Category Archives: theology

Lipscomb Honors Civil Rights Lawyer

This week Lipscomb University celebrates the career and ministry of civil rights attorney Fred Gray. On Thursday, June 7, Tokens–the musical, comedy, theological review– welcomes Gray as a guest at their “Tales of Reconciliation” summer installment at Lipscomb. Gray is featured because of his achievements in civil rights legislation: the defense of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work around the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as for his life-long devotion to Jesus Christ.

Once again the summer installment of Tokens aligns itself with Lipscomb University’s Christian Scholars’ Conference (CSC). On Friday, June 8, during the 32nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference, the university will confer upon Fred Gray an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree.

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“This is the highest honor the university bestows on an individual. It expresses Lipscomb’s proactive vision for integration at all institutional levels as integral to the university’s mission,” said David Fleer, professor of Bible and communication and director of the Christian Scholars’ Conference. The theme for this year’s CSC is “Reconciliation: At the Intersection of Scholarship and Practice.” Gray’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement makes this honor particularly fitting for this year’s conference, Fleer said.

Fred David Gray, a native of Montgomery, Alabama who lives in Tuskegee, is in the general practice of law specializing in civil rights litigation. He was educated at the Nashville Christian Institute in Nashville, Alabama State University, and Case Western Reserve University.

Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school. At age twenty-four, he represented Mrs. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first civil rights lawyer He is further known as the counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of persons involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1972, the case of Pollard, et al v. United States of America. One of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction, Gray was also the first African American elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association (2002-2003). He also served as the 43rd president of the National Bar Association.

Along with Fred Gray, This year’s Christian Scholars’ Conference features keynote speakers Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian and international nonviolence advocate; Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of Left to Tell; and Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone. Session topics will range from “alleviation of poverty as reconciliation” to “questions of reconciliation in Terrance Malick’s film ‘The Tree of Life.’” Reconciliation will be traced through the civil rights movement in the U.S., Rwanda, Ireland, the Holy Land, cross-cultural missions, literature, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, business, the Hebrew Bible and the writings of Volf and Verghese.

The Tokens show will feature Mr. Gray; Professor Volf; and musicians Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Amy Stroup, along with the regulars, Odessa Settles and The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys. This installment has been selected for national distribution via public television stations throughout the country. Tokens already has an agreement in place for Nashville’s WNPT to distribute the show regionally. The June 7 show will be taped in HD and distributed on a national level.

For a full schedule of the Christian Scholar’s Conference, registration or more information about the keynote speakers, visit http://www.lipscomb.edu/csc

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Filed under civil rights, Martin Luther King, perfect union, prayer, race and society, Sotomayor, theology, Uncategorized, white

From Every People and Nation, Introduction

Several weeks ago I promised to post excerpts from the provocative, insightful book From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays. The book, written by a self-identified conservative, white biblical theologian traces the picture of race issues throughout the Bible. This first installment is from the book’s introduction:

Not long ago, in a conversation with my colleague Dr. Isaac Mwase, a Black professor and pastor of a local Black congregation, I mentioned that the race problem was an important issue for the Church today. Isaac quickly corrected me by stating emphatically that it is the most important issue for the Church today. This conversation illustrates to some degree of phenomenon that I encountered regularly as I read through some of the recent literature dealing with the race problem in the Church today. Black scholars identify the racial division in the Church as one of the most central problems for contemporary Christianity, while many White scholars are saying, “What problem?”

Likewise, even among those who acknowledge the problem, there is a wide difference of opinion concerning just how bad the problem is and whether the situation is improving or deteriorating. On the one hand, in recent years tremendous progress appears to have been achieved. (D.A.) Carson, for example, documents evangelical churches on the east coast and the west coast of North American that are doing a remarkable job of integrating (Love in Hard Places, 2002, 95-96). Particularly among many White Christians, there is the perception that in these regions things have improved; even in the south and the Midwest many feel that although lagging behind the rest of the country, the race problem is not nearly as pronounced as it was a generation ago.

