Author Archives: Alvin Sanders

About Alvin Sanders

An academic nerd who loves the Lord, my family, my peeps, and my hood.

New Blog

With the resignation of David Park I have decided to discontinue this blog and start a new one.  I invite you to follow “On The Grind” at alvinsanders.net which focuses on leadership and multiethnic ministry.

Advertisements

The Elephant in the Room

Thank you Pastor Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis for calling a spade a spade.   In this video clip he comments on the ridiculous blogosphere response of some African American ministers who protested the appearance of TD Jakes in The Elephant Room.  Granted that Rev. Jakes has some controversial theological views (one of which he reaffirmed his reversal while making his appearance), but the amount of vitriol thrown Jakes way by some was ridiculous and quite frankly bordered on sin.  Newsflash to the haters – we all have some theological heresy in our belief system because theology (the study of God) is a human endeavor.   I applaud both James MacDonald to not bowing to the pressure and Bryan for calling people out who needed to be called out.


Reconciliation Thoughts For The New Year

One author whose writings I revisit over and over again is Henri Nouwen.   If you are not familiar with him I highly encourage you to read some of his work.  A colleague of mine recently emailed some Nouwen quotes concerning the art of reconciliation that I thought I would pass along:

Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established.  A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements.  There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation.  When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part.  Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act.  They all can become “them.”  Right there is where reconciliation is needed.  Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls.  God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.

And:

To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others.  Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence.  We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label.  When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division.   Jesus says it clearly:  “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge; … do not condemn; … forgive” (Luke 6:36-37).  In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.  But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily  recognized by those who long for reconciliation.

Amen Henri, Amen.


Greatest Hits Of 2011

I thank you for following both David and I as we rant(!) about the state of Christianity and reconciliation.  I have been truly blessed with the response we have received since starting the blog earlier this year.  Here are our 10 most viewed blog posts of the year in case you missed them.  I wish you a blessed 2012 on this last Friday of the year!

10.  How To Be Right And Wrong At the Same Time

9.  One Christian Response to Osama Bin Laden

8.   #OccupyFreeWillBaptists

7.  Halloween Reconciliation Style 

6.   Do You Care Where Rob Bell Goes When He Dies?

5.   Where Your Allegiances Lie

4.  The Art of Disaster

3.   No More Strangers

2.  Bamboozled

1.  A Tale of Two Leaders


On Probation

If you haven’t heard Lowe’s along with some others has decided to remove its sponsorship of TLC’s All American Muslim. One of their justifications is they felt by sponsoring a program showing the daily lives of Muslims in Cosby Show mode was too controversial.  Huh?

To arrive at such a conclusion one has to of course have already formed an opinion about what being a Muslim is.  If showing them being smart and rather pedestrian is “controversial,” I hate to think what the decision makers at Lowe’s starting point of viewing them are to begin with.

Apparently the group spearheading the efforts to get companies to pull out is the Florida Family Association.  They have been a one man band in sounding the alarm about the show.  Essentially their position is a good American Muslim is an oxymoron.

Wow is all I have to say to that.   Not really sure who made them the American police.  However I can’t say that I’m surprised.  Immigrants have often operated under the cloud of probationary citizenship.   Different racial groups are “in” and “out” based on public mood.

After 9-11 one of my friends from India said her world changed overnight. She has stopped wearing clothing from her homeland in public spaces because of the insults she receives, and people look at her much differently now than when she first immigrated into this country in the 1980s.

She told me one story of how her husband was pumping gas at a local gas station and a guy yelled at him to “go back home.”  He said he was headed home, that’s why he was getting gas.  The yeller mumbled something and drove off.  Her husband wasn’t even aware that he was being racially harassed and being told to leave the country until it was pointed out to him by his wife!

Regardless of ethnic background or religious belief, we as Christians have an obligation to not make people probationary based on public sentiment.   We should follow the example of Paul in Acts 17:16-34.   He kept at the forefront the importance of being able to dialogue with all segments of society.

We must realize as Christians we must display attitudes that allow us to reach a wide spectrum of people.  No one is ever probationary.  I encourage you to watch the show, as it might give you some insight into the Muslim mindset.  You never know when the Spirit might call on you to witness to one.


#OccupyFreeWillBaptists

I could not believe this report about a baptist church in Kentucky banning interracial couples .   The couple (Stella Harville, Ticha Chikuni) had the audacity to fall in love in college.   This is the type of thing that shames the whole Body of Christ, as many unbelievers lump us all together regardless of denominational affiliation.   A Baptist is a Methodist is a holy roller in their eyes.   Therefore when we see such an egregious transgression as this we cannot sit idly by.  There is absolutely, positively, nothing in Scripture that supports such a position.  We must voice our displeasure so that the broader world knows what the real teaching of Christ is.  Go the the national Free Will Baptists webpage and let them know that this congregation needs to be dealt with, or call them toll free at 877.767.7659.


