Racism in the American Church

There is a WHOLE LOT to develop from this particular episode, but I believe it is time to share what has been stirring deep in my heart for awhile. Along the way, I will keep developing off of this theme.

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This particular article focusing on a Pentecostal leader and educator demonstrates the complexity of immigration. It also raises the question for me again, as a friend and I discussed last weekend, “Why are many who oppose immigration reform and treating immigrants better calling themselves Christian?” How do you do that?

We can have national security, but the nasty vitriol concerning immigrants themselves is needless. It is pointless, especially coming from those who profess Christ as Lord in their lives.

“Who is doing the greater danger to the rule of law?” he asked at the luncheon. “Immigrants? Or a Congress who knows the system is broken and won’t fix the laws or enforce them?” (Joe Castleberry)

If we are going to respond with bumper sticker answers like, “Build a wall!” or “Ship them all home!”, here are some bumper stickers to think about as well, for believers:

Are immigrants our “enemies?” Consider this bumper sticker: “Love your enemies. — Jesus” (Luke 6:27-36)

Are they NOT your enemies? That would make them your “neighbor.” Here is a bumper sticker: “Love your neighbor as yourself — Jesus” (Mark 12:31)

“For me as a Christian American, to be hostile to people from other places is to violate my spiritual mandate,” said Joe Fuiten, pastor emeritus of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, which has had thriving Iranian, Japanese and Spanish wings.

“Well, they’re not REALLY my neighbor. It’s not like they live down the street from me.”

Try reading this parable to gain perspective on who IS your neighbor, and how you can be a better one.

“But we could be letting in terrorists! We just don’t know!”

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Ps. 56:3)

We can disagree on things. Castleberry doesn’t favor amnesty. I would disagree with him. I favor a path to citizenship that identifies illegals in a way that would help keep those, for instance, who had visas expire but have lived law-abiding years, along with children brought here by families, etc. But many disagree on that as well.

The point is this: we need to sit down and reason together. We don’t throw political hand grenades.

“Sometimes social class values will outweigh religious perspectives,” Castleberry said, adding, “some, not all, working-class white people are taking the bait to blame immigrants for the so-called disappearance of the middle class.”

There are ways to find political solutions, but it is when we sit down and talk. That may seem impossible in today’s deeply divided politics. However, in the meantime, it should also mean we, as believers, find a way to ACT BETTER and with less nasty vitriol.


A great moment in reconciliation

In the news, South Carolina voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capital grounds. It’s a good move. Those symbols need to be in different places, which is why I’m not for just getting rid of them completely.

Let me explain, because the title of the post isn’t referring to South Carolina. It is referring to my own denomination, the Assemblies of God.

I received the resolutions packet for the upcoming General Council. I can never afford to attend those events, but I’m always glad to know what is being considered. This year is a resolution to add in a seat on the executive leadership team that is specifically for a black minister in the A/G fellowship. We’ve made the move in ethnic groups generally, and then for a woman to have a position, and then for ministers under 40. Now, this resolution will allow for a seat at the table for a fellowship that has long been with us in the Assemblies of God. I pray it moves for approval quickly.

The Assemblies of God as a Pentecostal fellowship is new to the scene. We’re barely 100 years old. But on the world church scene, Pentecostal movements in the last century have risen and form a large part of what is going on in the Church worldwide. It began out of a revival that can be traced ultimately back to Topeka, Kansas. I have to mention that, since I’m FROM Kansas. But the catalyst revival was Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906. It was started by a black man named William Seymour. Denominations that arose out of that movement, however, were still caught up in the racism of the day. What is hard to swallow in A/G history is the racist roots. We were formed and took white ministers. Church of God in Christ became predominately African American.

And this is why I think removing the Confederate battle flag from government grounds in the South is a good idea, but trying to make it go away completely is a mistake, along with trying to rename every building and tearing down statues.

I can’t get away from the A/G history. It impacted me early on in my ministry and that was a moment I could have “bolted.” I chose not to. Over the last 20 years has been a reconciliation movement in the A/G that has worked hard to bring healing and hope. Our national leader over 20 years held a foot washing ceremony and asked for forgiveness of the leaders of the Church of God in Christ. This year our national leader preached at the Church of God in Christ national convention and their leader will preach at our national convention.

But we can’t scrub the history. We have to talk about it. We have to ask for forgiveness. We have to heal. And that means at times you leave the ugly reminders to say to a next generation: “Don’t go this road any more.”

So, I’m incredibly thankful for the great moment in reconciliation for my own denomination. I am prayerful it will pass easily.

Why I join in the effort to pray this Sunday for #BlackLivesMatter

This Sunday has been a day set aside for prayer. The request has come from two significant places that affect my own ministry: the Church of God in Christ and then the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Together they are asking for churches to pray this Sunday for racial reconciliation and justice.

We will pray for justice. We will pray for peace. In our city, we will pray for the cultural diversity and for our law enforcement because both work hard to keep our city moving forward.

