Evangelical

Called to Lead, Bank Accounts Be Damned

 

SHE WAS MAD—fuming.

Thirteen black evangelical leaders rolled across Southern states on a speaking tour of historic black colleges and universities. On a mission to call forth the next generation of black leaders, we traversed the land where our ancestors had worked fingers to bone, drank from separate fountains, and cut loved ones down from trees like dead fruit.

But this is not what made Vera mad.

For the last hour a crowd of black leaders sat, stood, and leaned in as we shared our stories of barriers to advancement within white evangelical organizations. It wasn’t a mean-spirited conversation. It was a needed one—a healing one. Our stories were strikingly similar, even though none of us had worked in the same organization.

Within well-meaning white evangelical missions agencies, we had all been told that confirmation of our call to leadership would be discerned in part by our ability to raise money for the organization. Mind you, most of us had taken on debt to accept the low salaries offered by the white agencies. And most of us suffered economic isolation as we watched our white peers accept the same salaries but somehow take vacations and buy homes while we scrimped to pay rent.

Now, as our chartered bus eased its way through the narrow, tree-lined lanes at Dillard University in New Orleans, Vera said: “I’m mad at this conversation.”

Vera (we’ll call her that) was new to our traveling village, so I didn’t know how to read her anger. Did she feel our gripes were unjustified?

“I’m mad that this is exactly what I have been experiencing inside my own organization,” she continued. “I’ve tried to explain it to our leaders, but no one has heard me.”

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A Rooted Gospel

NOEL CASTELLANOS is the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, a network of Christians committed to seeing people and communities restored spiritually, economically, physically, and mentally. In order to nurture that holistic work, committed CCDA practitioners move into under-resourced neighborhoods and try to foster community. Castellanos’ experience with CCDA and a lifetime of missional community has informed his new book, Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God Is at the Center (IVP Books), a powerful testament to the necessity of externally focused ministry. He was interviewed via email by Dave Baker, who is responsible for school accounts and diversity initiatives at Baker Book House.

Dave Baker: You write that in terms of diversity, the evangelical community is far behind the rest of society. In what ways?

Noel Castellanos: Most evangelical denominations and organizations are not very ethnically or culturally diverse in leadership. With the amazing demographic changes that are happening in our country, how can we possibly be in a position to effectively reach and disciple people of color if the leadership on boards and in executive positions is all white?

What is your biggest challenge as CEO of CCDA? CCDA is a broad and diverse family held together by a core commitment to be a witness of the kingdom in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. My biggest challenge is to create an environment where everybody feels valued and respected in spite of our racial, theological, and denominational differences. Our call is to love one another across racial and class lines and to demonstrate that God’s people can be at the forefront of loving the poor.

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Faith-Based Aid Groups Face a Hurdle: The Faith that Drives Them

Photo courtesy of Rafael Suanes / Georgetown University / RNS
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service. Photo courtesy of Rafael Suanes / Georgetown University / RNS

Leaders of Christian and Jewish international aid groups say their efforts are often met with twin suspicions: That the real purpose is to proselytize; and that a religious message is tied to material aid.

Not so, say Pastor Rick Warren, who has led Saddleback Church to donate millions of dollars and hours of labor in Africa, and Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service.

The two were keynote speakers at a discussion on “Proselytism and Development in Pluralistic Societies,” sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, at Georgetown University.

Both acknowledged at the March 4 event that their motives — “living like Jesus,” said Warren, and “pursuing justice,” said Messinger — are questioned.

From the Archives: April 1976

THE DIALOGUES I am having with others in my late 30s are in contrast with the ones I had in my 20s when I was a single suburbanite. ... My aroused feminist perspective tempts me to say that traditional evangelical theology was adequate when I was living with a primarily masculine (in the Jungian sense) orientation to life, but has revealed deficiencies as I have related to life out of a more feminine consciousness.

Being pregnant, lactating, and caring for infants and toddlers; knowing isolation in an urban apartment; seeing the effects of racism, affluence, sexism, and waste—these are very concrete experiences and ones that have been often so exhausting that the necessary energy for abstract, focused thinking has often not been available. Life has become more responsive to the pragmatic, and the help that really helps must relate more to my being and my doing than to my thinking.

This is, of course, a false dichotomy, but how it cannot be a dichotomy is troublesome to me. I have been taught that correct doctrine, orthodoxy, is the source and prerequisite to correct living. ... In my saner moments, I hold to the analysis that evangelical doctrine is correct as far as it goes, but it often does not extend far enough into the life situation of women and men and children who are oppressed and bound by realities that rarely oppress evangelical theologians. 

Judy Brown Hull was co-chair of Evangelicals for Social Action when this article appeared.

Image: Lantern,  / Shutterstock

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I’m Queer, and I’m (Still) an Evangelical

Photo via Stephen Voss Photography / RNS
Evangelicals for Marriage Equality spokesman Brandan Robertson. Photo via Stephen Voss Photography / RNS

On Feb. 21, Time.com broke the news that my evangelical publisher, Destiny Image, dropped a book contract it had made with me almost a year ago because its buyers refused to sell my book due to my pro-LGBTQ activism.

