Richard Allen: Black History Month (part 1)

Black History Month in North America is an opportunity to expand our understanding of an often “whitewashed” past. Specifically, BHM helps us celebrate and acknowledge how African Americans have been a crucial and overlooked part of the development of America’s political, social, and economic systems. This focus reminds us that this development came at a high cost to the African American community.

In an interview with The Banner Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige (Executive Associate to the President for Diversity & Inclusion at Calvin University) shares that: “The U.S.A.—a place where many Africans were brought as slaves, kept in bondage, and denied basic civil rights. It’s a place where, still today, experiences of racism are pervasive. Nevertheless, the contributions of Africans/black Americans to this country have been numerous. These accomplishments should be celebrated and given proper credit—as should be the case for all people groups who have contributed to the building of this nation.

In the interview, Dr. Loyd-Paige also notes that: “… it (Celebrating Black History Month) is a matter of truth-telling. The U.S. history that is often taught in our schools is very white. The history of black people in America rarely goes beyond slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. Black History Month is an invitation and an opportunity to dig deeper into U.S. history and the accomplishments of African Americans.”

This year to celebrate Black History Month I am reading and sharing story on some of the amazing Black men and women I am learning about. My plan is to Highlight someone each week through the month of February. This week’s spotlight is Richard Allen. The following information is from: https://theundefeated.com

RICHARD ALLEN

Because God doesn’t segregate, but humans do…

PREACHER. ABOLITIONIST. FORMER SLAVE. EDUCATOR.b. 1760 – 1831

A Feb. 20, 1898, sermon by the Rev. John Palmer on Richard Allen’s place in African-American history reads:

“If true greatness consists in that self-sacrificing heroism and devotion which makes a man insensible and indifferent to his own personal welfare, interest, comfort and advantages; and to deny himself of all for the sake of others, and for the elevation and advancement of others, without a single promise of reward — we say, if these constitute greatness, then Richard Allen, the first bishop of the AME church, was great.”

Allen is considered the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in America. That church, now with a membership of more than 2.5 million people and 6,000 churches, was the country’s first independent black denomination.

Former slave. Born into servitude in 1760 in Philadelphia, “Negro Richard” earned $2,000 to buy his freedom and that of his brother in 1780. Richard Allen, the name he chose as a freedman, came of age during the American Revolution, just as the antislavery movement and denominational Christianity were gaining prominence.

Allen discovered religion after hearing a Methodist preacher at a secret gathering of slaves in Delaware. In his biography, The Life Experiences and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, he wrote, “I was awakened and brought to see myself, poor, wretched and undone, and without the mercy of God must be lost.”

Preacher. Allen, his wife Sarah and others opened the doors of Bethel AME Church on July 29, 1794, on the site of a converted blacksmith shop on Sixth Street in Philadelphia. Allen was ordained the church’s pastor. Driven to establish “Mother Bethel” by white Methodists’ segregation of blacks, Allen brought other black Methodist congregations in Philadelphia together in 1816. They elected Allen bishop, a position he held until his death in 1831.

Abolitionist. Allen focused his sermons on the freedom of slaves, cessation of colonization, education of youths and temperance. He created denominational groups to care for and educate the poor. His home and Bethel AME were stops on the Underground Railroad.

Educator. Recognizing that former slaves and freedmen needed education, he opened a day school for black children and a night school for adults. Allen published articles in Freedom’s Journal attacking slavery, colonialism and organizations that advocated the migration of blacks back to Africa. He authored three pamphlets about escaping the bonds of slavery, including An Address to Those Who Keep Slaves and Approve the Practice.

Allen’s legacy lives on today in the AME church’s work, whose motto is “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family.” – John X. Miller

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Feature image and Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige quotes are from: https://www.thebanner.org/features/2020/01/why-christians-should-observe-black-history-month

Richard Allen story from: https://theundefeated.com/features/the-undefeated-44-most-influential-black-americans-in-history/#richard-allen

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Why Martin Luther King Day Matters Now More Than Ever

Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham Jail

Today your Facebook, Instagram, Linked-in, Twitter, and Tik-Tok feeds will be full of powerful quotes and images of Martin Luther King Jr. as they should be. The impact he had moving the Civil Rights needle forward is to be celebrated, remembered, and affirmed.

