Friday, January 04, 2008

Ramblings After Too Much TV

Last night, my wife and I stayed up well past our bedtimes watching television. We were gripped with three programs--all at once, since I'm a guy and control the remote.

On CNN, we watched the Iowa caucus results as they came in, the punditry, and the candidates' remarks. On BET, we watched parts of a show called "Crank Dat Year Back," the customary highs and lows of 2007 viewed from the perspective of BET. And over on TBN (I know, our viewing went from bad to worst), we watched parts of an interview with Creflo Dollar (Jan. 3rd).
Can I just say that we went from proud to be an American, to feeling totally out of touch with some aspects of youth culture, to aghast at the state of the church. We were tossed to and fro as we watched what we believe to be a historic moment--an African American presidential candidate winning in an almost entirely white state--and as we watched the unregenerate world laughingly celebrate all kinds of debauchery as entertainment--and as we listened to a "pastor" announce his plans to create 500 satellite churches across America! We were exhausted by the time we went to bed.

But here is what I'm rejoicing in this morning.

1. The Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, is sovereign over all things and He will be glorified in the salvation of sinners and the judgment of the wicked. Nothing threatens His glory. Just good to start the day remembering that glorious truth.

2. A moment long-awaited in American history may be upon us. I wrote earlier about Andrew Sullivan's piece on Sen. Obama, where Sullivan heralded the Sen. as the only candidate who can do this. I was pessimistic, but Iowa may be with Sullivan. It may be the case that significant numbers of Iowans have done what the country most needs--to judge a man by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin. Can we be on the brink of an American dream?

I don't know Sen. Obama's character. So, I'm not saying "the best man won." But I am greatly impressed that he has run a campaign for the highest office in American civil society--a campaign surrounded by land mines of "race" on all sides--and he has done so with the dignity of imagining that "race" doesn't matter the way we think it does and that an African-American and white Americans--all Americans--can make this tremendously important decision without bowing to the altar of race and racial stereotype. And politics aside... his speech bordered on brilliant with its allusions to hope and a transcending objective.

3. In other caucus news, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee--after making some unwise comments in recent weeks--went on to win the Iowa caucus on the Republican side. I didn't catch his speech, but the reports after were about as glowing for Huckabee as they were for Obama. Apparently, both men struck deeper chords of hope. Which may signal what the average Joe has known for a long time: people want something to believe in beyond petty, partisan politics.

Now, here's the interesting thing about these developments from my perspective. Imagine a presidential race between Huckabee and Obama (premature, I know, but a guy can daydream can't he). Imagine that race. The interesting factor in my mind is not will African-Americans vote for Obama (of course they will). The interesting thing isn't will Huckabee carry sizable chunks of the white evangelical vote (of course he will). Experience isn't the issue... both men have limited experience and if the Iowa vote is any indication, a referendum on experience has been called and it's a weak factor.

The interesting thing will be the public's reaction to each candidate's Christian self-understanding and belief. Huckabee will and does alarm a sizable portion of the electorate made uneasy by the labels "evangelical" or "former Southern Baptist pastor." His recent comments stir that uneasiness.

People will be more alarmed at the value system at Trinity United Church of Christ where Sen. Obama worships. It is explicitly Black Nationalist in character and, interestingly, introduces "race" in a way that Sen. Obama, to this point, has not. Already several pundits have picked up on this issue and began to discuss it (see here).
One great irony would be if it were finally the weakness of the African-American church that effectively destroyed the first viable presidential bid of an African American. So many people tout the African-American church for its historic role in promoting justice, but few have seen the connection between sound theology and any true effort at justice. In a sad turn of events, it may be by God's hand the Sen. Obama campaign that forces global light on the damnable heresies and errors, the counterfeit Christianity present in so many churches.

What will they do? Will we see these two men move further away from their heretofore explicit comments and opinions regarding faith? And will Obama be painted into a "race" corner by his previous church affiliation? How will the cause of Christ be advanced or hindered--for these men personally and for the church generally--by the respective stances they must develop in the crucible of democratic elections? There may be far more done to them personally than to the church, but the signal effects of this discussion will tell us a lot about the hostility or hospitality of the American public to Christ and His gospel.

But, then again, we may learn a great deal more about the state of the church by observing the franchising of pastors through so-called "satellite churches." Using electronic media as part of a church-planting strategy is one thing; saying explicitly as Dollar does that we need to dispense with training pastors and simply beam him and his prosperity gospel into 500 "churches" across the country is another. One may be a wise, temporary use of technology. The other is, in my opinion, the next step in the unravelling of the local church, an unraveling that has steadily crept forward with the explosion of televangelists severing pastor and people.

But the Lord is still sovereign, and His church shall prevail. Glory to His name.


ajcarter said...

Hey T,
Do you ever find yourself apologizing to the good folks of Grand Cayman for the foolishness that is exported from America?

Please remind them that all in Atlanta have not bowed the knee to Baal, or Long, or Dollar.

Remind them to pray for us. Biblical church planting in Atlanta is with many obstacles and giants in the way.

Yet, as you say, through the prayers of the saints, God's church and kingdom will prevail.

Anonymous said...


this is off the topic, but I just wanted to say that it will be great to have you in KY in April for T4G. I look forward to hearing you.

Owensboro, KY

Claire and Eugene said...

Hi Thabiti,

Thanks for this thought provoking post. It was something that I had been thinking about after I checked out Trinity's website.

As a non-black, yellow person, it is sometimes hard to know when it is alright for churches to pay special attention to the needs of the african american population and when it is crossing the line. I want to be sensitive to race issues but firmly rooted in Christ...

Blessings to you..

David said...

Please read this response from the UCC: