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  2. Two Kinds of Reconciliation?
    The Justice of God
  3. Illustrations
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Two Kinds of Reconciliation?

Two Kinds of Reconciliation?
James H. Cone

When black theology emphasizes the right of black people to defend themselves against those who seek to destroy them, it never fails that white people then ask, "What about the biblical doctrine of reconciliation?" Whites who ask that question should not be surprised if blacks respond, "Yeah man, what about it?" The difficulty is not with the reconciliation question per se but with the people asking it. Like the question of violence, this question is almost always addressed to blacks by whites, as if we blacks are responsible for the demarcation of community on the basis of color. They who are responsible for the dividing walls of hostility, racism, and hate want to know whether the victims are ready to forgive and forget–without changing the balance of power. They want to know whether we have any hard feelings toward them, whether we still love them, even though we are oppressed and brutalized by them. What can we say to people who insist on oppressing black people but get upset when black people reject them?

Because black liberation is the point of departure of black theology’s analysis of the gospel of Jesus, it cannot accept a view of reconciliation based on white values. The Christian view of reconciliation has nothing to do with black people being nice to white people as if the gospel demands that we ignore their insults and their humiliating presence. It does not mean discussing with whites what it means to be black or going to white gatherings and displaying what white call an understanding attitude–remaining cool and calm amid racists and bigots.

To understand the Christian view of reconciliation and its relation to black liberation, it is necessary to focus on the Bible. Here reconciliation is connected with divine liberation. According to the Bible, reconciliation is what God does for enslaved people who are unable to break the chains of slavery. To be reconciled is to be set free; it is to have the chains struck off the body and mind so that the creatures of God can be what they are. Reconciliation means that people cannot be human and God cannot be God unless the creatures of God are liberated from that which enslaves and is dehumanizing.

When Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself," this is not a sentimental comment on race relations. The reconciling act of God in Christ is centered on the cross, and it reveals the extent that God is willing to go in order to set people free from slavery and oppression. The cross means that the Creator has taken upon himself all human pain and suffering, revealing that God cannot be unless oppression ceases to be. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God places the oppressed in a new state of humanity, now free to live according to God’s intentions for humanity.

Because God has set us free, we are now commanded to go and be reconciled with our neighbors, and particularly our white neighbors. But this does not mean letting white people define the terms of reconciliation. It means participating in God’s revolutionizing activity in the world, changing the political, economic, and social structures so that distinctions between rich and poor, oppressed and oppressors, are no longer a reality. To be reconciled with white people means destroying their oppressive power, reducing them to the human level and thereby putting them on equal footing with other humans. There can be no reconciliation with masters as long as they are masters, as long as men are in prison. There can be no communication between masters and slaves until masters no longer exist, are no longer present as masters. The Christian task is to rebel against all masters, destroying their pretensions to authority and ridiculing the symbols of power.

However, it must be remembered that oppressors never take kindly to those who question their authority. They do not like "thugs and bums," people who disregard their power, and they will try to silence them any way they can. But if we believe that our humanity transcends them and is not dependent on their goodwill, then we can fight against them even though it may mean death.

Excerpts from "The Risks of Faith" by James H. Cone (pages 38-39)
He is the author of "Black Theology and Black Power" and "Martin & Malcolm & America" among several other books. Dr. Cone is also Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary. He lives in New York City.

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Why Are So Many African Americans Attracted To A Church That Was Once Identified With White Racism?

This is an unlikely development for the denomination that emerged in 1845 when its proslavery members split from their Northern peers so that their missionaries could own slaves. That’s why “there’s a perception in many people’s minds that growth in the African American churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is counterintuitive,” says C. Ben Mitchell, an associate professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and consultant to the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Today the denomination identifies itself with conservative theology and its public policy positions mirror many of those held by the Religious Right. The SBC has also drawn fire for its belief on homosexuality, women and much else. But Southern Baptists say minorities are drawn to the SBC’s conservative Christian traditions and strong family values.

Though the church has supported civil rights for decades, its first apology to Blacks came only in 1995: “We lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery…. We apologize to all African Americans.” Gary Frost (first Black president of NAMB) says Blacks are drawn to the church for its worship, not its politics. “There are those who are very much in line with all the Religious Right on the social causes and the Bible, but who would take a different view concerning some of the economic issues,” Frost says.

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The Justice of God, Galatians 6:7

God is Just is the second affirmation of the religion undergirding much of Black life. God is caring and provident, but God is also just and impartial. This important doctrine is not strange to Western Christian thought, either within or outside theological circles. The whole Hebrew-Christian tradition was launched on ethical monotheism, the idea that there is only one true God, and this Deity requires ethical accountability. As the prophet Micah declared, "And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (6:8). Civilization itself, not just stereotypical "law and order," is vitally dependent on the core belief in the justice of God.

This affirmation is obviously relevant and applicable in almost every phase of Western intellectual as well as legal and ethical life. In the culture of the privileged classes and the power elite, enthusiasm for this doctrine results from a vision of God as enforcer or guarantor of the status quo. God threatens with justice those who break the social contract, raining retribution on those who dare to contradict the common code, which favors the class on top. However, this same divine quality is the hope of the have-nots. Justice is the limit placed on exploitation; it is the vengeance and vindication without which their lowly lives would have little meaning. God’s holiness and righteousness, synonyms for justice, are the basis for all guilty conscience, whatever the sin and among whatever sector of the population. It is hard to visualize any ethical decision where this doctrine has no relevance.

Divine justice impinges on the thought of the non-believer as well as the devout. It underlies the intensity of the atheist’s or the agnostic’s concern for human principles. For instance, the undeserved suffering of children can be used as an argument against God’s existence. Non-believers maintain that if there were a God, that deity would be just and would refuse to allow such a patent denial of fairness. Again, many skeptics choose the bleak wastes of alienation from God on the basis of a misguided picture of God’s justice. They accept the notion that the Creator and Sustainer of all life promotes justice that requires the eternal fires of a burning hell. This is understandably repugnant to their thoughtful concerns and sensibilities.

Fortunately, the justice of God can be viewed more positively. It undergirds every crusade for equity and human betterment within the Judeo-Christian era. Social activists of every generation, including a wide spectrum of present proponents of the social relevance of the gospel, have all proclaimed the justice of God and depended on it for their validation. The nature of God does indeed demand radical changes in the established order.

At this point Black belief sees a more intensive application of social justice, and they believe the God of justice is literally on the side of the oppressed. This, along with their suffering caused by injustice, explains the more energetic efforts to bring about equal opportunity. However, an additional motivation comes from the fact that belief in God’s justice also confers meaning on their struggles in the interim, keeping them safe in the midst of crushing absurdities. In the end, one must know that no oppression goes unpunished and no sacrificial suffering goes unnoticed and unrewarded. The just God who is no respecter of persons gives none the power to trample the rights of others with impunity. Thus, the final judgment day feared by some becomes cause for the celebration of vindication and victory for the victims of history’s most glaring injustices.

In Black culture, belief in God’s justice may be documented as easily in the streets as in the church. In the early days of her first stage career, the late Alberta Hunter, grand dame of contemporary blues, wrote a song illustrating this. Written to be sung by Bessie Smith, it dealt with a woman who had been thrown out by her lover. In her blue cries of pain she sings a social protest based on a folk doctrine of justice, which helps her remain balanced despite her desperation:

"You treat me wrong, you drove me from yo’ do’.

You treat me wrong, you drove me from yo’ do’.

But the Good Book say you gonna reap what you sow."

This declaration of God’s justice sounds almost like revenge by black magic, but its real function was to give a heartbroken woman a way to make sense of her powerless existence - a means of stamping on her days the label, "Still Worth the Living."

Street folk may not mention God in all their references to justice, but everyone in the culture is likely to know who is behind the reality of justice. Sometimes they say, "Chickens come home to roost," a phrase widely publicized when Malcolm X tactlessly connected it with the J. F. K. assassination. Whether Christian or Muslim or neither, the justice Malcolm X hinted at is all but universally recognized in the Black ghetto.

Perhaps the best known and most frequently used folk phrase for this belief is the popular proverb, "What goes around comes around." Quoted in an infinite variety of situations, it always declares that life is lived in an inexorable system of accountability. No person can expect to sidestep the results of her or his actions; the consequences are as inevitable as the agricultural law of identical harvest-Gal. 6:7.

