“The Legacy of Jesus the Palestinian-Jewish Peasant and the Meaning of Biblical Christianity for Today”

“The Legacy of Jesus the Palestinian-Jewish Peasant and the Meaning of Biblical Christianity for Today”

Christianity is a religion of the poor as its founder-Savior was a poor Palestinian-Jewish peasant who had no where to lay his head because he was born to an economically-disavantaged class and family.

This poor Messiah from the ancient Region of Galilee, located in Northern Israel, lived in an environment that was crushed by abject poverty and hunger, and terrible living conditions. The people of his surroundings were subject to all kinds of social ills and political woes. Socially, like him they experienced dire poverty and hunger; they suffered all kinds of illnesses including end-of-life diseases; the well-to-do and power-seeking religious class and leaders humiliated them and isolated them from religious fellowship and social interactions; and these poor Galileans constituted a large pool of individuals who lived on the margins of society including prostitutes, addicts, underclass fishermen, beggars, the intellectually and mentally-challenged, the crippled, the physically-handicapped, the disabled, those with speech problems, etc. He taught them that God was on their side and for their liberation and welfare.

He became their friends while other individuals in society did not want to associate with them. He hanged out with them, ate (tablefellowshiped) with them, fed them, and cured their illnesses. As a custom, he spent his entire day teaching them about a God who loved them and cared about their daily needs and life necessities including the food they had to eat to sustain them physically and the clothes they had to wear to look presentable in society. He also taught these underclass peasants and oppressed individuals how to be good to other poor people like them and be compassionate to all people. He offered to them good moral and ethical principles to live by and persuaded them to imitate his character and religious life pattern. He taught them deep things about God their Creator and Sustainer. Through his teachings, he used figures of speech and metaphors to reveal to them about the character and virtues of God, which they also must covet and teach to others. He told them to pursue what makes God happy, to do what God likes, and oppose what God dislikes such as injustice, oppression, abuse, and all kinds of human sin and transgressions. He also inferred in his teachings that God was the God of the poor and oppressed people.

This poor Galilean Messiah also instructed his followers and friends to love and practice justice where they lived and to take a stand for what is right, honorable, and moral in their community. He charged them to be a community of conviction and correspondingly to be a people who are known in society for their righteous actions and love of justice just like God their Father and Creator.

He also taught them to care for other poor and oppressed people like them in society by attending to their needs and life necessities: giving food to the hungry; clothing the naked; assisting the sick; visiting the prisoner; supporting the economically-disavantaged; caring for the orphan and the widow; showing hospitality and love to the stranger and the visitor among them; and loving and treating all people equally, equitably, and indiscriminately.

Although those colonized (they lived under the political yoke and the colonial burden of Roman Empire.) and uneducated peasants suffered all kinds of abuse, injustice, and exploitation (i.e. class, gender, social, religious, political) from those in seats of power and influence, he instructed them not to worry about their living conditions because God will make provisions for them; not to retaliate against their oppressors and exploiters because God will give them justice and punish their oppressors; not to be troublemakers because God has called them to be peacemakers and ambassadors of justice and reconciliation; and not to be a power-hungry-and-seeking community because God will humble the pride and raise the weak.

Yet this poor Galilean Messiah convinced his followers to go change society and the world by living his legacy and teaching all things he had taught them to all people: to love all people, to tell all people to repent of their evil ways and turn to God for liberation, to practice justice and forgiveness, to oppose in society what is unjust and anti-human, and to imitate his ways and his ethic. His followers believed that he practically embodied in his life and his teachings what God is like in character and nature. In fact, they believed Jesus of Nazareth was not only the Savior of the world, but the most terrifying truth about this poor Palestinian-Jewish peasant is this: God existed in the person and actions of Jesus. In Him, God experienced full humanity and what it meant to be weak, vulnerable, economically poor, politically oppressed and subjugated, morally dehumanized and demonized, and socially isolated and abandoned.

