Monday, March 12, 2007

Affirmative Action

The words, "Affirmative Action" evoke strong reactions from almost anyone concerned with societal fairness and the promotion of equality in a Democratic Society. For some, Affirmative Action involves the righting of historic wrongs and the offer of restitution for those who have been unfairly left behind in the pursuit of happiness. For others, Affirmative Action represents unfair advantages and set asides given to people who do not measure up to a common standard, unfairly punishing and leaving behind deserving individuals who have worked hard for opportunities that would be robbed from them in the name of "fairness".

These extremely different views of a common term are at the core of the problem surrounding discussions on Affirmative Action. What exactly are we talking about? We all want justice and we all want things to be fair, but how can we come to grips with a term that means something so different for those who feel it is worthy of discussion? An attempt to defend either stance on the Affirmative Action issue would probably prove divisive and in the end not offer any resolution to a difficult dilemma. I would like to offer, however, a Christian concept of Affirmative Action that I believe could prove useful and effective in helping to advance the Kingdom of God.

If we take the words "Affirmative" and "Action" at face value, they are both positive and powerful and offer us an excellent starting point from which to begin our discussion. One of the definitions Webster's dictionary uses for the word "affirmative" is "positive". A simple definition Webster's uses for the word "Action" is "deed". Put them together and you have a Positive Deed. If that sounds familiar to you, it's because Hebrews 10:24 calls us to "consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds". As Christians we are called to a standard of doing good deeds.

When we consider the Affirmative Action question, let us bypass the political banter and consider how we can honor God by seizing opportunities to do good. Firstly, as Christians, we shouldn't be waiting for others to do initiate service and assistance to others. This passage calls Christians to be proactive in doing good work ourselves. Why? Honestly, even when we do a limited amount in Jesus' Name, God carries our efforts a "mighty long way"! My first pastoral ministry assignment was to the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio. We were called to that work by a then relatively small, predominantly white congregation led by Pastor Rick Duncan called, Cuyahoga Valley Church. CVC didn't really have a detailed game plan, but they knew they wanted to do something positive to reach people for Jesus and they called a new ministry couple, Sam and Luz Jackson, to take on the challenge. The work wasn't easy, but through partnership, prayer, creativity, resourcefulness, mentoring, teaching, mercy and all kinds of other positive deeds, our small church plant, Old Cedar Community Church, sponsored by CVC was used by the Lord to change lives in remarkable ways.

Every member of that small congregation - members who struggled with lack of education, unemployment, substance abuse, you name it - every member moved on to be financially responsible, educationally proficient (some up to the college level) and morally grounded according to God's Word. All this, as a result of positive deeds done in Jesus Name! For every Christian, the Affirmative Action issue cannot be about who is deserving to receive our good deeds or a helping hand - according to Scripture, no one is really worthy! Rather, Christians should be motivated as recipients of God's mercy to share the life giving message of Jesus whenever that opportunity presents itself by doing good and touching lives everywhere we go. That's Affirmative Action that any Christian should be able to live with!

Until next time,


An Introduction

Motivated by powerful thoughts on the blogs of friends and observing the encouragement these thoughts have given to others, I decided that the time has come to add the blogging tool to my ministry tool chest. A major question among others that lingers in my mind that I will attempt to address in this forum was well-expressed by Rodney King’s desperate cry in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Riots – “Can’t we all just get along?” My perspective in addressing this and other issues is a particular one: I am a born-again Christian who has found himself facing issues of race, identity and community by virtue of my multicultural upbringing as an Army Brat and my cross-cultural marriage – I am African- American and my wife is a first generation Filipina immigrant. Furthermore as a vocational Christian worker, specifically an evangelical church planter who serves in a number of cultural settings, I have usually found myself in conflict with a ministry strategy that has produced some of the most successful churches in recent history. 20 years ago, when I was in Seminary completing my Masters of Divinity degree , Church growth experts pushed the principal that churches grow best when they do not cross racial, cultural and socio-economic barriers. This strategy became known as the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Many organizations still use this strategy as the foundation of their missions efforts. Though it may be true that churches grow faster and larger with such a focus, the New Testament calls Christians to intentionally cross barriers to share the Good News about Christ and to come together in unity to demonstrate the unifying power of the Gospel and the truthfulness of its message. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream wasn’t just that all ethnicities would excel and prosper, but that they would do so arm in arm with others ethnically and culturally different from themselves while united in their loving commitment to the service of others. This dream is particularly important to the evangelical household of faith. Fortunately, the emergence of the “Tiger Woods Generation” is forcing many of the ministries built on this principle to reevaluate their ministry approaches. It is my passionate desire to help fellow believers in Jesus Christ to “Get Along” in order to advance the Gospel message in a way that truly demonstrates the power of God to bridge divides and to unite people who have a history of hostility towards each other. I hope you will find my observations helpful and that my thoughts might motivate you to take steps to break through a few barriers in your own life. In the face of competing and sometimes hostile value systems the importance of this task for those of us who are Born-Again is summed up in the words of Benjamin Franklin as he expressed the urgency of unity in the war for American Independence:

“If we do not hang together, we will all surely hang separately.”

Let’s “hang together” and learn from each other that we might truly show our Christian identity in our love for one another. Until next time,