Archive for the ‘Urban Renovation’ Category

Racism is claiming another generation

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Eli Reed, an African-American journalist and photographer, laments the grim future he saw for America during the 1990s L.A. Riots. “The past has become the present and perhaps the future,” he laments. Speaking to whites, Orientals, and black Americans, “Racism is claiming another generation.”

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., in his book Hazardous Waste in America, sounds an alarm about the disposal of hazardous wastes. The disposal of wastes has arguably become the most significant environmental problem of our day–as any Somerset County resident will tell you. Rural America–like around our homes–has borne the brunt of the hazardous waste problem. Land is cheap and sparsely populated. So, tainted needles from a Manhattan hospital end up in a Nanty Glo landfill! The ultimate destruction of farmland and ground water will cost billions of dollars . . . and how much are our lives worth?

The destruction of the world’s forests has become a crisis in the earth’s ecology. During the 1800’s and early 1900’s many of the large forest areas of industrialized nations were eliminated through logging efforts and the creation of farmland. In the latter part of the 20th century the problem has extended to the vast tropical rain forests of Latin America and Southeast Asia. Poverty-stricken nations are anxious to realize the short-term profit that comes by selling to wealthier nations luxury goods that can be produced by large-scale deforestation and conversion of forest land to pasture (with thanks to Ms. Vera White for this information!). The long term effects of this massive deforestation include soil erosion, decrease in oxygen supply, depletion of clean ground water sources, destruction of habitats for many animals, and the wiping out of vast numbers of wildlife species.

There is a church in the East End of Pittsburgh that, in 1983, had $176,000 in the bank. They figured that given the average life of their congregation, that the majority would die in the next ten years. They also decided that therefore they had nothing to worry about and settled down to do nothing, in effect, and enjoy their income. They were right in one sense: most of them were dead by 1993. But they were wrong in another way: they did not have enough money to stay alive for ten years!

In Isaiah 39, Hezekiah is in a pretty precarious position. Judah, King Hezekiah’s kingdom, had the dubious honor of being strategically placed between hovering superpowers. For years, Hezekiah and his predecessors had taken care not to offend these powers. The time had come, though, when peace no longer seemed possible . . .


Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Again, though, I am convinced that racial reconciliation is coming for one very important reason: men and women and the organizations that they represent are falling down on their knees and asking God to give them strength to change. Faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ–more than any other single factor–will bring peace. This outspoken subservience to the Lordship of Christ, the open admission that peace will not come in any other way, makes the present moves to reconciliation to be more hopeful. Nothing quite like this happened in earlier reconciliation attempts.

Whole denominations that were formally almost completely white are gratefully becoming multiracial. For example, the almost completely white Mennonite Church is quickly becoming racially mixed. Total Mennonite Church membership grew from 99,719 members in 980 congregations in 1985 to 111,672 members in 1,099 congregations at the end of 1995. The even better news for the Mennonite Church is that 69 percent of new Mennonite Church congregations started in urban areas. Most of these new congregations are interracial and multicultural. This reflects the demographic trends in America where 47% of the U.S. population will be “minority” groups by 2050. The largest church in the Virginia Conference of the Mennonite Church is Calvary Community Church–an interracial church in Hampton Roads, Virginia. In 1997 the Mennonite Church elected an interracially married moderator for the first time in world history! Among the non-Pentecostal churches, the Mennonite Church is making the most progress towards racial integration but other denominations–particularly Evangelical ones–are sure to follow.

In William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished a white boy named Bayard is reflecting about his black friend Ringo: “. . . Ringo and I has been born in the same month and has both fed at the same breast and has slept together and eaten together for so long that Ringo called Granny ‘Granny’ just like I do, until maybe he isn’t a nigger anymore or maybe I isn’t a white boy anymore, the two of us neither, not even people any more: the two supreme undefeated like two moths, two feathers riding above a hurricane.”

