As a young seminary student in the late 1980’s I interned at the amazing United Methodist Church in Clovis, California. For three years this church made space for me, treated both my wife and me like family, and allowed me to grow as a leader. One of my first assignments was to lead the young married bible study. We met every Thursday in one couple’s home. One of our fist decisions was to choose a book or theme. After much discussion we all agreed that we would work through Tony Campolo’s book 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch. The study was going along well until week seven when we explored the chapter “You Cannot be a Christian and Own a BMW.” At least one of the couples in our group owned a BMW. It would be fair to say that the evening did not go well for me.
I have reflected on that evening often over the years. If I were to lead that study again, I wouldn’t focus on BMWs. For Campolo, the BMW was a metaphor for a much larger concern. As Christians, how and where we spend our money has both moral and ethical implications. The neighborhood you choose to live in, the size of house you purchase, where you invest your retirement money, and, yes, the car you choose to purchase are not morally neutral choices.
Last Sunday I experienced another BMW type of moment. During the adult Sunday school hour our speaker asserted that “you cannot be white and a Christian.” At this point it is important to let you know that 90% of the folks in the room were white. After the initial shock wore off he went on to say, “If all you are doing is focusing on the color of your skin then you are missing my point.” Just like Campolo’s BMWs this speaker, was using “white” in a metaphorical way.
White Christianity is a faith that allows a person to talk about making things great again. It is a lens that provides a rose colored perspective of our shared history. It is choosing not to see how white Christian faith and slavery, Jim Crow, sexism, homophobia, and segregation are all part of “great again.”
White Christianity allows Christian politicians to advocate for carpet bombing the enemy while claiming to be pro-life.
White Christianity has the power to marginalize and dilute movements, by responding to Black Lives Matter with slogans like All Lives Matter.
White Christianity creates a space to claim the authority and inerrancy of scripture until it becomes inconvenient. Turning the other cheek and welcoming the stranger don’t apply when the stranger is Muslim, gay, a Democrat, or a Republican.
White Christianity is not so much about the color of my skin as it is about the power I choose to access and weld because of my skin color. The hard work that those of us with access to white Christianity are tasked with is to unburden ourselves from the need to reshape Christianity into a faith that only serves our needs. One of the more powerful ideas within Christianity is surrender. As we do the hard work of surrendering white Christianity and leaving it at the foot of the cross, something Christ-like will take its place.
Filed under Beloved Community, Christian, conversion, cultural insensitivity, culture, Damascus road, diversity, DOOR, faith, gender equality, God questions, ideologies, inclusion, political, political debate, politics, racism, racist, sexist, theology, Uncategorized, urban tour, White Privilege
Brent Davis is a Dweller in our DOOR Hollywood program. Over the last few weeks he took it upon himself to capture the thoughts of recent Discover participants while they stayed at our community house. It’s a huge blessing, and a fun way to show how God is nudging people to break down single stories in Hollywood through DOOR.
If you are interested in participating in in DOOR, please check out our website – www.DOORnetwork.org
Filed under A New Kind of Christian, atlanta, Christian, culture, denominations, experiencing god, faith, kingdom of heaven, label, labels, Mission, multicultural, mutuality, relationship, religion, religious system, service, service to others, short-term mission, theology, transforming, urban tour
DOOR began hosting short-term mission/service groups in 1986. We were one of the first programs in the country to do so. Since that time the annual mission trip has become part of the life cycle of many if not most churches. Programs have sprung up all over the USA and around the world dedicated to filling this growing desire to participate in the annual short-term trip.
When I think back to the early days of this movement I am sometimes embarrassed by all the things we did wrong. More often than not we came into communities of need “knowing” how to fix all the problems. The good that was accomplished was often overshadowed by the paternalistic, racist and arrogant attitudes people came with.
I am glad to report that DOOR has learned from its past. We understand that God is already in the city. Before we can talk about bringing God into a community we first must understand where God already is. When it comes to differences we have learned that different is just different. People worship differently, eat differently, look different, come to faith differently, and express themselves differently. All of this is OK and a demonstration of the breadth and depth of the kingdom of God. When it comes to service, mission, and ministry, if it isn’t mutual then it probably isn’t something God is calling us to. This journey has been mind-blowing and faith-expanding.
There is a new trend that has me worried. I call it the sanitized mission trip. The desire to serve is alive and well. There is a recognition that ministry must be mutual. This is good. The problem is that we want mission and service to happen in a Disneyland type of atmosphere. We want an experience as long as it is safe and sanitized. Here is the rub. Experiencing different neighborhoods, cultures and people can be intimidating and even unpredictable. This does not always feel safe.
