. Graham has much to respect in terms of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beyond his iconic name, he has pushed for social and spiritual transformation through his organization, Samaritan’s Purse. Neither his good works nor his faith should be questioned by this rescinding.

Further, his fitness to be the honorary chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force (which I will address in another post) or his appropriateness to pray at non-governmental public events should not be in question. The problem arises when that group with this prominent voice marries itself to a government event.

Rev. Graham is entitled to his opinion and has the right to publicly express his belief that Islam is “evil” and “wicked.” But that view is not consistent with the military’s practice of religious freedom, and after repeatedly expressing that view in public, Rev. Graham should never have been invited to speak at the Pentagon. To say so and to rescind this invitation does nothing to curtail (as a friend of mine suggests) Rev. Graham’s freedom of speech. He is free to express his views, just not these views as the featured speaker at a state-sponsored event.

In a nation that defends religious freedom, at an event that calls on all Americans to exercise that freedom in prayer, at the monument that represents all of our military regardless of religious affiliation, someone who continually maligns a major world religion should not be presiding. This is not about “appeasing Muslims.” It is about demonstrating our American commitment to religious freedom. A Muslim leader who repeatedly described Judaism as evil, citing atrocities done in the name of Judaism, would be just as unfit to speak at such events.

This is not about religious persecution of evangelicals. Any number of other evangelical leaders would be appropriate. They might believe that Islam is misguided, deceived and dead wrong. But if they believe that the religion in and of itself is “evil,” how could they pray on behalf of American Muslims who risk their lives in war for all Americans?

I’m a military brat. In my experience, no-one navigate the intricacies involving religion and government better than military chaplains. They must constantly support the religious practices of all of their service men and women, without maligning any of them. Surely they believed the views of Billy Graham’s son needed no significant vetting before inviting him.

And they might have been justified. To be fair, Franklin Graham has tried to explain his words. While some of his clarification is refreshing and helpful, other points only reveal his ignorance. When he speaks of the inhumane treatment of women, for instance, he is justified in decrying “evil.” Same with suicide bombing. But he is talking about particular evil expressions of Islam, not the religion itself. He seems to confuse Islam with Arab states, Middle Eastern customs, and political actions. There are more Muslims in the democratic nation of Indonesia than in any Arab state. And until recently that Muslim country was run by a woman, something “Christian” America has not managed to accomplish.

So far I’ve been defending the Pentagon’s unfortunate actions. But what grieves me more has to do with the cause of Christ. Ironically, the U.S. Army seems to have a better grasp on Christian charity than does one of our most prominent evangelists. And Christians who wear this incident as a badge of persecution are taking their eye off the evangelistic ball. This is a perfect opportunity to learn the truth about Islam without caricature. Committed Christians can do so without agreeing with or embracing the teachings of Islam.

More importantly Christians can use this incident to perfect their evangelistic strategies. I believe Franklin Graham means well, but in his boldness (and ignorance) he seems to forget his evangelistic mission. Calling another major world religion evil does nothing to win people to Christ. It does not speak the truth in love. It is not preaching the good news of Jesus.

Make no mistake: I want everyone to know and follow Jesus. It is because of that desire that I cringe whenever anyone, particularly a prominent evangelist of the gospel of Jesus says something that stands in the way of the advancement of gospel of Jesus Christ. But the opportunity to tell the truth in love remains.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Tony’s Annual NDOP Rant I

I am a fan of the National Day of Prayer. But the precarious nature of the observance has reached higher heights than it did a year ago, when I expressed my uneasiness about it. This year I opted to offer my National Day of Prayer thoughts after the fact so that I comment on what has happened more than on what people fear might happen.

First of all, President Obama, like all of his presidential predecessors since Harry Truman, once again offered a proclamation of the National Day of Prayer. This year’s proclamation is outstanding in its specificity. Along with his specific prayers he gets specific about his belief in the constitutionality of the act.

Whether it is unConstitutional as a federal court has deemed is beyond my understanding of Constitutional law. The President obviously disagrees with the ruling and will be appealing the decision. What is clear to even my simple mind is that Presidents have issued prayer proclamations since George Washington. And similar proclamations were issued even before we had a Constitution!

No court ruling can take away the people’s right to gather annually (in case they are not praying daily) to pray for their country. No judge can declare a DAY unconstitutional, only certain state observances of a particular day. So the ruling and the ensuing controversy seem mostly silly to me.

And those who try to make this into another manufactured example of President Obama as un-American and unChristian are not paying attention.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

And Then It Got Personal

Laura and I had health insurance when I first started supporting health care reform. I had already been laid off from my job of 19 years, but because of my former company's generosity, I still had insurance. I spoke in support of reform measures even though it strained many of my personal relationships and even though the proposed bills were far from ideal. I criticized and supported because I was convinced that something needed to be done soon about the lack of health care options for many and the inadequate, unsustainable options for most Americans.

When my health insurance ran out, my wife and I went without for a while, but we eventually bought temporary insurance while I still had a steady income, again thanks to my former company. Good thing. One day very shortly after we purchased insurance, my wife came home from a cleaning job in extreme pain. I took her to the ER, and we learned that she had blood clots in her lungs brought on by treatments for menopause symptoms. She was in the hospital for five days.

The stay would have been much longer if not for the unrelenting efforts of a hospital community worker who negotiated and manipulated the insurance company and drug company, playing them against each other and finally securing thousands of dollars of treatment that Laura was allowed to receive at home. Had we stayed in the hospital longer, insurance would have cut us off.

That hospital worker's efforts were not lost on us, because in reality, it is the rare patient who gets that kind of treatment. God alone knows why that grace was wasted on us. And we will never forget it. But it is no substitute for comprehensive, reliable, responsible health care. Hope for special attention is not the answer for millions of Americans. I maintain that it should not be the answer for ANY Americans.