The Church is called–somehow–to ride above a hurricane. To be that peculiar people about whom we read in Scripture. To find a unity that transcends the substantial barrier race represents. This is no small feat, but one that the Church must undertake. And soon. By showing American society–especially the urban society–the way out of racism the Church of Jesus Christ has a unique opportunity to reclaim Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “center of the city.” Using Augustine’s City of God as a standard, the Church is called to be an efficacious model of reconciliation to a fragmented and broken community. We are all on a journey–white, black, yellow, and red.

Christians are called by God to serve our culture even though our ultimate loyalty and hope is in the city of God. I believe, with all my heart, that the road to Christian revival must pass through the school of racial reconciliation. There are several examples of racial reconciliation in our country today and I am truly encouraged. But there is much work that remains. As I have intimated before, until the Church finds a way to bring racial reconciliation in a widespread way into its own camp, American society at large has no hope of doing the same. As we begin the 21st Century this reclamation project will be America’s most valuable gift to the world.

The whole world waits with bated breath . . .


Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Harvard University’s Dr. Robert Cole in his book The Spiritual Life of Children describes a 1962 interview he had with a small African-American child. This child was being accosted by angry segregationists as she walked to school. In the face of so much hatred, Cole wanted to know why she was smiling.


Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Forgiveness entails four elements. It begins with a remembering and moral judgment. Second, although the move toward forgiveness demands the renunciation of vengeance, it does not mean that the African-American community abandons justice. Nor does it mean that African-Americans forget the injustice. No, on the contrary, I ask the African-American community to remember and to forgive anyway. Some of my African-American friends are right to suggest that that is easy for this white southerner to ask but I ask it anyway. Isaiah 65:17 reminds us “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.” Forgiveness brings this Scripture into action.


Monday, June 9th, 2008

At the same time, I ask the African-American Community to forgive white America. Rev. Roland Gordon, an African-American pastor wrote, “I saw that I had not truly come to terms with my obligation as a follower of Jesus Christ to forgive and genuinely to love, as Christ commands.” Rev. Gordon forgave his white tormentors and found racial reconciliation. African-American leader John Perkins offered the following recipe for racial reconciliation:


Friday, June 6th, 2008

Most Americans agree on one thing: racial reconciliation is a laudable goal. What is new and exciting is the fact that the Church is finally taking the leadership in this movement. Industry and education are discussing “quotas” and “reparations.” But only the Church of Jesus Christ–in its myriad of representations–is seriously undertaking the arduous task of bringing about national racial reconciliation.

Racial reconciliation will not come without God’s miraculous intervention. No social program, no good intention, no human activity for that matter will bring reconciliation among America’s angry races. It will take a miracle. We need, from the very beginning to admit humbly that reconciliation will only occur as we respond to God’s mercy and grace so amply presented in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). He will be the author of reconciliation or it simply will not occur.


Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Garner was an example of the unlikely heroes racism called forth in the middle of the twentieth century. Palmer Garner was a prophet. He captured what the theologian Abraham J. Heschel calls “the divine pathos.” He invited us all to be in sympathy with the feelings of God. In sympathy with God “the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us,” Walter Brueggemann writes. Garner, like Elijah, was a man under a word. He knew that he must do things, foolish things.


Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

He was an ordinary pastor, Brother Garner, the sort of pastor you would expect a Methodist bishop to send to my hometown.

South Arkansas was unprepared to face the present, much less the future. The Civil War hung like a heavy shroud on this declining railroad town. Less than 100 years before, Yankee soldiers had unceremoniously marched through our swamps to Vicksburg. To our eternal shame, no significant resistance was offered, except a brief unsuccessful skirmish at Boggy Bayou.

Biblical Examples

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Separatism, then, is not a biblical concept. Even a cursory reading of Acts 10 reminds us that the early Church is certainly not segregated. The Antiochian Church is no doubt an interracial church and it was by far the most powerful and influential early Church. This is the church, for instance, that sent Paul on his missionary journeys.

The Antiochian Church understood well that if we support evil–even in the name of good intentions–we put our own community at risk.


Monday, June 2nd, 2008

For those times in American history when whites and blacks have related, several discernable patterns emerged.

First, blacks tried accommodation. This implied a minimal cultural exchange and caused the black community to divest itself of undesirable traits (in the eyes of the majority whites).