Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, The African Preacher. Compiled and Written by Himself (1811)

I recently purchased African American Readings Of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation, by Lisa M. Bowens, Emerson B. Powery and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. Beginning in the 1700’s, this book draws from personal narratives and historical accounts to uncover the religious dynamics of various eras in American history, focusing on how African Americans have handled the writing of the Apostle Paul in the face of often terrible misuses from the white population around them. 

Today I was reading a section recounting incidents from the life of John Jea as compiled in his narrative The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, The African Preacher. Compiled and Written by Himself (1811). Like all the stores from the slave era, it’s a heartbreaking read. The physical violence, dehumanization and humiliation coupled with purported ministers of the gospel butchering the Bible to enable slavery is really hard (but important) to read. One thing that stands out is how God brought the truth of His Word to life to the enslaved even in the midst of such overwhelming misrepresentation. 

Jea was born in 1773 in Old Callabar, Africa. He and his family were stolen, shipped to America, and sold as enslaved Africans in New York to a Dutch couple. The following contains excerpts pulled directly from the book. I am italicizing only Jea’s entries so as not to cause confusion with the book’s additional commentary. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Three Anti-COVID Vaccination Arguments I Understand (But Don’t Necessarily Agree With), One I Kind of Do, and One I Don’t


THE THREE ARGUMENTS I UNDERSTAND

“The COVID-19 vaccine is morally compromised.” 

Christians (such as myself) have consistently wrestled with whether or not we formally or materially cooperate with evil if we use vaccines developed from the stem cell lines of aborted fetuses harvested in the 1970s and 1980s. Questioning the development (and testing) of COVID-19 vaccines is consistent with this concern. Because I share that concern, I’ve read numerous statements from church leaders and Christian bioethicists concerning the COVID-19 vaccines. Here is a short sampling:
Generally, Pfizer and Moderna get a green light; Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca get a yellow light tinged with red.  

So while I understand and appreciate the moral concern associated with COVID-19 vaccines, I believe there are at least two options that avoid the potential for immoral cooperation in a bad thing. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe.” 

There has long been concern over the introduction of vaccines into the human body, as there are often side effects.  With the COVID-19 vaccine, there is the additional concern over a) the speed in which the vaccines have been rolled out, b) the use of Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA rather than straight up approval, and c) the lack of time to do long-term studies on side effects. These all deserve serious responses. It’s not like the history of vaccines has been above reproach, and we have only had months instead of years to study the impact of the recent vaccines. 

From what I can tell, the speed in which these vaccines reached the public was the result of a number of things. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Threads of Victory in Tales of Despair

Esau McCaulley’s book Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope is rightly garnering a lot of attention. It is a thought-provoking and important book. Rather than outlining or reviewing the entire book, I want to provides some excerpts from the second half of chapter six that have landed pretty hard on my heart.

Let this linger. 

It is right that we weep with those who weep, and find hope with those who have found hope. And we all be inspired to do justice and love mercy.

* * * * *

Black bodies enter the laws of this land, not as persons but as an accounting tool to determine the voting rights of white men (the Three-Fifths Compromise). Before that we were mercilessly dragged from our native land and flung to the far ends of the world to be beaten, bred, raped, and degraded. Families were ripped apart and all the doors of opportunity were closed to us. We were despised and rejected by men, seen as cursed and abandoned by God. We were those from whom men hid their faces.

The year 1865 did not signal freedom, but simply the beginning of a different type of struggle. The years of reconstruction saw some expansion of Black opportunity. However Black bodies were again sacrificed at the altar of compromise in 1877 when, in exchange for the presidency, Republicans agreed to remove troops from the south. What followed was a series of ever-increasing Jim Crow laws that robbed Black people of dignity and opportunity.

And what more shall we say? For the time would fail me to tell of the lynching tree, the Red summer, the dogs and the water hoses, the sit-ins, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., the people who defied governors and presidents, braved mobs, and sang victory, people of whom the world was not worthy. The history of Black people in this country is a litany of suffering. Yet we are definitely more than this suffering. There is a thread of victory woven into the tale of despair...

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Reformation Is Overdue

It all started while I was reading Tim Holland’s book Dominion. At one point he quotes one of Neitzsche’s observations about Christianity: “The measure of a man's compassion for the lowly and the suffering comes to be the measure of the loftiness of his soul." 

To be sure, Neitzsche didn’t mean this as a compliment. He hated Christianity. He thought the compassion Christianity drew out of people was despicable, enabling the weak to survive when evolution demanded they die. 

This compassion was one of the first hallmarks of the fledgling movement of Christ-followers in the 1st century. The Romans famously complained about how annoyed they were by the Christians taking care of everybody to the point of showing up the government. When early Christian apologists made a case for why hostile rulers should be lenient, they always highlighted the kindness and love Christians had for all people. It’s hardly surprising that the early church filled with women, orphans and slaves – the marginalized and oppressed of the 1st century.  Historian Rodney Stark noted how this sharing of lives has looked throughout church history:

“Christianity revitalized life in Greek and Roman cities by providing relationships able to cope with urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”
(The Rise of Christianity)

Justin Martyr wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the new Christian believers in this way:

"We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause."