It has been heart breaking to read some comments from other ministers who think focusing on African American issues for one Sunday is “divisive.” In my view, there are times when someone hurts in the body of Christ… and we all hurt. I feel that hurt from my brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ, so as they hurt I hurt. 

After 9/11 some of my first contacts in the days following were with my Muslim friends because I needed them to know their lives mattered. I wasn’t blaming them for 9/11. I wanted to know they were safe.

In the past two weeks the racial injustices of our culture have come to a head once again and there are friends who hurt. As I am asked to pray from my friends, I will join in that effort.

This is a moment for the Church to step up once again and lead the way. I am going to need to ignore a lot of voices who want to simply say “Don’t all lives matter?” for a time as I try to show that the CHURCH should be leading the way in reconciliation.

This was Dr. George Wood’s statement:

Great strides have been made in civil rights and racial reconciliation over the past century, of course, but America still experiences racial divisions. If Spirit-filled Christians cannot find a way to work together to heal these divisions, what hope is there for the rest of the country?

I want to be a part of moving forward. It is my prayer those reading, and those joining us for worship on Sunday, will help with moving forward as well. I will be wearing black in some way this Sunday, as the Church of God in Christ leadership has asked. Perhaps you will join me.

I wish to weep with those who weep. I also wish to carry forward the conversation. I am praying we can do so in my city.


Statement of Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood Encouraging Participation with Church of God in Christ in Observing Black Lives Matter Sunday

Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. of the Church of God in Christ has asked COGIC churches to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday this coming Sunday, December 14, 2014. As Bishop Blake’s friend and counterpart in the Assemblies of God, I ask that all AG churches do the same. I have two reasons for doing so.

First and foremost, black lives matter. The lives of all people are precious to God, of course, but at the present moment, many of our black brothers and sisters in COGIC and the AG feel that their lives are not highly valued by many in white America. As examples, they point to the recent controversial decisions of grand juries in St. Louis County, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, not to return bills of indictment against white police officers in the deaths of two black males, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Whatever your opinion of those controversial decisions, can we stand with our brothers and sisters and affirm the value of black lives generally and of their lives specifically? Scripture teaches that God does not take pleasure in the death of people, not even the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). If so, then whatever the circumstances, we can be certain that God did not take pleasure in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Therefore, neither should we. Can we affirm, then, the grief our black brothers and sisters feel about these men’s deaths? Think of it this way: If the families and friends of Michael Brown and Eric Garner attended your church, how would you minister to them in their sorrow?

Scripture teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Black Lives Matter Sunday is a way for all Assemblies of God churches to do that with our black brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ, our ownNational Black Fellowship, and the many multicultural churches in the Assemblies of God. Scripture teaches, “If one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Let us suffer with our brothers and sisters in their time of mourning.

Second, America is racially divided and needs the Church to heal its divisions. The Pentecostal movement, to which both COGIC and the AG belong, traces a large portion of its spiritual genealogy to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California, at the start of the twentieth century. In that revival, led by a godly black man named William J. Seymour, the Spirit of Jesus Christ powerfully knit together the hearts of people who attended, regardless of race and ethnicity. For a shining moment at Azusa Street, when the surrounding culture was segregated by color, “the color line was washed away in the Blood,” as Frank Bartleman famously put it. Unfortunately, the forces of segregation reasserted themselves among white Pentecostals, and for many decades thereafter, they allowed the spirit of Jim Crow into their churches.

Great strides have been made in civil rights and racial reconciliation over the past century, of course, but America still experiences racial divisions. If Spirit-filled Christians cannot find a way to work together to heal these divisions, what hope is there for the rest of the country? The Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God share a like, precious faith, including our belief in and experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ has already united us in doctrine and experience, in other words. If we cannot unite at this hour, how can we expect America to be united, when it has no spiritual foundation for unity?

Because black lives matter, and because America needs the Church to heal its lingering racial divisions, I ask that Assemblies of God churches join the Church of God in Christ on Sunday, December 14, 2014, and pray for the following things:

  • Pray during the service that God would bless the ministries of the Church of God in Christ, our own National Black Fellowship, and the many AG multicultural churches, enlarging their territory through Spirit-guided influence on the communities where they minister.
  • Pray that God would unite the hearts of all Spirit-filled believers, but especially COGIC and the AG, so that together, we would become a “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12) in our nation.
  • Pray for law enforcement and judicial officers, especially Spirit-filled believers among them, that they would be servants of justice, reconciliation, and peace in the communities they serve.

I recognize that some of you may find my request to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday controversial because of deep disagreement over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. I do not wish to be controversial or to bring further division within the Church or within America. We have enough of that already.

Rather, I wish for us to find points of unity and cooperation across racial lines. We can take steps together in that direction by affirming the value of black lives and by praying for unity in our churches and our society this Sunday, December 14. I hope you will join me in observing Black Lives Matter Sunday with our brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ. Finally, at this Christmas season, may we take to heart once again the glorious announcement of the angel that the birth of Jesus is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10, emphasis added)!

