“On Undermining the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Letter to American Evangelical Churches, American Evangelical Leaders, and American Christian Thinkers”

On Undermining the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Letter to American Evangelical Churches, American Evangelical Leaders, and American Christian Thinkers

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist Pastor, Christian theologian, public intellectual, Civil Rights activist, and a Human Rights advocate, was formally trained respectively in the sphere of American Christian education and American liberal education. King studied Sociology at Morehouse College and graduated in 1948. Further, he graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary, and obtained a Doctoral degree in Systematic Theology at Boston University, in 1955.

Similarly, I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian Pastor, and an Evangelical Christian as the concept applies strictly to my embrace of the cardinal tenets of the Christian faith. I am a product of Southern Baptist Theological education, having obtained three academic degrees respectively from Southern Baptist schools. On the other hand, I am also a product of American secular (liberal) education, having acquired three academic degrees from three different universities.

As I look back on my days at the seminary, I have observed a cultural trend consistently manifested among my seminary professors, Christian thinkers, and Evangelical theologians and leaders as they attempted to engage in Gospel-centered conversations on Christian reconciliation and harmony, racial justice and unity, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In this letter, I will discuss the various expressions of this cultural trend in Christian (Evangelical) circles and writings.

Foremost, every third Monday of January in the American society, both Christians and non-Christians acknowledge the manifold historic contributions of Dr. King to national conversations surrounding racial equality and justice, segregation, equal and fair employment for all Americans, voting rights for all Americans, and anti-black racism in the American society. For many Americans, both Christians and non-Christians, theists and non-theists, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is/was an American hero and icon of our shared American ideals and values. This Federal Holiday designated in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often brings Americans together to engage actively in serious conversations, at both regional and national level, about the faults of our country and the possibility of national renewal and unity, and collective progress and shalom.

Second, Americans who have identified themselves as freedom fighters in respect to the country’s mistreatment of black and brown people and American imperialism in the world, often find inspiration in the liberating words and activism of King, which compel them to collaborate in human rights issues and work together toward human flourishing and the common good. For example, when discussing and celebrating the legacy of King in American classrooms, both little American boys and girls would raise their hands and say, “My favorite American hero is Dr. King,” or they would exclaim, “When I grow up, I want to be like Dr. King.”

Third, not only the liberative rhetoric and protest of King has changed the American civil and political society, King’s activism has left an indelible mark on the American conscience. In contemporary American society, King’s oeuvre continues to inspire all of us toward radical national change, and revolutionary national progress and unity. In addition, for many Human Rights activists around the world and beyond the American landscape, King is considered as the antithesis of all forces of human oppression, abuse, neocolonialism, and human domination; he is also their symbol of the “Beloved Community” and their icon of human cosmopolitanism, brotherhood, and justice.

Despite of the public recognitions and appreciations, both at the national and international level, across human cultures and ethnicity, and across the racial line, of King’s legacy, there exists a segment in American Christian expression that strategically undermine the value of King’s work and the meaning of his various gifts to the American society toward radical national change and a more just and better American democracy. There are many ways (some) American Evangelical leaders and Christian thinkers strategically and intentionally devalue King’s legacy and work of reconciliation and justice in the American society. Such an Evangelical discontent with King’s ideas and legacy almost occurs in public during the week of King’s Holiday. Please allow me to highlight seven of these important factors:

  1. Some American Evangelical leaders and Christian thinkers, who appear to be concerned about the necessity of human reconciliation, and the imperative of racial harmony and unity in the church, strategically discuss King’s “heretical beliefs” and his seemingly rejection of the “divinity of Christ,” and his overall denial of “Christian theological orthodoxy.” They write columns, publish essays, and give public lectures and interviews few weeks prior to the celebration of King’s national holiday. As a custom, their expression of discontent, which they categorize as “righteous rage,” with King’s theology occurs the week before or just a few days, or on the day of the Holiday.
  2. This same group of individuals strategically, both Christian men and women, accuse King of plagiarizing his famous “I have a Dream,” which King delivered in August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and his doctoral dissertation at the Boston University, which he defended in 1955, for a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology, to discount his important ideas and relevant contributions to Christian theology, theological ethics, and theological praxis.
  3. This same group of Evangelical thinkers and leaders strategically, in their public displeasure with King’s ideas, often mention King’s “secular” mentors, “humanist” circles of influence, and the “liberal” theologians who have influenced his theology and shaped his intellectual life. In taking this approach, they’re alarming Christian churches and pastors, and Evangelical Christians not to trust King’s theology and intellectual actions. They’re also saying to American Evangelicalism that King’s ideas are dangerous to sound Evangelical spirituality and unhealthy to the Christian faith.
  4. This same group of individuals strategically discuss King’s socialist, Marxist, and communist leanings to separate King’s secular tendencies from Christian theological conservatism or theologically traditional propensities. In applying this method to assess King’s intellectual formation, these individuals are basically asserting that King was not a genuine follower of Jesus and therefore, he should not be regarded as a Christian model for evangelical (Christian) work on social justice issues and Gospel-centered conversations on race relations in our society, in our churches, and Christian circles.
  5. This same group of individuals strategically analyze King’s critique of the American empire, American-European hegemony in the world, and his anti-war and poverty discourse to indicate that King was not a true American Patriot and did not seek the interests of the American people.
  6. This same group of individuals strategically discuss King’s marital infidelity toward Coretta Scott King and his multiple love affairs with other women resulting in the birth of a child out of wedlock. In assessing King’s character and marriage, the ensuing indication is that King’s marriage is not a model of the Biblical marriage, and that King is not a model of the Christian husband and Christian father.
  7. Finally, these Evangelical thinkers and leaders strategically appeal to the rumors of King’s possible involvement in homosexual relations or activities to question his morality and Christian sexual ethics.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was not a saint nor was a man of any moral faults or ethical shortcomings. Evidently, as an individual, he made some mistakes in his human interactions and relationships. Don’t we all? In addition, his theology is not aligned or compatible with the so-called today “American Evangelicalism.” Nonetheless, it is morally wrong and sinful for contemporary American Evangelical thinkers and leaders and churches to discount strategically and intentionally the legacy and contributions of King to American democracy and race relations in the American society during the week of his national celebration. What makes the evangelical attempt erroneous is not because of the relevant timing, but the ideology behind it: (1) to defame King’s character, (2) to undermine his legacy and work, (3) to alienate King from various Christian communities and Evangelical circles, and (4) to refrain from engaging in serious and honest work on the imperative of racial harmony and unity in Christian churches, and correspondingly, (5) to refuse to engage in the necessity of the ministry of Christian hospitality and social justice. For many of my Evangelical brothers and sisters, King should not be regarded as a Christian model.

On the other hand, contemporary American Evangelicalism has yet to produce such a figure of King’s stature, one who has sacrificially given himself up to the realization of American democratic ideals and the improvement of the work of racial justice and unity in American churches. In his short life on earth, King was actively engaged in various kinds of battles and struggles for human freedom and peace toward human flourishing and the common good of all Americans. Contemporary American Evangelicals have many things to learn from King’s radical theology of love, human rights, justice, hospitality, and his theology of peace and care; Reciprocally, King’s revolutionary campaigns against all categories of human-inflicting suffering and pain manifested through the economic exploitation of the poor, poverty, war, violence, racism, ruthless capitalism, and the spiritual decadence and moral decline of our nation are noteworthy lessons we Evangelicals need to learn and emulate. These forms of human oppression and assault challenge the image of God in all of us and especially they dehumanize the poor and the most Vulnerable among us.

For those of us who still thirst for righteousness and justice, and the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will always be a teacher, mentor, and an inspiration!

Blessings and Peace from Christ,

Rev. Celucien L. Joseph, PhD

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Mr. President of the United States: We Haitians are a Strong People!

I’m deeply hurt and humiliated by the insensitive words of the President of the United States towards Haiti and other African nations. I can’t find the appropriate words to express myself accurately, but I will try….

A few weeks ago, the President of the United States of America wrongly characterized the Haitian people as the AIDS infected-immigrants. This week, he has created a new derogatory category for their country: a shithole country.

