Dale Stephens is a former missionary with Chi Alpha for 13 years (9 in Atlanta, GA) and currently serves as Pastor of Riverside Church in NW Atlanta. He and Andrea have three daughters, two goddaughters, and a dog.
I was torn with emotions of awe and frustration as I watched Macklemore perform the closing song at the MTV Awards a few years ago. I was in awe as I watched him declare a passionate appeal of a prophetic type. He proclaimed in front of a large audience what he believes to be true, while also preaching a kind of vision of tomorrow for the world to believe in. For me, it was reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr’s. “I Have A Dream” speech. I was torn with frustration as I empathetically knew he is proclaiming what millions resonated with, yet it was far from true peace and harmony. I couldn’t help but wonder who are the prophetic voices of the American church today for a Biblical vision of tomorrow. Was MLK an anomaly -- a once in a lifetime voice? Is God still prophetically proclaiming a gospel message for us all?
I was taught in my undergrad that prophecy operates in two possible definitions:
1. Forth-telling: proclamation of truth
2. Fore-telling: proclamation of future events
For many of us, the term “prophecy” or “prophet” transports our minds to Old Testament passages. We unknowingly take a dispensational stance toward the terms. We mostly consider them for the ancient world. Prophets were those crazy types that seemingly ended with John the Baptist or Jesus. Prophets were the standouts who spoke against current culture. They were outsiders and rebels who had a streak of non-conformity.
As a Pentecostal, there is a place for prophecy in our movement today. We acknowledge that God can use men and women to speak both fore-telling and forth-telling. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul seems to gives a prioritization for prophecy. In the early days of the Pentecostal American experience, there was a strong emphasis on prophetic utterances. I have even seen a couple of prophets in my time. They too had a flare of “uniqueness”.
The prophets and prophecy I have experienced have generally spoken to either individuals or churches. I wonder, why do we stop there?
From Urgency to Emergency
While in college, I worked at Bradley Memorial Hospital in the ER. In the ER, patients had to be identified as urgent or emergent. The label of “urgent” dictated the speed and effort by which a patient was received. “Emergent” received the highest level of effort, speediness, and care. As ministers, we have to see our world as emergent. Our communities and the individuals within, need life holistically today, tomorrow, and metaphysically.
We live in a world of tension.
We are progressing in our local society in many ways along racial needs. We see greater numbers of diversity all around us. Our country has progressed from recognizing individual human dignity to having key roles in government and society. Yet, entrenching along racial lines is happening. There are systemic and situational problems happening across our country. These are acts of injustice. As Christian Leaders, we have a responsibility to stand for justice. What will you do?
The situation is emergent locally, nationally, and globally. We, as ministers, must proclaim prophetic truth. When I envision this kind of proclamation, I am envisioning modern day Moses, Isaiah, John, Jesus, and MLK. I picture men and women standing up for Biblically based truth, which will resonate and capture the world. I see pastors and missionaries leading the charge for the fullness of salvation rooted in eternal and earthly freedom.
I am talking about being standouts not for the sake of self identifying with John the Baptist, but the kind of radical obedient Christ followers who recognize the time is now. Today, we must proclaim the fore-telling Truths of Scripture. We shall proclaim this Truth with a promise of a better life, community, and eternity for us all. Reconciliation is about Salvation...that all men, women, and children be found in shalom with God and His people. Prophetically Preach Preacher!
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and keep them. The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
Follow Dale @atldrev or contact him via email at email@example.com.
As I interact with different people regarding diversity issues, I often come across those who tell me they are color-blind. Now, this does not mean they cannot distinguish between green and red. I think what they are trying to say is that they see everyone the same; they don’t “see color.” This, I perceive, is a response to our history as a nation of dividing people into color groups and granting them privileges accordingly. Today we recognize that such a system is evil. So the righteous response must be the direct opposite reaction -- to develop the ability to see everyone the same. But is this what Christians should do? Is being color-blind a Godly character trait? In other words, is God color-blind?
Well obviously, God is not color-blind. He sees EVERYTHING! We know that he created color, in all its endless shades and hues. He did this, we feel, because he is a creative God who delights in variety and beauty. He is artistic, reveling in splendor and majesty. It is not too much to infer that when he created humanity, he endowed it with all the variety and diversity that he gave the rest of creation. He did not desire a uniform representation of his being. Creation reveals God’s character (Romans 1), humanity his very being- “So he created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them: male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
It is not a great leap to reason that God, who is a wonderfully diverse being, would imprint his image on a diverse humanity. One of the things I love about having a Christian family is the realization that it takes both my husband and I to even begin to represent God to our children. In the same way, it takes all the different ethnic and racial groups of our world, all the cultures, in order for us to see God in his fullness.
We live in a time when our society is trying to erase the uniqueness of gender. For the most part, the Christian church fights against this attack, seeing it for what it is, an attempt to repudiate the truth that we are created in God’s image. So why would we, in like manner, join attempts to erase the uniqueness of our ethnic creation. In Revelation 7:9 John tells us, “And then I looked and saw a multitude that no man could count from every nation, tribe, people and language.” This verse makes it clear that at the end of the age, even after our physical transformation we will retain the uniqueness of our ethnicity.
This means that God values who we are in this world if he will retain our external ethnic identity markers for all eternity. In like manner, we also should celebrate our ethnic distinctiveness and uniqueness. We should realize that just as it takes a mother and father to represent God the Father to children, it takes the whole body of Christ to represent God to the world. Often you will hear sermons regarding this. These are usually focused on the need to have the varieties of gifts present in a local congregation. I believe wholeheartedly that the body is diminished by any form of uniformity, whether in abilities, ethnicity, or even economically. It takes all of who we are to represent all of who God is.