What to do with all the time…

Brian has chronicled some very interesting commentaries of late regarding the flight from evangelicalism. It is interesting reading.

He DOES mention the Assemblies of God, and tries to remain kind. But, he wonders what we do with all our time once the emotionalism is gone.

First of all, that is a valid question in many ways. When we don’t know how to pursue God outside the experiential, we are in danger of drying up. When we are all about the number of “souls saved” and have no way to disciple people, we’re in trouble. I see this happening. I know churches that have good “numbers” but no depth. When people want to grow in spiritual maturity… they leave.

Unlike Brian, I don’t see this an experiential problem. It’s a soteriological problem, like Scot McKnight would pose. Those particular churches I know are all about getting the head count and keeping things “light.” Not even “experiential” in a true Pentecostal sense.

But, on another level, the issue of having too much time is a funny question. I’ve been in the A/G my entire life. I pastor a church. I teach some college classes. I still haven’t found all that time Brian is talking about! 😉

Being a Confessional Pentecostal… or is it a Confessing Pentecostal?

It shows how much I don’t know… and I readily admit it.

But there is something that is becoming evident to me: I want to be more confessional in my Pentecostal roots and beliefs. I want to be more “credal.” Is that a word? I just got a spell-check squiggly… (This isn’t going to be a very formal treatise.)

This I know:

The creeds of the ancient church are vital to the unity of the Church. They are basic Christianity and should be things on which we agree as the Body of Christ.

I don’t need any post-Reformation creeds. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed (and we can debate the filioque if you like) are fine. Certainly from there we will have our “distinctives.” But if we can come back to this… the creeds… is it possible that we can find the Body of Christ?

As a Pentecostal I am certainly going to have a “disctinctive,” and I am certainly not about to shove it down anyone’s throat. However, I am willing to live out that distinctive and contribute that to the Church. Should I not be allowed that grace? Could Pentecostals add something to the Body of Christ? Certainly, just as Reformed, Lutherans, etc., can add to the Body of Christ.

This is why I think the Assemblies of God should be more credal. Not reciting our “Fundamental Truths,” but emphasizing the creeds that lift up the essentials of Christianity. I am not asking that we cease living in the power of the Spirit. Quite frankly, I am begging Pentecostals to start acting like Pentecostals more! Focusing on one of our Fundamental Truths doesn’t make us Pentecostal, friends. We need the life of the Spirit in demonstration now.

Loving Christ. Loving the Body. Confessing the great truths of our faith.

The Apprentice.


It all started innocently enough. The Assemblies of God issued an updated paper on creation in August of this year. That didn’t sit too well with a man leading a ministry called “Answers in Genesis.”

The paper, in my view, was a decent one because it opened up the conversation so we have grace in the discussion on creation. However, a literal 6-day, 24-hour day creation view seems to have become a new orthodoxy. I heard today that the committee that wrote the position paper for the AOG has been called back together and is to review their work.

Even more disappointing to me is the people who called for this review lead the district where I am a pastor.

When did orthodoxy change? I need to get that memo. Ken Ham says, “Jump,” and we say, “How high?” Is that how it’s working these days? Did someone elect him pope? And when did the verse get inserted that “Thou must believe in a literal 24-hour, 6-day creation or thou shalt be banished to hell?” (Perhaps that is in 2 Hesitations or something.)

I had a conversation recently with a scholar who said something very bold. In effect, if the evidence for evolution were proven correct tomorrow it would do NOTHING to effect his faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, for those in Ken Ham’s camp, to believe in anything OTHER than a literal 24-hour, 6-day creation would seem to condemn you to hell.

NOTE: That says nothing to my view of creation. It simply means I know God created this world and if someone else believes that without holding to a literal 24-hour, 6-day creation, I have a little grace left in me to hear what that view may say.

Can I realize that my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness? Dare I believe that? Anyone with me?

Thoughts on Creation

In the past few days I’ve appreciated some posts on creation because I teach Old Testament at my college and these resources will help me communicate better. For one, I am an AOG pastor/teacher and seeing Brian’s post on the AOG’s new position paper on Creation was exciting. I have been very critical of my denomination in many areas, but this position paper is very refreshing. It seems we may actually be starting to think in our movement. It’s a radical thought.

Then, seeing a link to N.T. Wright’s thoughts on what “literal” means is a great help as well.

We need to understand the overall message of the Bible. We need to understand its literal intent rather than trying to prove our own meager points in our modern/postmodern world. My study of history shows that our meager attempts to do this only reflects on what German scholars tried to do in the 18th and 19th centuries, destroying the authority of the Bible in the process. Yet, many fundamentalists and evangelicals are trying to do the very same thing on the other end of the spectrum. It’s a dangerous path either way.