“Coalition of Churches of the Treasure Coast for Disaster Relief and Crisis Management”

“Coalition of Churches of the Treasure Coast for Disaster Relief and Crisis Management”

South Florida, especially the Treasure Coast, is a geographical location in the country that is very susceptible to (be affected by) various natural disasters such as thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, heavy rains, floods, etc.—especially during the hurricane season. For example, during the passing of the hurricane Irma in September 2017, horrible devastations, dislodgement, and incredible suffering befell upon many families in the city of Fort Pierce and Port Saint Lucie; the effects of Irma in many homes at the Sable Chase Apartment Complex in Fort Pierce were disastrous, traumatic, and painful to observe. Many people were left homeless, lost all their belongings, and had nowhere to go; the poor and the elderly in our city were the most affected by Irma.

I was in tears but had to muster up my courage to help alleviate pain in families as well as transition them to shelters during those two long weeks experiencing the wrath of Irma and the post-hurricane impact. Fortunately, the good people at Jesus Center Community Church, where I currently serve as Pastor, and other churches in the city were able to provide urgent assistance and needing resources such as food, shelter, relocation, and accommodation to those families. The people at the Sable Chase Apartment experienced a lot of suffering and shame because there were not many churches in the area that were available to help them nor were the authorities of the city of Fort Pierce ready to accommodate the victims. Arguably, the city of Fort Pierce was not ready for that, nor does/did it have the manpower and resources to deal adequately and effectively with this human predicament.

As a result, over the past few months, I have been given serious thought about the importance for Christian churches and ministers in the Treasure Coast of Florida (i.e. Fort Pierce, Vero Beach, Port St Lucie) to create a coalition of churches to deal with disaster relief and crisis management during the hurricane season. Below, I propose five objectives or reasons for churches and ministers to get involved in this “cause,” which will help assist families and individuals in need during the hurricane season in this Region.

1. For churches and spiritual leaders to be more involved in their community and city.
2. To create more sustaining and effective relationships between churches and communities.
3. For “willing” churches to put aside every quarter a special fund designated to support that cause.
4. To provide adequate mental, psychological, and spiritual assistance to those affecting by the hurricane and the individuals coping with traumatic stress and post-disaster trauma.
5. To train “willing” church members (laity) to prepare for disasters management and response training.

Should any pastor, clergy, leader, or layman/woman in the Treasure Coast have any interest in this much-needed collaboration and ministry to serve our cities and communities, please send me a message at celucienjoseph@gmail.com. Depending on the reception of this program, we will call for a meeting to brainstorm our ideas and eventually create this necessary-community-city-driven ministry/project.

Churches and Followers of Christ in the Treasure Coast are urgently called to love and serve their community and to be the light of the Gospel of Christ to the people in the city.

A Morning Conversation With the Girls…

A morning conversation with the girls on our way to school: We’re running late…

Me: girls: We’re going to be late to school this morning. Wiwi took a long time to find her shoes.

Abby: daddy, are you going to drive super fast like mommy? Lol.

Me: No. I’m going to drive safely.

Emily: Don’t drive fast, daddy! If you die, I won’t have a daddy. I can’t have a daddy. I can’t buy a daddy.

😆

*** We managed to get to school 1 minute before the bell rings. School starts at 8:20 am.

Emily

Abigail

“Benjamin E. Mays, the Bible, and Social Justice”

“Benjamin E. Mays, the Bible, and Social Justice”

One of the current trends and controversial issues in American Evangelicalism at the moment is the relationship between the Bible, the Gospel, and Social Justice. In other words, the matter pertains to the public witness and civic engagement of Christianity in our contemporary culture.

I would like to turn to the writings and ideas of the great civil rights leader and public theologian Benjamin Elijah Mays to learn a few things about what he had to say on this very issue.

Kindly anticipate a forthcoming article from me on the subject matter.