A slave narrative cited in "Black Belief" illustrates the basis for virtually getting happy over the very existence of hell:

"We were scart of ol’ Solomon and his whip.... He didn’t

like for us Niggers to pray either. We never heard of no church,

but we were prayin’ in the cabins. We’d set on the

floor an’ pray with our heads down low and sing low, but if

Solomon heard, he’d come and beat on the wall with the stock

of his whip. He’s say, "I’ll come in there and tear the hides

off you backs"....I know that Solomon is burnin’ in hell

today, and it pleasures me to know it."

The spiritual "I Gotta Shoe" echoed this same joy about the afterlife as a place to straighten out the imbalances in the accounts of this life. With typical African indirection, the lyrics declared innocently, "When I git to heaven, gonna put on my shoes, and gonna shout all over God’s heaven." Slaves thus safely voiced their protest that masters did not provide shoes in this life nor allow slaves to shout in church as the Spirit led them.

The song’s chorus shifted to the other final destination. "Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t a-goin’ there, heaven, heaven, gonna shout all over God’s heaven." With veiled language slaves announced that their masters were looked for in hell. In the mind of the thinking slave, there was no such thing as a really good master, so they all had confirmed reservations.

African traditional religion had held no concept of hell. Once in this country, however, slaves adapted to the prevailing religion. They recognized that masters were theologically correct about the existence of hell, since there had to be a proper place for masters to finish reaping what they had sowed. Fire and brimstone were strange and novel but wonderfully capable of giving masters what they deserved.

This deep belief in the justice of God cannot be traced to missionaries whom the masters provided to teach about hell. The afterlife of fire and brimstone only dramatized in new detail the implementation of a divine justice known and trusted in Africa. In both Africa and America, the doctrine of justice was taught most effectively in oral tradition, by parents, grandparents and the extended family or intimate community.

The Galatian text about reaping and sowing took hold so quickly among the slaves only because the "Law of Identical Harvest" had been established long since in the African mindset. The Yoruba people expressed it this way: "To sow is difficult, to reap is free; what you sow today is what you reap tomorrow." They had a succinct and powerfully meaningful name for God: " Adekedajo, the silent active judge." One of their proverbs was a prayer that petitions God to preserve the unjust enemy’s health (especially his senses), so that the inevitable punishment due from a just God can be felt to the fullest. Then there is appended one small request: "Lord, let me be living and looking when the sentence is carried out." One knows that God is just, but one would rather see its results than simply believe.

Congregations of all cultures laugh heartily at this prayer, especially the last part. It is the high humor of self-recognition, the prayer of all classes, cultures and generations. The ancient psalmist stated the same sentiment: "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13). There is no cry here for petty vengeance; the healthy psyche of the just individual simply has to know that the flourishing of the wicked can only be for a season, and that God is not mocked with their ill-won successes. One’s righteous efforts are therefore not rendered meaningless.

Within this life, questions about justice will remain. No finite soul can claim to have seen justice in every case. Neither can we expect to be in a position to monitor God’s just actions. Mere mortals must be content to see only some divine justice, and not even all of that right away. Some will become clear many years later and some only in the afterlife. A religious cross section of the American South unites today in singing a hymn with the same message sung in even wider circles: "We will understand it better by and by."

This "by and by" or afterlife is indispensable to belief in the justice of God. The biblical figure Job, in trying circumstances, reportedly cried, "Though...worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh (my unique personhood) shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself...." (19:26-27). The theme of the book is the justice of God and the explanation of why good people suffer.

The apostle Paul echoed the book of Job by linking the two ideas of justice and afterlife. Paul ended his classic statement on eternal life by connecting it to the justice that is essential for meaningful human existence: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). Paul deals here with the bottom line: life is unbearable without such meaning. God’s justice is essential to meaning even though it acts in the time frame of eternity. A Black gospel song sings triumphantly, "Then my living shall not be in vain." For all humanity, unless God is in fact just, life is indeed vain and not worth the living.

Slaves survived their shackles with a magnificent affirmation of the justice of God, contemplating the final judgment with celebration:

"In that great gittin’ up morning, fare ye well, fare ye well.

In that great gittin’ up morning, fare ye well, fare ye well."

The powerlessness of slaves has parallels throughout human life. Presidents of corporations and countries today wield power vastly larger than that of slaves. But the problems of pollution and inflation outweigh all efforts to solve them and thus show themselves even more powerful. The affluent parents of modern adolescents are often more powerless than those whose lives are compressed and disciplined by the pressures of poverty, provided minimal essentials are available. In a world where power in business and politics is dispersed among many individuals who may or may not be trustworthy, we have a fundamental need to know who is in control and to be able to trust that one to be fair and just. Otherwise, all struggle is meaningless. There is no segment of humanity immune to the need to affirm the justice of God.