Fast forward 2,000 years.

I posted this quote from Neitzsche on my Facebook page. A couple responses from some long -time friends highlighted a sobering reality for me: the reputation of the church is in trouble. Their comments align with what research is showing, so this is not an anomaly. 

You might think what they have to say is unfair, and you may be right. In fact, I hope your personal experience in evangelicalism makes what follows sounds bizarre. But it still needs to be heard and pondered. No matter what our experiences our with our family, friends and church, we are situated in a huge group in a large nation, and our reputations are intertwined. American Evangelicalism is certainly bigger than us, but surely not unconnected to us.

So I offer this not to say you have to agree, but to beg of you to take seriously how American evangelicalism in increasingly perceived by a watching world. If we want to be part of a church movement whose light shines brightly and compellingly as a blessing to the world, we've got some lamps that need trimming. 

The First Conversation 

Friend: “Oh, I think [Neitzsche] would totally be into American Christianity 2020.” 

Me: “We are overdue a Reformation.”

Friend: “You of all people had me convinced that the awful things people said about conservative Christians were exaggerations that applied to a vocal subset at best. The rallying of white evangelicals behind one of the most corrupt, pernicious, cynical, incompetent, and dishonest administrations in history, I mean... they were right all along, weren’t they?”

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Good Words In The Time Of 'The Troubles'

I got this text from my adopted sister this week. She grew up in very different circumstance than I did, and it has given her a perspective that I value. 

It's timely. 

It's important.

 It's truth.  

* * * * *

I wanted to share something with my friends and family that has been heavy on my heart. I want to ask us all to be praying against the violence that is being threatened in this land. I ask people to set aside differences. I am not able to vote, so I have no particular affiliation with any party. I just have a strong belief in the triune God. I'm calling to ask people to pray in that unity – the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

I grew up from ages 5 to 11 or so in Northern Ireland during what is known as “The Troubles.” I experienced at it as a Civil War, so I am very sensitive to what is going on right now.  While things are never exactly the same from one place to another or one time to another, there are some similarities that are just bothersome and concerning to me. 

I hear and see various Christian groups of various denominations in this nation seeming to focus on the need for our secular government to support our Christian ideals and faith, almost as if their faith depends on what the secular government says and does. I'd like to encourage us to think about the fact that our faith doesn't depend on what our secular government does or doesn't do; it depends on our relationship with God and each other. 

I have had the privilege (I guess is how I would put it) of being in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union (when it was still a thing) and other places where the secular government did not back up Christian beliefs. And yet I have to tell you with tears in my eyes that the faith I found in Christians in those places was beautiful. You had to worship often times in dark rooms quietly praising God with one another for fear that you would be killed if you were found out. That's persecution. And yet the faith of these people was beautiful, and it was growing despite the government, not because of their government.

When Pope John Paul II grew up in Poland during World War II, Poland was being pushed on one side by part of the Third Reich and on the other side by the Soviet Union. He was a young priest, but he didn't dress as you would think a priest would dress because it would've been deadly for him and his followers, but nonetheless their faith grew and grew. Eventually he became Pope John Paul II. That was not because he had a government that was so Christian and supported all Christian ideals; it was because he had a personal faith and a personal relationship with God. 

So many times I hear Christians talk about what Jesus would do. I'd like us to think about what he did do. He never encouraged his followers or disciples to overthrow Rome and take over the Caesar; instead, his focus was on the church or synagogue at the time and its leaders who we're not teaching their people the right thing. They seemed to be more out for themselves and their own power and glory. 

Jesus himself seem more concerned about those who had faith or said they had faith rather than the immoral government that they all lived under. Anyone who knows about Roman history knows that Rome was highly immoral and didn’t follow what we would now consider Christian ideals (at the time Jewish ideals). He focused on relationships with people and confronting church leaders who were misguiding their people. He met with sinners and ate with them, helping them to see they could be different. 

That's what Jesus did. He never stormed the government or complained about how immoral it was. That was to be expected in some ways - it was a secular government, not a church organization. I'd like us just to think about that for a minute. 

The real weapon we have as Christians is not guns or other things that could cause harm - even words that cause harm. It is our prayers, our ability to have communication with God and ask him to look on the church and other Christians and help them wake up and realize that their faith doesn't depend on the government being righteous, holy or not immoral. It depends on us how we relate to one another. Jesus calls us to love our enemies as well as our friends and our neighbors. It seems to me we have no ground to ever be violent, hateful or ugly to others, be they friend or foe. 

God says we can have all kinds of gifts of knowledge but if we don't have love, it’s as annoying and unhelpful and banging a gong or cymbal. And friends, I feel like I hear a lot of gongs going off. God says he is our ultimate judge, and he will judge us in the end for how we behave now. He kind of makes it clear.

But at this point, it's not the time to separate the bad from the good lest we lose the good along with bad. He lets us know that in the end we may be surprised, because we will claim that we said, “Lord. Lord,” and he will say, “I don't know you. I came to you when I was sick and in prison and other such things, and you turned me away.”