On the other hand, some have observed that the evidence for this perception is often anecdotal, and actual statistical survey data appear to suggest otherwise. Emerson and Smith in Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2000) study the problem, through statistical data based on actual nationwide surveys and interviews. They point out that there is tremendous disparity between the way Whit evangelicals view the problem and the way Black evangelicals view the problem. They also note that the phenomenon cuts across regional lines. Their studies indicate that two-thirds of White Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is improving, while two-thirds of Black Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is deteriorating. The survey data have led Emerson and Smith to pessimistic conclusions….

Emerson and Smith (p171) also suggest that one of the underlying factors hindering evangelicalism’s ability to address the race issues adequately is that evangelicals have a tendency to define problems in simple terms and to look for simple solutions. The race issue, on the other hand is extremely complex, involving history, tradition, culture, religion, economics, politics, and a host of other factors.…

Although there are some significant exceptions, in general there is silence in White evangelical congregations concerning the biblical teaching on this issue. Within these congregations, the current attitude of many Whites often falls into one of three categories. First, some people are still entrenched in their inherited racism. They are interested in the Bible if it reinforces their prejudiced views; otherwise they do not care what the Bible says about race. Second, many people assume that the Bible simply does not speak to the race issue, and particularly the Black-White issue. Third many others are simply indifferent to the problem, assuming the status quo is acceptable and that the Bible supports their current practices.

These views appear to carry over into academia as well. Indeed evangelical biblical and theological scholarship has continued to remain nearly silent on this issue, even though indications of the scope of the problem are obvious.

So this is the first installment. What do you think?

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Filed under Bible, diversity, multicultural, race, racial, racism, theology, white

Dr. King, Persecution, and the Art of Prayer

The 1960s, the heyday of the civil rights movement, saw a polarized, volatile American public. At the symbolic center of the vitriolic rhetoric stood the figure of Martin Luther King Jr., hailed by some as a messianic hero and demonized by others as an un-American antagonist with evil intent.

Today Dr. King is more symbol than human. And despite the exposed human faults of the actual man, his human virtues are worthy of the symbol. For his endurance in the face of opposition, for his subjection to a campaign of lies, for his refusal to retaliate, for his submission to physical violence, for his suffering unjust incarceration, for his brandishing powerful nonviolent rhetoric, and for his proclamation of clear, if not universally accepted moral truth, Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of our nation’s most revered figures.

The persecution Dr. King endured was not feigned. It was no perceived attack with roots in legitimate criticism. His life, the lives of his compatriots, and the lives of their families were continually threatened, and the threats were punctuated with a series of actual incidents of horrible physical violence. He had little recourse in local government, who threatened and imposed further violence and incarceration. And the federal intervention was obviously too little too late.

Still when it came time for MLK to mount a rhetorical defense, he always chose to defend the cause of the needy, the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast. He never defended himself. He stood up for justice and truth, not himself.

Where did that moral stance come from? How could he endure what he endured and remain focused on truth and justice rather than on charges of persecution, which were real and not imagined? What kept him from crying “Persecution!” even when the threats became everyday realities of actual violence?

 

Perhaps the difference between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who claim persecution today is born of King’s prayer life. Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Lewis Baldwin hints at as much in one of two new Baldwin release on Dr. King, Never to Leave Us Alone, published by Fortress Press (the other release is The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Oxford University Press).

In Never to Leave Us Alone, Baldwin traces King’s prayer life. He begins by capturing the wellsprings of the African American prayer tradition that fed the young King. He follows with Kings’ experiences and writings as a young man at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University.

