Two films were recently released dealing with the subject of slavery in the history of the United States. The first was made by a Steven Spielberg; and as expected, it has performed very well. After nine weeks in wide release, it has brought in just under $150 million dollars in its domestic distribution, even as it continues to garner nominations for prestigious awards. The second film, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, has also been a solid box office hit, earning just over $100 million in two weeks time. One film has been widely embraced and praised by Evangelical Christians, while the other film has been roundly condemned as “too offensive, disgusting and demeaning” to even consider. The question is: which of these two films is really worth our critical attention? Read the rest of this entry »
Tag Archives: race
If this is what passes for acceptable within certain circles, I wonder if we haven’t crossed some sort of threshold in terms of our ability to engage in civil discourse. Between this and the Bill Maher/Rush Limbaugh “hate speech” flare-up, I really do wonder …
My apologies for the poor quality of the image. This was the best I could find on the net, and it was stamped with a watermark. For the impatient among you, the bumper sticker reads as follows:
“Don’t Re-Nig in 2012. Stop repeat offenders. Don’t reelect Obama!”
Late last week, I posted an article entitled, “The Descent: James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and the Blurry Road to the Prosperity Gospel.” Since that time, the storm that has threatened to envelope the evangelical world has only intensified as more and more people have begun to rightfully react to MacDonald’s highly questionable decision to bring Jakes into the Elephant Room, and his even poorer handling of the actual exchange itself.
Today, I want to respond to a round table discussion that Pastor MacDonald has filmed and posted on his blog. Why? Because aspects of this discussion further inflame and ultimately confuse the issue by giving voice to racially-insensitive, ad hominem attacks. I am, of course, referring to the words spoken by the African-American Pastor Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis.
“Some of the strongest reactions of people were African Americans in the blogosphere. And I’ll just go ahead and say it, who strike me as wanting so bad to be in the white theological world. And to take a little bit of a tangent here, and I’ll get back. The loudest voices in the conservative, evangelical world, in my estimation right now, are your older white reformed voices. And so that implicitly sends the message that mature Christianity in the conservative evangelical world is older white. And you’ve got some African Americans who so idolize that – its what some people would call white idolization – that they then feel is if they’ve got to be the voice for black culture to speak against people like T.D. Jakes. So what happens is you kind of prop them up … My concern is: African Americans, a small minority, speaking against Jakes, and then leveraging that in the white theological world, for some of these older white theologians … to fit into their circles. We want to be in their circles. And so we’ll allow ourselves to be used as a puppet.”
Now stop and think about what Pastor Loritts has just said. Without personally knowing the character of all of the various African American critics of this debacle, Loritts feels free to dismiss them, in an ad hominem attack, as “puppets,” who are simply trying “to fit into [the white theological world].”
And where is James MacDonald when Loritts is voicing these patently unfair, unwise and dangerous derisions? He is once again opting to say absolutely nothing. He doesn’t put a stop to it. He doesn’t shake his head in disagreement. He doesn’t even ask a counter-question to force Loritts to consider the gravity of what he has just said. Instead, he allows for Loritts to use racially inflammatory rhetoric to condescendingly dismiss the African American critics of the Elephant Room 2 and then dares to conclude the session by offering these thoughts:
“One of my main take-aways is that if you discount relationship, you misunderstand a lot. If we hadn’t reached out to Bishop Jakes in relationship, we would have misunderstood his theology.”
So apparently, certain African American pastors and theologians were wrong to voice their concerns over T.D. Jakes because they lacked the necessary relationship with him to question his theology. But as for Bryan Loritts, he is perfectly justified in dismissing African American critics as sycophantic “puppets” without having personally reached out to each and every one of them.
The longer this goes on, the more troubling it becomes.
 The round table discussion was broken into two parts. The first part can be found at: http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=11232, while the second portion of the discussion can be found at: http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=11253.
Today, on a day when we pause to remember the towering legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to tell you a rather tragic story – a story about the intentional efforts to eradicate the black race.