God is not the God of the philosopher or the bourgeois-theologian or the arrogant rich who trusts in his wealth for comfort and stability, but the God of the poor and the most vulnerable people in society who have no cultural status, political power, or any constructive human resources to offer to God, but a humble heart and submissive will.

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The Dangers of Social Justice?

“Going to the #SBC19? Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from @tomascol @JoshBuice @TomBuck @PreacherMiller and Tom Nettles as they discuss the issues of social justice. https://t.co/T5qGXMDDnQ #WokeChurch #SBC #SocialJustice https://t.co/2Bo9fIfY5F””

A bunch of white guys, including a retired SBTS Professor, getting together to talk about social justice in the church? Are you serious? What a shame!

This is a clear example of how white privilege and white supremacy operate in today’s American Evangelicalism and Christian circles.

It would have been a much better & Gospel-centered choice for these gentlemen to meet to discuss what the Church in the twenty-first century can do to end police brutality, mass incarceration, anti-immigrant laws, sex slave & trafficking in America, poverty and gun violence in the hood and the ghetto, improving our broken education system in our dysfunctional schools, attending to the needs of the poor widow and the single mother of four children who can’t afford healthcare and pay for their overdue medical bills, etc. These are Gospel issues, folks!

***Did you notice the “Black Power” Fist on the social justice’s graphic?

#Unbelievable!

These are the same individuals who believe they have authority and cultural credentials to tutor people on racial reconciliation and unity in the church!

How shall one pursue unity and improve interracial relations in the church and society in that context?

***The Gospel is also about justice of God in society and his plan to create a new humanity, created order, and a new government that are socially and politically just and equitable– in Jesus Christ. The promise of total and global justice is the promise of the Gospel and it is not just a future or eschatological event. Justice including its divine, biblical, social, economic, political, judicial, legal (i.e food justice, water justice, education justice, healthcare justice) etc., aspects are all embedded in the content and message of the Gospel. God the Creator of all people and the Sustainer of the world, through the Gospel of Christ, has called both men and women, both government and society, both christian and non-christian, and both religious and non-religious, not only to repent of their sins to find hope in Jesus alone, but also to practice and pursue justice and compassion in all spheres of life and areas of the social order.

The Gospel is about the justice of God in society and in the world, and one of those “justices” has a social component. The Word of God always calls men and women in both civil and political societies not just to make a spiritual decision for Christ; correspondingly, the Gospel has called men and women to make moral decisions and ethical choices and to orchestra and live by moral principles and political structures that are just and godly, which could contribute to a transformed society and human flourishing in the present. Hence, public policies (i.e.state, county, local) and Federal laws should be democratically just and equitable; they should not disenfranchise the most vulnerable and economically-disavantaged populations in our society nor place their lives on the margins.

The Gospel is not just what one just believes theologically and affirms intellectually. It is also the ethical and moral principles that one inhabits and lives out in the world and in relation to other individuals. The Gospel is not just a set of theological beliefs one embraces; It is also a set of practical convictional actions one performs. The Gospel is about identifying with Christ, imitaring his gracious and redeeming character, and demonstrating in public his liberative teachings and actions for the transformation of both spiritial condition and living conditions of human beings.

“Serve God and Serve People”

“Serve God and Serve People”

God is not impressed by your “head knowlege theology” about him or your academic acumen. He delights in you and is praised when you honor him fully with your mind and actions; he is glorified in you when you use what you know about God and the people in your community and city to change their living conditions and help them reach their human potential.

Use the same knowlege, both of God and human beings, to foster forgiveness, peace, unity, healing, reconciliation, and human flourishing in your community and city!

Knowledge about God and humanity is about your willingness to effect practical transformation in people’s lives and the disposition of your heart and resources to improve both society and human relationships.

