Church and Society / Down in the Bookstore: Musings from the Classroom / Politics / Religion / The Color Line

Which Comes First: Religion or Citizenship, Pt. II

black woman and flag

As I was writing the first post, I thought about the fact that there really is a segment of Christianity in this country that truly feels that politics and religion don’t mix.  That is to say, that all they need to do is preach Jesus, and him crucified, dead, buried and resurrected and all will be okay.  Some black preaching scholars, such as Cleophus LaRue in his book The Heart of Black Preaching and Olin P. Moyd in The Sacred Art don’t necessarily agree that by divorcing politics from the pulpit is standing in the black preaching tradition.  Most recently Obery Hendricks wrote the widely popular, yet criticised book The Politics of Jesus and that even gained him a spot with Bill O’Reilly along with local Atlanta pastor Timothy MacDonald in the midst of the Jeremiah Wright fallout spring of 2008.

The clip notwithstanding, black Pentecostals are a largely underrepresented, if not unrepresented group of black Christians who are a significant part of Black America.  The majority of them identify with the Church of God in Christ which today is finishing up their  annual pilgrimage (literally) to Memphis, Tennessee where their world headquarters is located for what is known as Holy Convocation which spans eight days the first full week of November of every year.  They’ve been in existence for now 102 years.  Other black Pentecostal denominations are Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), Church of Christ (Holiness) and other smaller fellowships such as Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, such as Fire Baptized Holiness and even still Mt. Calvary Holiness Church (which is famous for their megachurch in Washington, D.C. pastored by Bishop Alfred Owens).  And there are many others which I haven’t mentioned.

To their credit, they often times ascribe to asceticism in the belief that they will get their rewards in the sweet by-and-by.  The major criticism that many social justice and non-Pentecostals blacks ask is “what about the nasty now-and-now?”  Historically speaking, you rarely heard about black Pentecostal ministers aligning themselves with the modern-Civil Rights movement and even still today, you rarely hear about black Pentecostal churches speaking about about local civil rights issues in various cities.  The big joke in ecclesiastical circles is that the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) solidified themselves with the Civil Rights movement because Martin Luther King gave his final “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech at the famed Mason Temple COGIC which was the largest meeting place for blacks at the time and named after their founder Bishop Charles H. Mason.

Damn if that wasn’t a good speech.

Sorry, back to the topic at hand…

That being said, there is a significant section of the black populace that has no real issues with the political climate of this country.  They believe that if they do good, follow Jesus and all that other good church stuff, believe in this “kingdom theology” that indeed, somehow, God will work it all out. I daresay that taking that mindset still buys into the ideals of the Empire.

I say that because Pentecostalism in this country is a safe religion.

Pentecostalism doesn’t challenge the empire, or rather the government.  By believing that indeed “God will fight your battles” and you need do nothing but pray, tarry, tithe in addition to all of the other good church stuff, then you’re doing nothing to upset the government.  While I’ve visited a few Pentecostal churches, ranging from big megachurches to small storefronts, I’ve never directly heard from the pulpit the direct connection to materialism that I’ve heard far too often from some Baptist preachers and of course from those who make it on TBN and the Word Network.  Generally, I hear the sermons that are birthed out of the “holiness or hell” theology that generally is a call to some sort of personal piety.  However, while you never hear sermons about material abundance, you always hear this mantra that seems to be the catch phrase in this neo-Pentecostal age that says “Favor Aint Fair.”

To be honest, this whole two part blog was birthed when the choir director who I’m playing with asked me to learn Vashawn Mitchell’s “Favor (Aint Fair)

I can’t to explain, ain’t gon even try
He’s granted me special praise
and I don’t the reason why.
He’s got his hands on me, I got to testify
I can’t explain it but our God is able

Dont ask me how, don’t ask me why
When you see the rain falling, get under the clouds
He’s got his hands on me, I got to testify

Not that I’ve been so good, but He’s been kind
Don’t deserve his praise, but He still provides
but he keeps blessing me, I’ve got the victory

Favor, aint fair.  But it’s, on me.

We use this “favor aint fair” as an excuse to explain our material trappings and what God has done to bless us.  Kind of like in that old black and white movie with the all black cast “Cabin In The Sky” when Little Joe won the sweepstakes of $10,000 (a lotta money in 1941) and it was really the devil that had set him up with the money, but Joe had declared that it was a blessing from God.  Well, it similar.  We interpret our materialism as a blessing from God, so while we may preach a meek and mild and lowly Jesus, one who was so poor and broke, he didn’t even have somewhere to stay and was dependent upon the benevolence of others, the “favor aint fair” ideal explains why pastors and big time preachers have tailor made suits, live in the suburbs far from the communities their churches are situated, have three and four cars and fly off to conferences all across the country preaching and getting $50,000 in an offering.