A Tale Of Two Leaders

In August of 1998 a young intern walked into the office of the president of Circle Urban Ministries of Chicago and let him have it.  It was a week or so into his internship and he did not feel he was getting his money’s worth.  “I’ve uprooted my life and drug my family 300 miles for this!?!” was his mindset that particular day and he really didn’t care who knew.   At some point in the rant he shared “I’ve seen you at Promisekeepers, and I know you are a big wig in the denomination, but I’m not impressed with you national guys.  You’ve got the same Holy Spirit I got!”   It was one of many rants that president would have to endure over the next 13 years from the young man.

The young man was in a stage in life where he attacked viciously anybody he felt who had a superficial understanding of faith.  He had good reason to do so.  He was coming off an intense episode of “church abuse” where for 3 years he and his wife served their heart out for a leader, only to realize said leader was manipulating them for his own personal gain.  When it became apparent the manipulation no longer could happen, the young leader was slandered throughout his hometown.  The intern’s former boss actively tried to destroy the young man’s ministry career.  It was an attack of narcissism to the Nth degree.

So now it was on – with everybody in established leadership.  The young leader was wounded, and like a wounded animal his major mode of engagement was attack.  He perceived established leaders to have no deep commitment to change the racial and social class status quo, and believed they possessed no deep thoughts.   They were only in ministry for the notoriety, he thought.   He saw Christian leaders (particularly nationally known ones) as having a colossal problem of possessing a faith not worth having.

At the end of the office rant the intern demanded more of the president’s time!   The president calmly said he would do what he could.  The intern said that wasn’t good enough.  “You need to meet with me because I’m worth it” the intern said, very arrogantly.  The president looked the intern dead in the eye and said “Ok.   We’ll see if you are as good as you think you are.”

The president helped the intern lick his church abuse wounds.  Over the next 2 years the young man learned from the president that faith meant a life lived in solidarity in Christ in all things, not a mental assent to the teachings of Jesus.  He learned to focus his ministry on productive good deeds for others, not trying to make a name for himself.

While other prominent leaders focused on Ephesians 2:8-9 and made an idol over the “not by works” phrase within the context of a myopic focus on heaven,  the president instilled in the intern that a right prayer prayed is not enough to go to heaven.  And while you are on earth waiting to go there, there is plenty of work to do.  He taught the young man never conclude from those verses that one didn’t have to do anything.  Just read the next verse.

When that intern left in 2000 the president kept his door open as the young man planted a church in Cincinnati based on the lessons he learned in Chicago.  The president worked tirelessly behind the scenes within his denomination to platform the former intern, having him serve on all kinds of boards the former intern shouldn’t have been on.  And when the young man predictably blew up board meetings the mentor cleaned up his messes quietly behind the scenes and instructed his former intern gently on how to handle things in the future.

Maybe the most important lesson the president taught his former intern was how to handle life when it comes undone. He gave him a theology of failure.   The former intern watched him handle one family and ministry crisis after another with grace, dignity, and truth.  The young man watched the president go through several dark nights of the soul and emerge with an even stronger faith.

The president for over 30 years held his denomination’s feet to the fire concerning reconciliation, compassion, and justice issues.  Most of the urban ministries within the denomination has a direct tie to Circle Urban.  He constantly agitated the national leadership to not contain all old white males, and to care for justice issues.  Over the years the leadership listened, first by hiring one of the president’s former staff.   They then hired another ethnic leader.   But the president was not satisfied.  “You need someone of color at the highest level.  You’re not serious until you do that” he told them.

So his denomination listened to the president, who in 2007 recommended they hire the young man who in 1998 had called him a shallow national leader.  The young leader is not so young anymore and to the core of his soul realizes that he stands on the president’s shoulders.  And he is eternally grateful.

I have met many Christians over the course of my life.  Sadly, I’d say half of them have a shallow faith totally centered on escaping judgement.  In other words they just want their fire insurance, or they see God as an ecclesiastical genie in a lamp to rub in the midst of a crisis.   Maybe only 5% of the Christians I know I would honestly say I have modeled my life after. These are people who have a genuine faith worth having and have shared that faith generously.  At the top of the list is Glen Kehrein, former president of Circle Urban Ministries and present resident of heaven.

Thanks Glen Kehrein for the gift of you.   You will be greatly missed.


True Religion

World Vision President Richard Stearns opines in the Wall Street Journal  concerning the falsehoods Americans believe concerning how much aid the government provides the poor around the world.   Many believe that 25% of the federal government goes to foreign aid when the actual number is 1.5%.    Of that 1.5%, 0.5% is poverty focused.  In addition, a Pew Research Center survey revealed 56% of evangelicals think “aid to the world’s poor should be the first thing cut from the federal budget.”   Stearns also points out a Baylor University survey found that Americans who strongly believe that “God has a plan” for their lives—as evangelicals do—are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.

One of the great mysteries of our present state of Christianity is how clear Scripture is concerning our role in helping the poor and how often we divorce that thought from our value set.   How can one read James 1:27 (“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”) and then come to the conclusion that it is a bad thing to help the poor?   As they say in the text world SMH.

