social justice

Seeing Christ Is All and In All

If this man went to your church, or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, how do you interpret Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11 in light of their experience?

I have been troubled by this question for the past few months, as I live astride that blurred line between church and society. In conversation with other evangelicals, I have heard, echoing a popular commentary, social distinctions do not exist in the Body – we are all one in Christ. Often, discussion of racism and other structural sins is dismissed out of hand, based on the one in Christ idea, in order to maintain unity. I will not dispute that we need to focus on Christ, and our unity in him. My question is how do we do that? How can the Body of Christ truly recognize the Christ in all and also withstand the evil systems of oppression that intersect redeemed souls?

I do not want to be like the goats before Christ and he find me wanting, asking me, “Didn’t you see me bound? Didn’t you see me oppressed? Didn’t you see me hurting? When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?

Let us approach the question another way – Paul also said that whoever is born again in Christ is a new creation, the old is dead and gone, the new has come. To use an old convention, I don’t know about you but… I don’t feel like a new creation. I fall short of the glory bestowed on me by Christ. Yet, Paul did not lie. To call my lived reality simply a lie and continue to speak or affirm what I do not know in my experience is willful blindness. No, something else is at work here.

The spiritual reality of the new creation is true, even if scarcely experienced. The dominating earthly reality is also true. We experience the gap between the two as, what I call, a “dissonance of realities”. But God is bringing a new experience, what I call “creative tension”: the bridging of the gap between our dissonant existence by the power of Christ. Faith is the strong force that pulls these two realities together, a concrete trust in action working creatively with God to remake earth into heaven. To apply it, my faith works with God to make the me that lives with Christ in heaven manifest on the earth.

Christ’s judgment of the sheep and goats reflects this idea. The material reality is that some are American and illegal aliens, white and black, male and female, rich and poor. The spiritual reality is that Christ is in and loves every single one of “them”, just as they are, in the condition that they are in.

But to follow Howard Thurman, if a Roman soldier kicked Christ into a ditch, how can we acknowledge the moral wrong of the kick, yet be willfully blind to the fact Jesus was kicked also because he was a poor minority living under the oppression of an unjust authority? The question should come back to us, “When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?” Unity in Christ means peace, but not a negative peace. As MLK taught us, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. If Jesus is the prince of peace, he is also the prince of justice. As Jesus reigns over us, what he wants is not the veneer of unity, but the deep, powerful, abiding force of justice.

We can withstand evil when we realize and act upon the understanding that within the Mystical Body of Christ our brothers and sisters are not white-washed Christians untouched by the systems of oppression the adversary has constructed in the world he (for now) rules. No – our brothers and sisters are touched, hurt, violated by these systems – these demonic principalities and powers. To simply say there are no social distinctions and deny the lived experience is itself an oppression and a violation of the gospel. We can withstand evil when we leverage our faith in active confrontation with the systems of oppression, both struggling against the evil in our own souls, and with the systems outside ourselves.

This is hardly the end of the matter for me. Questions are better than answers, so I challenge you to ask some of the same question I’m asking myself:

  • Which parts of the Body of Christ hurt under the pains of injustice? Am I willfully blind to their pain? Am I complicit in their pain by my actions or inaction?
  • Do my politics – all of them, across every issue – truly accord with who Christ is? Do I support policies by my vote or donations that may oppress others?
  • Are there any people whom I view as the enemy? Do I love them as Christ commanded me?
  • Would Christ think I see him in all people?

On the Lord’s Prayer… “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…”

Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. In this series, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, I do not claim to greatly advance the discussion, merely to share thoughts. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?

The exultant hope of “You are in heaven” continues on in the next words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…” We do not yet know what this kingdom is like, but we know the character of the one we call on, this is why we call him blessed. In the words that come later, we imagine that kingdom, but for now what issues from our lips is an urgent request and proclamation.


Prayer speaks both to God and to the powers. We urgently request of God, maker of all things and the one we call ruler of the heavens, to have his title honored and to bring his kingdom.  Only the Father can do this. The Apostles asked Jesus if it would be now, soon after his resurrection, that the kingdom would come. The Lord replied that only the Father knew, and he would bring all things to fruition in time.

The Apostles forgot, in their excitement and absent the Spirit, that Jesus said the kingdom wouldn’t come by our seeing or by man’s actions. Rather, it comes without anyone knowing, quietly, just as Jesus came, and just as he came by the will of the Father, so has and so will the kingdom. But man can bend the will of the Father. If it weren’t so, Abraham interceded for Sodom in error and all your prayers are foolishness.