“Favor aint fair” runs into a problem however when you start talking about why do bad things happen to good people.  In comes the Word of Faith movement that says it’s because you haven’t given enough money to the church and that your faith isn’t strong enough.

Perhaps favor wasn’t fair in the Old Testament where clearly Yahweh was aligned with the Israelites and was anti-anything else, but in the New Testament, clearly, I mean CLEARLY there’s soooo many verses that speak against “partiality” and encouraging others to not be a “respector of persons.”  So why would God do that if we’re not supposed to?

Yet again, this “favor aint fair” allows for Christians to engage in the full participation of the religion of Americanity and worship the twin gods of Capitalism and Consumerism.  I believe even as Paul mentions the “altar to the unknown God” in Acts 17 as he gives his speech in the Areopagus, that many of us do that with Christianity–we’ll leave the door open to get away with some stuff as a “just in case” mindset.  That just in case God is okay with me having the big house, then let me go ahead and get it.  Or you can fill in whatever material trapping you want.

I’m merely suggesting that we be aware of what we’re doing here when it comes to our religion versus our citizenship.

It’s easy for African Americans to say that we historically were and even now forced to choose between our culture versus being an American citizen, just ask W.E.B. DuBois and his excursus on “double consciousness” so it’s not a new question for us in this Second America, but rather, we’ve always thought of religion to be some pure entity directly from a deity.  I’m suggesting that for the most of us as Christians in this country, we take our cue from society and the secular–Americanity–and then somehow make God and the church fit into that paradigm.

Don’t feel bad though, we’ve been doing that since the first state run church was established with Constantine with the Edict of Milan (I think) in the early 300s when he did away with Christian persecution.  Perhaps the closest we came actually was the United States to breaking away from church and state, but that was mainly because the framers of the Constitution were damn near atheists (in actuality they were Deists) and for them they had already seen what religion had done.  However, thanks to the First Great Awakening, American Christianity already had a foothold in colonial life that easily spilled over after the establishment of the United States.  This American brand of Christianity that came out of the First Great Awakening laid the ground work for the dominion of this country in the name of God.  It gave fuel to the slavery movement down south (well, up north for that matter as well) and it gave rise to the argument behind “manifest destiny” that allowed for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the literal conquering of the already inhabited land.

Louisiana Purchase MapThis, believe it or not goes in part and parcel with the conquest stories found in the book of Joshua.  Do not the Israelites send out Joshua and Caleb to spy into the land much like the Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, bka. Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, they come back and then encourage people to settle the land (think Oregon Trail with the thousands of settlers moving out west) and they have many battles over the next 50 or so years literally killing off the inhabitants (think of the the numerous Indian massacres that happened out west).  And between the Christian canonical books of Joshua to 1 Kings, you have the former inhabitants become assimilated into the new dominant culture and you finally have the story of the victors with the pinnacle of the story being King George W. Bush David.

If you’ve never made those connections, don’t feel bad, this was not that one Sunday you skipped for the big game or to go shopping for a holiday weekend sale, because they didn’t teach that in Sunday school.  We’re not taught to think like that, because it’s considered anti-American Christian.  I mean, nowadays progressives and liberals side with the Indians, but these same progressives and liberals never once think about the Amalekites, the Amorites, the Gibbeonites, the Cannanites or the Perizites in the same way–because Joshua had a mandate from God to do what he did.

Hmm, I guess favor really aint fair.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Have I just blasphemed God–or blasphemed America with this topic?  How hard is it to change your traditional ways of thinking on subjects such as this?  Or do you outrightly reject this notion simply because it goes against the core of your traditional and embedded beliefs?  What would it take for you to change your thoughts?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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3 thoughts on “Which Comes First: Religion or Citizenship, Pt. II

  1. Great post, I’ve directed some Old Testament Bible study students to this site. Thanks for the O’Reilly STFU interview with Dr. Obery Henderson and Pastor Timothy MacDonald.

    Keep on keeping it uppity and radical.

  2. I honestly must say that all you say is truth. The duality of man(God)is a mind trip to say the least. I think the lesson is to learn from the past instead of trying to change it.

  3. I consider myself less religious and more spiritual as I become older… I praise creation and the creator but wish some would be just as diligent in investing in our communities, our youth, and our world with the same dedication that is placed into the church. I commend this article and your blog. I look forward to having my ideals pushed.

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