In three more chapters Baldwin opens up the period of Dr. King’s civil rights career leading to his violent death. Each of these three chapters captures a different aspect of the same period. First Baldwin looks at prayer and preaching, then at the power of pastoral prayers, and then at prayer as the heart of movement of the civil rights movement. In a final chapter, http://www.smileyandwest.com/transcripts-pdf/101810_smileyandwest-transcripts.pdf reminds us of what we can learn from King and why he remains a respected figure around the world.

Discussing the book, radio and television host Tavis Smiley asked Baldwin, ”What was Martin praying for? It’s one thing to talk about his prayer life, but obviously it’s important to pray for the right things and to pray in the right way. Tell me more about what he was praying for and what his prayer process was. How did he call out to God?

Generalizing from his years of research, Baldwin answered, “He prayed for strength, his own personal strength, for guidance and direction in the movement. He also prayed for world peace. He prayed for guidance in the struggle for economic justice, in the struggle to overcome racial barriers, segregation in the society. He prayed for discipline and courageous leadership in the movement. He prayed for what he called “the least of these,” those who were in poverty, who had no jobs, who were devoid of medical care, who were ill-housed. His prayer, of course, had this social dimension. He majored in intercessory prayer—that is praying for others. His prayers were always relational.”

Baldwin documents Dr. King’s practice of renting a hotel room for a prayer-centered day, a “day of silence.” During those day-long retreats, King “poured his heart out to God,” he developed his own inner spiritual life, and he gained wisdom and the “attitudinal posture” required to keep moving forward in his God-ordained mission.

Central to Dr. King’s prayer life, according to Dr. Baldwin was the belief that prayers are to be lived as well as uttered. “Living prayer daily was, in King’s case, a cardinal principle, and this persists as part of his legacy for a nation and a world in which hypocrisy is perhaps more glaringly evident than ever before.”

Who can doubt that that living prayer sensibility is sorely needed in an age of commercially-driven bombast disguised as political rhetoric, when legitimate criticism is dismissed as illegitimate persecution. Dr. Baldwin reminds us that for Dr. King the method and the message can conspire to communicate truth. Prayer can keep the message and the method true. But even a true message can be dangerous.

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Filed under America, Jr., prayer, race, rhetoric, theology

A Biblical Theology of Race

Just finished a provocative, insightful book, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays.

I am aware that some of my Christian brothers and sisters believe the Bible doesn’t address race, except maybe to say “all men are created equal” (which the Bible DOESN”T explicitly say). Some Bible readers know that somewhere (Galatians 3:28) the Bible says something about “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Studious Christians have learned that the Bible was (and still is) used to defend slavery, racism, apartheid, and all the rights of the racially privileged, just as faithful Christians have employed the Bible in fighting against those atrocities.

But Dr. Hays aims for something more ambitious than these tidbits of Bible and race. First, I must say (and this, too will offend some of my white brothers and sisters) that Dr. Hays is a white, conservative (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), evangelical professor (Pruet School of Christian Studies dean, and professor of Old Testament) at a southern Christian university (Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia Arkansas). I mention his credentials in hopes that his arguments won’t be dismissed as biased, which is too easily done when the speaker is African American or some bleeding heart liberal atheist/agnostic.

This Dr. Hays makes the case that race issues permeate the Bible. While the Bible may be less than direct on these issues, it provides as much to draw from as it does for the proclamation of Four Spiritual Laws or Five propositional Points. Hays traces the biblical record from Genesis to Revelation and uncovers what just might be the heart of God on race. As a starting point he reveals the hidden racial nuances in those passages that we tend to graze over in the “begats,” the names of peoples, and the tables of nations. But his primary point is that race is not a peripheral issue in the Bible. For Hays, race issues are at the heart of the biblical story, at the heart of the mission of God, at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Over the course of the next few days I hope to share Hays work by way of excerpt. I’ll begin with parts of his introduction and proceed with his chapter summaries (altered by adding in Scripture references from the meat of the chapters). I would love to hear responses to his words.

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Filed under Bible, diversity, multicultural, perfect union, race, race and society, racial, racism, theology