It all begins back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, a time when America was undergoing tremendous social change. As a nation, we were riding high on the crest of the Gilded Age, a time when the United States economy grew at an unprecedented rate, and real wages, accumulated wealth and capital formation all exploded. During this time, many within the social and academic elite were beginning to question the historical doctrines of the church. The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species had convinced many that man was nothing more than the unintended by-product of evolutionary forces that had been at play for millions upon millions of years. And all of this contributed to the thinking of a small, but influential group of people beginning to dream of a new utopia – a world with few ethical boundaries.
Enter Margaret Sanger. Sanger was an American socialist who dreamed of a world in which women had absolute power over their own bodies. As a sex educator, nurse, and birth control activist, she spent her life in the pursuit of a dream: the establishment of the American Birth Control League, which later became known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. To many men and women in contemporary society, Sanger is a cultural hero, remembered much in the way that we remember Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. But there is a much darker side to Sanger’s story. For you see, Margaret Sanger was not simply an early feminist seeking to protect the rights of her oppressed sisters. Margaret Sanger was a disciple of Thomas Malthus, a 19th century cleric and part-time political economist. Listen to the words of Thomas Malthus:
“All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons. Therefore … we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too-frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns, we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and restrain those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders.”
Much like her teachers, Malthus and Adolph Hitler, Sanger was a eugenicist who believed that we must seek to eradicate the “human weeds,” which she defined as “feeble-minded, syphilitic, irresponsible and defective stocks” that “bred unhindered.” And who were these “defective stocks?” They were the Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and anyone who wasn’t white and wealthy. Consider Sanger’s own words:
“Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying … demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism … [Philanthropists and Christians] encourage the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant … We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.”
Now, lest the reader think that this was an aberration in Sanger’s thinking, allow me to share a few more choice quotes from some of Sanger’s other writings:
“Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race.”
“Eugenics is the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems.”
While there is no doubt that these are wicked ideas masked by the language of freedom and choice, perhaps most despicable of all is Sanger’s contemptuous plan to enlist the aid of African American ministers in the genocide of their own people.
“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. And the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
This, of course, brings us back around to the subject of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America inaugurated the PPFA Margaret Sanger Award, which is given in recognition of “excellence and leadership in furthering reproductive health and reproductive rights.” How ironic is it, that on May 5th, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the award named on behalf of a racist who sought to deceive the black clergy of America so as to further her agenda of racial purity. How ironic that he would issue these words:
“Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.”
Dr. King believed that the billions we spend on the “engines of war” made us a race of “insane men.” I wonder how he would feel today knowing that we spend hunderds of millions every year – in the United States alone – on the planned termination of infants. I wonder how he would feel knowing that even today, 64% of all abortions are performed on women of color? I wonder how he would feel knowing that 69% of the women who abort live just above or even below the poverty line? Is this the “mountaintop” of racial equality that Dr. King envisioned? Or is this Sanger’s mountaintop of racial purity?
 Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population. (McLean, IndyPublish: 2002).
 Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Chapter on “The Cruelty of Charity,” pages 116, 122, and 189. Swarthmore College Library edition.
 Margaret Sanger. Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.
 Margaret Sanger, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda.” Birth Control Review, October 1921, page 5.
 Margaret Sanger’s December 19, 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, 255 Adams Street, Milton, Massachusetts. Original source: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, North Hampton, Massachusetts. Also described in Linda Gordon’s Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976.
 The average cost of an abortion in the United States is $413. If 1.21 million were performed in 2005, that means that Americans collectively paid $499,730,000 to terminate babies that year.
After initially being rejected by over 60 publishers, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was finally published in February of 2009. Since that time, this incendiary tale of the small and not-so-small abuses suffered by black housekeepers in the 1960s has gone on to sell over 5 million copies, as it spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Set in Jackson Mississippi during the early 1960s, the film tells the story of Skeeter Phelan, a young southern society girl who longs to become a writer. When Skeeter’s beloved housekeeper is suddenly dismissed under pressure from her mother’s society friends, Skeeter is concerned and begins to document the stories of her friend’s domestic workers. As one black woman after the next courageously steps forward to tell her tale, the book begins to take shape, and a town will be forever changed.
My reaction to this film is somewhat hard to pin down. On the one hand, I am always drawn to stories where someone has the courage to swim against the stream, and in so doing, brings justice to those that have been oppressed. These are important stories to tell, for they remind us that change does not often begin in the corridors of power. Change begins when insignificant people dare to speak prophetic truth into a world that is desperate for truth to be spoken.