Excerpts from "Soul Theology: The Heart of American Black Culture" Henry H. Mitchell and Nicholas Cooper Lewter

 

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Why doesn't ... ?  ILLUSTRATION: Gospel, Witness

"The Gospel isn't something we come to church to hear; it's something we go from church to tell." (Vance Havner)

THE CRACKED POT
Author Unknown
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father's table. In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste. So as we seek ways to minister together, and as God calls you to the tasks He has appointed for you, don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and allow Him to take advantage of them, and you, too, can be the cause of beauty in His pathway. Go out boldly, knowing that in our weakness we find His strength, and that "In Him every one of God's promises is a Yes."
 

A BAPTIST DOG
A Baptist preacher and his wife decided they needed a dog. Ever mindful of the congregation, they knew the dog must also be Baptist. They visited an expensive kennel and explained their needs to the manager, who assured them he had just the dog for them.

The dog was produced and the manager said "Fetch the Bible." The dog bounded to the bookshelf, scrutinized the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the manager.

The manager then said "Find Psalms 23". The dog, showing marvelous dexterity with his paws, leafed thru the Bible, found the correct passage, and pointed to it with his paw.

Duly impressed, the couple purchased the dog. That evening a group of parishioners came to visit. The preacher and his wife began to show off the dog, having him locate several Bible verses. The visitors were amazed.

Finally, one man asked "Can he do normal dog tricks too?"

"Let's see" said the preacher. Pointing his finger at the dog, he commanded "Heel!"

The dog immediately jumped up on a chair, placed one paw on the preacher's forehead and began to howl.

The preacher turned to his wife and exclaimed: "Good grief, we've bought a Pentecostal dog!"
 

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Who is ... ?  Church Humor ... submitted by Carson Farmer
mailto:PRAYZEHYMN@yahoogroups.com

SEE THE HUMOR IN THIS AND DON'T BE SHAKEN BY IT.

ANOINTING: Used to describe any non-regular emotion (crying in the middle of a song, (when you forget the words), telling the church off (especially when it comes to tithes and offering), doing the Olympic shout around the church (first one that hits the wall gets a white hanky tied around their neck)

TRICK OF THE ENEMY: Used to describe anything that happens because you didn't do what you were supposed to do, like your car getting repossessed because you didn't pay the note, lights getting shut off, because you quit working to go on tour with pastor's choir, or your child repeating the 1st grade, because he/she missed the whole 2nd semester to go on a 90 day/90 night fast and consecration

RHEMA WORD: Any message from an out-of-town pastor or evangelist

PROPHETIC WORD: Same message from that out-of-town pastor, delivered 5 decibels louder, while the congregation is standing. Quiet organ music optional, but works better with silence.

CARNAL: Used to describe a saint who goes to the movies. The term doesn't apply if you rent the same movie from Blockbuster.

DIDN'T GOD MOVE: What the saints say after a long service where the pastor didn't preach, and everyone just bucked the whole service.

UNLOCK YOUR BLESSING: What preachers say, after they've finished preaching, and they say "you must give $50 to unlock your blessing". For a more dramatic effect, the offering is started at $1,000 and can be worked down to $25.

HE'LL DO IT IF YOU LET HIM (followed by inaudible tongues): Round one of bucking will begin in 5 minutes. Organist get ready.

WE GOT TO MOVE ON: What the preacher says, when he wants Buck Time to start up again. Organist, turn up the volume on the leslie.

WE HAVE TIME FOR ONE MORE TESTIMONY: Not really, we're just waiting on pastor to come in the service. If you're called on during this one, when you hear clapping, that is the signal to stop testifying, because the saints are no longer interested in what God has done for
you.

WE CAN NEVER PAY FOR THE WORD: Get your checkbook out; the auction will begin momentarily. This phrase always comes before the offering is taken for the guest speaker.

ALL THINGS MUST BE DONE, DECENTLY AND IN ORDER: Closing speech, after casting the devil out. Everyone has crossed the line and must sit out 2 services, before participating again.

PRAYER PARTNER: Phone buddy-5 minutes of prayer, 1 hour of church gossip.
........And the church said AMEN. We're a mess, I tell ya.

 

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