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The Privileged and the Poor - Efrem Smith

Last week while attending my first board meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals, I was able to hear a discussion on Evangelicals and Poverty. This forum featured a mild debate of sorts between Arthur Brooks (American Enterprise Institute) and Jim Wallis (Sojourners). Arthur Brooks said something that I found very interesting in his closing comments:

"The real way the rich are stealing from the poor is by not sharing their secrets of success."

At first I just heard this statement as a politically conservative one that carried more intellectual pontificating than faith-based conviction to actually tackle the multiple issues surrounding poverty in the U.S. As a political moderate I tend to have enough reflective criticism for both the right and the left. But, after further reflection, I believe that Mr. Brooks' statement is a window into a biblical principle for the empowerment of the Poor.

A major issue when it comes to poverty and race is the relational divides that exist. The Privileged can't share secrets with a group of people that they don't even know by name. I don't make this point to take away from dealing with the systemic and institutional sides of poverty, but they won't be dealt with as long as the relational gaps that exist widen. If the Poor are merely homeless people you see holding up signs at intersections, children you interact with on a short term missions trip, or faces you see in the media, are you truly in a position to speak on the issue of poverty? Too many Privileged People are giving commentary on people they aren't in relationship with.

 You could apply this same relational problem to the issue of race. I don't believe that most White people are racist, but I have heard too many White people make comments about people groups that they are not in relationship with. Just to be fair, people of other ethnicities do this too, but I bring up Whites because they remain the most privileged people group in the U.S. at this moment in time. When you give commentary on other people groups that you aren't in deep relationship with, it could open the door to people perceiving you as being racist or prejudiced.

When I was the pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, I was fortunate to have a number of conversations about poverty with fellow staff members. One staff member that I had very deep and sometimes mildly heated conversations on the subject was Mr. Neeraj Mehta. He would say often that poverty is about the lack of relationships. At first I thought this wasn't a very strong beginning point for tackling the issue of poverty. As I've thought about it about it more and more though, my Brother Neeraj is absolutely right. We must close the relational gaps between the Privileged and the Poor. When the Privileged and the Poor are reconciled, we will see poverty as we know it in the U.S. dismantled. I'm not sure if we will ever totally eradicate poverty in the U.S. (though I passionately hope so), but I do believe through relationships, we can put a major dent in it.

To dismantle poverty in this way, we not only need multi-ethnic congregations, we also need multi-class congregations. Poor people ought to have a voice in the Church. They ought to have the opportunity to serve as elders, deacons, preachers, and board members alongside the Privileged. Putting all Privileged People in power and places of influence may be the American way, but it's not the Kingdom of God way. How can Privileged People suffer with those who suffer when they are not in friendship or community with those who suffer? Jesus Christ modeled a ministry life of being close and personal with the oppressed, suffering, outcast, and marginalized. American Christians seem to be held captive by the matrix of economic and racial compartmentalization. Because of this, too many Privileged Christians have compassion for the suffering, but they aren't in intimate relationships with them. People don't tend to share secrets with people they don't love, respect, value, or trust.

Could it be to this degree that all Christians are biblically called to be incarnational? I'm not saying all Privileged People need to sell their houses in nice neighborhoods and move to under-resourced ones. What I'm saying is that for the Privileged Christians, we ought to live in the blessed gift of having a diverse community of friends across racial, ethnic, and class lines. To accept this gift is to live more deeply as a Kingdom citizen. Christ was in the business of closing social and relational gaps. This is why He was up close with Samaritans, the diseased, the paralyzed, the left for dead, and the Privileged. What if as Privileged Christians we spent more time talking about people we were in relationship with than giving commentary on people we don't?

 

Flavor Fest 2014 - Candy Gibson

Hip hop culture has consistently set cultural standards of dress, language and social consciousness. Whether or not you like rap, this fact cannot be denied, and it is even true in the Church. The Church has a love/hate relationship with hip hop—there is the degradation of women, the illicit sex, the foul language, etc. But there has also been a movement over the past 30 years to redeem this cultural phenomenon. This movement takes beats and infuses them with theology, brings the Truth of the Gospel to a culture that the Church may never engage, and pushes the boundaries of what the Church looks like.

The Church has taken many forms over the past 2000 years, from meeting in homes to meeting in buildings, and from mega-churches to hip hop churches. Crossover Church in Tampa, FL, is a hip hop church engaging a culture that is often ignored. Last week, Crossover hosted the 14th annual Flavor Fest, a hip hop leadership conference. The conference had a Church Planting Track, a Theology Track, an Artist Development Track, a Youth Worker Track, and attendees who were there to learn, listen and network.  World Impact had the honor of hosting the Church Planting Track and these brothers and sisters were hungry for resources, partnerships and relationship. Working in under-resourced communities can be very isolating, and for one weekend, like-minded folks gathered to hear great speakers and listen to amazing artists.

The Church Planter and the Rapper sat side by side in workshops and general sessions, learning about Christ and being encouraged to continue in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. The Youth Leader and the Artist interacted like friends who have shared a history, album after album, teen after teen, transformed life after transformed life.  In this space Holy Hip Hop is validated, held accountable, and inspired by those who have forged the path.

The diversity, respect, talent and hope at Flavor Fest were abundant. Everyone (multi-ethnic, multi-generational, co-ed, and multi-cultural) was accepted and invited to a deeper relationship with Christ. What an honor it was to spend four days with this remnant of the Body of Christ! Keep bringing the Word, the Truth and your personality, the Church needs it!

Candy Gibson is the National Marketing Director for World Impact.

 

Empowerment Theology - Efrem Smith

Many times when Christ was declaring or demonstrating that the Kingdom of God was near, He did so through interactions with the marginalized, oppressed, and physically challenged. He also gave His followers the authority and responsibility to do the same. When Christ interacted with the paralyzed, the blind, the outcast woman, one facing the death penalty, and the stigmatized minority He left them all changed.

In many cases the Gospels show us that when the marginalized and broken encountered Christ, they left empowered. Those religiously unlearned followers willing to leave their working-class occupations found themselves empowered to preach, speak to evil spirits, and heal the sick. The good news that Christ spoke of and performed led to the oppressed becoming the empowered. This version of empowerment is quite different from how empowerment is defined in our upside-down world today.

Empowerment in our world is based on title, educational level, economic class, and celebrity. Because of the social matrix that we are still held captive by, skin color and gender can be major factors when it comes to empowerment. Minorities and women lag behind white men in many social and religious areas such as work pay, executive positions, and pastoral leadership.

But what does empowerment look like in the body of Christ? What does empowerment look like in the Church? How does one become a pastor? How does one become an elder or board member in the Church? How does one become a Para Church President? How does one become President of a Christian University or College? How does one become leader of a denomination? How does one discover an amazing Kingdom advancing call regardless of their occupation?

Now, I want to recognize that the face of empowerment is becoming more and more diverse. But the real question is, what would the Church and our world look like if we followed the empowerment strategies and theology of Christ? I believe if we did, the Poor would be empowered to lead Churches. We'd see even more ethnic and gender diversity when it came to leadership. We'd see more indigenous leadership. The broken, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the Poor would become apostles, prophets, church planters, missionaries, and executives; advancing the kingdom of God like we've never seen. We'd see an incredible revival and transformation in under-resourced communities.

Empowerment is a way of understanding the declaration of Christ, stating that He came to give sight to the blind and set the captives free (Luke 4). Empowerment is a way of understanding the many interactions of Christ with women. Empowerment is a way of understanding the miracles of Christ. Empowerment is a way of understanding discipleship and mission. As Christians we must wrestle with how we are stewarding and extending empowerment.