“The Future of SBC in Four Paragraphs”

“The Future of SBC in Four Paragraphs”

SBC is a denomination in peril. Its redemption will not come from its current leadership and regime of power, but from “ethnic/immigrant Christian churches” and “minority leaders” who have gone through the fire of hell, dehumanization, and common suffering in this weary land, and from the racialized disciples of Jesus Christ who share a collective history of exclusion and alienation from the life and power of SBC leadership, institutions, and churches.

In all of their trouble and collective history of suffering and rejection, they have learned to abide in Jesus, remain faithful to SBC while SBC has not been faithful to them, and trust in God’s transformative power and healing presence to boost up their self-esteem and shape their Christian identity and character to those of Jesus Christ. They have borne the mark of the Christian cross and experienced the calvary of the American culture.

The good news is this: God is not done with SBC nor has he abandoned SBC churches. There’s redemptive hope that could foster institutional transformation within the SBC leadership and life. This hope is not cheap grace; it demands a radical renunciation of the political gods and cultural demons that have poisoned SBC leadership, churches, and institutions. This liberative hope also makes urgent demands from the people of God in the SBC to become a people of justice and zealous ambassadors of reconciliation and unity.

Finally, six ethically paired words of action–which are also moral imperatives–are required toward this denominational restructuring, shifting, and rebuilding: repentance and forgiveness, self-denial and humility, inclusion and diversity, Christian fellowship and relationality, racial sensitivity and multicultural partnership, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and living out the liberating message of the Gospel.

“Let Them Speak: On Rape, Incest, and Abortion”

“Let Them Speak: On Rape, Incest, and Abortion”

A. If you have never been raped as a woman/man, how would you ever know how it feels to be sexually violated & raped? Consider the bodily shame and degradation closely connected to the identity, experience, and future of the rape victim?

B. If you have never been a victim of a sexual incest (i.e. from a father, uncle, cousin, brother), how would you ever know about the unspeakable and terrified experience of this individual/victim?

C. What gives you (i.e. man) the right, credential, & conviction to pretend that you have personal knowledge and experience and that you can speak with authority on behalf of those who have been raped/ are victims of rape?

Can we allow these women to tell their own story?

I am just inviting you friends to have a candid and honest conversation about this sensitive issue. No cursing, please!. No Disrespect, please!. Let’s talk with civility and cordiality about this important matter.

“On Christian Patriarchal Arrogance and Women in Christian and Pastoral Ministry”

“On Christian Patriarchal Arrogance and Women in Christian and Pastoral Ministry”

A. Women of God: Don’t pay attention to some Evangelical thinkers and Christian theologians who are telling you that you are not worthy enough, because you are not a man, but a woman, to use your gifts of preaching, teaching, and leadership to serve and lead the people of God in the Church.

B. Tell them Christian ministry has to do with gifting not male leadership, mutual submission not male hierarchy, interdependence not individualism, service not masculine power, humility not patriarchal triumphalism or pride.

C. Don’t let the so-called guardians of the faith fool you, undermine your gifts, or the integrity of your calling to Christian leadership and Pastoral ministry. Evangelical Theologians and Christian Biblical Scholars across various denominational expressions have held two views in regard to the role of women in Christian ministry: complementarianism and egalitarianism.

*** Always remember that theological hermeneutics has a political side to it, and male theological patriarchs have used Scriptures to deny women of their rights, silence their voice in the church, and erase their stories, histories, and contributions to the birth and advancement of Christianity in the world. Male-centered biblical interpretation is toxic to the future of the Christian church and Christianity in the world. It has not always been the best redemptive tool to liberate women from male oppression and masculine demand for submission nor has it always been an empowering rhetoric and project to promote the equal dignity and humanity of women with men. Rather, a Christocentric biblical hermeneutics always points women to the path of emancipation and eccesiastical participation and rescues them from christian patriarchal arrogance and triumphalism.

Finally, women of God, always remember that both male and female ministers and Christians “have in common” one Boss, Jesus Christ, and they “share in unity” one supreme Lord of the Church to whom they must submit and bow, Jesus Christ the Head of the Church.

