Paul Louis Metzger

Paul Louis Metzger, author of Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church, is Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Portland, OR. He is also the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins at the seminary. His other works include The Word of Christ and the World of Culture (Eerdmans, 2003) and Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology (T&T Clark International, 2005). Professor Metzger is also Editor of Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture.


Urban Renewal, Negro Removal

October 7th, 2011

Back in May of this year, I posted on Facebook and wrote, “A sobering, disturbing, significant article. While gentrification is a complex reality, we must work diligently to partner with vulnerable communities so that they are not displaced/replaced.”  The article itself begins with the words, “Portland, already the whitest major city in the country, has become whiter at its core even as surrounding areas have grown more diverse…Nearly 10,000 people of color, mostly African Americans, also moved out. They moved to the city’s eastern edges, where sidewalks, grocery stores and access to public transit is limited.”

One of my Facebook friends wrote, “Help me understand what white people are doing wrong, Paul. (I don’t like looking at things with ‘color’ in mind to begin with—isn’t this more a basic issue of economics?) If they move out to the suburbs it’s bad. If they live in the inner city it’s bad. What is the problem and what solutions do you propose?”  These are great questions.

I intended to respond in May, but then my Dad passed away.  I have not had the opportunity or emotional strength to write this piece until now.  I would like to begin with remarks made by Paul Kurth, who also wrote me in May in response to my post.  Paul is a designer at a Portland architecture firm.  Paul argued, “Architecturally, the city is an evolving organism and must change to survive—some buildings and neighborhoods get worn out and need to be fixed, but after reconstruction the neighborhood isn’t the same because it’s hard to make new buildings affordable without subsidies. Good city planning mixes uses and income levels. Affordable housing should be built alongside the more expensive homes. The segregation of higher income areas (the Pearl District) isn’t helping to ease economic tensions/imbalance. It’s up to the people who have the means and choice to make changes to integrate their own lives with people who are different than themselves and don’t have many choices.”

Sometimes we don’t determine to integrate our lives with people who are different because of lack of bandwidth and/or interest.  Sometimes we aren’t even aware of gentrification’s evolution and negative impact on some vulnerable (yet resilient) communities.  But if we are really about community, we must be diligent to diversify.  While people are often well-intentioned who claim that we should not look at things with color in mind, the lack of awareness of color is problematic for various reasons.  For one, we are not color blind; nor should we be.  Attention to color is attentiveness to the richness of cultural diversity.  Moreover, we often associate with those who are most like us.  So, if we are not intentional, we will not engage those who are of different ethnic backgrounds, especially when they belong to a different economic demographic.  And in America, race and class issues often track with one another historically and presently.  While I appreciate people’s desire to be color blind in the sense of not prejudging people, we must be intentional and see people for who they are in the fullness of their ethnic and cultural identity, including the color of their skin, though not exclusively so.  Moreover, given how racial profiling often occurs today in unimaginable ways (such as the racial profiling of a student I know in Portland by a white police officer last spring), we would be blind to injustices if we sought to be blind to matters pertaining to the color of one’s skin.

Back to my Facebook friend’s concerns.  I have no problem with people of diverse ethnicities moving into or out of Portland’s heart.  What I have problems with is when it is against their will.  There used to be a thriving African American community in what is now the Rose Quarter.  Then the community was displaced to Northeast Portland as a result of city planning endeavors.  I doubt if city planners would ever restructure thriving affluent communities on the Northwest side of town for whatever the reason, if such restructuring would threaten to displace them.  Given the recent migration of young Bohemians with bistros and art studios to Northeast Portland, African Americans living there have been displaced to places like Gresham and Beaverton.

My friend Robert Wall, a former Portland government official, reflects on Portland’s patterns of gentrification: “In most of these cases the driving force is the planning process without the incentives to remain.  I find it interesting that in almost every redevelopment there are huge profits made. Most of these profits are funded by the set aside tax dollars paid by the land owners prior to the redevelopment. So, in part we have a planning problem and a greed problem that adds up to racial discrimination. It used to be called red-lining. Now it’s mainly green-lining (of someone else’s pocket).”  Mr. Wall maintains that whenever a few people benefit economically from decisions that they know negatively impact many, it is greed.  Doesn’t that sound like greed to you?

