The Jazz Theologian has just written an article for reflection. The article is entitled “Marginal Christianity.” In that article, Robert Gelinas uses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as a symbol for how Christianity should be in the world. While many look back fondly on his ministry, we cannot forget that Dr. King was marginal. His view against the war in Vietnam when many, black and white, told him to not speak on it, demonstrates how he was not in line with the common values of the day. His marching for Civil Rights, while thought of highly today, was at the time seen as “radical” and even “untimely.” The argument over Dr. King’s tactics fostered the creation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
Certainly many have turned him into an icon of the status quo today. Some use him as a voice of moderation against the so-called radical voices that are living. I even hear conservative republican voices attempting to use him as teaching their values, which is ridiculous for he was for welfare and against militarism. Many try to act as though they are in line with his voice when they are risking nothing to call his name.
Gelinas reminds us that Christianity should be on the margins. And why? Gelinas quotes King:
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at it’s best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Martin Luther King Jr. August 16, 1967)
Christianity is at the margins because it stands against anything that is against love. That anything may be in the white house. That anything may be in the state house. That anything may be in our very church. We may see that anything when we look in the mirror. As preachers of God we must stand for justice and a correcting love. Correcting love doesn’t seek change for the sake of change, but neither can it fall into the trap of an easy conservatism that looks at injustice as an inevitable byproduct of living in this world.
Christianity should get you mad sometimes. It will sometimes step on your toes even as you preach it. If your Christianity isn’t at least irritating to the powers of injustice, then I would argue that your Christianity is missing something. In an era of “seeker-sensitive” methodologies and a laissez faire Christianity, true Christianity steps in and says, this is love, it may be problematic for some of you, you may not like it, in fact it may repel you, but Jesus said, “My people shall hear my voice.” (John 10:16) Let us as preachers have the power and audacity to preach the real gospel instead of being happy with trite and trivial knock offs.
Marvin McMickle, in his work Where Have All The Prophets Gone writes about one of the biggest heresies that has grabbed hold of the church. This one is the idea that Christians are some how immune from suffering, sickness, or pain. McMickle notes that these preachers seem to see an “exemption” from suffering. All you have to do is “plant your seed” and you will be blessed with financial blessing. You will be blessed with a physical cure to whatever ails you.
These prosperity preachers turn the “abundant life” as written about in the New Testament into the “good life” as defined by the kind of American Materialism that has created this current economic crisis that we find ourselves in. Simply put, even Christians who have sought to live the life consistent with God’s coming Kingdom die of cancer. Even good Christians look at the wicked prosper while they live in the depths of poverty. This false gospel trains Christians to be greedy. It trains Christians to expect a healing from every dime they put in the plate. It trains Christians to expect “economic breakthrough” because God must bless us with healing because they planted a seed or anointed their wallet with oil.
Ultimately this is idolatry because it takes the Sovereign God off the throne and puts in God’s place a Slot Machine that always “pays off” when you pull the lever. Preachers, we have been called to proclaim the Gospel and God’s coming kingdom. Let us not give up that high calling to preach the false Gospel of American materialism.
Olin P. Moyd writes in The Sacred Art: “The power of God is not Theory. The power of God is action.” What Moyd is getting at is that when we preach about the power of God, it is important not to turn it into a theory. I remember when I was taking Calculus in college. The teacher would introduce a formula by talking about when and why you would use this particular formula. All of that was good and important, however it was still disconnected from us. The teacher would then give us a few examples. In the back of the chapter we had a number of exercises that were designed to help us understand the formula. The formula was the theory, but the exercises were the examples.
Likewise when we are preaching, we must translate the theory into practice. We must show the truth of the theory in real life. If we don’t do this, then whether the people shout or sleep, they will not be able to translate the teaching into their daily lives. The Bible, experience, and history all provide us with a large number of examples to translate the theories into practice.
Don’t forget your examples and illustrations, without them, the people may not fully understand your theory and theology.
It was not really that long ago when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr dreamed of a better world and then had the audacity to go out and attempt to bring that world into reality. A reality that included a world without racism. A reality that included marching for poor people and workers who were taken advantage of. A reality that included not being invovled in unjust wars.
Today and yesterday we celebrate the movement and the outgrowth of the movement which includes a milestone in the life of the country where Barak Obama, the nation’s first African American president-elect, takes office as president of the United States. I look at some of the great leaders of the movement for civil rights and see the tears in their eyes. I see others as they see this as an affirmation that God definitely was on our side and we would overcome.
Let us praise God and be happy for what God has done. But let us not lose sight of our jobs as preachers. We are not called to be agents of the status-quo. We are already hearing the voices that are saying that this is proof that racism is a minimal problem in the United States of America. We are already hearing the voices that are saying that the U.S. has finally been true to the principles of its founding. I even heard one person say that Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream has finally come into fruition.
Go ahead and be happy, but as a prophet remember that we not only look back, but we also look forward to God’s ideal. We look forward to the day when bailouts of the poor and middle class are just as important and “dire” as bailouts for the super rich. We look forward to the day when peace talks are not used as political weapons on the global stage. And yes, we look forward to the day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
I praise God for today, and I praise God for the eschatological tomorrow when we will see what God really wants to do with our world.
Sometimes the sick think of the blessing of God as a cure. Other times the one who has suffered job loss may see the blessing of God as getting that job back or finding a new one. In these cases the blessing is a reversal of fortunes. The blessing is God taking the problem and eliminating it.
But in our lives we often don’t get the cure. Sometimes we have to live with the diabetes till we die, sometimes we have to learn how to handle the migraines, and yes sometimes we have to learn how to manage with the arthritides. In addition, some of us may have to recognize that a new job may not be soon on the horizon and happy days may not be here again.
The good news is that God’s grace is not always characterized by a reversal of fortune, sometimes God’s grace is simply the power to keep on keeping on. In this spiritual, the slave looks into the eyes of the worse that the world can marshal against her and says simply “I’m still holding on.” “When my burden’s heavy…I shall not be moved.” I may have harder burdens than I even know of, but I won’t give up or give in. “If my friends forsake me…I shall not be moved.” Even if I have to stand up alone, I will stand up, just like that tree that is in the water, I shall not be moved.
The slave teaches us as we live in these last days of earth’s history that God’s grace includes simply the perseverance to just hold on.