“Rethinking The Problem of Theodicy in Haitian Vodou”

“Rethinking The Problem of Theodicy in Haitian Vodou”

***I dedicate this piece to three friends: Benjamin Hebblethwaite, Paul Camy Mocombe, and Nixon Shaba-lom

In contemporary Vodou scholarship, the notion of theodicy and the opposing binary of good and bad remains unfortunately an unexplored terrain. Vodou scholars have either reject both concepts as if they only belong to the Abrahamic religions or Asian religious traditions such as Buddhism.

Some of my friends who are specialists in Vodou boldly assert that there is no concept of sin, and good and bad in Vodou. Some have argued that “sin” is a Christian concept. It is not Vodou nor does one find it in any African traditional religions. Even if sin is not a basic element in Vodou theological vocabulary and rhetorical grammar, atonement is part of Vodou praxis and liturgy. More often, atonement in Vodou deals with human trespasses, transgressions, shortcomings, the break-up of a vow with a law, for example. These various names we proposed here all pertain to one’s relationship with the Vodou Spirit. In a nutshell, one must atone for one’s sins and seek reconciliation with the Lwa.

Interestingly, if one carefully studies various Vodou songs such as praise songs, thanksgiving songs, agricultural songs, songs of alienation and exile (i.e. Lapriyè Ginen [The Ginen Prayer], and Le grand recueil sacré, ou, Répertoire des chansons du vodou Haïtien [The great sacred collection, or, Repertoire of Haitian Vodou songs] by Max Beauvoir; Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English by Benjamin Hebblethwaite ) or examine exegetically Haitian novels (i.e. Masters of the Dew by Jacques Roumain, General Sun, My Brother by Jacques Stephen Alexis) and Vodou poetry (i.e. Un Arc-en-ciel pour l’occident chrétien : Poème, mystère vaudou (Poésie) by René Depestre. Translated by Colin Dayan, as A Rainbow for the Christian West: The Poetry of René Depestre), the notion of human transgression as sin and the failure to maintain balance, as well as the problem of theodicy is inevitable and deliberate in the Vodou proper, as well as in Haitian Vodouist imagination through texts and visual/plastic arts. Vodou aesthetics through Vodou art and aesthetic performances such as the “mizik ginen” and “mizik rasin” all narrate a vision of good and bad in this Religious tradition, and the “ideal world” we long for and that which has departed from the Vodou practitioner. Vodou practitioners also shout “Ichabod”/” The glory has departed!

In fact, “theodicy” is one of the major issues in the acclaimed Haitian novel Masters of the Dew, which accounts for the environmental crisis, natural disasters, drought, human death, animal death, and the hostility that exists between the peasants in the village of Fonds Rouge, the geographical and cultural setting of the novel. The problem of “theodicy” is momentous, omnipresent, and toxic in the Fond Rouges community, and it causes strife and disturbs the peace and harmony in the Vodouist community there. As a result, the much Vodou-devoted parents of the protagonist Jean-Manuel Joseph had to call upon the Vodou Lwa to find a solution to the problem of not only “natural evil” in the village, but also the predicament of human-inflicted pain and suffering in their midst.

Furthermore, in the Haitian Vodouist tradition and cosmological order, the mere existence of a multiplicity of Lwa, is by design, and the fundamental function of the Lwa is, with the help of human (volitional) agents, to create harmony, equilibrium, balance, and equity in the world. The Vodou Lwa not only represent the various ideals of how the world should be and could be, they are in fact representations of how the world ought to be. The Lwa as messengers of the Creator-Bondye (The “Good God”) also infers that the present world does not represent the intended will of God/Bondye, and that human beings have created another world that contradicts “the Ideal World” that Bondye has willed. Hence, the creation of the Vodoun (Spirits) exists by divine necessity so that human beings in cooperation with the Messenger-Lwa could eventually achieve the intended plan of their Creator-Bondye, the good God. Arguably, the Vodoun are Bondye’s promising notes to Vodou adepts. They exist to help human beings/Vodouists deal with theodicy.