The African American church has been significantly impacted by this trend.  So, what can be done?

Sister churches of diverse ethnicity can partner with them to minister effectively in their increasingly diverse context by working with African American pastors and congregations to reach out in these increasingly diverse settings.  This may include doing service projects together in the community, or sending a team of people to the churches in the historically African American community who would become members of those African American churches.

Moreover, one can work with one’s neighbors to keep the community intact.  A friend of mine who lives in Northeast Portland worked with his neighbors to make sure that one family would not have to move when the cost of living and taxes rose.  That family switched houses with another family: the family who could no longer afford their house moved into their neighbors’ house that was more affordable, and those neighbors moved into theirs, which they were able to afford.  While this is not often possible for a variety of reasons, it became reality for this neighborhood.

It is also important to be in contact with one’s city commissioner and one’s neighborhood association, advocating for equality and diversity.  When neighbors partner together in this way, the possibility exists that unjust forms of gentrification will occur less often.

It is also critical that we make ourselves aware of past and present tensions.  One reason why Portland’s central city is so white is because it was intended to be so historically, as one African American pastor reasoned with me recently.  A friend who teaches urban studies at a local university informed me that for many African Americans urban renewal is Negro removal.  He often cites the expansion of Emmanuel Hospital in the 1970s as one such example (See discussion on this expansion and its impact).  Moreover, red lining along with city developments historically in thriving African American sections of town along with laws on the books in Oregon and Portland in days gone by certainly made it extremely difficult for African Americans to live in Portland and Oregon generally.  The impact of those decisions is still felt in the city, even though those laws are no longer in place.  With this long-standing impact in mind, we need to restructure our laws and neighborhoods so that people of diverse ethnicities will feel more welcome and their businesses can survive and thrive. (See one recent proposal).  Cities and states offer such benefits for thriving companies to move to their regions.  The same kinds of incentives should be offered to those communities and businesses that have been impacted negatively from various forms of gentrification and urban renewal.  While some might take the following statement by an African American business woman in Northeast Portland for sour grapes, I take it to be more in keeping with what occurred to the migrants in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, albeit in a less overt and more subtle manner: “A black person’s property has no value until a white person owns it.”  It’s so easy to try and deny her view when one is white.  But one cannot deny her experience, if one has not lived in her shoes.

This point on experience and interpretation of events also calls to mind the statement made at a public gathering in one Northeast Portland neighborhood a few years ago.  A group of young white business owners of cafes and bistros and other such shops were meeting to protest the impending attempt of Starbucks to enter the neighborhood.  Those gathered there were recent transplants, and they were afraid that Starbucks would hurt their businesses.  It was almost as if they were saying, “A small business owner’s property has no value until Starbucks owns it.”  One African American man standing in the back during the gathering finally spoke up and said something to the effect, “To the traditional community (African American), you are the Starbucks.”  So, it is.  I often am.  So, now that I know that I am will I become more sensitive, as Starbucks has been known to do in many cases, or will I keep on pouring lattes laced with opium for the masses?

Did Lincoln Die in Vain?

May 16th, 2011

Here’s the latest post from Paul Louis Metzger on matters of race. We welcome your comments and interaction on over at new-wineskins.org where this is cross-posted .

Did Lincoln Die in Vain?
by Paul Louis Metzger

A recent TIME Magazine article, “The Civil War, 150 Years Later,” claims that we’re still fighting the Civil War. The sub-heading of the article includes these lines, “North and South shared the burden of slavery, and after the war, they shared in forgetting about it.” The front cover bears a picture of Lincoln shedding a tear and includes the words: “The endless battle over the war’s true cause would make Lincoln weep.” Did Lincoln die in vain?

Slavery was the fundamental reason why the North and South went to war, but according to the TIME article, you wouldn’t know it based on how history and Hollywood have often portrayed the conflict and its origins. No one likes to admit guilt, unless perhaps it is someone else’s. But Lincoln viewed things differently. He believed the entire country was to blame for the war (a point often lost on us Northerners). Lincoln no doubt knew what the TIME article claims: “Slavery was not incidental to America’s origins; it was central” (p. 48).

