Archive for May, 2008

Do you think Barack Obama is getting tired of having to apologize for the comments of all the pastors in his life? Has there ever been a presidential race like this before where a candidate’s connections to clergymen figure so prominently?

Anyhow, I’ve got a few thoughts on Obama’s latest “pastor problem.” First, didn’t Father Pfleger know that video from that Trinity United Church of Christ service would invariably end up circulating on YouTube and eventually everywhere else? Being from the Chicago area, I’ve known about and respected Father Michael Pfleger for a long time. He’s a true champion for justice on the South Side, and a man who faithfully lives out what he believes. But this current presidential race has turned a lot of usually sane and media-savvy leaders into careless loose cannons (e.g., Gloria Steinem, Andrew Young, Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro, Jeremiah Wright, Bob Johnson, Bill Clinton, etc.).

Even though the words at issue appeared to be only a brief aside, shouldn’t Father Pfleger have known better? His comments about Hillary Clinton were nothing new; I’ve heard similar criticisms in private settings. But was the church where Jeremiah Wright’s infamous rant originated the best place to say those things publicly?

Second, as Peter Parker intoned repeatedly in the first Spider-Man movie, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As we near the possible election of the first African American president of the United States, a lot blacks and urban-minded folks are giddy with excitement. And given the history of our nation regarding race, Obama’s candidacy is deserving of the excitement. However, with this dawning of a potential new era in racial progress, the African American community can no longer carry on as if everything it says and does in the privacy of our own churches and social gatherings is “just amongst ourselves.” The rest of the nation is listening now, like they’ve never listened before. In fact, many folks are just waiting to pounce on anything that smacks of “reverse discrimination” or unpatriotic speech. Indeed, a residual effect of Obama’s emergence as a national figure is that the black church will no longer be dismissed by the majority culture as “a nice little pastime for blacks, with great music.” Many folks are now suspicious of–and even threatened by–what may or may not be going on at Second Baptist or Bethel A.M.E. on Sunday mornings.

Third, many of our black and urban pastors (and I tend to consider Father Pfleger a black pastor) need to dial down the worldly political rhetoric in the pulpit and start speaking more like Jesus. This doesn’t mean they have to curb the fiery, prophetic sermons that challenge society’s injustices. But it does mean their first inclination should be to speak the truth in love, with a spirit of compassion and grace.

We’ve been studying the book of Galatians in my small group from church, and the apostle Paul’s words in chapter 6 about restoring fallen brethren, carrying each other’s burdens, and serving others with humility are fresh in my mind. He says in verses 9-10:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (NIV). 

No matter how vindicated many African Americans may be feeling in light of Barack Obama’s success, no matter how justified we may feel in criticizing white America’s propensity for cultural blindness or their persistent sense of entitlement, we cannot allow bitterness or sarcasm to define our faith or our identity as believers. The way Father Pfleger mocked Hillary Clinton was devoid of the compassion and grace one would expect from a pastor, especially one as influential as this important leader.

Isn’t it sad that the politicians are now the ones who have to chastise and apologize for the pastors?


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Thanks to my friend P.E.W. for calling my attention to an excellent article in today’s Chicago Tribune about a new report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute that says minority children in foster care are being ill-served by a federal law that plays down race and culture in adoptions.

“The law muzzled any agency that received federal aid from considering race at all—or risk a large fine,” writes the Trib’s Bonnie Miller Rubin. “That meant that organizations could not advertise for African-Americans or ask white parents about the demographics of their communities. They could not offer special training to racially mixed families unless it was offered to all adoptive parents. Social workers have sometimes taken black children to foster homes without mentioning race, only to have the child refused at the door.”

In a more nuts-and-bolts article in The New York Times, Jae Ran Kim, a Minnesota social worker, bemoans the limitations placed upon social service agencies by the “colorblind” adoption laws that are currently on the books. “If you talk to parents about racial and cultural issues they are likely to face,” says Kim, “you risk violating the law, and if you try to recruit families through minority organizations, even that can look like you are using race.”

According to the Trib, the Donaldson study has been endorsed by a wide array of child-welfare groups. It “calls for the ‘colorblind’ legislation to be amended, permitting race to be a factor—though not the sole factor—in matching families and preparing parents.”

“The status quo isn’t working,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based non-profit institute. “And if we’re going to be child-centered, we need to recognize reality and not what our ideal may be.”

Adds Jae Ran Kim in The New York Times:

“The law does need to reflect that fact that race is an issue in our society, and prospective white parents need to realize that this goes beyond whether you can love your child or even whether you live in a diverse neighborhood. This is about what is in the best interest of the child, not the parent.”

So much to ponder. What are your thoughts? Should adoption agencies be allowed to bring racial considerations into the adoption process? For many, this might seem like a no-brainer–“Of course they should!” But as the Trib article observes, the laws were originally instituted “to remove barriers and improve the prospects of finding permanent, loving homes for minority children.” As usual, there are no easy answers.

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Without Ceasing

Please pray. My friends Tyson and Leslie Aschliman received very bad news today regarding Leslie’s cancer prognosis. You can read Tyson’s powerful post about developments here. A few days ago, Tyson blogged about the four specific areas that folks can be focusing on in their prayers. I would ask you to continue lifting up Leslie, Tyson, and their young son TJ as they come to your mind. Throughout this ordeal, the Aschlimans have demonstrated a remarkable faith and confidence that God is in control. May the Lord fill them and their family with an extra measure of his peace in the days ahead.

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In the comments to a previous post, Tyson Aschliman reminded me about Christine Scheller’s suggestion that I check out the new blog Stuff White People Like. I meant to reply to her on that awhile back but got distracted. I’m sorry, Christine.

I had heard about Stuff White People Like (SWPL) earlier this year through TheRoot.com and another interesting blog called Racialicious. At the time, I wondered whether or not I should blog about SWPL. I decided not to because, while I found it funny, I wasn’t sure whether I was laughing with my white brothers and sisters or at them. Also, I realized that I like many of the same things that are supposedly the primary domain of white folk (e.g., #44 Public Radio, #40 Apple Products, #64 Recycling). Does this make me “too white” or “not black enough”? 🙂 

I may be overreacting about all of this, but I wonder what your thoughts are. Is SWPL a harmless site that’s good for a few laughs? A subversively instructive site that uses satire to help further our understanding of racial and cultural differences? Or, like that Root.com essay suggests, is it just the latest humor-clad gimmick exploiting our differences for one individual’s selfish gain (the guy got a nifty book deal out of this thing)? More importantly, does it help or hurt the cause of true racial reconciliation?

I don’t want to come across as a spoilsport. Frankly, I think many of the SWPL entries are hilarious.  And I believe it’s helpful to use humor in our discussion of racial issues. (Heck, I attempted to do that in my book.) But is there enough that’s redemptive in the SWPL approach to make it something that’s healthy and productive, and not just a slow-acting poison for the mind and heart that will ultimately make us more cynical?

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Thanks for your continued prayers for the Aschliman family. Things have recently taken an uncertain turn, so I’m asking again that you include Leslie, Tyson, and their son TJ on your prayer lists. They have consistently demonstrated God’s grace and peace through this long, painful ordeal. I’m praying that the Lord will give them an extra measure of his strength in these days to come.

Update on 5/8/08: Sadly, the test results that came today were not good. But God is. Please continue to pray.

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