Monday, April 28, 2008

The Uneasy Conscience of a (Post) Modern Fundamentalist

For the past eighteen years, I’ve felt several overriding tensions as I live out the gospel in the ‘hood. In some ways it is an “uneasy conscience” as Dr. Carl F.H. Henry described a half a century ago. For me, this uneasiness surfaces from the tension between the false antithesis of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, specifically as it relates to the faith community’s responsibility to help the poor. The more that I ponder my fundamentalist-Baptist upbringing, the more I realize how this heritage played a part in creating the tension.

Due to my father’s ministry job as a worship pastor, I grew-up attending several different Fundamentalist-Baptist churches of the GARBC for the first twenty-two years of my life. During those two decades, I don’t ever recall hearing a message from any of the pastors or a Bible study from any of the Sunday School teachers that called attention to the plight of the poor and the Christian’s God-given responsibility to help them. Even though I frequented these churches every time the building was open, including every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday night, I never heard anyone refer to any of the 2000 or so Bible verses throughout both testaments that implore God’s people to help the poor. So when I began serving the poor at a little store-front church in the inner-city as a college student, I suddenly became acutely aware of how God’s concern for the poor permeated the entire narrative of Scripture. With some mentoring from Servants Center's director Don Tack, I also realized the futileness of pious activities such as street evangelism among the homeless population compared to building relationships and doing holistic ministry among them. Unfortunately, when I switched ministries to become a manager of a homeless shelter (under the direction of Don Tack) that emphasized holistic ministry, my home church in Indiana responded by dropping my missionary support. Later, word got back to me that they believed I had embraced the “social-gospel,” which is sort of like the Scarlet letter of Fundamentalism. My name and ministry suddenly became synonymous with words such as neo-evangelical, compromise, liberal, and social-gospel.

There is pain in rejection, especially from such a grave misunderstanding by my ecclesiastical heritage. I was just as committed to the gospel as I’d ever been. In fact, out of the 21 men that benefited from the homeless shelter during my two years as its supervisor, eleven graduated into self-sufficiency with full-time employment and secure housing. Several men trusted Christ for their salvation and to this day, continue to serve Christ in their church. In comparison, when I was doing street evangelism, several made dramatic professions to Christ, but every single one of them fell away because their “conversion” wasn’t the real thing.

What’s more, I was just as committed to sound doctrine as I’d ever been. I embraced historical fundamentals such as an infallible, inerrant Scripture, Christ’s deity, Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sins, Christ’s bodily resurrection, and Christ’s imminent return. Yet to the leadership from my former home church, my actions proved otherwise. How twisted the logic of their thinking! That somehow because I added social and economic activities such as job assistance, mentoring, and budget counseling to evangelism among the homeless poor meant that I no longer held to a high view of the Bible and Christ. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t those who hold to an inerrant and infallible view of Scripture be passionately and actively living out what the Scripture actually says? Since they believe the Bible to be true, shouldn’t the fundamental and conservative evangelical churches be most concerned about living out the 2000 or so verses about the poor and oppressed that demand a response from God’s people? Regrettably, this has not been the case. If our treasure is where our heart is, many of the yearly budgets from these churches reflect more of a concern for bricks and mortar, professional pastoral staffing, and quirky Christmas and Easter programs than responding to the needs of the poor.

From that moment fifteen years ago, I realized that an essential part of urban ministry must also include educating the church about ministry among the poor. Therefore, for the past fifteen years of our ministry to at-risk youth and their families in the ‘hood, we have served the church by offering workshops and seminars such as: “how to redemptively assist the poor without creating dependency.” This has been my little way of influencing fundamental and conservative evangelical churches, countering the lack of theological reflection that I’ve observed when addressing current social and economic issues that affect the poor. It has also done wonders when confronting the tension that I feel as a "post-modern" who believes and lives out the fundamentals.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Tiera Michele Shaffer!!!!

This is my oldest daughter, Tiera(T.T) who just turned ten today. Sometimes Sherilyn and I are amazed at how God has wired her. She is one of the most compassionate people that I've ever met. In her 4th grade class, her way of "loving her neighbor" is reaching out to classmates that have the least amount of friends. As we take care of Sherilyn's mom who has Parkinson's and Sherilyn's Grandma who is 93 years old, she helps us out by being Mom jr. She's always looking for opportunities to help with her special needs five-year old sister (Ashlyn) and her youngest sister (Sahara) as well.

