Friday, July 20, 2007

School's Out -- Time to Play (well, sort of)

In just a few hours, I will be posting my final grades for the summer session at Atlantic College and Theological Seminary. I will also be closing down this blog until September so that I can focus on other activities during my summer break.

Such activities will include--but are certainly not limited to--finishing up an article on Bahamian theological education, editing an upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly on the Bahamian Baptists, balancing my checkbook, attending a few out-of-town conferences, assembling our hurricane survival kit, preparing course syllabi for the fall semester, and--if I can squeeze it in to my busy schedule--a trip or two to the local beach. In short, I don't expect that much time--if any--will be left over for blogging.

For those of you who have been following my series on incarnational ministry, this will resume in September. In the meantime, you are encouraged to check out the archives for this blog as well as my other posts over at Global Perspectives.

And for those who--like me--will be taking a break from the web, enjoy your summer vacation!


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quote of the Week

"People who rarely venture into the inner city often perceive our young missionaries to be spiritual pioneers, ministering to forgotten people who have seldom if ever been reached by the gospel. In fact, their neighborhoods are practically overrun by Christian evangelists of every style. What distinguishes Mission Year is not our boldness, but rather the fact that we do not hit and run. This is not a high-powered evangelism ministry. There are plenty of those already. This is a settle-down-and-love-your-neighbor ministry, where the evangelism has to come naturally if it comes at all."

Bart Campolo, founder of Mission Year and The Walnut Hills Fellowship

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The essence of Christianity is not so much to defend a dogmatic theology as it is to serve with a living Jesus who is waiting to be embraced by those in need."

Tony Campolo

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Great Bahamian Preachers: The Rev. Dr. R.E. Cooper, Sr.

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the contributions of Bahamian religion and clergy to bringing about Black Majority Rule (1967) and Bahamian Independence (1973). Today I'd like to profile the Rev. Dr. R.E. Cooper, Sr. and his contributions as a preacher to the task of Bahamian nation building. While I hope to write more extensively on Cooper's legacy in the future, for now I will simply limit my efforts to posting the text and photos of a plaque commemorating his life and ministry that is displayed in the sanctuary of the Mission Baptist Church in Grant's Town.

For those who are interested in learning more about the legacy of R.E. Cooper, Sr. and his contemporaries, I should point out that I am currently guest editing an upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly (forthcoming Winter 2007) focusing on the Bahamian Baptists that will include an article by Cooper's son, the Rev. Dr. R.E. Cooper, Jr., on "The Role of the Afro-Bahamian Pastor as a Catalyst for Majority Rule." In the meantime, I hope the information below sheds some more light on this important but largely untold story in Bahamian church history.

The Reverend Doctor R.E. Cooper, Sr.
B.TH., J.P., D.D., M.B.E.




1940 – Organized The Mission Baptist Church

1943 – Organized The Jordan Memorial Baptist School

1949 – Editor and Publisher of The Baptist Weekly

1952 – Erected the second sanctuary of The Mission Baptist Church

1964 – President of The Bahamas Missionary & Educational Convention

1964 – Organized the Prince William Baptist High School

1967 – Chaplain of the Senate

1968 – Formed The United Baptist Choir

1968 – Chairman of The Arthur Vinning Davis Scholarship Programme, Florida Memorial College

1971 – President of The Bahamas Christian Council

1972 – Principal of The Baptist Bible Institute

1973 – Preached the First Independence Day Sermon to the New Nation

1974 – Chaplain of Her Majesty’s Prisons

1974 – Dedicated the present structure of The Mission Baptist Church

1976 – Moderator of the Bahamas Baptist Association

1976 – Appointed to the Committee of Ecumenism and Church Polity Baptist World Alliance

1977 – Member of the United World College Advisory Board


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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Prosperity Theology: Truth or Heresy?

Ethics Daily has run a great article on the challenge of prosperity theology faced by the African Church. Try reading the article below, carefully substituting "The Bahamas" for "Africa," and you will find that this sounds an awful lot like the same challenges that our churches are facing here.

Africans Vulnerable to 'Prosperity Gospel,' BWA Group Says in Forum

Robert Parham

"Prosperity gospel" churches compete with Baptist churches in Africa, especially for younger people, with promises of wealth and health, according to participants in a forum discussion Saturday at the Baptist World Alliance gathering in Accra, Ghana.

The movement is "attractive to young people, because TV shows a materialistic world," said an African leader. "Young people like that life."

The leader noted the influence of the Trinity Broadcasting Network on Africans who listen to the same message all day that promises of abundant material possessions.

TBC recycles worship services and talk shows around the world, spreading a theology that if Christians will claim the so-called promises of God, made in a few selected biblical texts, they can enjoy luxurious cars, expensive homes, obedient children and untroubled health. It's a theology devoid of discipleship and service.
Read the rest of the article here.

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Bahamian Independence: A Religious Perspective

Today--July 10th--the Bahamas is celebrating its 34th year of Independence. Those of us who live here, of course, are familiar with the legacy of Sir Lynden Pindling and his colleagues in the PLP--the first organized political party in the Bahamas--as well as their many contributions to the founding of this nation. Today I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on the numerous contributions of Bahamian religion and clergy to the popular movement that led to Bahamian Independence.

The religious faith of black Bahamians and other Afro-Caribbean peoples has long played a significant role in challenging the injustices of five-hundred years of slavery and colonialism. From the earliest days of slavery, religion often inspired slave uprisings and revolts against white plantation owners. Most slave resistance, though, tended to be more subtle—stealing food, procrastination on the job, refusal to give up African beliefs and customs, individual escapes, and formation of fugitive slave communities in the mountains. By the late eighteenth century, mass conversion of Caribbean slaves and freed blacks to Protestant Christianity provided new avenues of resistance to slavery and racial discrimination. Much to the consternation of British colonial officials, non-conformist churches—especially the Baptists—often provided sanctuary for runaway slaves as well as allowing slaves and freed blacks alike to become full-members, hold church offices, and even become preachers. Eventually, Baptist led slave resistance in Jamaica became so violent that it significantly hastened the legal decision to end slavery in all of the British colonies. Following emancipation, religion continued to fuel struggles for racial equality and, later, independence from British colonial rule. This tradition of religious resistance—referred to by some scholars as black radicalism—reached its climax in the Bahamas with the achievement of black majority rule (1967) and Bahamian independence (1973).

The Bahamas’ journey to black majority rule and independence began in 1935, when the National Baptist Convention in the United States began to provide scholarships for Bahamian Baptists to prepare for the ministry at the historically black American Baptist Seminary in Nashville. Having experienced southern racism and observed the early precursors to the U.S. civil rights movement during their studies, Bahamian graduates such as H.W. Brown and R.E. Cooper, Sr. returned to the Bahamas determined to right the injustices faced by the black majority in their own country. These Baptist pastors were amongst the first supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which was formed in 1953 to challenge the political and economic power of the white Nassau merchant class known as the Bay Street Boys. Borrowing from the rhetoric and tactics of leaders in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement as well as nationalist movements against British colonial rule in Africa and the Caribbean, the PLP and its Baptist allies gradually gained the support of the black Bahamian populace they claimed to represent. Using the scriptures to show how God helps the weak to triumph over the mighty, fiery Baptist preachers encouraged unity and solidarity amongst black Bahamians while the leadership of Baptist women doubled the size of the black electorate through their efforts to achieve women’s suffrage.

By late 1966, the United Bahamian Party (UBP)—representing the interests of the Bay Street Boys—caved into growing pressure from the PLP and called for new parliamentary elections to be held on January 10, 1967. They hoped that by scheduling the elections shortly after the Christmas holidays the black electorate would be too distracted with celebrations to adequately prepare. Instead, the religiously zealous PLP leadership quickly pointed out that election day coincided with the day of Passover, the “tenth day of the first month,” when Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to be released from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:1-3, 31). Such biblical imagery coupled with the theme song from the recently released movie Exodus and the U.S. civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” enabled the PLP’s campaign to build enough momentum to achieve an election night tie with the UBP. During the night, the PLP brokered a deal with the largely black Labour Party to form a coalition government, thus ushering in a new era of black majority rule. Years later, Baptist leader and PLP stalwart Doris Johnson recalled: “Thus it was that on ‘the tenth day of the first month,’ black Bahamians emerged from the centuries-old domination of a white power group and crossed over to the promised land of ‘milk and honey,’ on which they could grow more and more able to shape their destiny. They could walk tall and proud in their own land as never before, and humble too, as their deeply religious sense attributed their Glory (sic) in victory, to the mysterious ways of their God.” Once in power, the PLP and its Baptist allies continued their struggle for the equality of black Bahamians, culminating in independence from Great Britain on July 10, 1973.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Incarnational Ministry, Part III

My Personal Experience with Relocation

About eight or nine years ago—back before I had ever heard of John Perkins, Christian community development, or even the theology of relocation, my wife and I were both working in the inner-city of Denver. Every morning, I would drive her to whichever elementary school she would be substitute teaching at for the day and then I would head over to my own job at Curtis Park Community Center which was located in Five Points--one of Denver's poorest and most dangerous urban neighborhoods.

One of the things that my wife and I quickly realized was that nearly all of the people that we worked with were like us; they lived in comfortable affluent suburban areas and commuted into the city to work with the so-called poor. There was, however, one crucial exception to that rule that challenged me to think about the significance of relocation, even before I knew that others were already promoting that as an effective strategy for urban missions. My boss at Curtis Park Community Center was the only employee—at least the only employee at the administrative level—who actually resided in the community that we were trying to serve.

Without getting into a detailed explanation, let me just say that one of the major thrusts of Curtis Park Community Center was to provide training and support for our clients—primarily single mothers on welfare—that would enable them to get off of welfare and into the workforce. Anyway, one of the things that I eventually realized is that when our clients learned that my boss was also their neighbor, he was able to much more quickly and easily establish a good rapport with them. It’s not that the rest of us weren’t able to establish good working relationships with our clients; it’s just that my boss had significantly greater credibility with them than we did because he lived in their neighborhood and was viewed as a community insider whereas the rest of us were viewed as community outsiders.

Over the past three years, my wife and I have become increasingly convicted about the need to relocate to the Farm Road district of Nassau in order that we might be able to minister more effectively to the city. So when we returned to Nassau last year following our home assignment, we moved into an apartment located right off Collins Avenue. This is approximately a five to ten minute drive away from Emmaus Baptist Church--the Haitian congregation where Estela works--as well as Atlantic College and Theological Seminary, where I currently teach. Lest anybody get the wrong idea, I should point out that I do not consider our current home to be an example of full-relocation but rather a compromise that is best viewed as a semi-relocation. For us to truly relocate—to truly follow the example of Jesus Christ himself—we would really need to live someplace in the midst of Farm Road like Hay Street, Lewis Street, or McCollough Corner where we could fully establish our presence in the Farm Road community itself.

That being said, we have found that living on Collins Avenue—rather than suburban Stapledon Gardens where we used to live—has been an important first step in a journey that is slowly opening the doors for greater ministry involvement here in the city. My wife, for example, is now providing tutoring and informal mentoring to a number of young people from D.W. Davis Junior High School. And just this month, we’ve begun hosting a series of marriage enrichment classes for a number of young couples from Emmaus Baptist Church. Both of these ministries are being conducted from our home. And we’re able to that because we live in a location that is readily accessible to folks who are living here in the city. If we were still living in Stapledon Gardens instead of Collins Avenue, it would not be such a simple matter for inner-city school kids to drop by our house on their way from school or for members of our church to stop by on their way home from work.

Coming Next: Getting Out of the Church and Into the Community

Part I: Introduction
Part II: The Biblical Basis for Relocation

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Jamaican pastor elected BWA general secretary

Congratulations to the Rev. Neville Callam of Jamaica on his election to the general secretariat of the Baptist World Alliance!

ACCRA, Ghana (ABP) -- Neville Callam, a Jamaican pastor, theologian and author, was unanimously elected July 6 as the first non-white general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. He is also the 102-year-old alliance’s first leader not from the United States or Europe.

Callam, senior pastor of two congregations in Jamaica, is a former BWA vice president and former president of the Jamaica Baptist Union. Active in BWA for more than 20 years, he currently serves on its implementation task force, which restructures the organization’s work for the future.

Burchell Taylor, president of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, described Callam’s nomination as “part of the mysterious unfolding of God’s own purpose.”

He said Callam’s election would add a “new, creative dimension … to Baptist world history.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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Jamaican Baptist calls for reparations for slavery

In today's issue of Ethics Daily, Robert Parham reports:

A Jamaican Baptist pastor forced the controversial question of compensation to modern-day African descendants for the imprisonment and forced labor of their ancestors at the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Ghana.

Speaking only a hundred yards from the Atlantic coast where millions of West Africans were boarded onto slave ships for the seven-week journey to the Americas, Cawley Bolt asked whether descendants of slaves "have a right to be compensated."

"I'm not begging for anything, but demanding what is ours," the pastor of Ebony Vale Baptist Church in Spanish Town, Jamaica, answered.

The gray-haired Bolt said, "One way to compensate is to put money into educational institutions."
Read the rest of the article here.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Christian Peace Blogger Interviews

Michael Westmoreland-White over at Levellers has been conducting a series of interviews with members of the Christian Peace Bloggers webring. Yesterday, my interview was posted in two installments (see here and here). Be sure to take a look at the eight other interviews in the series as well. They are all quite interesting! I believe there are now 62 bloggers involved in the webring and my interview was just the ninth. So there should be plenty of forthcoming interviews in this series.

So far I've found that the most striking feature of this series is the diversity of personal backgrounds, theological traditions, and political ideologies that characterize Christian peacemakers. We are by no means a monolithic group!


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Those churches in Northern Ireland that set Catholics against Protestants and Protestants against Catholics, churches in America that teach a prosperity theology that contradicts everything that Jesus taught us about wealth, the "official religion" of some churches in Third World countries that legitimates the oppression of the weak by supporting regimes of ungodly power, and all of the churches everywhere that foster racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalistic chauvinism, and militarism--all are evidence that even those institutions which God intended to be agents of deliverance can become instruments of the Evil One."

