Together in Christ: Race, the Gospel and God’s People

On Monday, January 26, 2015,  Eastbrook Church was honored to host Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God for a conversation and time of prayer on the topic of race and the Gospel here in the city of Milwaukee. We opened a lot of points of discussion, did not address everything, perhaps raised more questions than we answered, but it was a great opportunity to press in deeper as the people of God together.

You can watch the video of the whole session below and access our recommended next steps here.

Four times a year we gather as a church to discuss key topics to help us move forward together. This year, we begin our Leadership Forum series with by addressing the challenging topic of how the gospel transforms racial divisions in our world and city. In a city known as one of the most segregated cities in the United States, we want to live into the dream of God for a multiethnic people rooted in the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Next Steps from Leadership Forum, 26 January 2015

Four times a year we gather in a Leadership Forum at Eastbrook Church to discuss key topics to help us move forward together in ministry. This year, we begin our Leadership Forum series with by addressing the challenging topic of how the gospel transforms racial divisions in our world and city. In a city known as one of the most segregated cities in the United States, we want to live into the dream of God for a multi-ethnic people rooted in the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was a gift to have Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God join us for this discussion. At the end of the night we recommended a series of next steps and I wanted to make those available to a wider audience via my blog.

Next Steps: What Do I Do Now?

#1 Get with God
• Acknowledge and repent of any sin (see Psalm 51; Daniel 9:4-19)
• Lament over our nation (see Lamentations)
• Pray as Christ prayed (see John 17)

#2 Know and Apply what the Bible Teaches
• Read Genesis 12:1-3 in light of God’s multiethnic mission
• Read Ephesians with attention to chapter 2 on the new humanity in Jesus of Jews and Gentiles brought together
• Read Galatians in light of the situation that Paul describes in chapters 1 and 2

#3 Understand the BackgroundRead More »

A Call to Prayer and Forging a Way Forward

On Monday morning, December 22, I had a meeting scheduled with a group of five pastors (three African-American pastors and two Caucasian pastors) to discuss how we might stand together in the midst of the racial tensions in Milwaukee. Ironically, as we were walking into the meeting, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office announced that there would be no charges in the Dontre Hamilton shooting case. This quickly changed the agenda and sense of urgency within our meeting.

The Dontre Hamilton case has added to the stream of cases, particularly over the past year, which raises questions about systemic issues of racial disparities in the implementation of justice in our nation. Along with the well-known cases of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York, the shooting of Dontre Hamilton increases the subtle sense that something is amiss in the way African-American men, even if committing crimes, are experiencing the implementation of justice in our nation. This is a complex situation that is bigger than just one element, whether law enforcement, educational opportunities, employment possibilities, or more.

I have talked with many individuals over the past few weeks who are trying to understand exactly what happened, what the meaning of this outcome is, and how we should respond as Christians in the face of these challenging times. As a pastor of a multiethnic church here in Milwaukee, I believe that the strongest witness happens when we journey together across our diverse backgrounds into a learning process that involves listening, speaking, and some very healthy reflection. Regardless of your opinions on the above matters, as followers of Jesus Christ we must approach these issues based upon God’s Word in the Scriptures.

A clear biblical response to this situation is to grieve. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” We should mourn with the family of Dontre Hamilton, who lost a loved one in a way that no one would ever desire. Regardless of our ethnicity, we should mourn together as one with the African-American community who sense that things are not as they should be. Regardless of our opinions, we should mourn for the tragic killing of two police officers in New York City in an apparent act of vengeance for the outcome of the Eric Garner case. Regardless of our politics, we should mourn over our own city which ranks so highly in ethnic segregation, poverty, violent crime, racial disparities for incarceration, and more. A healthy biblical response is to grieve about this local situation in Milwaukee, as well as the situation that is shaking our nation.Read More »

Is This the End for Mideast Christianity?

The cover article in the November issue of Christianity Today written by church historian Philip Jenkins was entitled “Is This the End for Mideast Christianity?” After traveling through that part of the world for two and half weeks last month, I found this article particularly helpful and insightful. If you haven’t read the article yet, you should. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite.

For Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe. The most wrenching stories have come from Iraq, where the nascent Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL in news reports) has savagely persecuted ancient Christian communities, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syrian Orthodox. Iraqi Christians have declined rapidly in number since the first Gulf War in 1991, but survivors long believed they could maintain a foothold around Mosul.

This past summer, that hope collapsed. In a ghastly reminder of Nazi savagery against Jews, Christian homes were marked with the Arabic letter ن for Nazarenes—Christ followers—or R for Rwafidh, a term for Protestants, and inhabitants were targets for abuse or murder. Islamist militants have controlled Mosul since June 10. Even if the total extermination of each and every believer is not the goal, those ancient communities and churches face the prospect of utter ruin. To that extent, the end of Christianity in Iraq is within sight…

Matters changed swiftly during World War I. Massacres and expulsions all but removed the once very large Armenian and Greek communities in Anatolia (now Turkey). Counting Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks together, murder and starvation killed more than two million Christians between 1915 and 1922.

Emerging Arab nations also targeted Christians. Iraq’s slaughter of Assyrians in 1933 gave lawyer Raphael Lemkin a basis upon which he defined the concept of genocide. The partition of Palestine and subsequent crises in the region massively shrunk other ancient Christian groups. The modern story of the Christian Middle East is one of contraction and collapse.

By the end of the past century, Christianity in the Middle East had two great centers: Coptic Egypt, and the closely interrelated lands of Syria and Lebanon. They are now home to many refugee churches.

Today, Syria’s continuing civil war threatens to extend Islamist power still further. Islamic State flags have appeared in Lebanon. Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt has warned that both Christians and his own Druze people stand “on the edge of extinction.”

Read the entire article online here.

[For articles on similar themes, read “Christian Persecution in Iraq“; “Christian Flight from Syria“; and “Who Will Defend Mideast Christians?”]