John Thornton Jr. is the co-pastor of missions and outreach at Jubilee Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, NC.
Posts By This Author
The False Binary: 'Prophetic' vs. 'Pastoral' Ministry
Why split public and societal critique from personal care and comfort? Whose ends does this split serve?
Why 'Compassionate Conservatism' Failed
As a white, suburban evangelical in the early 2000s, I grew up going on short-term mission trips every summer and participating in charitable missions during the school year. When I think back on it, I now see that these trips and the kinds of charity they encouraged began to fall out of favor around the mid 2000s, around the time that the grants from Bush’s faith-based office would have kicked in. Books like When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, and Toxic Charity and its follow-up Charity Detox by Robert Lupton, exemplify the way that Christians on both the right and left would come to absorb the ideological imperatives of welfare reform.
Will Christians Get Over Their Opposition to Universal Child Care?
Many people, both inside and outside of the church, spoke about the problem of child care according to the same reasons. They viewed it as a complex, local problem with complex, local solutions. A team of parents attempted to create a new center and soon discovered the massive amount of capital, time, energy, and attention it would take. Everyone involved insisted that some solution must be possible if only we could bring together various stakeholders in the community to find a way to provide child care for those that need it. But this obscures the truth about the problem of child care in capitalism: It’s not complex and local, but big and universal.
What the Bible Doesn’t Say About Financial Security
“JOHN, THERE'S, UH, A GUY YOU NEED TO COME SEE see in the sanctuary. I think he’s angry or upset or something.” Hearing these words on a Sunday morning while I sat in my office preparing for worship meant one thing: Someone needed money. One of the hazards (or opportunities) of working in a downtown church was that the steeple and columns out front signaled to people that they should drop in when they needed a few dollars. I became the go-to minister on staff to greet these visitors.
I heard the man before I saw him. His sobs were audible over the only other noise in the space, the women arranging flowers for our 10:30 a.m. service. He was seated in the next-to-last row of the opulent sanctuary built in 1924. White and in his 40s, the man looked put-together but sweaty, his denim jacket well-worn. I introduced myself, told him I was glad he’d come to our church that morning, and asked if there was anything I could do for him. The man—I’ll call him James—told a familiar story: He’d arrived from out of town, didn’t know anyone in Winston-Salem, and was currently living at a shelter down the street. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m desperate,” he said at a volume that caught the attention of the flower arrangers. “I need some money for a bus pass and I’ve got to find work. I don’t know why God would do this to me.”
“This,” he said pointing to the piece of paper in his hand, “this is all I want. How can I get this?” He was holding a flyer for our discontinued financial literacy class. I told him we no longer offered the class and didn’t have any funds available for assistance.
I drive a car, go on vacation, and eat at restaurants with friends. I have health insurance, a bank account, and a job. I knew I ought to help the man, but I didn’t. Our church’s policies around requests of this kind required more oversight than I could give at that moment, and my mind drifted to the other duties I had that morning. I invited him to stay for worship and told him if he came back later in the week, I might be able to refer him to some agencies that could help.
James stayed for the service, sobbing quietly on occasion. In the months that followed, I saw him around downtown, but never again in the sanctuary. I felt disappointed for failing to offer help, for getting caught between conviction and institutional responsibility. As someone who works in ministry, often with poor people, I’ve learned to live with that feeling to get through my work. Yet I don’t want to make peace with that feeling; doing so would be giving up too easily.
Sorry, but the Enneagram Won't Solve Our Collective Problems
One reason the Enneagram works well within the capitalist system of work is its intense focus on individuals. The Enneagram reduces arguments of substance to those of procedure, but not typical formal procedure like raising a motion in a meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order, but emotional procedure based on how each person involved in the argument feels, hears, and understands the substance of what’s being discussed.
The Suffering We Scroll Past
We hope that the suffering we’ve seen on our social media feeds will provide consensus. We convince ourselves that this moment, this tragedy, this picture of suffering will provide the common denominator that will spark people’s compassion. How can anyone look at the picture of a child running from tear gas and not feel compassion? By calling to mind these images in our sermons, we hope to open people up to hearing about different political solutions to the problem at hand. If anything, we’ll all agree that we must do something.
Why a Southern Church Is Hosting Socialist Meetings
What began with a panel of organizers and activists presenting on the realities of inequality in our city turned into a community conversation led by people directly affected by pressing issues like the lack of affordable housing and low wages. The forum created the occasion for people to speak prophetically, just as it created the occasion for members of the church to hear them, to repent, and to leave changed. All of this happened because the church opened its doors to people from the outside without fear of the fact that they came with serious questions about capitalism.