Correspondingly, in Vodou hermeneutics, the Vodou spirits also articulate and embody concurrently the various expressions and manifestations of the divine will, desire, and plan. As messengers of the divine will, the notion that the Vodou spirits help to create a relational cosmic order and improve the interplays between human beings in the world is indicative (1) the present world is not the way it should be, (2) the present creation is out of order, and (3) that human nature is out of balance and has been altered by the anti-Bondye human dispositions such as the evil choices and actions free volitional agents orchestrate in the world. In other word, we live in a world that is not harmonious, balanced, and equitable; hence, human beings need the lwa to put all things and the creation as whole to the intended will of Bondye.

Another way to think about the reason the lwa exist in Vodou is to improve the world by readjusting its order and human relationships and fellowship, and reestablishing human shalom and wholeness. Yet the underlying question we ought to explore and seek to understand is this: What is the ontology of the things that are out of place and harmony in the universe? How can we identity them? How should we classify them? Can we place them in different categories? Can we classify them as bad and evil things? Or what makes the world not so good, some human relationships evil, and some human choices anti-Bondye?

Whether one refuses to accept (or reject) the idea of bad and good does not (does) exist in Haitian Vodou or theodicy is (or is not) an element in Vodouist conception of the world/worldview, the Vodouist must face the existence of evil in the world. (Please don’t be quick to say theodicy and the opposing binary of good and bad are Western and Christian concepts; they’re not African!). The Vodouist like every religious and non-religious person in the world is trouble about the problem of human suffering, oppression, and pain, as well as the relationship between the good God (“Bondye”) and the presence of evil in our community, city, nation, and in the world. African traditional religions just like the African-derived religions in the African Diaspora have their roots in the ancient Egyptian religions and spirituality. Ancient Egyptian religions have shaped African/African diasporic religious liturgical practices, ethical systems, divination system, theological beliefs, and moral principles. Ancient Egyptian religions and spirituality have left their enduring mark on the Haitian Vodouist tradition. An important resource that sheds some light about those parallels and connections relating to theodicy and good and bad actions can be found in the famous Egyptian “The Book of Dead.”

Arguably, religion is a human invention, and at the core of every religion, there’s a form of spirituality and attempt to achieve piety. One of the functions of religion is to help humans cope with the care, burden, and anxieties of this world. The Vodou religion is no exception, and Vodouists are affected everyday by the troubles and worries of this world; yet they consult the lwa to find out why and to find a solution? That is theodicy; that is the conflict between the “ideal world” Bondye envisioned for human beings and the world that is.

Six years ago, I published a major article to address the problem of theodicy in Haitian Vodou through an exegetical reading of Jacques Roumain’s famous novel, Masters of the Dew. It was published in the academic journal Theology Today, which is associated with Princeton Theological Seminary/PUP: “The Rhetoric of Suffering, Hope, and Redemption in Masters of the Dew: A Rhetorical and Politico-Theological Analysis of Manuel as Peasant-messiah and Redeemer,” Theology Today (October 2013) 70: 323-350.

Allow me to say this in closing: Many Haitian peasants and some people (some of whom are family members and friends, and my late grandmother whom I so loved and cherished was an ardent Vodou-Catholic practitioner, as well as the great Vodou priestess [Mambo] in her community in Haiti) that I know who practice Vodou are quite aware of the problem of good and bad and correspondingly the predicament of theodicy in their religion and in their everyday experience; interestingly, the intellectual study of the Vodou religion is playing an utopian game with the real life and the real experience of Vodou practitioners. Like other religious traditions, Vodou has its own challenges: some of those challenges are ethical, moral, theological, and existential. The Vodou scholar must make these challenges as part of his or her intellectual adventure and curiosity about the religion. The basic human disposition to all religion is curiosity and the attempt to discover truth, the ideal, and gain understanding.