This TIME article got me thinking further about the matter. I reviewed three of Lincoln’s most famous speeches: his first inaugural address, the Gettysburg address, and his second inaugural. I came across a “This American Life” documentary on the second inaugural. The following statement from the program puts the matter well: “In his second inaugural address, Lincoln wondered aloud why God saw fit to send the slaughter of the Civil War to the United States. His conclusion: that slavery was a kind of original sin for the United States, for both North and South, and all Americans had to do penance for it.” Assuming that this is correct, if the Lincoln of the second inaugural were here today, I wonder if he would claim that those who died in the Civil War to do penance for the nation’s “original sin” died in vain based on the North’s and South’s ongoing denial of the war’s true cause.

So often, we function with pragmatic and collective amnesia for the sake of pursuing progress. Like Teddy Roosevelt who according to the article became the champion of reconciliation and the prophet of progress, we grew up as a nation post-Civil War receiving “a master tutorial in leaving certain things unsaid in the pursuit of harmony” (TIME, p. 48). But there can never really be progress where there is no ownership and repentance of personal and corporate sins. As 1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No confession, no forgiveness, no cleansing, no true progress. This is not simply an individual matter. What some of us take to be true personally for our spiritual condition and relationship with God must be taken to be true corporately as a church and as a nation.

Lincoln did not view slavery as the sin of the South for which the North brought judgment during the war. As stated above, Lincoln saw the war and its carnage as the judgment of God on the North and the South. Lincoln’s words taken from the second inaugural come to us from the grave:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (link).

The American church is often so rootless. While you and I may not have not committed any act to reinforce the evolving structures that slavery and its post-Civil War legacy generated, are we doing something—anything—to overturn those structures the previous generations put in place and nurtured? If not, we are still reinforcing those evil structures, for failing to act righteously is just as bad as acting in an unrighteous manner. Both forms of sin flow from a hardened heart and both forms of sin harden fallen structures. We must understand that history is with us. It lives into the present. Lincoln saw the connection between the nation’s past and its present trial at the time of the Civil War. The connection was and is organic. As such, we are not talking about fatalism. Fatalism involves a sense of helplessness, being bound to impersonal cause and effect forces beyond our control. Corporate guilt passed down from generation to generation is not a problem we are powerless to challenge. We can bring an end to it by owning it and restructuring our individual and corporate existence, beginning with acknowledging the real cause of the War and repenting of our nation’s ongoing disengagement from our racialized story.

By not seeing that North and South alike were to blame for the Civil War (TIME, p. 51) and by not advocating for racial equality and unity in our day, the people who according to Lincoln died to do penance, from his perspective, may have actually died in vain. The same might be true for Lincoln. If only we could talk to him now.

I believe we listen more to General George McClellan today than we do President Lincoln. McClellan had been Lincoln’s chief general at the outset of the war and later Lincoln defeated McClellan on the way to his short-lived second term in office as President of the United States. McClellan viewed the race question as “incidental and subsidiary” to unity (TIME, p. 42). But what kind of unity is it when there is no reconciliation? McClellan “did not perceive…that the Union and slavery had become irreconcilable” (TIME, p. 46). The same held true during the Civil Rights era, but Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his movement sought to show us that separate but supposedly equal is no real equality and cannot sustain a nation—or a church.

Things still have not changed all that much as a country and as the church in this country (See the consumingjesus.org post by Daniel Fan titled “Is Racism Over Now That a Black Man is President of the United States?”. See also the link to The Oregonian “Opinion” piece by Clifford Chappell titled “Is Racism Gone for Good?” along with the ensuing interview at consumingjesus.org with Rev. Chappell). In all too many quarters, we are still separate and nothing more than supposedly equal. As Black Theologian James Cone said in a 2006 interview, in some ways the situation is actually worse in terms of such things as health care, education, employment, and the prison system. In the interview, Cone exhorts white theologians to speak out forthrightly about the unrighteous situation in which we find ourselves, claiming that the white Christian establishment is complicit. As a white theologian, I believe we should listen to Lincoln and Cone, among others, and speak out and live forthrightly. Otherwise, I fear that not only Lincoln’s death but also Jesus’ death may be robbed of its redemptive, catalytic power in our lives (See 1 Corinthians 1:17 where Paul talks about the possibility of emptying Christ’s cross of its power in his ministry if he were to preach the gospel with words of human wisdom). Sins of omission (righteous acts we have failed to do) are just as evil as sins of commission (evils we have committed). Jesus died for both. May we live to please him in every way, making sure we contend against sins of commission and omission.

