“The ‘Big Event’ We need Is Probably not What You think”

“The ‘Big Event’ We need Is Probably not What You think”

No, we the people do not need to face a “big event” in order for us to experience unity as a country. We need to challenge each other about the things that have set us apart , and live daily as if we were interconnected and dependent on each other for breath and life itself.

As a people, we have cultivated an unhealthy notion of (national) unity. For many Americans, unity means to raise proudly the American flag, both in the private and public spheres, and sing in unison “The Star-Spangled Banner.” American patriotism is never a substitute for upholding American democratic ideals nor is it a smokecreen for the activation of justice, equality, and dignity in our daily life. American nationalism should never be equated with xenophobia.

National unity will not occur until we acknowledge the matters that have divided us and alienated us from each other. If we’re serious about national unity, we must learn how to talk genuinely to each other about the things that matter to us, and to listen attentively in order to lean not to defend ourselves. The art of listening can bring both personal healing and collective redemption.

We will experience national unity when we can sit together to work out our differences, plan together our collective future, and collectively find a permanent solution to cure our racial wound; to restore broken homes and dysfunctional families; to stand for life–from conception to adulthood; to ameliorate the living conditions of the American poor and middle class; to improve our broken educational system; to make more equal and humane public policies; to improve our justice system; and to defend the rights of the most Vulnerable in our society.

Nonetheless, what runs deep in the American vein is a profound moral problem; the American heart is spiritually paralyzed and bankrupt. Unfortunately, we have overlooked this matter for too long, and believe wholeheartedly that spiritual fitness and healing is unnecessary to attain shalom and joy in this world, and to achieve the common good. We must first solve this dilemma—which has both individual and collective effects–before we can successful move forward to explore future possibilities for ourselves and our children, and to claim the promising future awaiting for us as a people.

May the God of grace and loving-kindness make his face shine upon us and give us the courage as we act upon our individual and collective responsibility to genuinely repent of our sins and forgive each other, and to intentionally pursue justice and holistic healing.

Advertisements

Jesus Loves the Poor and the Refugees!

I am pro-Refugee and pro-Immigrant because my Bible tells me so; hence, my treatment of refugees and immigrants always have to align with God’s passion for justice and compassion toward everybody, especially the weak, the stranger, & the poor among us.

If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for all and indeed Good news for the poor, it must also be Good News for all refugees and for all people in the world, not just for Christian refugees and the Christian poor. The message of the Gospel transcends religion, ethnicity, class, race, and gender. American bourgeois Christianity is a dead and soulless religion; it is the antithesis of true and biblical Christianity. Lifeless Christianity (American political-bourgeois Christianity) is not sacrificial, loving, empathetic, compassionate, relational, and Jesus-centered.

The problem in contemporary American Christianity is not a lack of the knowledge of God, but the implications of knowing God truly and genuinely relating to practical matters of life such as justice, love, hospitality, and care for the poor and the refugees/immigrants.

10 Theses about Contemporary Christian International Mission and Cross-Cultural Evangelization

For many years, I have been thinking about the interreligious conflict between Christianity and other religions in the world, and the work of Christian missionaries in international mission and cross-cultural evangelization. In the context of Haiti, the conflict lies in the relationship between Vodou and Christianity, Christians and Vodouizan.

As will be observed, the essay below reveals many things about my values, ethics, theology, my understanding of human cultures and cross-cultural friendship, my understanding of the message of the Gospel and its demands upon people, and the infinite value of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for the world.

My target-audience is Christian missionaries who are investing in cross-cultural evangelization and international mission.

10 Theses about Contemporary Christian International Mission and Cross-Cultural Evangelization

Historically, the practice of Christian mission and evangelization, both at the cross-cultural and international level, has been influenced by American-Western ideology of conquest and an attempt to deracinate the culture and traditions of the people being evangelized. Correspondingly, Christian mission and evangelization has been operating from the foundational philosophy of the superiority of American and European cultures and value-systems, and the belief in the triumphal achievements of Western countries in global history. Also, the rhetoric of Christian mission and evangelization has also been shaped by the rhetoric of dehumanization and demonization, as circulated in American-Western books, media, and news outlets, of the non-white and Western people. In short, Christian international mission and cross-cultural evangelization has been detrimental to the values, cultures, and concerns of the brown and non-Western people. 

Unfortunately, many Christian missionaries originated from Western and powerful countries support aggressively Western military interventions and wars, coups, economic sanctions and embargoes—often resulting in deaths, abject poverty, and underdevelopment—in the country they claim they are called to serve as missionaries and evangelists; to the great dishonor of the Gospel of peace, they would also interpret these human-made tragedies, catastrophes, suffering, and pain as part of the divine plan for the Gospel to penetrate that foreign land. To continue to contribute to the (on-going) misery and suffering of the people one is called to reach is the very antithesis of the Gospel of peace and reconciliation. Such attitude clearly indicates a grave misunderstanding of the task of the Christian missionary and the essence of biblical Christianity—as if one were to support a politics of human destruction and an ethics of death: social, existential, and physical.