I like writing about “dead people; I’m not a big fan of “living people.” 🙂

“One More Word about Divine Laws about Justice and the Social Justice Debate”

“One More Word about Divine Laws (Commands) about Justice and the Social Justice Debate”

Social Justice from the biblical perspective is not only the church’s action for caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or treating illegal immigrants with fairness and dignity. Biblical justice for the social order calls for a radical reevaluation of our justice and legal systems, and moral values

Biblical laws about justice are divine demands, not suggestions about how followers of Christ and the christian church should engage in the public sphere and contribute meaningfully to a transformative order of society. Divine justice communicated through “justice laws” have tremendous consequences for the social order, cultural habits, and the sociopolitical systems. For example, in the context of the contemporary American society, biblical justice laws challenge the contemporary Christian church to revisit the laws regulating our prison system, abortion and the life of the unborn, the population that is largely incarcerated; public policies concerning our welfare system and the treatment of the economically-disadvantaged population; and laws regarding illegal immigrants, race relations, safety and community policing, and systems of labor. These are just some obvious examples.

Followers of Christ and the contemporary church should be curious enough to ponder upon these questions:

1. Are the laws orienting our current prison system fair and equal to all racial groups and different social and economic classes in our society?

2. Are the public policies guiding our welfare system treat the poor and the rich equally and with equity?

3. Are the laws upholding our immigration system and foreign policies ethical and moral?

4. Are the laws upholding community policing (i.e. relationship between Police officers and community) treating all racial groups and economic classes equally and fairly? Is there any partiality?

5. Are our overall justice system and judicial system contributing to a better American society and human flourishing?

Followers of Christ should not undermine secular social justice principles that affirm God’s passion for holistic justice for our society and the world nor should they be reluctant to embrace social justice ethics that support biblical notion of integrative justice and moral values. The church should consider both divine commands about (social) justice and secular wisdom about social justice in evaluating and responding to the questions outlined above.

As we continue this conversation about how we should think biblically, theologically, and morally about the relationship between the Bible and Social justice, followers of Jesus and the contemporary Christian church should always remember that the spiritual transformation of the human heart (biblical conversion) prioritizes all earthly pursuits and benefits. Nonetheless, the Gospel that transforms the wretched soul has significant consequences for the social order and contemporary world. The ultimate goal of God is cosmic redemption and transformation in Christ Jesus.

On Justice and the Gospel

Justice is an essential attribute of God just like divine characteristics such as love, compassion, foreknowledge, holiness, omnipotence, eternality, aseity, sovereignty. These are not inseparable divine virtues. They’re intertwined and reflect both the content of the Being of God and his actions in the world.

Hence, I’m not sure if it is possible to preach the Gospel authentically and champion the ethics of Jesus in the public sphere without moving by compassion and empathy toward those suffering because of the social injustices of our political system, structural sins, and cultural ideologies.

Followers of Jesus must live and practice the Gospel (“Good news”) they believe in. They must demonstrate its power in the lives of individuals and families. The power of the Gospel is not only transformative power to salvation; the message of the Gospel is also about alleviating human suffering, caring for the needy and brokenhearted, and responding urgently to the pressing needs in our community and city.

“On Kindness, Privileges, and Change”

“On Kindness, Privileges, and Change”

It’s really not a good idea to use your privileges (i.e. financial, gender, ethnic, racial, sex, class, education, nationality) or fame to make life in this world an uneasy journey for those with less privileges or no privileges at all.

The individuals who have changed the world and human dynamics in society used their privileges (i.e. power, influence, reputation) to uplift the weak and empower the disadvantaged to dream again and hope for another world that is more promising and fulfilling.

They share a common characteristic: self-denial. They became small so others can become big. They put the needs of others above theirs. They always find creative ways to love people, and to show kindness and acts of compassion to those who are hungry and thirst for justice, peace, and righteousness. They love gently, treat others caringly and daringly, and give themselves unselfishly. These individuals, both men and women, live life in this world with an unwavering commitment and passion to make it a better place for all, especially the poor.

These individuals also use their power and privileges not to oppress, exploit, or shame the poor, the unfortunate, and those living in the margins; rather, they hold truth to the principle of human brotherhood and “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Friends: if you are a privileged individual in society or have power to effect change in your city or wherever you’re exercising these abilities, please use them for the good and welfare of the least among you and us. Trust me you won’t beccome a a less privileged and powerful individual when you exploit your resources for the sake of others, and toward the common good, human flourishing, and a better society.