What does speaking out and living forthrightly look like—especially in the church? For starters, we need to denounce the McClellan version of the church growth principle that claims that the race question is incidental and subsidiary to Christian unity. What kind of unity are we talking about when we claim that we are separate but equal in our ecclesial experience (separate churches for whites and blacks and others)? The McClellan church growth principle is pragmatic, though not practical if we mean missional. Christendom’s collapse in our country is bound up with the Civil War: Christianity came to be viewed as captive to cultural trends—the North and South had the same red, white and black letter Bible but read and preached it differently on matters black and white. Christian America took a further hit during the Civil Rights era, as many Christian conservatives stood in opposition to King’s biblical mandate. The Evangelical church will take another hit shortly if white Evangelicalism doesn’t make far greater space for unity along ethnic lines in its worship centers across the land, for America is becoming increasingly brown, decreasingly white.

However, our concern is not political correctness, opportunism and penance, but biblical justice and repentance. Again, 1 John 1:9 puts it well: “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (This is not simply an individual, personal matter. The prophets of old identified with their people’s sin and confessed on their behalf; see Daniel 9:1-19). No confession, no forgiveness, no cleansing, no true progress. What kind of unity and progress are we talking about when we are talking about unity and progress based on non-confessed sins of commission and omission? There is no prophetic power and progress in such unity.

Lincoln was seen as a rabble rouser in his day. That’s why he got shot in the head. King was seen as a rabble rouser in his day. That’s why he got shot in the head. Jesus was seen as a rabble rouser in his day. That’s one key reason why he was hung on a cross. Each one died to bring unity and create one people out of the ashes of disparity. While as a Protestant, I do not believe in doing penance, I do believe that we are responsible for our sins of commission and omission. When we don’t own the sins of our past and present disunity whereby we fail to love our brothers and sisters of diverse ethnicity in concrete forms of ecclesial and civic engagement, it is almost as if we are saying with our lives that Lincoln, King, and the Lord Jesus died in vain. Did they?

Please  comment on cross-posted article on new-wineskins.org .

A Vulnerable Love

April 18th, 2011

I had breakfast the other day in Chicago with a young white pastor. He had recently planted a church in an African American community in Chicago’s inner city. I was so refreshed by his sharing of personal pain, weakness and his sense of isolation in ministry—not because I want him to suffer—but because he is leaning into Christ in a profound way. God is driving him to depend on the Spirit of Jesus in a personally vulnerable ministry setting. Although he is a very secure Christian, he is in a ministry context that is beyond his comfort zone where he can minister from strength. I am confident that God will use him mightily, for God’s grace is always made manifest through our weakness and dependence on Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This is true in any ministry context, but it is all the more true in a multi-ethnic and diverse economic setting where we so often treat those different from us as “the other(s)” who need our help with no sense of our needing theirs. I would go so far as to say that one cannot minister effectively in a multi-ethnic and economically challenged context apart from a deepening sense of personal weakness and need. In what follows, I will seek to unpack this point.

One of the main reasons I believe we find it difficult to move beyond prejudice and objectification toward reconciliation with “the other” is our fear of vulnerability. The fear of losing control and of being vulnerable leads us to conceive of people who look different from us as always “them.” White Christian leaders like me often like to minister from a position of strength. No doubt, those of other complexions do as well. Flesh (as in carnality)—no matter the color of one’s skin—enjoys boasting in oneself. But what usually differentiates us is that many of us white Christian leaders have a long history of ministering from a position of supposed strength, especially when engaging those of diverse ethnicities. We often have no idea of how much power and privilege we have until they are challenged or taken away from us. Ministry undertaken from seeming strength fails to perceive one’s relational need. As a result, we fail to sense our need to lean into God, and so we minister from the flesh. The only ones we can connect with in such settings are those belonging to our homogeneous demographic groupings of whatever kind—those we naturally like and those like us.

In contrast, Jesus brought people together who previously were opposed to one another through his weakness on the cross. As a result of his crucifixion and resurrection and our participation in him, there is no longer any division between male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free (Galatians 3:28). Jesus’ greatest hour of power—the hour of glory of cross and resurrection recorded in John’s Gospel—was when he was most dependent, hanging on a cross and depending on the Father to raise him from the dead. Following from this, when Paul was weak in Christ, God’s power was manifest most profoundly through him (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul’s very conversion experience and early Christian life involved incredible dependence on others: Saul was led as a blind man to Ananias who laid his hands on him so that his sight could be restored; and he was given the right hand of fellowship by the Christian community through Barnabas (Acts 9:8, 17-18, 26-28). Saul experienced great suffering in ministry—beginning with dependence on others, especially dependence on the Christian community, whom he had once persecuted. How humbling that must have been for Saul who became Paul!

Without experiencing vulnerability in ministry whereby we sense our need for those who are different from us (those we would often think are in need of our help without a sense of our being in need of theirs), we will never experience the breaking down of divisions between those of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. Instead, we will reinforce barriers by ministering out of privilege. In fact, it is not enough to minister to others whereby we use our power for their good. We must sense our need for them and receive from them as well. Only when there is give and take, where people are interdependent, is there intimacy in relations and reconciliation. Paul could never have been the Apostle to the Gentiles had he not become so dependent on Jesus and the church whom he once had persecuted. He was enslaved to Jesus’ vulnerable love that breaks down divisions between people.

White Christian leaders like me often treat African Americans, legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, and the homeless as “them” or as “those people” who need us. When this is our posture and perspective, we violate these people. What is required is that we experience vulnerability, which would involve encountering these people face to face, eye to eye, and heart to heart. While this is a common problem for the majority culture in any given society, it should not be common among God’s shepherds of his people. It is only as we experience vulnerability and spiritual vertigo whereby we find ourselves secure in the Good Shepherd’s embrace that we will be in a position to move beyond the marginalization of others toward mutuality and partnership in ministry.

The young white pastor friend to whom I referred at the outset of this piece shared with me that his spiritual director is an African American woman. I couldn’t believe it when he told me. Not that this is scandalous, but because it would often be viewed as scandalous to many white male leaders, I believe. I was so impressed, and hope that other white male pastors—and white theologians like myself—will avail ourselves of similar opportunities. My young pastor friend informed me that he recently told his spiritual director how isolated and weak he feels in ministry. He was wondering if God was no longer working in and through him. His spiritual director responded by saying something to the effect of “Don’t pull back. You are truly experiencing the fruit of the Spirit in your ministry.” And again, “Now you know how I feel every day as an African American woman.”

Now my young pastor friend is really beginning to connect with his congregation, bearing much fruit. Instead of modeling professional distance, my friend models pastoral intimacy with his ministry team at the church. His ministry team made up of people of diverse ethnicities encourages him to keep pressing on and into Christ’s vulnerable love with them.

I hold out great hope for this young pastor in the inner city of Chicago in terms of breaking down ethnic barriers. Instead of approaching people of other ethnicities from a position of presumed strength, he is approaching them from an authentic form of weakness. He senses his relational need for them, thereby moving beyond charity toward the poor and condescension toward non-whites. He is pressing into community where the Spirit’s charitable fruit breaks down divisions. The poor is no longer them. The poor is me. The poor is each one of us. You are no longer “the other.” I am in you and you are in me.

The John 17:23 Network – April gathering

April 7th, 2011

The John 17:23 Network will be gathering for a time of worship, prayer, and celebration on Sunday, April 10 at 6:00pm at Trinity Full Gospel Pentecostal Church (4801 NE 19th Ave. in Portland). We hope you’ll join us!

Paul Louis Metzger interviewed on the Multi-Ethnic Church podcast

March 23rd, 2011

I appreciated having the opportunity to talk recently with Mark DeYmaz on his radio program about race, class, consumerism and the multi-ethnic church. Please let me know your reflections based on the interview. I thank God for Mark and his shared vision to live into Jesus’ prayer in John 17: may we (the church) be one as he and the Father are one so that the world will know that God has sent his Son. Such unity includes multi-ethnic church communion.

Click here to listen to the interview.

