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For the Record…

I’m grateful for Phil Johnson’s gracious and clear reply to my post responding to his Facebook “poke” (his word) at me. I’m even more grateful that Phil isn’t interested in a prolonged brouhaha, which the Internet sees too much of on any given day and rarely results in much light. So this won’t be a prolonged reply inviting more exchange, and in a very real sense it’s not directed at Phil, though I’ll use some parts of his post as convenient jumping off points. It’s trying to set matters straight publicly–matters having to do with what I do/don’t think about some very important issues. And since I’m the only one who can definitively say what I think, I suppose I have to be the one to say it.

Let me apologize for the length of this. If you like, skip to a section that most interests you. But I’ve written at some length because I don’t intend to revisit these things. So here goes:

1. I am unwaveringly pro-life.

I believe life begins at the moment of conception. I believe that life ought and must be protected. And I consider myself consistently pro-life, which I define as valuing and wanting to defend life from the womb to the tomb. I decry as heinous, evil, tragic and sad any unjust taking of life by anyone at any time against any person of any age–pre-birth until death. Some people took exception to a tweet where I asked an interlocutor “What about the …

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I’m Happy to Talk with Dr. Phil

Incidents in the country have been rearranging the evangelical landscape for the last couple of years now. Not any of the incidents involving typical “culture war” issues, like homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Apart from some fraying between older and younger evangelicals, the evangelical phalanx stands tall and strong on those fronts.

But mention “justice” and that wall of evangelical troops splits like the Red Sea and turns against itself. Men who worked as fellow combatants in the traditional “culture war” begin to suspect and even attack one another when “justice” becomes the topic.

Case in point: My brother in Christ, Phil Johnson, had this to say of me recently on his Facebook feed:

 

So, according to Phil, I’m now “an agitator for the radical left #BlackLivesMatter movement.” And, apparently, I’m no longing “arguing for a more biblical, gospel-centered approach to ministry.” If I understand this correctly, I’m the one now suffering “mission drift,” one swept so powerfully to the left that the Bible and gospel have lost its center in my ministry.

So much could be said here. But I don’t want to risk saying more than I ought to say. I want to say only what needs to be said. The lines that follow are meant to be crisp so that I don’t sin in saying too much. They’re not meant to be curt or clipped as if to communicate anger or personal animus. Until this, I’ve never had anything but pleasant interactions with Phil. I hope such pleasantry¬†continues, but his …

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A Call to Evangelical Pastors: Let’s Do Our Part to End Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration

In the Laquan McDonald case we’ve received another warning against uncritical support for and unaccountable uses of authority.

It’s another shooting ruled a murder by officials that would have gone unchallenged and unaddressed were it not for video evidence to the contrary. Prosecutors have rightly moved to press charges against officer Van Dyke for the shooting. At this writing, it’s unclear whether the other officers who witnessed the shooting and participated in a false police report alleging McDonald “lunged at” officers will face any charges.

Here’s what’s clear to this pastor: Nothing will change for the better unless people of sound judgment and good character act.

I have to believe that among those of sound judgment and good character Christian pastors must be at the forefront. Our Bibles call us to be examples to the flock in virtue and practical living. Nowhere is our virtue more tested and our people in need of not only good teaching but good examples than in the real world travesties and tragedies like the shooting of Laquan McDonald. And at no time is our example and leadership more urgent than when such travesties and tragedies are ubiquitous, everywhere, seemingly all the time. How do we think our people will pursue justice if their leaders won’t?

After watching the video of McDonald being slayed by a uniformed officer, I tried to get clear in my own heart and head what I was for and against as a pastor. Here’s my short list of affirmations and denials:

    The Bible.

I¬†believe the Bible …

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Somebody Prayed for Me

I’ve only felt a sense of calling this clearly and strongly on one other occasion. That’s when I first saw my wife and knew in an instant that I would marry her. A certainty something like that attends this call to be a part of the Anacostia River Church mission.

Two weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, the spiritual family of God called Anacostia River Church (ARC) launched its first public service. The service came with the swiftness of a flooded river. Before we knew it, we were busy about ordering supplies, organizing ministry teams, and “launching” a church. I don’t know who first coined the term “launch” when it comes to church “plants” (an interesting mixed metaphor), but they were onto something for we were jumping and flinging ourselves fully into the work! And what a joy it’s been!

People frequently ask me, “How’s the church plant going?” I’m grateful for the love and interest that prompts that query. But I’ve yet to find an adequate way of describing the great privilege I have of shepherding along with two incredibly gifted and godly elders, or the slight staggering I feel when I think of the amazing people the Lord has sent on this mission, or the awe at seeing how the Lord has provided for us at every turn, or the quickening happening in my soul as we work to evangelize the neighborhood. Starting a new church produces a lot of good fruit when the Lord blesses it!

Some of …

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How Deep the Root of Racism?

When my wife and I purchased our first home, I determined our lawn would be at least comparable to that lovely lush landscape of the guy two doors down. Our street took a lot of pride in curbside appeal. I joined them in the weekly ritual of weeding, seeding, planting, mowing, watering, raking, trimming and brimming with pride.

I spent a lot of time rooting shrubs and flowers, and sometimes digging up the roots of things that needed to go. I learned something valuable while bent over my spade, turning mulch, and worming my fingers into loam to find the extent of root balls: Only well-rooted plants survive, and sometimes that means roots must run deep.