In the same line of thought, the Christian missionary should never sustain international policies and diplomatic-immigration laws that will lead to the obliteration of (foreign) individuals, and the separation and dehumanization of the families of the people they are called to love and reach overseas. Because you are called to be a peacemaker and light of the world, God has also urged you to be on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the economically-oppressed, and correspondingly, to defend their rights to exist and be free. The Gospel is about the activation of God’s justice and goodness in the world, and the application of divine justice in the social order; thus, the missionary-messenger should be a fierce bearer of human justice and a zealous promoter of God’s intended goal to harmonize everything and make all things right.

Moreover, because of the complexity of transmitting the message of the Gospel to a culture where Christ was not formerly known and to a people of different values than those of the Christian missionary, it creates a problem for the missionary to find the appropriate evangelistic strategy and missional method to bridge walls of division and isolation, to establish genuine human interactions and relationships, and ultimately, to share effectively the message of God’s saving grace, loving-kindness, and compassion. The insensitivity and ignorance of the Christian missionary to the culture of the non-Christian is another hindrance to the effective interpretation and proclamation of the Gospel. The presentation of the Gospel requires boldness, audacity, but not forceful conversion; by consequence, the messenger should not compromise the message, undermine the reality of human sin and oppression, and reciprocally, he/she should not negotiate the distinctive demands of the Gospel and the truths about God revealed in the character and deeds of Jesus Christ. The beauty of the Gospel lies in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, and his message of grace, love, peace, and fraternity. It is never about the missionary’s wisdom, strength, and persuasion.

In summary, I articulate ten propositions regarding the attitude and actions of Christian missionaries engaging in international missionary endeavors and cross-cultural evangelistic activities and projects.

  1. It is God who is the ground of human hope and Jesus Christ the light of cultures and the nations; it is not the culture of the missionary and certainly not the strength and resources of the missionary’s country.
  2. The Christian missionary should not conflict the power of the Gospel with the political power of his/her native land; because of human greed and the longing of one nation to dominate or subdue another nation, the workings of the political power of powerful nation-states often leads to further human suffering and death, estrangement, and alienation.
  3. The value and worth of the people the Christian missionary is called to reach do not lie in their knowledge of your own culture nor should you continually attempt to forcefully impose your culture upon them as if assimilation to your own culture is a prerequisite to salvation in Christ and the effective understanding of the Gospel.
  4. In the same line of thought, the value and worth of the people you are commissioned to is not dependent upon them knowing your native (Western) language, as you may already and falsely assume that your language is far more superior than theirs; in fact, it will be more beneficial to your missionary outreach and effectiveness had you taken the time to learn well their language and be proficient in it. You are “the sent one” and “the one commissioned one.” It is not the other way around.
  5. While human sin and unrighteousness may bring about all forms of human suffering and destruction, the missionary should not rejoice in the suffering and death of the people he/she is trying to reach and thus interpret them explicitly as God-given opportunities to engage in Gospel-conversations. Certainly, without postulating a spirit of patronizing, there is an honorable way to discuss the hard life and economic poverty of the target people without undermining their worth and dignity—as they are also created in the Image of God.
  6. The Christian missionary should develop a positive attitude toward the people he/she is called to evangelize and correspondingly, the messenger-missionary should foster a relationship of respect, mutual reciprocity, friendship, care, and interconnectedness. The alienated missionary is not a relational human being nor will he or she be an effective God’s servant in that given culture.
  7. The Christian missionary ought to know that the saving power of the Gospel and the effective proclamation of Christ to a culture in desperate need of God’s intervening grace and redemption does not depend upon the missionary’s rhetoric of manipulation, fear, and aggression as he/she relates the message of the Gospel to the non-Christian believer in the foreign land.
  8. The Christian missionary should know that the non-Christian is entitled to the exercise of religious freedom and right of his or her own religious tradition, and the deliberate practice of such a given faith. God is bigger than religious traditions, and the saving power of Christ transcends all religious authorities, rituals, and practices. Christ saves; religions do not!
  9. It is not the conversion from one religion to another one that brings God’s salvation to the individual; Christ alone is the Redeemer of the human soul. The fundamental philosophy of biblical conversion and Christian mission is to make known the distinctive qualities of the person of Christ and the infinite value of his cross resulting in genuine repentance from and forgiveness of sins to the total surrender of the person’s life to God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
  10. The end of Christian conversion is not to make new religious converts or proselytes, but to make genuine and permanent followers of Christ of all nations, cultures, and ethnic groups.

 

Jesus is the Center!

We must make a sharp distinction between biblical Christianity, colonial Christianity, and cultural Christianity. These are three different entities and often contradict each other in terms of the values and worldview they promote or sustain. Colonial Christianity is a deviation of the Gospel and true and biblical Christianity.

Yes, let us reject both colonial Christianity and cultural Christianity the same way we should question the validity of cultural American Evangelicalism because it is the antithesis of the message of Jesus Christ.

We must resist all forms of human oppression and sin, and kill hate with the kindness, compassion, and love of God in us.

 

“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

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!