The problem with one-day memorials is that the impact tends to last only for the day. The moment gives way to matters more personally urgent as the daily grind washes the brain, acting as both desensitizer and eraser of everything it deems non-essential.

In 2020 we were living through history in the making. From daily COVID updates, information, and misinformation to confronting our racism in real-time. The death/killing of George Floyd by police officers sparked anger, unrest, and demonstrations resulting in some of the most widespread civil unrest in years. And rightly so.

The unrest has revealed how far we have to go in racial reconciliation in the U.S. In 2020 Confederate flag wielders, alt-right-white-supremacist-Aryan-hate-groups, and Q-anon types, felt safe to show who they were and what they believed. The visible hate and the support for that hate created many “I don’t believe what I am seeing!” moments. Perhaps what saddened me most was to see how some of these groups were proclaiming Jesus.

So, yes, that’s why I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. Day matters now more than ever.

Over the weekend, I re-read MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Have you read it? If your answer is no, I will encourage you to put it at the top of your list. You can download it HERE:

On April 12, 1963, a group of eight white clergy from Alabama issued a statement titled “A Call For Unity.” In their statement, they condemned the demonstration in Birmingham led by Martin Luther King Jr. The “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was MLK’s response to the statement.

In the letter King writes:

“Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic organizational ties here. 

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”

The line “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” sparks my inner prophet. I can imagine hearing Jesus say similar words, “I am in Jerusalem because injustice is here, and my mission is to right the wrongs of sin and death, bringing an end to injustice everywhere.” The theme of justice baptizes His Messianic Mission statement found in Luke 4:18-19. As Jesus reads the words of Isaiah, He connects them and attributes them as His personal mission statement:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Help the poor; release the prisoners; heal the blind; free those oppressed; proclaim God’s favor. These words sing with justice images. These words echo the words of Micah 6:8, “What does YHWH require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God…”

Doing justice is the call of every follower of Jesus. Doing justice happens when we work to create with God a world where every person has the access and opportunity to live and develop the life God designed them to live. To know Him and unleash the gifts He embedded in their soul. 

So, as Jesus did, we work to eliminate the outcast, the marginalized, the ostracized, the least of these. Further along in King’s letter, he notes:

Further along in King’s letter he notes:

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.”

Did you catch what King gently states: “I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.” 

Pause.

Our culture is not grappling with underlying causes because we have chosen the superficial social analysts of Twitter, Facebook, News entertainment channels, and talk radio. When we do wrestle with the underlying causes, people tend to get antsy, squeamish, and often move toward shame rather than repentance. Shame calls upon her cousin Guilt and the two launch back at the truth with the vitriol of justifications and accusations. 

Dealing with systemic sin is painful. It hurts, but it is the only healing path for us all.

MLK’s Dream was freedom and equality because this is how God designed us. King riffs on that theme when he said: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it.”

Paul cries out to the Galatians (5:1), “It is for freedom that Christ has set; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Four Things You Can Do To Celebrate MLK Day Everyday.

RESPOND: When someone asks me if I believe “Black Lives Matter,” my answer is an unqualified YES. I don’t need to remind them that all lives matter, or blue lives matter, or pastor’s lives matter. The question is singular; therefore, the best response is not another justification that diminishes the question’s intent. This is one way to celebrate MLK Day every day.

ACKNOWLEDGE: Many people believe that since anti-discrimination laws exist the problem of racism is in the past. This is blatantly untrue. I can celebrate MLK Day everyday by acknowledging that discrimination, racism, and systemic evil do indeed exist.

RECOGNIZE: Everyone has implicit bias, which are attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. You can celebrate MLK Day everyday by reading books that will challenge you and educate you. I have previously written and given book recommendations in a post called, “Educating Monty, (on racism, injustice, and white supremacy) read it HERE.

ACT: Micah calls us to “do justice.” You can celebrate MLK Day everyday when you call it out when you encounter ethnic slurs, intentional limited access, or blatant racism. King’s non-violent protests, and the reason for them, stand in stark contrast to the events of violence, outrage, and sedition we have recently experienced in our nation’s capital. Our calling is to act, God’s responsibility is to heal, deliver, and restore.

May we refuse to allow this MLK Day become a one quote wonder. Choose to do all you can to Respond, Acknowledge, Recognize and Act in such a way that the beauty of Revelation 7:9-12 would manifest on earth as it is in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.””

This year MLK Day matters more than ever.

Educating Monty: (on racism, injustice and white supremecy)

“You have heard it said, ‘Whatever you do unto the least of these,
you do unto me.’
~Jesus

I’m a white guy who has been working through my lack of understanding of systemic racism over the last twenty years or so. While I have engaged and taught on injustice, reconciliation, and all “ism” themes through the years, my depth of understanding was insufficient compared to the realities of life for so many people of color. I have needed to stay engaged by doing the hard work of continual learning. I wrote previously about being complicit, complacent, convicted, and confused in an earlier post. I won’t rehash those thoughts here, what I’d like to do is offer some materials for you to begin doing your hard work of seeing the need for race equity. My journey has lead to repentance, listening, and doing more work. While the list isn’t exhaustive, it is a good starting point.

Glenn Harris, the President of ‘The Center For Social Inclusion’ notes that racism affects us all when he states:

“Racial equity is about applying justice and a little bit of common sense to a system that’s been out of balance.  When a system is out of balance, people of color feel the impacts most acutely, but, to be clear, an imbalanced system makes all of us pay.”

I was one of many in the energy-filled room for an organic neighborhood church conference in Seattle several years ago. One of the speakers was Dr. Christina Cleveland, and she was speaking on her book “Disunity In Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart.” Christina was a powerful and compelling speaker. As I began entering into her words, stories, and images, I hadn’t consciously connected how racial reconciliation and church planting might be linked. I left that day with a renewed conviction. I bought her book, and my journey of awakening went to the next, more rooted level. 

Previously, I would have been one of those who said, “I see all colors the same because Jesus has called me to love everyone regardless of skin color.” Or, to put it another way, “I’m color-blind, I treat everyone the same.” While there is some truth to that, the whole “colorblindness” is part of the problem as well. My journey has caused me to see and celebrate skin color because our skin color creates a lived experience and tells the story of generations. 

In actuality, being “colorblind” continues systemic injustice towards people of color. When I acknowledge color, I recognize a real human story, a tangible experience, a reality that our neighbors of diverse ethnicities encounter every day, and their stories are heartbreaking.

But, once you see, you can’t ever unsee.

As I began to grasp the more significant, accurate picture, I knew I had two choices. I could decide to live for justice and inclusion, or I could play it safe and try to keep everyone happy. I chose the former because the truth of the latter will leave us blind and numb to the plight of our brothers and sisters of color, and that is not the Gospel Jesus proclaimed. A Gospel devoid of social justice implications is a truncated Gospel at best, a half-Gospel that continues the generational curse rather than inaugurating generational blessings. I long to be prophetic, not political.

If you are a white person, and especially if you are a white pastor, it is time to do your homework. It’s your responsibility to educate yourself on these issues. Please don’t expect those who have experienced the boot of systemic injustice to try to teach you, that is not their job.

Let me list some things you can do to begin this journey, as well as some great resources to consider. There are many more books than the ones that I have read (I am still in the process), so if you have some that have impacted your life, please post them in the comments.

Things You Can Do:

1. Read books that make you squirm.

2. Watch documentaries and films that make you uncomfortable.

3. Shut down racist tirades by your friends, family & co-workers.

4. Share what you’re learning with the people you know.

5. Listen to the voices of People of Color without diminishing their story.

6. Let the lament of people of color become your lament.

7. Do life with POC, not as projects but as friends.

8. Start a discussion group using any of the resources I will list.

9. Speak out, show up, and say no to the status quo.

10. Never stop learning.

11. Repent and confess the bigotry and racism that you begin to see in your life.

Learning to “see what you don’t see” is an uncomfortable process. You will lose many of the illusions with which you have lived. Your pre-suppositions and pre-understandings will shake to the core. But lean into the disruption anyway, it will benefit us all.

As we begin to see every person as Jesus in disguise, as divine image-bearers, we will fulfill Jesus’ commands of the high ethic of love and Micah’s prophetic vision revealing how God desires we live: 

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8 (NIV)


Some of the Books, Documentaries & Films I have learned from:

Powerful: Ava DuVernay’s documentary explains the prison industrial complex from the 1800’s to the present.
Classic: To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s book turned into an Academy Award winning movie.
Eye-opening: This is Angie Thomas’ 2017 young-adult novel about a young black girl growing up turned into a movie.
Wow: This Netflix series follows five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story.

