What do you do at the polls when you really don't care for the politics of any candidate on the ballot?
This is a quandry many are faced with. As the day approaches for the gubernatorial election, many, myself included, are disappointed that the apparent alternative to Scott Walker--should he be recalled--is Tom Barrett. No disrespect to Barrett as a man, but his tenure as Milwaukee mayor hasn't fascinated me nor won my devotion. This is the same gentleman who proposed a mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools. And, regardless of any of his other political manuevers or accomplishments, that particular effort wreaks neoliberal rationale. Thank God it didn't happen. He would have sold MPS to the highest bidder.
If that isn't enough, it's 2012 and the Park East corridor is still not fully developed. During a time when Milwaukeeans seriously need jobs, he has failed to secure developers whose ideas could potentially bring hundreds of jobs. Again, I don't claim to be an expert on Barrett's administration, but the little I am cognizant of is enough to confirm that someone else is a better fit. Who? I don't know. But, what I do know is that if he wins the election and governs the state of Wisconsin like he's governed Milwaukee, brighter days will not be ahead...even if he is a democrat.
Well, previously I wrote about the role of the Christian Church in the midst of a "wild" soceity filled with cut-throat economic agendas, pretentious politics, and failing social institutions. I mentioned that because of its primogenitor, Jesus Christ, and his love-service-justice orientation, the Christian Church is fit to lead the fight for liberation. I still believe this to be true; however, I'm a bit concerned about the Christian Church's participation in a capricious capitalist system comprised of the very evils that Jesus was against.
It's clear that market forces dominate every social institution. I know this for certain now after watching Celebration of Gospel 2012 on BET. I'm not looking for a "boogeyman", not looking for something wrong, but it's very evident that there's a lot of money to be made, even through gospel music. Yes, I know that the message that the artists purportedly carried in song was centered on the saving, healing, delivering, power of God; yet the message was sorely suppressed by the showmanship and in some instances bufoonery of some of the artists. Not to mention the attire of some artists. I saw more curves than I heard words. I'm not hating. Just stating the facts. It really just looked like a Christian version of the Grammys or some other secular music celebration. The talent displayed was impeccable. The music was great, singing off the charts, but that's the problem. I saw too many stars and their glow blocked my view of the very God that supposedly lives in and shines through them.
Now, I'm a Christian. I love God and the people of God, but I witnessed good, wholesome entertainment. The music was soulful, soul-stirring, but I'm not sure it was reflective of the actual gospel of Jesus. Jesus, the reason for the genre, did more than give people a good feeling. Jesus turned things upside down. People couldn't remain the same in his presence. Those who did were just plain resistant to him and the kingdom message. Those who were really open to him got healed, were transformed, made a decision to follow his lead. An experience with Jesus meant personal and in many cases corporate revolution. He upset religious systems. He even lambasted those presiding over the "free-market" in the temple. He knocked over tables, rebuked the money-changers and said his house is a house of prayer for all nations, not a den of theives. I hope I'm not reaching, but I didn't hear or see much during the show that reminded me of Jesus.
Don't get me wrong. It was good entertainment. And, I think it's wonderful to celebrate the variety of gifts that people have. But, let's call it that. Let's call it a celebration of Christian entertainment because calling it a celebration of gospel is misleading. Where were the testimonies? Where was the footage of miracles God's done? Where were the crutches and empty wheelchairs? In other words, what's going on besides the singing? Where's the fruit? What is gospel music doing to advance God's kingdom? I mean really. The world is saturated, especially America, with "Jesus stuff". And, look at where we are. What are we celebrating? Jesus had the Spirit without measure. He went about doing good everywhere. Hence, the presence of the Spirit of God empowered him to make things happen. We must do a power audit on gospel music. Is it making things happen? Is it really anointed or is it just good feelings vibrating?
I see the influence of the market. I see corporate vision saying there is a market for church people so let's give them their own version of worldly things. I see the board room and the execs talking. I see a few spokespersons consulting them like Bobby Jones. In return for the insight, his show contract gets renewed or extended. So, the church gets an entertainment package that for them is safe yet pleasurable. They view those who "church it up" real good and make a living doing so.