In a few weeks Laura felt sharp pain again. She was able to see her doctor who, after some testing, determined that she needed gall bladder surgery. We contacted a surgeon, and as we were awaiting an appointment date, our insurance lapsed. When we can afford it, we can purchase new insurance. But Laura's surgery will not be covered, as it is now a "pre-existing condition."

We've asked our friends and have learned that we do have options: We've been assured by a health care professional that we can

1. Wait for a painful, life-threatening gall bladder attack, then rush Laura to the ER where they MUST treat her (and fight about the payment later)
2. PRETEND that Laura is experiencing a painful, life-threatening gall bladder attack and they MUST treat her (and fight about the payment later)

None of the options available to us offer the peace of mind that we need to care adequately for our health.

One (on again, off again) friend of mine and opponent of the current health care reform measures reminds me that this discussion is truly about health INSURANCE reform. He is right. Unfortunately even for those with insurance the current system steals the peace of mind that a word like "insurance" seems to promise. Premiums continue to go up as benefits go down. This is why I maintain that, while the current House health care bill falls woefully short of what Americans truly need, it deserves support because it  moves us in the right direction. The bill

1. brings down costs for citizens and businesses
2. covers nearly all Americans
3. is deficit-neutral over the long-term
4. bans rejection for pre-existing conditions.

These are the criteria the President set forth at the beginning of this process. Specifically, the current House bill

* expands health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans, guaranteeing that 95% of Americans will be covered.
* makes health insurance affordable for middle class and small businesses -- including the largest middle class tax cuts for health care in history -- reducing premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
* strengthens consumer protections and reins in insurance company abuses.
* gives millions of Americans the same types of private insurance choices that members of Congress will have -- through a new competitive health insurance market that keeps costs down.
* holds insurance companies accountable to keep premiums down and prevent denials of care and coverage, including for pre-existing conditions.
* improves Medicare benefits with lower prescription drug costs for those in the 'donut hole,' better chronic care, free preventive care, and nearly a decade more of solvency for Medicare.
* reduces the deficit by more than $100 billion over next ten years, and by more than one trillion dollars over the following decade; reining waste, fraud and abuse; overpayments to insurance companies and by paying for quality over quantity of care.

What can you do to support this reform? Urge your congressperson's support!

Why We Can’t Wait | The White House

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Six Out of 1,914

I recently asked a group of African American educators if they knew a) how many African Americans have served as US Senators. I also asked if they knew b) who was the first African America US Senator. No-one in the group could answer either question. One person accused me of posing a trick question, which is entirely plausible since we don’t always agree on how African a person must be to be considered African American, But I meant it in the commonly accepted definition that has persisted in this nation: if a person has any discernible African blood—either by appearance or admission—they are considered black. The answers are a) six and b) Hiram Rhodes Revels.

Since 1788, 1,914 people have served as US Senators, up to 100 at a time. Thirty-eight of them have been women (There are currently 17 female Senators), five have been Asian, six Latino, three Native American and six have been African American.

Since Carol Moseley Braun is both female and African American, your good math skills will tell you that historically 1,857 US Senators in history have been white males. For the record that is 97% of all of our Senators, even though white males make up only 37% of the US population.

There are lots of ways to go with this discussion. But in honor of African American History Month I just wanted to introduce you to our six African American Senators. The first two served under Reconstruction in the 1870s, when African Americans had first been given the right to vote. By the mid 1870s local and state Jim Crow laws had begun to make it difficult for African Americans to exercise the vote that the federal government guaranteed. Eighty-five years passed before a third African American was elected to the US Senate.

Hiram Rhodes Revels
(1870-1871) Republican from Mississippi
A freedman his entire life, preacher and educator Hiram Revels became the first African American elected to the US Senate. When Mississippi seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Mississippi’s Senators Jefferson Davis and Albert Brown resigned. At the end of the war their seats were left empty. Under the influences of Union Reconstructionists, the Mississippi legislature decided to fill those seats with one white and one black Senator. In 1870, after the 15th Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote. Mr. Revels was elected by the Mississippi legislature to serve in the US Senate.

Blance Kelso Bruce
(1875-1881) Republican from Mississippi
The second African American to serve in the US Senate, was the first African American to serve a full term. He was also the only ex-slave to serve in that capacity. Like Hiram Revels before him, he was elected to the Senate by the Mississippi legislature during Reconstruction.

Edward William Brooke III
(1967–1979) Republican from Massachusetts
Edward W. Brooke’s election to the US Senate in 1966 ended an 85-year absence of African American Senators. Brooke was the first popularly elected African American Senator, the first African American Senator outside of Mississippi, and first black politician from Massachusetts to serve in Congress. He is the only African American to serve more than one term in the US Senate.

Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun
(1993–1999) Democrat from Illinois
The first and only African American woman to serve as US Senator, Carol Moseley-Braun was also only the second black Senator since the Reconstruction Era. She was the first Democratic African American Senator and the first of three black Senators from the state of Illinois.

Barack Hussein Obama
(2005–2008) Democrat from Illinois
Barack Obama won a landslide victory, defeating Republican African American Alan Keyes to become a US Senator from Illinois. He became the fifth African American in congressional history to serve in the US Senate, the second from the state of Illinois. On November 4, 2008, he was elected the 44th President of the United States, winning with 53 percent of the vote. As President-Elect, Obama resigned from the Senate on November 16, 2008.

Roland Wallace Burris
(2009-Present) Democrat from Illinois
 Roland Burris is the only African American Senator to be appointed rather than elected either by his state legislature or by the people of his state. The third Senator from Illinois, Burris was appointed December 31, 2008, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Barack Obama. He is currently the only African American in the 100-member US Senate.