In 1992 I took a youth group to South Central Los Angeles 45 days after the riots. Just before we left on that trip I met with the parents. All of them were nervous. Many thought we should cancel the trip; some even pulled their children out of the trip. In spite of this a smaller group of us still went on the trip. Was it safe? Certainly not by “Disneyland” standards, but it was transformational. During this trip we discovered that the news media got some things right, for example a riot occurred. At the same time it got many things wrong. We discovered a South Central LA that was full of parents who wanted a good life for their children, street venders who could produce meals that five star restaurants would have trouble competing with, homeless people who wanted to talk, and merchants who wanted customers.
Was our trip safe? In one sense the answer is yes. No one had to go to the hospital. In another sense it was a very dangerous trip. We all walked away from South Central with a new pessimism for how the media reports the news, especially in urban communities. In addition our understanding of the kingdom of God was forever changed. At a personal level I came back to Denver and joined the board of a program called “DOOR.” A few years later I became the City Director for Denver and a few years after that our family moved from the suburbs to the city. Because of that trip, everything changed for me and my family.
If we ask safety questions to avoid silly and irresponsible behavior then I am all for asking the questions. Otherwise I am not sure that “safety” and “mission/service trip” belong in the same sentence. The call to deny ourselves and pick up the cross simply doesn’t create space for a sanitized mission trip.
Filed under being wrong, Christian, church, church camp, culture, diversity, doubt, God questions, kingdom of heaven, ministry, multicultural, mutual trust, mutuality, service, service to others, short-term mission, transforming, urban ministry, urban tour
Back in my seminary days I participated in a church planting workshop. The one lesson that I can still recall from that class is the “homogenous unit principle.” In short this principle states that starting a new church works best if you gather people together who look the same, believe the same, and live at the same economic level. When you put different types of people together it creates the possibility of being uncomfortable. Apparently churches don’t grow if folks are uncomfortable.
In the last couple of days I have been involved in two different conversations about this issue.
The first conversation was with the pastoral staff of my home church. We were talking about what it means to become multi-cultural. Our church has made significant strides in achieving this goal, but in the end we concluded that it is much easier to talk about being multi-cultural than to actually be multi-cultural.
The second conversation took place at my semi-regular Thursday breakfast meeting. We were having an animated discussion about the state of the Mennonite church when one person made the following comment: “I do not think that Mennonites will ever get used to having Non-Mennonites in the church.”
This year I have participated in an urban listening tour for Mennonite Church USA. One of the consistent topics of discussion has centered on diversity. No one has ever suggested that the church become less diverse. But tension quickly emerges when we start talking about our differences, especially when the differences appear to cross a theological line.
How different can we be from each other and still worship together or claim the same faith? Is the church, regardless of denomination, big enough to hold the diversity? Does difference demand that we separate from each other? Is the homogeneous unit principle the only way forward?
It is my hope and prayer that we can find ways to come together. I do not want the homogeneous unit principle to win.
Filed under Christian, church, culture, denominations, diversity, grace, gunther toody, Mennonite Church USA, multicultural, racism, Uncategorized, urban tour
One of my projects this year is to co-lead an Urban Ministry Tour for Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA). Our purpose and goal is to listen to urban church leaders and make recommendations that will help to shape the future of urban Mennonite Church.
As we go around to various locations we are asking a common set of questions:
· Who are you?
· How are you?
· What are the things that you do well?
· How can Mennonite Church USA be helpful?
· What is of spiritual importance to you in your community?
· What is important to know about ministry in the urban context?
These questions have sparked some vigorous discussions.
Last week in Minneapolis, in response to the question,”How can MCUSA be helpful?” Mark Van Steenwyk, a local church leader responded with his own question. “Is it possible for Mennonite Church USA to engage the space without trying to control the space?”
This question has been gnawing at me ever since. The need to control seems to be a universal desire.
I know that this craving impacts every area of my life. As a parent, I want to control my boys; who their friends are, what movies the watch, where they go to school and what they eat. As the National Director of DOOR, I want control over our image, the finances and the program.
Some control seems appropriate. Too often my (our) need to control becomes destructive and manipulative. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 2:7, “But (Jesus) emptied himself…”
If there ever was a person who had the right to control, it was Jesus. But Jesus, the son of God, emptied himself. Or to think of it another way, Jesus chose to engage humanity without trying to control humanity.
Why is it that we so willingly accept the freedom given to us while still hankering to control?
The temptation to control is something which must be resisted at every level, from the individual to the institution.