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Seeing the news reports today about Rev. Ike’s death reminded me of a post I did a year ago about the pervasiveness of the prosperity gospel in black churches. In the comments section, I got a little push back from a member of T.D. Jakes’s church, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to engage her in a conversation, and I worried that my post might’ve offended her or others.

Still, I’d be interested in hearing from any brothers or sisters out there who are members of churches that subscribe to a prosperity message. Would you be interested in interacting around some of the questions I asked my guest last year? If so, here they are: 

1. Do you feel insulted or offended by the negative theological critiques of the prosperity message? What are these critiques missing?

2. My guest said the term “prosperity” has become something of a cliché. What would be a better term to use? 

3. What do folks like me who don’t “get it” need to understand to get beyond the stereotypes about followers of the prosperity message?

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Lively conversation happening over at The Atlantic on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog. His post “The Myth of Black Confederate Soldiers” reminds me of conversations I’ve had in the past with folks who attempt to downplay the role of slavery and race in the Civil War. This is always surprising to me.

I’ve told the story before about how, when I was editor of Today’s Christian, I heard it big time from Confederate sympathizers who took me to task for publishing an article about the origin of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Silly me; I didn’t anticipate that emotions were still so raw over the outcome of the war. At the same time, I find it both revealing and truly miraculous that we can get on as fellow believers quite well (and, heck, you might even be a faithful reader of a magazine that I edit), yet we can hold fundamentally different views on issues so central to who each of us are. I think this is a testament to the unifying power of God’s love—but also to the fact that there are a lot of difficult things still left to talk about, if we ever hope to move our relationships from thin to thick. In any event, the discussion following Coates’s post offers some good food for thought.

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Soong-Chan Rah9070UrbanFaith.com, my other blogging and writing home, has a new interview with Soong-Chan Rah about his book, The Next Evangelicalism, and why he still roots for the Baltimore Orioles. Also be sure to check out Soong-Chan’s new website, www.ProfRah.com.

Have a happy 4th of July weekend, everyone! Peace.

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Thanks to a tip from a coworker, lately I’ve been enjoying the soulful sounds of (wait for it) a Korean gospel choir. Korea’s Heritage Mass Choir is a dynamic ensemble of young artists who clearly have been inspired by the Spirit—as well as urban contemporary gospel tunes from the U.S. (I’ve embedded three of their videos here, but you can find several others over at YouTube.) I’m especially taken by their rendition of the old Kirk Franklin/Fred Hammond cut “My Deisre.” The Heritage Choir’s videos have been making the rounds for a while now, so perhaps you’ve seen and heard them already. If not, enjoy—and give the Lord some praise!

 

 

 

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notredame3Personally, I would’ve loved to have any President of the United States speak at my college commencement. At least then I would be able to remember who it was. As it stands now, I have the foggiest idea who spoke at my graduation. But seriously, as a pro-life Protestant who voted for Barack Obama, I’ve tried to steer clear of the current Obama-at-Notre Dame controversy (lest I tick off my outspoken pro-life friends or my outspoken pro-Obama friends).

I’m such a wimp, I know. Call me a bad Christian,  but I just don’t have it in me to get that worked up over politics and ideology–and I realize that just by confessing this I’ve probably tainted myself in the eyes of those who see the abortion and embryonic stem cell issues as much more than matters of politics and ideology, and frankly I would agree with them. Nevertheless, I’m not wired to get all red in the face about it (for various reasons). I do, however, pray for the precious lives of the unborn (as well as the born). And I pray that our president will stay true to his pledge to help reduce the need for abortions and that he’ll stay open to hearing the views of “the other side,” as he promised. 

As a journalist, it’s interesting to watch the gathering storm form around the University of Notre Dame following its invitation to President Obama. For many Catholics, this has become a deeply personal matter, one which they feel obligated to take a strong stand against. Just witness the news today that Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, a devout Catholic who was to receive a special medal during the Notre Dame commencement ceremony, has now declined Notre Dame’s honor as a protest against President Obama’s pro-choice views. (This commentary at AOL’s new site, Politics Daily, offers an interesting perspective on this latest chapter of the controversy.) For Catholics like Glendon, the integrity of their church is at stake. Still other pro-life folks have seized upon the controversy as a golden opportunity to promote their cause and protest the policies of a pro-choice president. I think it’s good theater but also a healthy outworking of democracy.

I’m reminded of the controversy at Calvin College, back in May 2005, when then-President George W. Bush was invited to participate in the commencement service at that  evangelical school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Though many welcomed his participation, a vocal movement of staff, students, alumni, and community members were against his coming. They even published two open letters to the president and took out a full-page ad in the local paper to publicly air their disenchantment. In the letters–one from students and alumni, another from faculty and staff–the protesters articulated their grievances, particularly noting President Bush’s launching of an “unjust and unjustified” war, his neglect of the needy and “coddling” of the rich, and his administration’s fostering of “intolerance and divisiveness.” You can read both of the letters here.

Interestingly enough, both the Calvin protest and now the Notre Dame uprising are related to issues of life. For the Notre Dame protesters, opposing Obama means standing up for the sanctity of life and the rights of the unborn. For the Calvin protesters, opposing Bush meant standing against war and standing up for social justice and the rights of the underprivileged. Unfortunately, in the heat of protest, it’s often difficult for either side to see what they hold in common, that God calls us to care equally about all issues of life. (Plus, trying to be all diplomatic and conciliatory on these issues gets you branded as a flake and does very little for your fundraising efforts.) 