“On Being Black, Immigrant, and Christian in the American (Evangelical) World”

“On Being Black, Immigrant, and Christian in the American (Evangelical) World”

I am black. I am a male. I am an immigrant. I am also a Christian. Hence, by many individuals, I am an outsider of both worlds: the White Evangelical world, and the African American community. It is not only religious affiliation that establishes this remarkable difference between me and them; it is also my unique ethnic experience as an immigrant that sets me apart, and this distinctive identity sometimes engenders social isolation and religious exclusion.

Tribalism is one of the major factors that is destroying modern Evangelicalism in America. American evangelicals are divided over moral and political issues, social and cultural issues, and on the right application of biblical principles concerning the public role of Christianity in the contemporary culture. Frankly, there are battles that are not worth fighting for anymore. Some evangelicals have decided that your voice or opinions do not matter because you are different (It was at an evangelical seminary that I learned quickly that I was a “different breed of Christian.” Although I considered myself an evangelical, others in the seminary (both students and faculty) doubted my commitment to Scripture or sound doctrine and my personal piety as a black immigrant Christian.) It is not that I have given up on certain important ethical and social justice issues nor have I now stopped fighting for what is just, peaceful, godly, and Christ-pleasing; honestly, some of these matters are time-consuming and could potentially lead to mental breakdown/fatigue, psychological malaise, and social alienation.

There were certain issues I used to zealously fight for with all my intellectual energy and rigor with the hope that I could bring further clarity and understanding to the table. At this moment in my life, I’m going through an important transition wherein I am slowly readjusting my priorities as a husband, father, pastor, missionary, mentor to young people, and a champion of biblical justice and of the poor and the vulnerable in my city (at least, I aspire to be a champion to the weak and most fortunate in my community). Some battles are not worth fighting. They’re meaningless because some Evangelical Christians are just stubborn and refuse to change their way of thinking and their action. It appears that the power of the Gospel has no transformative and redemptive effects in the Evangelical life and experience.

Moreover, some of my (Evangelical) Christian friends (both white and black) whom I used to dialogue with on some of the pivotal moral issues (as outlined above) have reminded me occasionally, both directly and indirectly, that I am/was an outsider and that I am/was an immigrant who does not/did not understand the complexity of the American experience and culture, especially as that pertains to justice and moral issues, racial reconciliation and harmony in the church and among American Christians, as well as race relations between Black and White Americans. Stubborn that I am, I refuse to believe that I have nothing meaningful and constructive to contribute to the welfare and future of American Christianity and American Evangelicalism.

So far, I have spent 25 years of my life in this country we call the United States of America. I immigrated to this land in middle school. It is in this country that I went to High school, graduated from College and Graduate school, and even earned a PhD here. I got married in this country and my children were born here. I even became a naturalized citizen. It is in this country that I have gained greater understanding of democratic freedom, human rights, my national identity, Christian identity, and my responsibility as an American citizen. It is also in this country that I have learned what it means to be a man, a father, a husband, and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I tis also here that I acquired a better understanding of the concept of justice, fairness, and equity. In addition, as an educator, I have taught for 15 years both in High School and at the University level here. I have also written a couple of books and a few peer-reviewed articles on assorted topics. I communicate my ideas (in writing) better in English than in my native tongue. For some people, I still do not belong. Perhaps, because I live in between two worlds or perhaps, because my allegiance is not single, and that my narrative as black, male, immigrant, and Christian is paradoxical and full of complexity? I am still searching for the truth.

“The American Gospel in White and Black”

The American Gospel is a puzzling message that is affected negatively by race relations and a powerful history of dominance and control. American (Evangelical) Christians have indeed undermined the universal quality and value, and correspondingly the cross-cultural, cross-ethnic, and transnational force and intent of the Gospel. It is important that Evangelicals do not allow the American historical narrative and the conflict between White and African Americans, as well as the struggle for shalom and wholeness between White and African American Christians to be the only lens to assess the relevance of the Gospel in the everyday life and as it relates to urgent existential issues such as the project of social justice, peace, racial reconciliation, unity, and harmony.