Besides her compassionate side (in which I could brag all day), she loves to play soccer, play the piano, sing, read, read, and read (did I mention she loves to read?). She loves God and loves to pray for the needs of others. The other day, she asked how God calls people to do missions. She then told me about her interest in doing inner-city ministry. Whether she follows us in doing ministry in the 'hood or not, we are so thankful to God for such a beautiful and special daughter as our T.T.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Jalen Truth Shaffer!!!!

This is my son Jalen holding his baby sister, Sahara. Jalen turned eight years old today. Since he is my only son, we share a special bond together, tackling each other while playing football, shooting hoops in basketball, playing PS2, and singing praise and worship songs. His favorite song is Blessed be your name (by Beth and Matt Redman). As a person, he is a loyal friend to his friends and family, quiet at times but spazy in his humor, overly competitive, creative and sensitive to God and others, Jalen, you have been the best son I could have ever asked for. Thank you for your love, respect, and friendship. I pray that I can continue modeling and teaching you what it means to grow up to be a godly man who passionately loves Jesus and who loves others.

Friday, April 11, 2008

For Those of You Who Freaked Out about Obama...

when his former Pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was all over the news and Youtube espousing Black liberation theology, "miss the mark and expose general ignorance about Protestant liberalism and mainline black churches," according to an insightful piece by Anthony Bradley. You can read all about it here.

I concur with Professor Bradley that we ought to be debating his economic policies (and social policies), not his ties to Rev. Wright. Although I am more in agreement with the free market than Obama's plans for government intervention and redistribution when it comes to economic policy, I think Bradley's comment about Obama resurrecting Karl Marx is definitely an exaggeration. What do ya'll think?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Playing Race Cards in the Church

This past weekend I took fifteen high school and young adult students to a Word of Life basketball tournament in the rural town of North Branch, Michigan, on the east side of the state. Besides our students, only one other team out of thirty-eight was comprised of mostly African-American players. By far, both our teams had the most talent, but anger won out causing many of our students to lose the mental aspect of the game. Consequently, neither team made it to the finals.

In the last game, one of my students named Ed loudly blamed his skin color as the reason for the ref calling so many fouls on him. For whatever reason, throughout the tournament our teams had twice as many fouls called against us than against any other team. Immediately, several white people from the audience vocally berated him for his comment. One man even lashed out at him, calling him “boy,” a major cultural taboo for Caucasians interacting with African-Americans. Even when I intervened, they defended their actions, not heeding to my appeal. Finally, in order to silence them, I strongly warned them to back off my player. At the same time, I did not let Ed off the hook. I pulled him out of the game and scolded him for playing the race card no matter how unfair it seemed. After the game, I found out that the white folks weren’t the only ones who would not listen. Several of my students were so emotionally rattled that neither Davien nor I could help them work through this issue until a few days ago.

By the way, I am not going to cry foul play for what happened in North Branch. My students played lousy defense and lost their heads when things didn’t go their way. When they surrendered their mental toughness, it was all over for them. Moreover, this situation could have been a character-building opportunity for them. What a chance for our students to overcome an enormous obstacle, even when it seems as if everything was against them!

Nevertheless, now that I’ve had a chance to mull over this situation, I wonder how my fellow Caucasians would have felt if the roles were reversed. What if every referee, every Word of Life leader, and parent in the entire tournament was black? What if only three teams playing were Caucasian, thirty-five teams were African-American, while the majority of calls made by the referees favored the African-American teams? Might the white players feel the same way? Out of frustration, would one of their players have “played the race card” when everything seemed overwhelmingly stacked against them? I guarantee they would be just as acute to the situation as were my students.

This has also caused me to pondor extensively about how the early church handled ethnically charged conflicts such as this. How the Greek-speaking people complained that their widows were being ignored by the majority culture within the church. How the church responded by appointing seven godly Greek-speaking deacons to oversee their feeding program so that the elders could devote their time to prayer and the preaching and teaching of God’s word. How their redemptive awareness and sacrificial love for one another became the catalyst for addressing the problem, rather than ignoring the issue at hand. How maybe if the WOLifers want a diverse group to preach the gospel to, building relationships with urban ministries, recruiting a few godly people of color to referee games or as the special speaker might be a starting point for including groups such as ours.

In response, I will be shooting off an e-mail to the WOLifer missionary who organized the event. Their leaders showed an extraordinary amount of love and patience with our groups so I am cautiously optimistic that they will be receptive to any ideas we may bring to the table. As we work to resolve certain racial issues, I pray that no one in the future will feel the need to stoop down to the world’s standards and play the race card.