On the other hand, movies like this sometimes feel “safe” because they are told from a distance. Fifty years after the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, how many people would genuinely argue that black people did not suffer under white society? So it’s easy to root for the heroes, demonize the villains, and feel as if “the job is done.” And there is a danger in that feeling as if the “job is done” because we are encouraged to believe that we can sit safely in the comforts of our own homes.
How much more exciting would it be to see a story set in the contemporary world in which someone dared to tell the story of the plight of modern day Native Americans or modern day slaves? How much more compelling would it be to have to face our own complicit guilt in avoiding the issues and burying our collective heads in the sand?
In the end, I strongly recommend viewing The Help, and dare you not cheer as Hilly eats the pie.
This film has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for thematic material and language.
Yesterday afternoon, I introduced you to the world of the half-breed Timothy, bastard son of the Jewish disciple, Eunice, who herself was seen as a prostitute by the community around her. It was an ugly world to be sure; and if you haven’t taken the time to read about it, I would highly suggest that you do so now before continuing forward with this discussion.
Today, I want to continue forward in our exploration of the remarkable life of Timothy because I believe that there are staggeringly beautiful gems to mine down in the deep shafts of “incidental words.” So why don’t we start by talking about the age of Timothy. Read with me the words of the Apostle Paul found in 1 Timothy 4:12:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in what you say, how you behave, in love, faith and holiness.”
The word I want to focus upon here is the word “young” (from the Greek word: neotes). From the use of this word, we can rightfully conclude that Timothy, at the time of this letter, is somewhere between the age of 25 to 33. But there’s more to this puzzle. Notice how Paul is advising Timothy not to allow anyone to look down upon him because of his youth. Why is he doing that? Well the answer is really rather simple. In Jewish culture, men were not allowed to take leadership positions until the age of 30. So in all probability, Timothy is actually younger than 30 at the time of this writing, which explains Paul’s warning to him.
Now the pieces are beginning to fall into place. From history, we know that the First Epistle to Timothy was written sometime between 65 and 66 AD. We also know, from history, that Paul’s second missionary journey (when he first found Timothy) began in 49 AD. So if Timothy was under the age of 30 at the time when Paul advises him not to allow anyone to look down upon him for his youth, then we can rightfully conclude that Timothy was roughly 10 to 12 years old when Paul first encounters him in the small, out-of-the-way town known as Lystra.
Don’t gloss over that. Timothy was 10-12 years old when Paul first looked at him and said: “In the Messiah, there is neither Greek nor Jew, Timothy. Everyone is equal. All the social layers and the hatred that this world constructs … it means nothing in Jesus, Tim. Nothing!”
To me, this is utterly fascinating. A few days ago, I walked you through the ages of the disciples chosen by Jesus and we concluded that all of them, with the exception of Peter, were under the age of 20. Now, when it comes time for Paul to chose his disciples, he continues the tradition of his day and the tradition of Jesus; and he selects another “kid.”
Why is it that when it came time for the Kingdom of God to be announced throughout the ancient world, Jesus the Messiah and the Apostle Paul chose “children?” And why is that much of our youth ministry is centered around keeping our “kids” safe and making sure that they are thoroughly entertained and not bored?
Somewhere along the way, there has been a radical disconnect between the potential that Jesus and Paul saw in “children” versus the immaturity that we see and foster through a prolonged adolescence that we currently extend into the late 20s. Is it time for us to be begin to respect the capabilities of our “kids” by challenging them with deep, insightful teaching that actually equips them to become true disciples in this world? Is it time for us to give them the best of our teachers as opposed to giving them the newly-minted seminary grads that are merely putting in time before they can become senior pastors themselves? Is it time for a sea-change in how we do youth ministry?
 The Greek word neotes merely suggests youth. But, the word is also used by Luke in his account of the “Rich Young Ruler.” When we look at the parallel account of the “Rich Young Ruler” found in Matthew’s Gospel, we see that Matthew uses another word to describe the age of the ruler: neaniskos. This word is a bit more specific, and it actually suggests a man anywhere from his mid-20s to his early 30s.