Many conservative evangelicals have called my pro-LGBTQ stance “deplorable” and labeled me a false teacher. Other progressives have uplifted my story as one that demonstrates the discrimination that too many conservative Christians have become known for. In all of this coverage, both positive and negative, though, the true message of my situation has gotten lost.

Sure, my publisher dropped my book contract. Sure, evangelical booksellers seem to have blacklisted me and refuse to sell my evangelical book in evangelical bookstores — a too-close-to-home example of the evangelical discrimination against the LGBTQ community and our allies.

But at the heart of this controversy, there’s a deeper problem: a fundamentally flawed belief that one cannot be a true Christian if one identifies as LGBTQ (or an ally of LGBTQ people).

From the Archives: March 1988

RELIGION AND electoral politics tend to be mutually debasing. Take the apparent exception, Jimmy Carter. His politics were informed by his theological insights: a regard for the poor and despised (he was the first U.S. president to take the Third World seriously); a sense of human limit (he did not take it for granted that Americans have a right to consume a disproportionate share of the world’s goods); and a recognition of the humanity of others, even of enemies (the Soviet Union was not the Evil Empire for him).

The result of this conjunction of theological and political views was a resounding rejection from the electorate, and especially from those who seemed closest to him on the theological spectrum, Southern Baptists. The lesson seems to be that it pays, in presidential politics, not to take your religion seriously. ...
The preference of evangelicals for the religious stance of Ronald Reagan proved that pseudo-religion works best in our political races. President Reagan’s religiosity barely rises above the level of superstition. Michael Deaver ... says that the president consults his horoscope every day, regularly carries five or so lucky charms in his pocket, and is “nuts for religious phenomena.”...

Why would evangelicals and others reject a sincere believer in the gospel, like Carter, for Reagan’s profession of a hodgepodge of make-believe beliefs? The reason is that Reagan brings them a more marketable God. 

Garry Wills was the author of Reagan’s America when this article appeared.

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Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Jesus

STUN GRENADES AND tear gas bombs exploded in the street outside of Bethlehem Bible College, forcing Rev. Alex Awad to end his class early. Down the block, youth threw stones at the Israeli separation wall that cuts deep into Bethlehem. Frequent clashes had erupted in the months since the Israeli offensive known as Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians. During that operation, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed by Gaza militants. In the months that followed, Jerusalem became the focal point of further violence.

“Many people ask, what are signs of hope?” says Awad. While the facts on the ground get worse, he names one encouraging trend: “Many evangelicals are moving from the Israeli side into what I think is the peace and justice side.”

Here are seven signs that he’s right:

1. Evangelicals are listening to Palestinian Christian voices. Jerusalem-born with a degree from a U.S. Bible college, Awad is uniquely suited to speak to evangelicals—including some unlikely guests. John Hagee, leader of Christians United for Israel, the U.S.’s largest Christian Zionist organization, arranged for five tour groups to visit Bethlehem Bible College. The first group arrived last August.

“When I started speaking, almost every two words I would see 10 hands of people wanting to ask questions,” recalls Awad. “Very patiently, I answered one after the other. Then I would make another statement, and another 15 hands are up.”

Near the end, one man stood up. “I think I am convinced that what Rev. Awad is saying is right. Am I the only one? Could I see hands?” Some 10 to 15 out of about 40 people raised their hands.

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Choosing the Side of Justice

THE ISRAELI/PALESTINIAN conflict has claimed countless lives, caused unimaginable trauma, and devastated families and communities for decades. As Christians, we should lament this ongoing tragedy and commit ourselves to the cause of peace. However, we must also confess to and repent of the fact that American Christians have often been an obstacle to peace in the region.

On one side of the conflict, many evangelicals have historically been uncritical supporters of Israel. This support often stems from dispensationalism—the belief that a Jewish state must exist in the Middle East in order for Christ to return. Because the continued existence and thriving of the Israeli state is viewed by these Christian Zionists as nothing less than God’s will, they have historically been unwilling to criticize or even question Israel’s behavior. This reflexive and one-sided support for the Israeli government and military has made it much more difficult for the U.S. to be considered an honest broker in the peace process.

In contrast to evangelicals, some mainline Protestants and other liberal Christians have also been a problem to peace by taking an unrelentingly negative attitude toward Israel. Some Christians from this camp have gone so far as to argue that the premise upon which the modern state of Israel was founded is unjust and illegitimate. Given the present reality of Israel’s existence—not to mention the horrors of the Holocaust—coming to the table with that position is not helpful to having a productive conversation about creating peace in the region. Furthermore, when Israel’s critics downplay or fail to acknowledge Israel’s very real security concerns, it diminishes the validity of their critique of Israel’s actions.

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