We must open our eyes and recognize that these same market forces that provide Christian entertainment are complicit with decadence and media oppression in other areas. The gospel is not about self-help. It is God-centered and that typically means that we fade into the background. I don't know what it will take to get folks to see what's real. But, one thing is certain; whether the saints like it or not, agree or not, the market is beginning to be god. The market is directing. That's the very thing Jesus opposed. The leaders of the religious market, the fundamentalists, were responsible for his death. He wrecked their plans. Demetrius the silversmith admitted that Paul's preaching messed up his profits (Acts 19). See, the gospel messes up man's plans. It doesn't fit neatly. It changes plans.
With all the artists and their influence, America should be a good mess, pliable for the Lord to get it right. Saints must wake up and stop taking orders from the market. But, I guess if the objective is the dollar, then one must do what's best for business, even if it means misleading millions and misrepresenting the most potent liberating force known to humanity. If this is the case, then we have become a den of theives, commodifying his revelation and knowledge, selling a product with no instructions... just fancy packaging. God help us...
Amid a 21st century global landscape complete with pullulating innovations, shrinking and in some cases dissipating national borders, and abundant access to information, markers of old-world politics and economics such as the expanding gap between those who have and those who don’t have, confirm that all flowering indicators of social and cultural growth and progression notwithstanding; the weeds of systemic wickedness continue to thrive. Thus, America in 2012 looks eerily like the oft criticized America of the 1920s, when rugged individualism, cronyism, and imperialistic aspirations held the ideal of true democracy in check. The deceptive rhetoric of a “new America” or better yet, phrases such as “change that you can believe in” promulgated by the Obama Administration, are no more than distracting mantras that disseminate false hope. It is political legerdemain, and Americans, at least the naïve or politically illiterate, are falling for it every day.
Professor and author, Henry Giroux (2012), more accurately describes America as a “suicidal state”—one that through harsh public policies, anemic social programs, and mass privatization of vital public resources, knowingly plans for its own demise by eliminating its defenses against would be officious antidemocratic philosophies and approaches to governing. Featured in this “suicidal state” are the deadly triplets mentioned decades earlier by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: racism, militarism, and capitalism. This ominous trio has produced in years past, and continues to produce, policies that reward the rich for their knavery and punish the poor for being poor. It has helped to create a state that punishes those without and declares innocent those responsible for suffering. It has created a cultural atmosphere in which people are tolerant of obvious injustice, enamored with celebrity and enticed by the prospect of escaping poverty and other social maladies through fame, rather than working and advocating for fundamental social change. Delusional and desperate, the masses clamor for stingily doled out resources; while the superwealthy, the socially-privileged, enjoy unfettered access to goods, services, and resources.
Clearly, the situation is lop-sided and dare I say, lop-sided on purpose. Clearly, there is a nefarious design that has been implemented. This design and its ramifications, translated into hip hop lexicon is what I poignantly refer to as, “the wild”. This appellation is derived from the hit single by Jay-Z and Kanye West entitled, “No Church in the Wild”. In the song, the artists allude to the irrelevance of religion in a society with a rapidly spreading postmodern sensibility. In the place of traditional religious/spiritual views, they suggest a new belief system unlike the former, divisive, exclusive, and morally restrictive religious systems.
Whether it’s Jay-Z and Kanye’s more urban articulation of a “wild society” or Giroux’s delineation of the “suicidal state”, the undisputed truth is that societal evil is running wild; and consequently, all people, particularly poor and middle-class Americans and especially black and brown minorities, are frequently afflicted by both its caprices and strategic social threats and attacks. It is to this “wild society” and its increasingly jaded members that the Christian Church must respond. So, unlike Jay-Z and Kanye West, I don’t dismiss religion’s viability despite my own critiques and interrogations of institutionalized religion. Instead, I eagerly seek to identify the role of the Christian Church in “the wild”. That is to say, I argue that the Church is society’s last hope against the billowing waves of societal oppression and consequent gross socio-political-economic inequities. I argue that if there was ever an institution that possessed the transformative power needed to transcend the growing darkness of our millennial hour; the Christian Church is that institution. For, it is the progeny of a fearless leader that demonstrated unrivaled intransigence to forces of evil manifest in opposing religio-political factions—Jesus Christ (Boff & Pixley, 1989).