We know prayer isn’t foolish but vicarious. Prayer is vicarious because God wants us to know what he is doing, as our friend and Father, just as he did for Abraham. He makes known his will so that we can partner with him in it, whether by prayer to dissuade, persuade or simply agree with him. As a good parent bends their will and actions to their child’s plaintive cries, so God to our prayers.  Tweet: As a good parent bends their will and actions to their child's plaintive cries, so God to our prayers.


Prayer also speaks to the powers: the stoicheions, as Paul called them, those invisible structures over creation, intended to mediate God’s sovereignty over mankind, but corrupted by sin and now serving as our oppressive overseers. The powers are also the object of our prayers and evangelism; to them we make not requests but proclamations in word and deed. In prayer, evangelism and prophecy we command them to honor God’s title and subject themselves to the kingdom of God already at work in the world.

By our prophetic acts and works of mercy and justice, we undo the tangles of sin and set straight lines out of crooked, making reality out of a kingdom unseen but at work in the world, until it works through the dough and the birds nest in its branches.


The words, “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…” of the Lord’s Prayer evoke these hopes and actions. But more is required. As the Psalm of Ascents begin, it shows a man sickened now by living among sinful men, as Lot’s righteous heart was sickened by his time in Sodom. But we must not be like Lot and only leave by God’s compulsion.

We are already pilgrims, if we trust ourselves to the name of Jesus. We are already sojourners in this world, seeking a new and better world quite apart from the one we know. Let us make a decisive break from the world and seek and make, in word and deed, a better one. Thus we urgently cry and proclaim, your kingdom come…

This, I believe but too briefly said, is what Jesus meant in this part of the prayer, and what generations of Christians have sought and prayed for all this time. Let us add our voices to theirs.

Immigration Reform

A quick aside about this story:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

Let’s not pick and choose arbitrarily which parts of the OT we wish to support, just because one verse rather than other supports our preconceived political notions.

What would Christ have us do?

That’s the question we, as Christians, should ask when considering how to politically handle this new and difficult influx of child immigrants from Central America. We can make a difference in not only what we support politically, but how we support it.

Detroit, Water Rights & the Common Good

The impending denial of an economic right such as free access to safe drinking water is a tragedy made even more insufferable because it’s happening in America. I encourage you to read a good article about it from al-Jazeera America. Read it here.

What are your thoughts?

This is inconceivable. Water is a common good, a free gift from our good and common God. #DetroitWater @UNrightswire (Click to Tweet) He makes it rain on both the righteous and unrighteous, so who is anyone is then take God’s place, and deny access for some and not for others?

Of course, we have to pay for water, as it takes someone to get it where it needs to go. The infrastructure and its upkeep requires investment. But any public policy has to stand on a moral basis, and in this case that’s free, equal and equitable access to water.



@JonathanMerritt: Stop calling Hobby Lobby a Christian business

@JonathanMerritt: Stop calling Hobby Lobby a Christian business

Here’s what I’m reading now by Jonathan Merritt in The Week. Devour and think about it: Merritt’s article is as usual timely and erudite. What I found interesting is that Hobby Lobby is praised for opposing against Obamacare but eludes criticism for its business practices for the same reason some pastors will boil down righteousness to watching G-rated films and being honest on their tax forms: we Evangelicals have an inadequate definition of sin and righteousness.

Rather than state what sin is not, let me share what I believe sin is. Genesis 4:7 always has arrested my interest; God, speaking to Cain as he burns with anger toward Abel, speaks to him: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. More is packed into this verse than I can unpack here, but in this first appearance of the word “sin” in the Bible I find it incredible that sin is personified. Is sin, then, more than an immoral action or affront to God? Can God truly be saying that sin is an entity with desires, thoughts and agency? This verse more than any other altered my thinking on sin and righteousness. Let me elaborate… (more…)

Chapter 2 of “Jesus & the Disinherited”: “Fear”

The resources of the environment are made into instruments to enforce the artificial position. Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume [injustice] to be normal–if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions. Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 43

The Beloved Disciple John said that there is no fear in love, rather, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear then, is the antithesis of love; and if God is love, fear is inimical to the very nature of God. In the 2nd chapter of Disinherited, Thurman takes up the issue of fear. (more…)

Intro: “Jesus & the Disinherited” by Howard Thurman

It’s been far too long since my last post, and before February is too far gone, I want to celebrate, in a way, Black History Month. Over a series of posts, I will share key points from Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited. It’s an ingenious little book containing ideas realized in the Civil Rights Movement. I also hope to bring his insights to bear on some of the socio-cultural issues we face as a people today, Christian, Black, American or world citizen.

Howard Thurman used to read the Bible to his grandmother, “who was born a slave and lived until the Civil War on a plantation near Madison, Florida.” He would read her the Bible save the Pauline epistles. It was decades before he asked her why. Her answer was striking: (more…)