Tony Campolo in Revolution and Renewal

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Incarnational Ministry, Part II

Previously: Introduction

Last week, I briefly examined the life and ministry of John Perkins, showing how his particular understanding of incarnational ministry is expressed in the concept of relocation. By relocation, Perkins simply means that we must live in the same community as those whom we seek to serve. Perkins argues that it is only by living side-by-side, in solidarity with others that one can truly understand their needs and problems and, ultimately, the solutions that are needed.

While most of us might be inclined to offer excuses as to why relocation really isn't necessary, we would do well to remember that it is rooted in our biblical understanding that Jesus lived in solidarity with those whom he hoped to reach. More specifically, John 1:14 teaches us that “The word became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us” and Philippians 2:5-8 teaches us that Jesus “being in very nature God . . . made himself nothing.” In other words, Jesus Christ did not commute back and forth from heaven to conduct his ministry here on earth. Instead, he gave up the glory of heaven and chose to become a human being and live right here on earth amongst us so that we might be saved.

Now if that isn’t an amazing sacrifice in and of itself, what I think is really interesting is that Jesus really, truly “made himself nothing” in every sense of the word. If Jesus was going to relocate, he could have easily chosen to incarnate himself in Jerusalem or even Rome—the religious, political, and economic power centers of his day. But Jesus deliberately chose not to become the son of the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem, nor even the son of a high-profile rabbi in Rome. Instead, he chose to become a mere carpenter’s son in an obscure peasant village in the backwater of Palestine so that he could live and minister amongst those who needed him the most. Likewise, persons involved in urban ministry recognize that their work is most effective when they choose to reside in the poor communities they hope to reach instead of commuting from more affluent neighborhoods.

While relocation finds its strongest support from scripture in the example of Jesus, there are other significant examples as well. We are familiar, for example, with the story of Moses in the book of Exodus. Moses could have easily spent his life living in the comfort, safety, and social prestige of Pharaoh’s palace. Instead, he chose to give all that up so that he could live amongst Hebrew slaves and work for the freedom of his own people. I’m sure that was not an easy decision to make, and no doubt it was even a harder decision to live out. When the children of Israel were out in the wilderness grumbling about how much better off they would have been had they remained in slavery in Egypt, I’m sure that Moses was thinking how much better off he’d be if he would have never left Pharaoh’s palace. Indeed, if we were in Moses’ position, I wonder how many of us would have made the decision to leave Pharaoh’s palace so that we too might become poor in order that we might minister to slaves.

Another good example of relocation is found in life and ministry of Nehemiah during the post-exilic period of Old Testament history. Before Nehemiah was born, the Kingdom of Judah had been destroyed and the city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonian army and the Jewish people were forcibly deported from their ancestral homeland and scattered throughout much of the ancient Near Eastern world. By the time of Nehemiah, there were a large number of Jews living in Persia and even though they were living as foreigners in exile, many of them had done quite well economically and had risen to positions of political and social prominence. We’re familiar, of course, with the biblical stories of the men and women who became quite successful while living in exile. Daniel, for example, became a high ranking administrative official under Darius. Likewise, Esther—a young Jewish woman—became the Queen of Persia and, ultimately, wielded significant political influence over decisions that affected her people.

Like Daniel and Esther, Nehemiah had also risen to a position of political prominence and economic comfort within the Persian Empire. Specifically, he was the King’s personal cupbearer. This was a good job, providing Nehemiah with a prominent position in society as well as direct access to the King of the largest known empire in the world. In other words, he had made it; he had arrived. But then one day all of that changed. He heard through the grapevine that things back in Jerusalem—the place that his ancestors had been deported from—were not going so well. Apparently, the tiny Jewish remnant that had survived the exile and returned to Jerusalem was struggling for its survival. It was then that God laid it upon Nehemiah’s heart to give up everything he had and relocate to the rubble and ashes of Jerusalem so that God might use him to rebuild the Holy City.

I don’t have time to tell the rest of the story here, but what I find significant about this story is that Nehemiah could have easily spent his life enjoying the economic comfort, security, and social prestige of the King’s palace. But instead, he gave all of that up and chose to live amongst refugees so that he could work for the betterment of his own people. But God blessed the effort and sacrifices made by Nehemiah and used him in a might way to rebuild the walls of the Jerusalem. If we were in Nehemiah’s shoes, I wonder how many of us would be willing to leave Persia so that we too might become poor in order that we might minister refugees.

Observing how the concept of relocation is demonstrated through the lives of Jesus, Moses, Nehemiah, and even modern day disciples like John Perkins gives us new meaning to the words of Jesus when he taught us that, “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Coming Next: My Personal Experience w/Relocation

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