We don't need to let people walk all over us, but in our attempts to be right or holy we shouldn't walk all over others either. We are not responsible for how others believe; we are responsible to bear witness of God by how we act, by our language, by our actions, by our love, compassion, and mercy, and by holding people accountable for their own behaviors. 

So let's pray together for this to end because God's already made it clear for generations and generations that is what he wants. 


Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 Conspiracies That We Can Finally Retire

A Christian cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace, posted an excellent podcast detailing how he evaluates conspiracies, something he does consistently in his line of work. I highly encourage you to listen to it. I will also point you toward a video (with notes) that I recorded this past year on Christians and conspiracies. 


In a world awash in lies, innuendo and rumor, people of truth are in short supply.  Let's work hard to build that number. If you see that a news source on which you relied promoted or defended these conspiracies, I encourage you to find a new source of news. 


#1. COVID-19 will go away when the election is over. 

It’s actually gotten far worse. I’ve been compiling info for a while. While I have no doubt politicians on both sides of the aisle were trying to turn this pandemic to their advantage, COVID-19 was never merely a political game. It’s always been very, very real, as experienced by the entire world.  


#2. COVID-19 lockdowns are an excuse to arrest pedophiles / trafficked children will be rescued on the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy / kept safe in COVID-19 field hospitals.  

While I appreciate the renewed concern over the horror that is human traffickingCOVID-19 was never a ploy to disrupt a pedophile cabal. It was a real pandemic that has swept the globe and has so far killed over 1.8 million people. The ships left with no rescued kids on them because that is not why they were sent. Same with the Samaritan's Purse field hospital set up in Central Park. It was not there to rescue children being held in underground tunnels. 
 
#3. Hillary will be arrested for running a cannibal pedophile ring.

 Q has been wrong about this since 2017, as well as so many other things. If Hillary deserves to be arrested, it's not because she is involved in a cannibal pedophile ring. The 100,000 sealed indictments for all the other pedophiles didn't exist either. 
 
#4. COVID-19 is being used to turn us into a cashless society. 

There were legitimate reasons cash flow was short (cash-oriented businesses were shut down), and we are pretty much back to normal. Cash has been a huge part of not just our day-to-day life but in economies around the globe, and we have every reason to believe it will continue to be. 

To give you an idea of to what degree cash remains vital, in 2019 “consumers used cash in 26 percent of transactions… Cash continues to be used extensively for small-value purchases, representing nearly half of all payments under $10 and 42 percent of payments less than $25.” 
 
#5. There will be microchips in the new vaccines.  

So, there are no microchips in the vaccinesIf there were, you would know it. You could see them with your naked eye. The needles being used to deliver vaccines aren't big enough for a chip to pass through. If they brought out and used a needle of sufficient size, you would know something had gone terribly wrong. According to Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious-disease scientist at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, "Even the smallest version of RFID chips are rather large, such that none would ever fit into a vaccine needle." 


#6. Vaccines are the Mark Of The Beast.  Be at peace, fellow Christians. The writer of Revelation was giving a carefully worded commentary on the state-mandated worship of Nero required to enter into trade guildsA vaccine is not the means by which you sell your soul.  Writing at the Logos Academic blog,  Matthew L. Halsted, notes, 

"I know of no reputable biblical scholar or theologian who would endorse that the COVID-19 quarantine or a vaccine is related to the “mark of the beast”. For starters, in Revelation, the “mark of the beast” is by no means a medical procedure. Most likely, it’s not even a physical or visible mark at all. Contrary to some of the more fear-inducing theories that have in the past gained steam in some evangelical circles, the “mark” is not at all something that could be accidentally taken either... the mark of the beast is a mark of loyalty and devotion to the beast."  
 
#7. 5G is causing the coronavirus. It’s not.   It’s just…not.   Seriously.


#8. Bill Gates wants to kill people with vaccines. He doesn’t. Read this and click on the links it provides. You may have valid reasons not to like Bill Gates, but he is not trying to kill people with vaccines. 


* * * * *





 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Sacrilege Of Syncretism: Why We Cannot Confuse The Kingdom With The Empire

I’m writing about something that I never dreamed would be an issue with which American Evangelicals would wrestle: should we or should we not promote or even join an insurrection if President Trump does not stay in office? Should we perhaps even join a movement for conservative states to secede from the United States, even if the cost is a violent uprising that could turn into a modern Civil War?

 Lest you think I am exaggerating about this being a viable option right now, allow me to point toward a few conservative politicians and prominent evangelical leaders whose voices represent millions[1] before I move on to some pastoral observations.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Brief History Of Christmas

The history of Christmas fascinates me: how it started, why we celebrate the way we do, what all the symbols mean, and what we can learn from church history about what Christians should celebrate and what we should be cautious about. So, for better or worse, here we go. 

Keep in mind that there is a LOT of competing information out there about the history of Christmas. I have worked to find the truth, but my presentation is only as good as my sources, which I hope were reliable.