That came home in a powerful way when someone gave me a cactus to plant. Actually, it wasn’t even a complete cactus, just a leaf. They told me it would grow anywhere and wouldn’t need much attention. So I stuck it in the dirt at the mailbox, the pretty white mailbox perched atop a white post with colorful tulips painted on its side. The cactus was meant to be the backdrop to the dancing colors of real tulips surrounding the post. Soon the cactus grew. The one leaf became two, then doubled again. Before I knew it the cactus had taken over the mailbox area, drinking up all the moisture and nutrients. My tulips drooped, faded and died.

Finally I decided to remove the cactus and replant the small bed around the mailbox. That’s when I discovered …

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Letters to a Young Protestor, 8: Black Crime

Dear Niecie,

What’s good? It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’m sorry about that. I trust school and life are good on your end?

I came across video footage of another young man gunned down by officers on February 11th. He apparently threw a stone at an officer, for which he should have been subdued and arrested. But instead, the officers fired at him in a busy intersection, pursued him, and when he turned to surrender gunned him down. We learned from the Mike Brown incident that police are only justified in pursuing and using lethal force when their lives are in danger or the fleeing suspect is thought to pose significant harm to the public. Neither appears to be the case here. It’s an emotional scene.

Keep in mind this is not a dramatization; it’s real life. We live in an indescribable age–one where some officers of the law are caught on cell phone cameras slaying citizens they’re sworn to protect. Even citizens with disabilities who make no aggressive motion–as in this incident from a couple years back. Eight officers with a police dog fire 41 times at this young man, hitting him 14 times and killing him. Is there no officer among us wise enough to talk down a man like this or find a way to subdue him? It’s insane!

But whenever you raise the issue of ending police brutality or ending the mass incarceration of African Americans, you’re bound to run into a lot of people who quickly stress “black …

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Letters to a Young Protestor, 5: The Conscience and Racism

Dear Niecie,

How are things since we’ve last written? Are you doing well in class? How are your friendships? Catch me up on your life outside the protests. I assume you have one! You’ve heard it say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Well, “All protest and no play makes Niecie a bitter girl”! Don’t forget it.

I thought about you as I read this morning’s paper. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the death of Franklin McCain. Now if you’re going to continue the struggle, you’ve got to know something about those who have gone before you. McCain was one of the “Greensboro Four,” the four young men who in 1960 began the sit-in movement at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. February 1 will mark the anniversary of the actual sit-in, which caught on like fire and spread throughout the country. Those sit-ins—and the disgraceful way those students were treated—pricked the nation’s conscience and began the slow sawing of segregation’s legs. In just six months the Woolworth’s lunch counter desegregated!

I hope this encourages you. You and your friends have a lot in common with McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., and David Richmond—the other three who sat-in that day. First, they were college freshmen, just as you are. Never underestimate the power of students to change the world—from Soweto to Tiananmen Square to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and others during the Civil Rights Movement. You stand in a proud tradition as you and your classmates …

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Today Is a Time to Mourn

I went to bed last night heartsick and distressed over the shooting deaths of two New York Police Department officers. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were sitting in their cruiser unsuspecting when an African-American gunman opened fire on them. The gunman made his way from his home in Baltimore, where he shot his ex-girlfriend earlier in the day, to the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn where the officers were on duty. After killing the officers the man fled into the subway where he took his own life. Judging from his social media account, he was a deeply troubled man bent on killing officers. His actions were more than cowardly or tragic; they were evil.

There is no biblical, logical or social justification for such violence and wickedness. None. This shooting must be seen for what it is: a heinous and evil act. The damage done is incalculable and irreparable.

Officer Wenjian Liu was a 7-year veteran of the NYPD. He was married two months and before the honeymoon was over his wife finds herself a grieving widow.

Officer Rafael Ramos served the NYPD for two years. He, too, leaves behind a wife and a 13-year old son. Ramos was also a faithful member of his local church. He was to the Christian more than a public servant. He was a brother in the Lord. His wife will mourn today and for a long while to come. His son will grow through his most formative years without the strong hand of his father to …

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Veteran White Female Police Officer Says We Need Policing Reform

Here’s a perspective worth considering from someone working both inside the system and for its betterment. This is 12 minutes or so well-spent.

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Barber Shop Grief

I’m still moved by the story “Tara” told. A beautiful young woman full of an infectious bouncing joy that helps her glide rather than walk. Normally beaming with a face-wide smile, she was, for Tara, sedate. The story began optimistically. She relayed to us a conversation she had with a student the previous Friday afternoon. It was the first open conversation she’d been able to have with this student, who had taken her class before but hadn’t often shown up. This semester had been different. He made some effort, took interest in the subject, and began to build relationships.

The two of them sat working on a project together. As their hands molded materials and fashioned art, their words flowed effortlessly. He began to talk about his philosophy of life: “Live fast, die young.” Or was it “die hard.” Patiently, Tara asked why he took that view. As they talked, she began to hold out the hope of the gospel. For the first time, he seemed genuinely interested. In fact, he seemed hopeful. So Tara invited him to church with her the following Sunday.

Saturday evening she called to arrange time to pick him up. As she told the story, her face dimmed from its usual glow. If a light gray cloud could fill a face, I suppose that’s what it looked like. She explained that when she called to arrange for her student to come to church with her that Sunday, his mother informed her that he wouldn’t be going. Between …

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