Incidentally, my ruminations were inspired by what I perceived to be a type of call, from a black man and a member of the hip hop community, for the Christian Church to return to its posture of overt resistance to oppression and social justice orientation. Noted “conscious” emcee, Talib Kweli, in an online interview asserts that, “…when the church can become a revolutionary organization, at that point religion is a good thing...” His remarks were preceded by references to the freedom-fighting efforts sparked by Christian leaders such as Nat Turner, Henry Highland Garnett, and other Christian ministers who protested the institution of enslavement. Or, his remarks were a reference to the time when men such as Richard Allen worked to make the Black Church a life-giving civic center and refuge from the constant deluge of racial oppression. This tradition of resistance continued through antebellum days to Reconstruction and Jim Crow and finally climaxed during the Civil Rights Movement. The Church, and in this specific case the Black Church, was a locus for justice and liberation, a hub for those whose mind was “stayed on freedom”.
Indeed, Kweli’s remarks honor the Black Church in its glorious revolutionary form. At the same time, Kweli’s remarks reveal what I perceive to be a soft confession for why he and others like him presently have little to no confidence in religion. The religion of today, and again to his point, the Black Christian Church has had little to no revolutionary fervor to speak of. Though two prominent ministers and leaders in the national black community, Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, typically respond to well-publicized issues of injustice, their presence, at least from my view, is first political and at best ministerial last. In other words, they attend to the concerns of the afflicted not as members of the Church per se, but as political leaders. Their “drop-ins” are not highly respected as in times past. Many among the Generation Xers and Y Generation see their presence as self-aggrandizing and self-promoting. Couple their questionable and in some ways unhelpful involvement along with the recent proclivity for prosperity leanings and teachings in the Black Church and Kweli and others like him fade from faith in flash-like fashion, running as fast as they can away from an institution that like a beloved family member strung out on drugs, is no longer trustworthy and in fact has become hurtful, unpredictable, and flagrantly selfish.
I respect Kweli’s thoughts and in response argue that the Church’s revolutionary fervor predates any resistance movement of modernity. In fact, I argue that the penchant for revolution among God’s people predates Jesus Christ. The exodus out of Egyptian bondage led by Moses cited in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible is but one example of God’s attention to oppression and the consequent suffering of a people. In regard to the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Beckford (2000) articulates that Jesus’ ministry was dread. It was a multi-dimensional movement of resistance against the oppressive force that negated or attempted to negate the prospect of humanity—sin. Certainly, in Jesus’ day, sin had mastered the heart-chords of countless men and women including those in power. It (sin) produced a society filled with filthy acts by wicked men and women. In fact, Jesus was born during the time of the Roman Empire, a polluted state replete with decadence and leaders with wicked inclinations.
And, though Jesus’ ministry wasn’t political in nature, it was a movement aimed at affecting holistic change. Jesus entered cities with one purpose—*total freedom (Beckford, 2000). Salvation, or for his witnesses, following “The Way”, was a transition from socio-emotional and spiritual brokenness to a condition of socio-emotional and spiritual wholeness that had exponential social, economic, cultural, ecological, and political possibilities. This possibility is evidenced in none other than the story of the Apostle Paul and his Damascus Road conversion (Acts 9:1-9). What was a very personal experience eventuated in a concatenation of missional efforts that helped to change the known world of his time (Acts 13-28). Entire villages, cities, and regions were influenced by the life-affirming and pro-social message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, Apostle Paul and other Jesus-adherents were referred to as those that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Through pneumatological promptings and hearts overflowing with compassion for the bound and bruised, Christians (followers of Christ) helped to expose and terminate exploitative economic schemes (Acts 16:16-24) and stymie idolatrous practices (Acts 19:21-41) among other exploits. In other words, in a “wild” Greco-Roman ruled world, replete with occultism, despotism, and religious chicanery, the Christian Church had relevance. It was responsive: It was effective.
Hence, I argue that the Christian Church is more than capable of responding to current issues that mirror those encountered by the apostles. And, I further argue that today’s Christian Church is and can be just as potent. Why? Despite some of its external and internal distractions and contradictions, the Christian Church has something that no other institution can claim—the DNA of Jesus. It has the God-gene. Hence, the Christian Church has the capacity for compassion, for healing, for justice.
The scriptures evince God’s love of justice and His displeasure and dissatisfaction with injustice (Psalm 37:28, 11:7, 10:18, 9:16, 72:1; Isaiah 61:8). As I stated previously, the Bible contains arguably the most renown narrative of God-aided resistance to oppression—the Children of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. Whether it’s the narrative of the exploits of Moses or Gideon or David or Esther, God’s record is consistent. He is against oppression. He favors the oppressed, the poor, the afflicted, and the downtrodden (Psalms 14:5-6; 9:9). He hears their cries of suffering (Psalms 9:12; Exodus 3:7). He sends His best to combat oppression.