 The Code of Jewish Law (O.C. 581:1) instructs Jewish gatherings to look for certain qualities in those that would lead the services on the High Holidays. Amongst these qualities is a minimum age of 30 because, as the Mishna Brura explains, a 30-year old is humble, soft-hearted, and capable of actually “praying from the heart.”
“[Paul] also came to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple named Timothy was there, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was Greek. As they went through the towns,they passed on the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the Gentile believers to obey. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day.”
Now, are you ready for the story behind the story? Here’s how it works. When you and I read this account, we see some odd biographical details that don’t mean a whole lot to us. We know that Timothy is part Greek, so we know that he has not been circumcised and we know that Paul, for reasons we will not discuss today, needs for him to be circumcised. We also know that after this, Paul travels around with Timothy, and that the churches are growing stronger every day. And that’s as far as most of us in the 21st century get because we don’t understand the ancient Jewish culture.
So today, I’m going to unpack a bit of that ancient culture for you; and to make sure that I have your complete and total attention, I’m going to put this in words that you understand. Assume for a moment that you are an African American kid. How would you feel if I said to you:
“Your Mama’s nothing but a two-bit whore! And you – you’re nothing but a nigger! Now get out of here, you little bastard!”
Offended yet? Good! You should be! “Nigger” is an offensive word. It’s a word that is filled with hate! It’s a word that should have no place in our culture. It’s a word that spits on the “image of God” that is placed in hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Now how about someone calling your mama a “whore?” Are you comfortable with that? How about being called a “bastard?” How does that feel? How does that sit with you?
You see, in order to really understand what is happening at the beginning of Acts, you need to understand what the author is saying when he tells you that Timothy’s mother was a Jew and that his father was a Greek. In the ancient world, this means that Timothy is a mamzer (From the Hebrew word: ממזר). But what does that mean? If I had tried to explain the meaning of that word using “clean” English, it would have meant nothing to you. But when I tell you that this word mamzer has all the power of the hatred that filled my example above, you can begin to truly understand the remarkable nature of this passage.
So what did it mean for Timothy to live as a mamzer in his society? Well, for starters, it meant that everyone around him viewed his mother as a prostitute. It meant that every one around him saw him as “defective,” “corrupted,” and “spoiled” by “strange, alien” DNA. He was a half-breed in a society that lamented half-breeds; and he was a bastard child with no legitimate father willing to call him his own. In a world where the Jews were wrestling with what it meant to be “outsiders” themselves, Timothy was the ultimate “outsider.”
- Unlike other Jewish children, Timothy wasn’t circumcised on the eighth day of his life because he really wasn’t part of the community. (Genesis 17:12)
- Unlike other Jewish children, Timothy wasn’t allowed to go to the Tabernacle or the Temple because mamzers were forbidden. (Deuteronomy 23:2)
- Unlike other Jewish children, Timothy was cut off from his people because his mother’s failure had left him on the outside of the covenant. (Genesis 17:14)
- And lest Timothy think that things would somehow get better for his children, he lived with the knowledge that this status would be passed on to his children for 10 generations to follow. (Deuteronomy 23:2)
Yes … Timothy was the ultimate outsider, reviled by a religious community whose leadership had called down curses upon those who were inter-marrying and giving birth to mamzers (Nehemiah 13:23-27). So what do you think it meant for him, when he first heard the words of the Apostle Paul:
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith … There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female– for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
What do you think, reader? What does this mean for us as Christians? Are we to be looking for the ones that conform to our expectations? Or are we to be looking for the ones that are broken, and marred with jagged scars? Do our youth ministries make a place for kids like these? Or do we want them to “get better” before they come to us? Are we ready to deal with the ramifications that come from ministry to kids with pain? Are we ready for the disruption? Or do we simply want to do life with a little interruption as possible?
 Mamzer is also sometimes spelled mumser based upon the Yiddish variation.
 The Greek Septuagint translated ממזר as the “son of a prostitute” (from the Greek: ek pornes), while the Latin Vulgate translated it as de scorto natus meaning “born of a prostitute.”
 According to the Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, mamzer is derived from the root m-z-r, meaning “spoiled or corrupted.” As per the Talmud, mamzer is a blended noun that joins mum (meaning “defect”) and zar (meaning “strange” or “alien”)