The John 17:23 Network – March gathering (with a special focus on illegal immigration)

February 23rd, 2011

On Sunday, March 13, The John 17:23 Network will take a special look at how the values of the network penetrate the issue of illegal immigration – moving beyond petty politics to people. This will be a great opportunity to engage the many complex issues surrounding this specific challenge to unity in the Body of Christ.

Join us on Sunday, March 13 at 6:00pm at Imago Dei Community (1304 SE Ankeny in Portland) in the Ankeny building, room 101. This event is open to the public. See you there!

For some material to get you thinking, check out the film Papers, this article by J. Mark DeYmaz and this op-ed by Rabbi Maurice Harris.

The John 17:23 Network – gathering on 2/13

February 11th, 2011

Dear friends,

We thank God for your partnership in The John 17:23 Network. Many of you were able to attend the gathering at Trinity Full Gospel Pentecostal Church on January 30. God moved mightily in our midst through worship and celebration. As many people said during and after the event, they experienced a taste of heaven, witnessing such diverse unity in the body of Christ.

Whereas the January gathering of The John 17:23 Network focused on worship and celebration, the February and March gatherings will be more educational in nature. This Sunday evening, 2/13, Dr. Brad Harper will co-lead with us and share about the importance of developing multiethnic churches. Before coming to Multnomah University to teach in 1999, Dr. Harper was a pastor in St. Louis, Missouri for 13 years. He was very involved with seeking after unity in the body of Christ along multiethnic lines and will bring his experiences and insights to bear on the discussion Sunday evening.

Our February gathering will be held this Sunday, 2/13 at 6:00pm at Central Bible Church’s Wilcox House. Central Bible Church’s address is 8815 NE Glisan St. The Wilcox house is located on the southwest corner of the church’s property (at the corner of NE 87th Ave. & Glisan St.). You can park in the lower parking lot.
For periodic updates and related information pertaining to The John 17:23 Network, stay tuned at www.consumingjesus.org or email bgreenetz@multnomah.edu.

See you Sunday!

Paul Louis Metzger

A story of rhythm & grace…

February 11th, 2011

Jimi is an outrageously talented musician, a highly thoughtful pastor, and more recently – a friend of mine. Who else would be inspired to confront racial issues in the church by his history of playing with major rock-n-roll artists (think Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, etc.)? Austin-based writer Eileen Flynn recently wrote a profile of Jimi. Here’s an excerpt…

My meeting earlier this month with Jimi Calhoun falls into the better-late-than-never category. I’d been meaning to interview him since he first contacted me two years ago about his about-to-be-published book “A Story of Rhythm and Grace: What the Church Can Learn from Rock & Roll about Healing the Racial Divide.”

The great thing about Calhoun, a wiry, youthful-looking 63-year-old who has pursued careers as a rock ‘n’ roll musician and a church pastor, is that he’s both patient and perpetually moving forward. When we sat down for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in West Lake Hills, Calhoun had two new projects under way: a second book and an East Austin multi-ethnic church he and his wife are starting with two other couples.

But first I wanted to get caught up on “Rhythm and Grace.” In the book, Calhoun describes a life spent in “two cities.” In one city, he played bass guitar for big-name rock ‘n’ roll acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Dr. John. There, he found that music naturally brought together people of different races. In the other city, he served as a black pastor in a white evangelical community that emphasized loving God and loving people but wasn’t always adept at race relations.

Click here to keep reading.

The John 17:23 Network

February 1st, 2011

In April of 2010, many people gathered at Allen Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church for “An Evening of Prayerful Repentance and Reconciliation.” Dr. LeRoy Haynes, Jr. and Dr. John M. Perkins led us in a time of worship and celebration and prayerful solidarity that God’s people might become one in the Greater Portland area. Ever since then, many Christians have been meeting in different locations to encourage and exhort and equip the multi-ethnic Christian community in the greater Portland area. There have been ups and downs along the way. However, I now feel that we are gaining traction with these gatherings.

We are now giving a title to our monthly gatherings involving various churches. We are calling our gatherings “The John 17:23 Network.” The aim of The John 17:23 Network is to encourage, exhort, and equip the multi-ethnic Body of Christ in the greater Portland area to fulfill Jesus’ prayer in our midst that we might all be one.