In any event, I envy the students at Notre Dame right now (as I did the Calvin folks back in 2005). What a great educational experience, to be able to observe and participate in this working out of politics, religion, and civic engagement from their front-row position. Wouldn’t you love to be in one of Mark Noll‘s classes about now?

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nextevangelicalismIf you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly encourage you to check out my friend Soong-Chan Rah’s provocative new book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Today, African, Asian, and Latin American Christians make up 60 percent of the world’s Christian population. The United States and Europe will soon no longer be the center of evangelical activity in the world. With this in mind, the book calls the North American church to break free of its cultural captivity to a Western/Eurocentric/White American mindset and to embrace a new evangelicalism that is diverse and multiethnic. You can find out more here at the IVP site. 

For those of you who don’t know him, Soong-Chan is a brilliant theologian and pastor who for years led Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, a multiethnic, urban, post-modern congregation in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now a professor at North Park Theological Seminary here in Chicago, Soong-Chan has rattled a lot of cages over the years by calling attention to issues of racism and cultural insensitivity in the evangelical church and community. I included a story about the Rickshaw Rally fiasco in my book, Reconciliation Blues, and I blogged about Soong-Chan’s role in the Zondevan/Youth Specialities controversy a couple years ago. In addition, when I was the editor of Today’s Christian, I published an insightful interview with Soong-Chan about the Youth Specialities episode and his ministry of activism. Though he may have gained a reputation as a rabble-rouser in some quarters, I know him as a kind-hearted, passionate man of God who loves the church and lost people.

We’re planning to do an interview with Soong-Chan about his book for that other little blog that I’m involved with, UrbanFaith.com. If you have any questions you’d like to hear Soong-Chan address about the book or his ministry in general, please leave them in the comments area below, or send them to me directly through my website. We’ll publish the interview in the next couple weeks, so send your questions soon. Thanks!

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Love this tidbit picked up today by Rudy Carrasco at his blog. You can read the full report here. Any thoughts from Southern Baptists brethren out there? How is that aspect of President Akin’s message playing in local SBC congregations these days?

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FYI – We just posted a new article on UrbanFaith.com about some of the recent racial incidents on Christian college campuses. One of the themes of the article: How will the emergence of an African American president influence matters of race and diversity on Christian college campuses?

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, Newsweek has a poignant and thought-provoking piece about Doug Paul. A former Wheaton College student, Paul, according to the article, typifies the Joshua Generation — the young white evangelicals who are more progressive in their politics than earlier generations of evangelical Christians. Reaching out to the Joshua Generation, says Newsweek, was one of Barack Obama’s keys to making headway with evangelical voters.

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Sociologist and Divided by Faith author Michael Emerson has an interesting article posted at UrbanFaith.com regarding the issue of economic redistribution. Barack Obama took a lot of heat from his opponents during the election over this matter, as they labeled him and his policies (raising taxes on the wealthy and giving relief to the poor and middle class) as being socialist in nature. Here, Emerson examines the issue in light of early church practices and the noted work of John Perkins.

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Happy New Year, everyone! Dana asked me yesterday, “When are you going to update your blog?” And I suddenly felt convicted. It’s been hard for me to regroup from the holiday break. Plus, I’m not sure I have much to say just yet; still searching for my 2009 voice, I guess.

Maybe another reason I’ve avoided blogging is that I’m so darned embarrassed to live in Illinois right now. After Governor Blagojevich’s arrest and tragic downfall, I thought the guy would keep a low profile and not stir up anymore trouble. Alas, Blago’s ego wouldn’t allow him to keep still. And so, last week he goes and names Roland Burris, a veteran African American politician, to fill Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. You all know the rest.

Now, this week we have the fiasco of Mr. Burris going to Washington for the swearing-in ceremony and being turned away. We’ve got black politicians and church leaders in Illinois declaring that Burris has a legal right to the seat and should be allowed to fill the vacancy because there are currently no African Americans in the Senate. We’ve got President-elect Obama, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Senator Harry Reid, and an assortment of other folks saying Burris should not be allowed to join the Senate because of the cloud of corruption hanging over Blagojevich’s governorship. And on and on it goes.

I need therapy, folks. As a lifelong Illinoisian (with a brief sojourn to Florida), I’m feeling lots of shame these days. What in the world is going on with my state?

What’s really sad is the way Blagojevich is brazenly playing the race card in this situation to apparently distract attention from his own sorry plight and curry favor with African Americans, who may be his last source of support. And what’s even sadder is the way some African American leaders, both from the political and church arenas, have played along with Blago’s desperate ploy. Looking especially bad in this whole mess is Roland Burris, who once seemed like a wise and respectable public servant. Why on earth would he go along with Blagojevich’s plan, knowing that it would lead to the very debacle we’re seeing right now in Springfield and Washington?

Ironically, the last power play for this particular Senate seat also involved a brazen dealing of the race card. Remember back in 2004 when Illinois Republicans recruited Alan Keyes, an outspoken African American conservative from Maryland, to come to the Land of Lincoln and battle Barack Obama for that U.S. Senate seat? I never thought I’d see such an outrageous display of racial politics in Illinois again—until now.

So, what do you think? As you might expect, there are plenty of interesting commentaries floating around the blogosphere and other media. Monroe Anderson, at EbonyJet.com, sarcastically quips, “[A]pparently, the [Senate] seat that once belonged to the president-elect now commands exclusive dibs from black pols in Illinois, period. No whites need apply. Asians or Hispanics shouldn’t bother either.” In an interview with NPR, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic also argues that race shouldn’t matter in the Burris case. And Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page offers an insightful overview of the current saga in all its racialized messiness.

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