When White American and African American Christians discuss the issues named above among themselves, both directly and indirectly, they shut off the voice, agency, and ignore the concerns of other brothers and sisters in Christ including those of Hispanic, Asian, and black Christians who are not African Americans or White Americans. When other brothers and sisters are not included in these Christian dialogues, both intentionally and unintentionally, this form of ethnic and racial exclusion will not fully unite the body of Christ nor will it foster adequate conversations across the various ethnic, racial, and cultural lines in American Christianity in these urgent moments. We need a more inclusive message to help heal our collective wound and restore our fragmented soul.

Moreover, the American history of racial trauma and fear, and the triumph of injustice and dehumanization of certain groups of people in our society should not dictate the meaning of the Gospel nor should the trajectories of American history be the hermeneutical paradigm that define human flourishing and the common good. We must first begin with the inclusive message of the Gospel, followed by our careful analysis and criticism of the complexity of the human experience and life in America. The moral compass of the American politics and the ethical worldview of America’s geopolitical hegemony in the world is the antithesis of the Gospel culture; they challenge the liberating ethics of Jesus that accentuates human flourishing and God’s salvation for humanity, especially the oppressed, the weak, and the vulnerable in our culture and in the world.

“The Main Issue with American Evangelicalism”

One of the key issues in contemporary Evangelical community is that Evangelicals have placed too much faith in American politicians to make moral choices and ethical decisions for the church and the nation at large. Christian identity is Christocentric, and not Americancentric, and the governing rules and values that shape both identities and their end contradict each other.

The political values of American Evangelicals cannot be said, at the moment, to be a discourse of contrast, in view of the political ideals of contemporary American culture. In the same line of thought, contemporary American Evangelicalism has not fostered a clear and specific theo-ethical system, grounded on a political theology of care for the poor and the marginalized, that interrogates the socio-political habitus of the dominant class and powerful American elite group.

It seems to me American politics is regulating the norms and contours of Evangelical ethics and its moral framework. (In fact, this has been an Evangelical tradition, which has crippled the public witness of Christianity in culture.) This trend is happening/has been occurring in the Evangelical world because American Evangelicalism has never articulated a robust political theology of social justice and divine sovereignty that prioritizes the Kingdom of God above the Kingdom of America.

Perhaps, this is a new era for Evangelical thinkers and leaders to look for guidance and wisdom from the Word of God, not from the realm of partisan and ideological politics, and for Evangelicals to reread with fresh insights and new lenses the political theology and theocentric kingdom-message of the book of Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation.

As long as Christians in America and American Evangelicals continue to prize the American kingdom and sovereignty, the kingdom of God will be subservient to American politics and cultural ideologies, and the public witness of the Christian Church in America will be just a footnote in the American experience and future.

To summarize my concluding thoughts on these matters, please allow me to share further a few things that I have learned in those 25 years of experience within American Evangelicalism and the Black community in America; I want to highlight four central issues pertaining to religion, race, immigration, and the politics of inclusion and exclusion.

1. Religion (Christianity): Being a Christian in America does not necessarily mean one shares Christian solidarity with other Christians (i.e. Black, Hispanic, Asian, White Christians). (Remember what I said above that American evangelicalism is split in many tribal groups over both cultural, ethical, and political issues). Christian solidarity in the United States is more racially-and-ethnically based than it is grounded on biblical principles and shared theological truths, and commitment to justice, peace, and reconciliation. In the same way, Christian identity in America is rooted on cultural affiliation and political allegiance.

2. Blackness: Being black in America does not mean equivocally one shares “racial solidarity” with other blacks in various black communities—just based on skin color. There exists internal strife or tension between various Black communities (African American, West Indian Blacks, Black Africans, Hispanic Blacks, etc.). (Some will remind you that you are black indeed, but you are an immigrant, that is you are an outsider. Hence, you are placed in a different category of blackness because of your immigrant status. Evidently, African Americans, West Indian Blacks, Black Africans, or Hispanic Blacks do not share the same life experience, nor do they have a common history of struggle and suffering.) Several years ago, I attended a theology conference, the speaker was an African American theologian. I asked a question about the intersections of theology, race, and the black experience in America. He bluntly said that I was a “different black” and that many black immigrants came to America to reap what “our black ancestors, the true blacks” have fought for. He has also made similar comments on various publications that other blacks, that is non-African American blacks, do not understand the African American history of suffering and racial violence against them; yet, they are here to take away and benefit from what African American ancestors have fought for. Even though, I was not born an African American, I have lived in this country enough to grasp the Black experience or understand the Black struggle. I even earned a PhD in African American Literature and African American Intellectual History.