I believe God’s best in this hour is the Christian Church. I believe His best are believers who are liberation-minded and who’ve subsequently become “vehicles of the activity of God” (Cone, 1997). God’s best are those who say yes to Him and dedicate the expression and utilization of their gifts to the improvement of the human condition. In essence, those whom God regards as His best imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). They, like their heavenly Father, love justice and stop at nothing to ensure that the suffering are cared for and made whole and that the wicked are held accountable. Finally, God has made it clear that when the Christian Church confronts oppression within its own ranks and chambers and turns away from its own wickedness, that He will “hear from heaven and heal the land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Hence, whether it is through an action-orientation or one of collective and personal reflection and self-effacement, the restoration of America is in the hearts of the saints. “The wild” is no match for a completely God-centered, God-conscious, and God-empowered Church. Through the attentiveness and compassionate action of godly, apostolic agents of change, America’s “wild” will become a fertile field yielding cultural and social abundance and a life-giving garden of peace, joy , and gladness (Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 32:15-17).
1. Beckford, R. (2000). Dread and pentecostal. A political theology for the black church in Britain. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
2. Boff, C. & Pixley, G.V. (1989). The bible, the church, and the poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
3. Cone, J.H. (1997). Black theology and black power. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
4. Giroux, H. (2012, April 10). The “suicidal state” and the war on youth. Truth-out.org. Retrieved from http:truth-out.org/opinion/item/8421-the-suicidal-state-and-the-war-on-youth.
5. *”total freedom”-term offered by Robert Beckford (p.22, 2000) in reference to the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth; that Jesus’ work on earth yielded outcomes of social, political and spiritual freedom, all of which are part of God’s plan.v
Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, now five black men in Tulsa? What is this? Open season on black men? The latest in the ongoing saga that is the black experience in America reminds us all that to be black and male in this nation is to be seemingly marked for death. Of course, the aforementioned names are only a modicum compared to the countless unnamed individuals who've died at the hands of white men or minority-agents of an white, racially-oppressive American society.
For the faithless, I'm sure it's difficult to believe that things will get better. But, for those who believe in a Sovereign God who responds to importunate humanity, there is hope. In fact, a just God is the only hope that we have. Obviously, man, in all of his fallibility, has proven to be unpredictable and slanted in his valuation of human life. I happen to believe that humanity, redeemed, is full of just-potential. But, that's the key. Our nation has occluded God from its criminal justice system. No law of God. No ten commandments. No true spirit of wisdom, just man and his multitudinal whims, alliances, and biases.
Certainly, some in the black community issue a call-to-arms. Some will advocate retaliatory actions against whites. Yes, my blood boils. The words of Dr. Bobby Wright come to my mind, "the only reason blacks kill blacks is because they haven't been trained to kill whites". Yet, I know that being reactionary may win a minor battle, but will have no effect on the war at hand. We "wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12), right? What's our resolve? I think the answer to the question is layered. I think it needs to be answered on a personal, family, and community level. Personally, we must align ourselves with godly principles that eliminate the oppressor in us all. We must tap into cultural retentions and value systems such as the African tradition and principles of MAAT that keep rooted in other-centeredness and grounded in morally-transformative perspectives that help sustain communities. On a family level, all members must be aware of the reality of the black experience in America. And though, we don't allow the reality to restrict our human prospect. Black husbands and boys have to be careful; don't commit illegal acts. Be aware of your surroundings. Understand the history of the black man in America. Live by life-affirming values and principles. In regard to community, we must restore generational connections and relationships. Elders must impart into and teach youths. Raise awareness around the critical issues. Explain the history. Sankofa.
More can be said on this, but what I've listed is a start. It's terrible that after all these years, black men continue to be "moving targets", continue to be viewed as things that can be disposed of or commodified at a moments notice...based on the desires of white men. I feel like I'm in a time capsule. Is this 2012 or 1912? At least the shooters in the Tulsa horror have been arrested...
And some folks wonder why we have to keep the discourse on oppression and apparatuses of an oppressive state alive...some wonder why we keep talking about race, even with Obama in office. No respect to Obama and his admin., but blacks are still getting lynched under his watch. Instead of nooses, it's bullets. No, its not Obama's fault, but whenever asked questions about addressing the needs of the black community, he's been evasive. I want harmony, but I also want protection as a citizen. I don't want an Escalade. I want justice! Let's keep the discourse alive. Don't let Trayvon Martin's execution go unaddressed!