Is the Dream Fulfilled? Achievements, Challenges, and Our Identity in Obama's America
Where have all the prosperity preachers gone? It seems like only yesterday when we were hearing about prosperity preachers and messages about God pouring out financial blessing. Although I do believe that God makes provision for his people and that God will make a way out of no way when things get rough, I find it interesting that no one has said much about the shift from the days of prosperity preaching to recent focus on poverty and how people can make it in the midst of a failing economy.
What is the message of the church now? I have been asking friends in ministry: What does God have to say? And if God is speaking, is anybody listening? What is the role of the church in all that we have seen transpire in the last few weeks as we elected the first African-American president -- who ran under the theme of change and hope?
I want to share from a sermon that I preached last Sunday with the theme, "Look Where He Has Brought Us From: Living the Legacy and Fulfilling the Dream." It is clear that Barack Obama's election as the 44th president of the United States is one of this nation's greatest moments. When we think about all that black people have had to endure in this country, for many it was unimaginable that an African American could ever become the most powerful person in the free world. And I must admit, for several days after the elections when I turned on my television or read the newspapers and heard someone call him president, or watched him at the White House, a building constructed by slaves, it left me amazed at what has happened in this country.
In fact, I've even felt different when attending meetings on Capitol Hill, or even going out to dinner. There was this sense of pride that just made me feel good to be black. It felt as if people looked at me differently as a black man. And to be honest, at times I looked at them differently too, and found myself thinking, "Yeah now what, what do you have to say now?" No longer can you look at me and box me into one of your stereotypes as to what a black man can and can't do. No longer can you just assume when I walk into a high-end store or restaurant that I'm window shopping, or tell me how much the food costs -- as if I sat down not knowing where I was.
I started feeling as if those days were over. Or are they really? Have we really arrived? And if so, where exactly did we arrive?
Yes, in many ways the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. has been fulfilled. But if we are honest, there is still a whole lot of work that needs to be done. People of all races came together to elect the first black president, but our public schools are just as segregated as they were before the elections. Black women are still the fastest growing population in the American prison system. Black women are still the fasting growing populations of people contracting HIV. Black men are still leading in the high school dropout rate. Gun violence among black youth is still one of the leading causes of death for our children. Gangs and gang violence are still growing across the country. Communities across the country are still segregated, not only by race and income, but simply because some folks feel their property value goes down the moment we move in.
Please do not get me wrong -- this is a great moment in our nation's history. But lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, there is still a great deal that needs to be done before people of all races are able to experience their full potential and achieve their dreams.
But before I move too far along, let me apologize. Because If you think I simply want to talk about the achievements of black folks, I'm sorry to disappoint you. If you were looking for yet another preacher to point you to President-elect Barack Obama as evidence that if you work hard, you can achieve the unimaginable, then you are mistaken. I believe that in part those things are true, but since we call ourselves Christians -- those who have committed ourselves to following the most powerful man ever to walk the earth, a man who was born of virgin, able to heal the sick with the mere utterance of his voice, able to bring life into a dead situation by simply speaking it into existence, the one who died on a cross so that we could be reconciled with God and then sent us the Holy Spirit so that we would have the power to change lives -- since we are the church, those who are called by his name, we have to say something about Jesus.
Why? Because over time, and even more so in recent days, I have realized that my identity as a black man in America, and my feelings about being black, were affecting my thoughts and actions more than my understanding of who I am as a Christian, set apart by God to great things and to be used by God to draw others into the Body of Christ. In other words, as a person of color I can choose to define myself by the achievements of my people and all that we have overcome, but if I understand who I am in Christ, then I understand that I am created to do great things, not because there's a black man in the White House, but because with God all things are possible. Because through Christ, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood and holy nation -- not just on Election Day but every day.