We held our first meeting for the 2011 year at Trinity Full Gospel Pentecostal Church on January 30th. Pastor William Turner, the Senior Pastor of Trinity and his church’s choir, Pastor David Stevens, Senior Pastor of Central Bible Church, Pastor Cliff Chappell, Senior Pastor of All Nations Church of God in Christ, and a large gathering of people from various churches came together to pray and worship and encourage one another to seek to live into Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Many shared after the celebration how encouraged they were by the event. Our prayer is that such gatherings will energize us to run the marathon race of breaking down divisions and entering into the fullness of Jesus’ undying and reconciling love for the church.

Please stay tuned for updates regarding the upcoming meetings. Please see the attached document with details of the January 30th meeting as well as information regarding the meetings in February and March. Thank you. God bless you!

Paul Louis Metzger

Avatar Revisited at Out of Ur

August 10th, 2010

The following post is a response to a question concerning my recent article at Out of Ur regarding Pastor Mark Driscoll’s critique of the movie Avatar.  For the original article in Out of Ur, please refer to the following link: http://www.outofur.com/archives/2010/07/driscoll_avatar.html.
At one point in the article, I write: “The movie Avatar was not simply a movie to Pastor Driscoll. Nor was his critique of this movie simply poor cultural critique to me. It was a symbolic statement of total blindness to what the Western powers have done and continue to do in our day to indigenous peoples and their habitats globally all in the name of progress.”  This statement gave rise to the following comment by “Melody”:

‘…total blindness to what the Western powers have done and continue to do in our day to indigenous peoples and their habitats globally all in the name of progress.’  Paul, could you give three specific examples of this?

Here is my response to Melody’s comment:

Hello, Melody.  Thank you for your question.  I will seek to provide numerous examples past and present, and from different angles, after first outlining different aspects of what I mean by oppression in this context.

Oppression takes place in various ways, including the following: first, through direct military confrontation by Western powers that involves annexing domains and taking resources, as in the colonial period; second, through Western powers’ fostering dependence among indigenous peoples and developing countries coupled with enticing developing countries to open their doors to foreign markets, which at times leads these developing countries to take lands and resources from their own indigenous peoples to build industry; and third, by failing to overturn the structures of evil that carry on from the past into the present. When I speak of “total blindness to what the Western powers have done and continue to do in our day to indigenous peoples and their habitats globally all in the name of progress,” I have this multi-faceted view of what I call ”oppression” in the blog article in mind.  In what follows, I will engage these three points.

The way in which the Western powers function today is often quite different from previous times–here and abroad (as I stated in my Avatar article, the movie is a “page right out of American history”; while there are multitudes of pages to American history, the Manifest Destiny ambitions often present in US expansion fill scores of pages–see for example the video “How the West Was Lost: A Good Day to Die” {1993}).   One church leader in a developing country told a friend who’s worked with indigenous peoples internationally that “They used to come with machine guns.  Now they come with briefcases.”

My friend mentioned to me recently that in places like Rwanda and Cambodia indigenous people are displaced from land for the sake of big business. While it may be locals displacing the indigenous people, it is often bound up with efforts to cater to Western businesses and expansion of markets, as well as historic patterns of influence by the West that have inspired local manifestations of the drive to control weaker or more vulnerable populations and use their resources for one’s own good.  While I favor international trade and affirm God’s calling on humanity to steward and cultivate creation, it is also important that we are intentional on protecting the rights of the poor and marginalized as we pursue trade that is truly free.  Trade that is truly free ensures that the poor and marginalized do not fall through the cracks in the pursuit of ecomonic development.

I should say at this point that Western powers are not simply military powers, but also corporate business powers.  Globalization has strengths and weaknesses, and it is extremely important that governments have in place safeguards that protect the marginalized and weaker parties here and abroad. Given the biblical, orthodox doctrine of original sin and total depravity, we should never favor unregulated free trade: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Recent movies draw attention to the reality of how Western powers put pressure on developing world countries, and in a variety of ways.  Highly regarded film critic Emanuel Levy writes of the movie Blood Diamond, “Though mostly set in Sierra Leone in 1999-2000, ‘Blood Diamond’ clearly wants to draw attention to broader issues and other locales, namely, the exploitation of Third World countries by Western powers such as the U.K. and the U.S. While the scarce resource in this tale is diamonds, the same exploitation could be depicted in the case of other scarce natural resources, such as rubber, gold, oil, which more often than not results in a tragedy for the country in which they are found.”
http://www.emanuellevy.com/search/details.cfm?id=5195

The movie Hotel Rwanda draws attention to the post-colonial situation in which Western powers largely abandoned Rwanda when the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi people erupted into civil war and genocide (According to the BBC, the Belgian colonialists were responsible for increasing tensions between the groups: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1288230.stm).  The movie also intimates that a sense of dependence was created, and when the Western powers exited Rwanda, the infrastructure collapsed still further.