Another good Netflix series that follows a group of black students at a predominately white university.
This movie won Best Original Screenplay. I think my jaw hit theground a number of times. This is white-supremecy turned into a horror flick.
The Spike Lee film based on a Biography ofMalcolm X. Covering key events in his life including incarceration, conversion to Islam and starting the Nation of Islam movement.

The Spike Lee film that shows escalating tensions that ends with civil unrest. Patterns we are still seeing today when our focus is on the destruction of property over the loss of human life. The film ends with contrasting quotes on the use of violence as self-defense vs. the use of non-violence with Malcom [X] and Martin [Luther King, Jr.]
This is Ava DuVernay’s historical drama about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches, starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.

USA Today noted that: “There’s a moment in the film when one of the racist Southerners slaps him and he quickly slaps him back. I call it the ‘slap heard ’round the world,’ ” Boyd says. “So instead of standing there, taking the slap and turning the other cheek, he fights back.
“That scene is really satisfying because it ties to the politics of the late ’60s after the assassination of Martin Luther King – a lot of people are no longer willing to be so peaceful.”

TIME’s critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote that “Peck’s aim seems to be to reintroduce Baldwin and his way of thinking to the world. Not that Baldwin is forgotten, but sometimes we need a bold red arrow to help us redirect our thinking, especially in a media world as cluttered and noisy as ours.”
imdb notes: “The extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman‘s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.”

These titles are an excellent starting point. I would appreciate hearing what resources have helped you grow in your understanding. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

When One Hurts…We All Hurt…#Charleston

charleston

I have just woke up after returning from a trip traversing Uganda. While there, I caught a breaking news report concerning the shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston South Carolina. It was a depressing and disturbing feeling watching the news report about more Black Americans being shot in the U.S.

My heart broke. “This is too much.”

As an obvious white American in a room of Ugandans, I thought,  “I wonder if he is a racist too?”

As of this moment I have not had to endure all the spin from the Left and the Right as you have. I have not had to wade through the polarizing news reports. It has been apparent that racism and a hatred of black people was the root of the problem.

I have prayed; repented for our nation; confessed my own “isms.” I have struggled with the moral temperature of our nation; I have tried to enter the pain of my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ in a very insufficient way as I will never fully understand the pain they experience.

As a follower of Jesus, I am spiritually and soul-ularly connected to every other follower of Jesus regardless of race, gender, color of skin, ideology, social status etc.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to stand in the gap for my brothers and sisters who are hurting, suffering, and have lost their voice.

As a follower of Jesus, I -do- feel the pain and enter into the journey of suffering with those who suffer.

Paul the Apostle said is this way:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

So I weep those who weep…I grieve with those who grieve…I cry with those who cry.

But, as a follower of Christ I also denounce the violence in our country that continues to be directed towards the Black community. I am amazed that we are actually arguing  whether or not the Confederate flag (a symbol of racism) should be allowed to fly. I wonder (not really) if Germany would argue similarly about reviving the Nazi Swastika; I’m sure (or I would hope) it would be rejected out of hand.

Until we recognize and deal with our national racism the violence will continue.

The lives represented by the list of victims matters:

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45
Rev. DePayne Doctor, 49
Sharonda Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 59
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Ethel Lance, 70
Cynthia Hurd, 54
Susie Jackson, 87 

The problem with lists and statistics is that they don’t cry. Each name represents a significant larger story. Each person matters. Each life was intended by God.

If you are a white Christian in the U.S you need to begin reading the stories and articles that are pouring out from the black community. Enter into their pain and feel their faith. It is no longer sufficient to say, “Well I didn’t cause this.” or “Things are way better than they used to be.” or “It’s not my problem.”

While this generation may not have caused the problem, we have inherited it and are called to do something about any and all injustice that we encounter.

While things are better than they once were, there are still miles to go until we reach true equality.

And this is all our problem…

It is time to get off the bench and into the game.

It is time to stand up against any and all forms of violence.

It is time to stand in solidarity with the Black community.

It is time to put people first above ideologies.

Choosing to disengage from the reality of violence in our midst is to join the side of the violence…no one is neutral when it comes to events that affect our nation.

Charleston, my heart and prayers are with you. May the grace and peace of God saturate you hearts and community.