So, the answer to my original question is no. God is not color-blind nor does he discriminate. He makes his love and grace available to all. “He rains down on the just and the unjust.” Still, he does not see us the same, nor does he treats us the same. Just ask ten people how they came to know Christ; you will hear ten very different stories. Like a good Father, he knows we each have different needs and meets those needs in unique ways. To leave behind our country’s legacy of valuing its citizens according to their skin color and ethnicity, we need not deny that color. On the contrary, we must first embrace the reality of our history and the effects we live with today. Instead of seeing everyone the same and treating everyone the same, we should strive to see everyone as they are and treat them with the love and compassion they uniquely need. Ultimately, this will result in specific acts for each individual. Not color-blind, color conscious, nor controlled, but color aware and love controlled.
The statement “I have a friend who’s Black” or a similar statement is the verbal equivalent of your pre-pubescent crush punching you in the stomach to show her affection. When this statement is said by a white person, they are trying to show that they know about black culture and are not a racist. When this statement is heard by a black person, it lets them know that the white person who said it has no clue about black culture and likely has some prejudice.
I don’t want to insult anyone, but I felt like this might be an opportunity to explain to white people why black people feel this way about this statement and encourage black people in how to respond when this occurs.
For my white folks out there, the reason black people respond the way they do is because it sounds like you are trying to affirm your understanding of black culture or prove that you are not prejudice. However, white people who understand black culture and are familiar with it would never make that statement; they are already so comfortable being around black people that they fit in without effort and the black people know very quickly that they understand and are welcome.
Consider this, very rarely, if ever, have you heard a black person proclaim that they have a friend who is white. This is because they are already so comfortable being around white people and understand the culture so well that they just fit in. And the things that they don’t understand about white culture they can fake or avoid without their white friends even knowing.
I think you get the point, so I’ll move on…
For my black people out there, especially those of us who are followers of Christ, we need to change our response to white people who use the “black friend” proclamation. I know that I have been guilty of marking that person off as prejudice and refusing to have much more to do with them. I now know my response is exactly opposite of what I should have done and what I want to ask you to not do in the future. Instead, we should see that person as someone who is trying to build a bridge with black people and because of their lack of relationships with black people simply don’t know how. I believe that in most cases they want black friends and want to be accepted but have not had anyone really accept their, albeit awkward, olive branch.
Just like that 6 year old girl who beats up the boy she likes, this individual wants a relationship but doesn’t know how to show it. So, I’m asking you, black people, to respond by being their black friend. The first act of friendship can be telling them, “don’t ever say ‘you have a black friend’ again,” and then growing a heart level relationship with them so that they feel comfortable around you and your black friends. Truly help them understand your life, the things that concern you and how you feel about situations concerning race. That relationship is one that will produce fruit in more ways than we can imagine in the world and for the church.
Heart-level black and white friendships, especially in the body of Christ, will transform the church for the glory of God and bring more people into a relationship with Christ.
Have you seen this picture? It was shared by the Presbyterian Day School in Clarksdale, MS and has gone viral this past week.
While some view it as a positive commentary on race relations, a representative with the school said they want the focus to remain on the love of Jesus Christ, as captioned in the picture.
This brings up a vital question that, I think, as believers in Jesus, it is crucial that we ponder: What is going to improve race relations in our country?
Is it just going to happen because as a society we are moving forward and the bigots and racist will eventually die out, or do we actually have to do something to bring it about?
Recently, when I taught on God’s kingdom and the responsibility of the church to live according to its values, a kind older gentlemen asked me a version of this question. He shared what he saw in his neighborhood: scenes like those captured in the photo, children of different races playing together, which were non-existent in his youth. He asked me if I didn’t think things would just keep getting better and better until the day racial issues would simply disappear. His question implied that we need not bother ourselves with actively working against such issues, we need only wait.
That’s the question isn’t it? Are things such as institutional racism, bigotry, and hatred simply going to disappear? Are we improving as a society? Will the world of Star Trek one day become reality? It is true we no longer have slavery and legalized segregation. But let’s remember how those changes came about. They did not happen because society simply improved. They were paid with the sacrifice and lives of thousands of people. They were fought for and, sometimes, wrenched from the hands of those who were holding on to them with radical fervency.
The bigger question is whether the Christian worldview is one of a progressive future or one that calls for individual and societal responsibility? Well, when you put it that way, the answer is very clear isn’t it. Jesus himself spoke of the future, not as a utopia, but as a time when “the love of many would wax cold” and the world would be filled with ethnic strife, nation rising up against nation. As Christians we are called to “seek first his kingdom and His righteousness”. In other words, we are called to desire and pursue God’s authority in this world and his way of doing things. I think we can see in this a call to work for justice and equity. Not to bring about a utopia here on the earth, but to testify to the character of the God we serve.
It’s funny to me that we conservative, Evangelical Christians are all about personal responsibility when it comes to most issues. There are many among us who see poverty, for example, primarily a result of personal choices and not a consequence of larger societal issues. Yet, when it comes to racial issues, we are tempted to put our trust in society and abdicate our own accountability in the matter. Could it be we are quick to blame but slow to work? Brothers and sisters, this should not be. Those of us who are called, literally by Christ's title — anointed one — should be the ones on the front lines of manifesting Christ’s love, heart, and character to the world around us.
So I agree with the Presbyterian Day School, the picture is all about the love of Christ, for only His love lived out in real action can heal the racial wounds in individual hearts and in our society as a whole. This is the kingdom of God.