The character of a people or nation is not (or should not be) measured by their wealth, geographic location, and the color of their skin, but by their inherent human dignity and moral virtues, their resistance to oppression and dehumanization, their love for freedom and passion for justice, their collective efforts toward human flourishing, and their determination to explore future possibilities for themselves and to work together with other people for the common good of all people. The Haitian people may be poor, but they’re never stopped striving to create a better future for themselves. They are a strong people with a great sense of identity and history.

The worth of a person is not contingent upon that individual’s wall of fame, academic pedigree, or race. Every person is a human being and inherently valuable and worthy to receive hospitality and a fair treatment. People need to be accepted solely on the basis of their humanity and human dignity. That’s it.

In the same line of thought, my prayer is that my Christian brothers and sisters will not support the President’s merit-based immigration proposal–as that is the antithesis of the biblical call to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger/immigrant, etc.—and that they would embody the Gospel of hospitality by defending the rights of the (most) Vulnerable and their right to life.

I would like to conclude this brief post with this intercessory prayer to the God of all People and All Nations

“A Prayer for National Healing for a Wounded President and Country”

Lord: We pray in this way for holistic healing and restoration of this Nation and its President:

where there’s hate, grant us us love.
where there’s despair, give us hope.
where there’s division, grant us unity.
where there’s chaos, give us peace.
where there’s isolation, grant us community.
where there’s sin, give us repentance.
where there’s retaliation, grant us forgiveness.
where there’s vengeance, grant us reconciliation.
Amen!

“Saved by Faith and Hospitality”: A Brief Assessment

My post-Christmas reading is another excellent text on theological ethics and anthropology,  “Saved by Faith and Hospitality” by Joshua Jipp

“The God of the Christian Scriptures is a God of hospitality, a God who extends hospitality to his people and who requires that his people embody hospitality to others. Stated simply, God’s hospitality to us is the basis of our hospitality to one another. God’s relationship to his people is fundamentally an act of hospitality to strangers, as God makes space for “the other,” for his people, by inviting humanity into relationship with him. This experience of God’s hospitality is at the very heart of the church’s identity. We are God’s guests and friends. And it is because of God’s extension of hospitality and friendship to us that the church can offer hospitality to one another and to those seemingly outside the reach of our faith communities. Just as God extends welcome and  hospitality toward his people, so also God’s people extend hospitality to one another, and as we imitate  God, we offer hospitality–particularly to “the other,” the one who is not like us, the one outside.” –Joshua Jipp

I love when a Biblical scholar or theologian writes with great theological precision and conviction, and with the church in mind.
My personal position on theology is that good theological doctrines and beliefs should constructively transform the theologian himself, on both moral ground and ethical praxis,  in the same way these shared theological beliefs and traditions should influence the church to change toward an alternative way to living and embodying the Gospel.

In the spirit of Jipp’s text, contemporary churches in America and Evangelical Christians need to practice and live the Gospel of faith and the Gospel of hospitality, because “God’s hospitality creates a community that embodies hospitality in its practices and also in its composition.” When that happens, contemporary American churches and Evangelical Christians would be able to overcome tribalism, xenophobia, greed, racism, bullying, hypocrisy, etc.

One of the major problems in the church today is the absence (or the  lack of) of a  biblically-rooted ethical system and its ignorance of a  biblically-centered moral virtues, both in life and practice. The American church is and has been trapped in an ethical system and cultural worldview that promote and sustain aggressive capitalism, militarism,  inclusive nationalism, anti-Gospel public policies, aggressive immigration policies, and a politically-charged ethical framework  that leads to social death and correspondingly, one that is  against the poor, the fatherless,  the widow,  the immigrant, and the  economically-disadvantaged individuals and families in our society.

The Gospel is more than a set of beliefs and theological propositions followers of Jesus Christ embrace; real and existential life issues are integral in the Good news of God revealed in the pages of Christian Scriptures and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The demands of the Gospel are radical requests that invade every sphere of human existence–the cultural, political, economic, the educational, and the moral life.

“Saved by Faith and Hospitality” is a must-read book that  I  recommend to every Christian minister, pastor, and church leader. Every church should own a copy of this book. It can be used  in small group settings. There are reflective and practical questions at the end of every chapter to generate (moral, ethical, and responsible) Gospel-centered conversations on the subject covered in the chapter.

Coffee and Chat at Jesus Center

Morning Chat and Coffee/Tea at Jesus Center

I’m going to be in the church’s office this morning for pastoral counseling and prayer (10:00 am to 2:00 pm). if anyone  wants to stop by to chat or for some coffee, please do so.

I would be happy to see you.

Jesus Center Community Church 

4146 Okeechobee Rd.

Unit 72.

Fort Pierce, Florida 

Jesuscentercc@gmail.com
Blessings and Peace,
Pastor Joseph

Healthcare and its Unfair Cost: What Shall the Poor Do? How Shall they live?

Healthcare and its Unfair Cost: What Shall the Poor Do? How Shall they live?

Let’s talk about healthcare and its inhumane cost in this country.

I was talking to a friend of mine last week. He asked me how much do you pay for health insurance  at your job. I told him almost $ 700.00 a month, just for me, which does not include my wife and our four children. I told him to be exact I pay $ 334.89 semi-monthly, which covers medical ($313.50), dental ($10.75), vision ($ 3.38), life insurance ( $ 10.64).

On the other hand, at her job, my wife pays about $ 600.00 every two weeks; the coverage includes our four children, not me.

I said to him: dude, we pay $ 1600 a month for just health coverage, which estimates to $ 19, 200 a year. ( He was incredibly shocked) This almost $ 20, 000 my family pays annually for healthcare. How can anyone save any money?

Do you see why our  healthcare  system must change for  individuals and families in this country? The cost for American healthcare is not only immoral, it is devastating for the American poor and dangerously sinful. Life necessities like healthcare is probably worst for the American poor and underrepresented families in this country. How shall the working class and underclass live in this country. ( Do you understand the implication why the American poor and working class American patients with high-risked and life-threatening diseases such as (terminal) cancer, HIV AIDS die quickly because they can’t afford the ridiculous cost of the medical treatment.) Do you also see the implication of that and how unfair public policies could be detrimental to the well-being of  the American poor, the underclass, and those living in the margins of society?  Those in the capacity to serve the American public in the government and have the privilege to make laws and regulate public policies must think critically about the possible outcome and implications of their actions and bill execution;  particularly, they should be concerned about how their actions could help alleviate the suffering of the poor and the working class as well as contribute to the human flourishing in this society or contribute to a more difficult life for them.

As Paulo Freire has stated int the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (1968), “Love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause-like the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical. As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise, it is not love. Only abolishing the situation of oppression it it possible to restore to the love which that situation made impossible. ” The most effective way a public servant and politician could show love in the public is to do justice to the American poor and working class. Be the voice of the voiceless and the fatherless, the widow, the marginalized, the oppressed, the hungry, the naked— even when  you are behind the closed doors making important decisions for this country.

No wonder even those of us with reasonably well-paid careers and professions in this country could easily die poor and live pay check by pay check. Unfair public policies are detrimental to the well-being of those living in the margins in this country; they contribute more suffering and a hard life for the American poor and the working class. We must have a heart for the poor and be moved by compassion when reaching out to them; solidarity with the poor and defending the rights of the least among us is nothing less than the good news announced to them. We can no longer ignore the suffering and pain of those who live a block down from us, even those who are not  members of our social and educated class.

*** Last year, I went to the  (for 3 wisdom teeth) done.( I don’t like gaps in the back of my mouth. Lol)  With my insurance, they asked me to pay $2600 in addition to what my dental plan will cover.

***Now, you know the reason why I am a  poor professor and poor pastor (razè in Haitian Creole; broke in American English), but I still manage to wear a bow tie to work every day  🙂

Guess what? I am not going to complain. I’m thankful that the great Lord has blessed me and my wife with a job and always provides for our needs despite the odds of this life.

Just wanted to share this thought with you.