3.Immigration: for some people (both black and white Americans), because you were not born in the paradise land we call America, your opinions or perspectives on the affairs of this country have a lesser value than a native-born–even though you could potentially shed greater light on national issues or provide a few words of wisdom and understanding toward the common good and human flourishing in this country.

4. The Practice of racial and ethnic inclusion among African American and White Americans: One of the major complaints by African American Christian leaders is that White Evangelicals rarely give black people a public voice in their conferences and that White Christians intentionally practice racial exclusion and segregation in Evangelical gathering (recently, I have observed some considerable changes pertaining to greater racial and ethnic inclusion in Christian gatherings.). Similarly, African American Christian leaders have also excluded other ethnic blacks in their conferences as well. As their white counterparts, they also practice ethnic exclusion by the ideology of African American centrism. Thus, the notion of American exceptionalism does manifest itself in both White centrism in respect to white engagement and treatment of blacks, and African American centrism in respect to African American engagement and treatment of the non-African American black communities in the United States. The hegemony of these two represented (Christian) groups (White and African Americans) also indicates their insensitivity to the pain, suffering, and alienation of Brown, Asian, Hispanic, and non-African American Christians in American Christian history, and the Gospel project (and Christ’s promise) of universal reconciliation and global justice through the cross and power of Christ.

May God lead us to reject tribal Christianity to embrace a better and more promising vision of the Gospel and the glory of the cross of Christ toward human flourishing and reconciliation!

God, Identity, & Black Girls’ Hair

Black girls: It’s okay to love your hair. It is a gift from God, your Creator. He loves you just the way you are.

1. Be proud of the hair God has designed for you! He did not make any mistake to fashion it that way.

2. Be proud of you are in Him!

Your hair is from Him, and He loves your black hair just the way He adores you for you!

#Godlovesblackgirlshair
#loveblackhair

***I never understood why some women somehow associate their identity and sometimes their worth with their hair until I had my own daughters, who are now 5 and 4. Their hair is a big deal. Last night, Emily, my four-year old daughter, came to me and asked me to fix her hair before she went to bed because “she did not want it to be messed up” (that was her own words, not mine!) I fixed her hair twice that night because she did not like it the first time I fixed it. I had to try a second time.

Two weeks ago, Abby, the five-year old, has asked me if I like her hair and if I thought she was beautiful after she looked in the mirror to make sure her hair was carefully brushed, combed, and spotless.
🙂

“Why I love the Church and the location where the Church lives”

“Why I love the Church and the location where the Church lives”

I love the Church. It’s not perfect, but is a work in progress, an ongoing creation of God. I’m fortunate to be a participant of God’s redemptive narrative, through the Spirit of reluctant power, grace, and love, in the hearts and minds of little boys and little girls, men and women, the poor and the vulnerable.

I love the ghetto because the church lives there.

I love the city because it is the location of the Church and God’s chosen people.

I love the countryside and the farmland because they’re the place where the church was born and first learned how to crawl.

I love the Church of little boys and little girls for no one will see and enjoy God if she does not have the attitude of such innocent creatures.

I love the Church of the poor and the vulnerable, and of the weak and the disfranchised, because of God’s special attention to them.

I love the Church because it reminds me of the calvary of darkness, pain, and suffering, and the worth and dignity of the substitutionary and sacrificial death of my Lord and Savior: Jesus, the God-Man, who died for the safety, godliness, and beauty of the Church.

***The Church is not the city, but lives in the city. The Church is not the ghetto, but the ghetto is the location of the church, the people of God. The farmland or the countryside is not identical to the church or with the redeemed people of God; it is the milieu wherein the Spirit moves, creates, and establishes the Church. The Church is who you are in Christ and what you are becoming in God.

The church is in fact a unique location, a very special place in which the Spirit-God moves, works, and indwells. This location of God’s rest is you.

#ilovethechurch
#thechurchiswhoyouareinChrist
#thechurchisnotaplace
#thechurchisyou

Pastor Joseph