City of Refuge United Church of Christ, San Francisco, Calif.
Theos/logos God words or words about God are not etched in granite…they metamorphosise with time. All of us see things a bit differently than how we saw them ten years ago, and certainly our theology has progressed since we were first saved. Some of us are “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” the title of a book I read last year. We met Jesus at an earlier time before we experienced life and thought we knew all about Him, only to find out this walk with Jesus must be experiential…you must walk with Him to know Him. You must suffer with Him to know Him. The Winans wrote a song with the lyrics ‘What would I know about being restored if I’d never lost my place, and what would I know about mercy if I hadn’t gotten out of grace.”
The church of Jesus Christ is also in the midst of change, some of it for the better, and some of it for the worse. Some of our theology binds while some sets free. Jesus established the role of ministry that was being ushered in by the phenomenon of God being made flesh when He read from the scroll of Isaiah one Sabbath morning. Jesus said the Spirit of the Sovereign God was upon Him for this purpose…to
PREACH GOOD TIDINGS TO THE MEEK
BIND UP THE BROKEN HEARTED
PROCLAIM LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES
OPEN THE PRISON TO THEM THAT ARE BOUND
TO PROCLAIM THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR …THE YEAR OF JUBILEE
TO COMFORT ALL THAT MOURN
TO GIVE BEAUTY FOR ASHES AND THE OIL OF JOY FOR MOURNING
TO GIVE A GARMENT OF PRAISE FOR THE SPIRIT OF HEAVINESS
TO MAKE US TREES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, PLANTINGS OF THE LORD.
This must also be our purpose.
All ministry that purports to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ must pass this litmus test, this acid test, does the ministry promote you, your views, philosophy and dogma or does it represent the real Jesus.
There is oppressive theology being preached in the body of Christ. Listen carefully to the television, the radio, read carefully the books, and the mailings. You will see three distinct basic teachings that are the root of oppressive theology.
I . NATIONALITY OF GOD
In this country we often hear “God is the God of our nation. We are the people God loves most. Let’s get America back to God.” It is as though we have exclusive rights to God. In our nation what is called Christianity is often Americanism. “God must prefer my country because I do.” With this thinking the majority race can close the borders to aliens, oppress minorities, justify foreign wars or whatever because “God is our God and prefers us.” The republicans think God belongs to them. White folks think God belongs to them. Israelis own God, Arabs try to own God… and we African Americans sometimes feel God loves us much more than anyone else. (everyone different from us is less than us)
Making God a God of nations leads us to making God a God of denominations. Just within the Christian church we teach baptism in Jesus name , in the names of the trinity, for adults only, for children only, by immersion, by sprinkling, as necessary for salvation, and as a prerequisite for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Each denomination feels they have the revelation and therefore if” I am right you must be wrong.” Turf wars abound for ownership of the real word of God. It is amazing the division this causes. God is not a God of any nation, or any denomination. Nations are formed to facilitate the needs of their citizens. Denominations are set up to facilitate the work of the church on earth. People, individuals not buildings or organizations are called to be a habitation for the spirit of God. We must preach a gospel that heals and brings wholeness to the person. Whole healthy persons get together and form a healthy denomination.
II. PRECONCEIVED INTERPRETATION
We often go to the bible already sure of what it says. We have decided God is for this and against that, and we approach scripture looking for those passages that defend our position. It doesn’t matter if they are taken out of context or not. What if we came to the study of scripture seeking to understand the times, the context, the politics, the culture, the religion, and the social norm represented by the thousands of years of history in the Word? Then we would be equipped to make the scripture relevant to the times we live in. Rightly dividing the word of truth would help us know what was intended for literal translation and what was given to teach a spiritual principle.
III. INHERITED OPPRESSION
Lastly to my sisters and brothers of the African Diaspora, we have been a historically oppressed people. We were taught the word of God by the same people who were felt fully justified by the Word of God to sell us, brand us , beat us, and sell off our children. Good southern religious folks who could sing Amazing Grace on the deck of a slave ship. Our understanding of a God that could allow such atrocities would have to leave us feeling inferior. How does an inferior group of people feel superior? The oppressed become oppressors. It is a learned behavior. Light colored folks feel superior to dark folks. Skinny folks feel superior to fat folks. Educated folks feel superior to undereducated folks. Men lord over women, ‘haves’ lord over the ‘have nots’. The pulpit often becomes a place of monarchy, not ministry.
Whoever is considered the gentile in our midst is often oppressed by us. African Americans who got their opportunity through Affirmative Action are speaking against it. While you are driving your car and living in your house and eating your food remember folks just a few years ago got lynched for less. We will not be truly free until we adopt a theology that does not oppress any one. It is a chain on our hearts and with it we keep each other in chains. OPEN THE PRISON TO THEM THAT ARE BOUND. LET’S HAVE A YEAR OF JUBILEE! LET’S LIFT THE CLOUD OF JUDGMENT AND ALLOW A CELEBRATION OF DIVERSITY. LET’S TEAR DOWN THE WALLS OF PARTITION WE BUILT TO DIVIDE US AND LOOSE THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO FLOW FROM CHURCH TO TEMPLE TO CATHEDRAL TO MISSION TO PRAYER GROUP. LETS SET EACH OTHER FREE.
Founder and senior pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, Calif., Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder was consecrated in 2003 as presiding bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a multi-denominational fellowship of primarily African-American churches. A graduate of the Certificate of Ministry and Master of Arts programs at Pacific School of Religion, she received her Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary and serves on the board of Starr King School for the Ministry. She is the author of Where the Edge Gathers: A Theology of Homiletic and Radical Inclusion.