One common argument of being against government providing poverty focused aid both domestically and internationally is that its the church’s job to take care of the poor, therefore government shouldn’t interfere.  Besides, the narrative goes, in order for ministries to effectively carry out their mission if the government is involved financially the possibility rises of ministry being controlled by government regulation.

Really if we call a spade a spade what such skepticism is rooted in is not Scripture but political leanings.  The fear of being “controlled” by government is understandable.  However oftentimes the same people who express this fear applaud when corporations get involved in aiding the poor.  Where then is a healthy skepticism of being “controlled” by corporations who give aid to ministries?  Furthermore, when one realizes the common good that  government plays in providing poverty aid (especially for many people of color) such skepticism between government and corporations needs to be justified, not merely accepted as government aid=bad and corporate aid=good.

This is not an partisan issue.   We as the church need to take the biblical imperative to take care of the poor seriously and accept all the help we can get from the outside.


Addressing A Global Problem – At Home


Cain Train Tryin’ To Maintain

Unless you have been living under a rock this week I am sure you have heard about the troubles of Republican front runner Herman Cain.  I really have no comment on the man’s politics as this is not a political blog.   What I have been fascinated by in this whole episode is the racial angle.  It is a classic representation of the flexible modern racial identity.  Self proclaimed hip hop activist and media assassin Harry Allen has stated that “being black is incredibly random.”   What does he mean by this?  Mainly that there really is not a predictable pattern to it. In the 21st Century the black identity can be incredibly paradoxical as well as slippery.  Cain’s posture in this episode is a great case study.

Let’s rewind to a little over a month ago.  Cain gives an interview to CNN where he states that “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.”   Concerning African Americans and the struggling economy he said, “They weren’t held back because of racism. People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.”  This is post racial thought at its finest.  He is the black candidate with really no black constituency, which is not a shock with comments like these.

Now lets look at this past week when the news broke of the sexual harassment accusations.   Almost immediately the post racial GOP candidate plays the race card, answering columnist Charles Krauthammer’s question as to whether race had anything to do with the attacks by saying in part “I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it.”  Not a very post racial answer.  Cain is now experiencing the whole problem with taking a post racial stance, which I’ll define as the belief that in today’s world it is no longer useful to look at life through the lens of race. When one takes such a position it makes light of the complicated and bewildering reality of race in America.  It is ironic that when Cain finds himself in his first tough spot of his campaign his post racial world view goes out the window and out comes the race card, right off the top of the deck.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide why he is playing it.   But I will say that playing it in this situation is ambiguous at best.

One of the most dumbfounding experiences of my ministry career is when I heard a influential black pastor address an audience of close to 2,000 white pastors on the topic of race taking a post racial posture.   At the end of that sermon I was very nervous about how this man of color with tremendous influence was framing the issue of race. I can’t imagine how someone of color could even take such a position, but its becoming more and more common.   Bottom line is being post racial is operating under a flawed root assumption that it is possible for human beings (in particular Americans) to operate out of a space that isn’t racially influenced.

His observations concerning race were accurate in terms of his theoretical positioning of race not being biologically-based and that operating from racial lenses has caused many ripples of hurt, harm, and pain throughout the world.   Also, his theology on the subject was fantastic.   However, here was my main concern with his message.  Preaching from a post racial posture allows too much wiggle room for people, especially Christians, to claim racial innocence.  Operating under the premise that race does not matter anymore has the potential to be extremely dangerous as well as impractical.

What the preacher was missing is race is a cultural reality.  Cultural reality is just as relevant to the formation of our worldviews as the theological.  This is because culture is the space in which we form our values, attitudes, and beliefs about life.   There is no way race will go away because culture will never let it go away.  The lens of culture is permanent, and therefore the correction is not (in my opinion) to operate under the root assumption that race does not exist.  People then can say “well if it doesn’t exist, I don’t have to acknowledge it.”  And if you don’t acknowledge it, then there is no practical way for correcting the sin of racism.  Race does exist – culturally.

To take a post racial posture is an example of racial bargaining, a term used by many scholars who observe culture.  Racial bargaining is what we do (especially Christians IMO) to put ourselves at ease with the topic of race. This diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being Christian in a racially guilty society.  Here is a quote from scholar Shelby Steele:

“Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America’s history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer’s race against him. And whites love this bargain — and feel affection for the bargainer — because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist.”

This is a strong statement.  However, I challenge you to not have a visceral reaction to.  Read it, analyze it, think through it, and pray on it.  Then make a decision about what this scholar is saying and how it intersects with your faith.   I have to wonder if this sermon would have been as well received if the audience was 95% African American, as opposed to 95% white.   I know of several situations where diversity efforts in Christian ministries have been derailed because of post racial posturing.

Our world is not colorblind as it exists  in full living color. Understand the differences, act on the commonalities, and let’s move forward.