It is not simply Western political powers and market forces that create such dependence; churches do as well, as when largely white mega churches speak of ”adopting” villages in Africa or inner city African American churches.  In contrast, John M. Perkins rightly charges that we must replace charity with community development.  Community development involves working among people, drawing from their experiences and looking to support them rather than drive them, helping but also being helped by them, ministering relationally in a particular region together with them.  A friend of mine from Africa who is ministering in Haiti with a North American ministry providing holistic care is challenging North Americans and others from the developed West to minister with a Christ-centered approach that views the Haitian people as being as valuable as people from developed Western countries.  This more redemptive approach that my African friend espouses entails asking Haitians what they believe is necessary to effect change and not patronizing them.  ”Patronizing them” involves telling them what they need to do rather than partnering with them to confront the crisis.  The Haitians have told my African friend that they often feel as if they are treated as projects by Americans and other people from developed Western countries, and that the end game is producing a product that can be exhibited as a trophy back in the developed West.  This is a subtle form of oppression–not like the overt hostility of Avatar, but nonetheless still dehumanizing.

Like in Avatar, the Haitians may not have the technological and technical resources, but they do have strong relational bonds–they have one another.  In addition to my African friend, a pastor from a mega church that has a significant ministry in Haiti has conveyed the same point to me.  Both individuals have claimed that they have rarely if ever experienced such profound relationality.  My African friend said that he did not need to be known to be loved in Haiti–he was sucked in and loved and ministered to, even though he had come to minister. We have so much to learn from such people, and so should not go trying to fix them, but to partner with them, joining them in our shared search for significance and life in the midst of horrific suffering.

Mention was made above of the need to overturn longstanding structures of evil.  Native peoples in what became the United States were often forced onto some of the poorest land, and some reservations are on land used as key sites for storing nuclear waste.  See a recent AP discussion on the storage and cleanup of nuclear waste that bears directly on Native peoples today at
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iM3xkapqBxYkFxJyYO4QIGDf4TK
gD9GV63180
. Also, see an earlier article on a related topic at http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/kendziuk.html.  To the extent we benefit from the evils committed in the past and present against such indigenous people, to that extent we ourselves are culpable.

Lastly, Western consumers–myself being one of them–find it very difficult not to fall prey to furthering oppressive structures in impoverished communities worldwide, where sweatshops are created to produce goods at far cheaper costs and at far greater benefit to American consumers–and at great cost to the employees in those lands.  While one may say the people there are better off than they would otherwise be because they have these jobs, their well-being is certainly not up to the humane standards we prize.  Nike, Wal-Mart and other companies have had to face front and center these concerns, and these issues require resolution and reform in many spheres of industry and business worldwide (see the following articles:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/business/global/27nike.html and
http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/oct2008/db2008109_219930.
htm
).

I should add that the West is not alone in this and related problems.  See the following article for a multi-faceted discussion of China on the environment:
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/13/think_again_green_china.
See also the articles on worker abuse in China:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/05/business/worldbusiness/05sweatshop.html and
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/opinion/06tue2.html.
Lastly, see the article on ethnic minority oppression in China:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/08/china-protest-uighur-deaths

While the West, and America in particular, has done much good across the globe at various times through such efforts as world relief in times of crisis and in restoration of devastated countries after times of war as in the Marshall Plan for the restoration of Germany and also parallel efforts in Japan after WWII, our history is nonetheless a checkered one.  We must be alert to both dimensions if we are to further good practices and guard against destructive patterns and tendencies.

I trust this helps, Melody.  I need to sign off due to my travels.

All the best,
Paul Louis Metzger