Tag: wendell griffen

Does the President Need a Prophet?

Isaiah the prophet

Normally, I don’t write about politics because it’s a sure way to alienate at least half of your readers.  But I just read Wendell Griffen’s article titled, Obama Protects the Powerful Over the Poor.

Griffen contends that President Obama needs a prophetic voice in his circle of advisers, one who will speak for the poor and the disenfranchised in our society.  He critiques Obama’s calculated preference for the banks over homeowners, the powerful over the poor, and political expediency over the moral courage.

Does the President need a prophet?  Do pastors need a prophet to call us back to concern for society’s marginalized, especially in this economy?  I thought the article deserved a mention here, and I hope you’ll take time to read it.  Rev. Griffen’s sermons are also posted on EthicsDaily.com, and he’s a powerful preacher with a unique insight.

If you don’t know Wendell Griffen, he was the first African-American appointed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Currently, Rev. Griffen is pastor of the New Millenium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting.

I had the opportunity to spend an hour in conversation with Rev. Griffen last year.  We talked about reconciliation and how to help communities come together by building what he calls “cultural competency.”  Through Griffen Strategic Consulting, Griffen’s unique approach to racial reconciliation helps communities and corporations recognize the differences in diverse populations, but also finds common ground for cooperation and understanding.

A New Nominating Process

On another political note, if you’re tired of politics as usual, you might be interested in a non-partisan movement to select a presidential and vice-presidential candidate via the internet.  AmericansElect.org is the first open presidential nominating process using the internet to tap into the growing disconnect between the two dominant political parties and regular folks.  You may or may not be interested, but I find what they are trying to do a refreshing approach versus the two year-long primary process that has already begun.  Visit the site because I think this is glimpse of the future of the American political process.

Changing Demographics to Impact Small Churches

 

MSNBC reports this morning that “For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.”  

But not only will this demographic change to a “majority of minorities” impact government policies, it will also impact small churches.  The article points out what we already knew:  minority populations are growing at a faster pace than the aging white population.  The previously reported American Community Survey had pegged white children under 2 as 51% of that demographic, but larger than estimated rates of minority births have moved the needle.  White children under 2 are now just below 50% of that group.

What does this mean for small churches?  First, small churches, especially rural or small town churches, tend to be segregated by race.  Obviously with a declining white population the handwriting is on the wall.  Small, predominantly white churches will either broaden their outreach or eventually die as their members age and die.

But, white churches cannot just say “We need minorities to survive” because that demonstrates a self-serving attitude that is not biblical.  Attitudes change slowly among older church members, but even older members can be led to broaden their vision, and begin to take intentional steps to reach out.

Most small churches will need to develop what Wendell Griffen calls “cultural competency.”   This involves an understanding and appreciation for the ethnic diversity of God’s creation.  And, it involves understanding that to meaningfully reach out to others means more that “signing them up.”  It also involves sharing decision-making, leadership, and authority.

Professor Soong-Chan Rah, who wrote The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, has excellent insights to offer in his book, and on his blog.  If you haven’t read his book, it is one of the must-reads for this decade, and will give you (if you are white) an entirely different perspective on how other ethnic groups view evangelicalism as a whole.

Add to this new perspective, the additional insight that now married couples comprise less than 50% of US households for the first time; that same-sex couples are now 1-in-10 of unmarried couples living together; and, that several states, my own Virginia included, will flip to “minority-majority” status in the next 10 years, and we have the ingredients for major sociological shifts.

What we do not need are shrill voices of doom using these figures and trends to forecast the end of society as we know it.  Social patterns, including family patterns, in the US and world are changing.  These changes present challenges to churches in communicating the gospel, and in reaching out to include a diverse representation of our communities within our congregations.

A Better Sermon on Babel and Pentecost

I preached on Pentecost last Sunday as “Babel Revisited.”  In that sermon I repeated the conventional thinking that God punished mankind’s attempt to build a tower to reach to the heavens.  But listen to what Wendell Griffen says,

That interpretation of Genesis 11:1-9 is not fair to God.  Do we really think the Creator of the universe is threatened by a municipal construction project?    Are we dealing with a Being who is so insecure that a few people who put a city together and build a skyscraper get on His nerves?  If God is that petty, God should not be called good and gracious, but petty and tyrannical.

Instead of reading the passage to mean that cultural diversity is divine punishment, we should understand it to show how cultural diversity is part of the great redemptive purpose of God.  God is not threatened when people cooperate to construct cities and tall buildings.   One story buildings and rural settings are not entitled to divine favor.

What the passage truly shows is that God wants humans to be spread throughout the world and enjoy cultural diversity without being afraid.  If there is a condemnation in the passage—and I use the word if intentionally—it condemns the idea that cultural sameness is the way to salvation.  We are one people because we have a common Creator, not because we speak the same language or live in the same location.  Our oneness lies in who we are before God, not who we are physically related to by human ancestry and geography.  God loves our diversity.  God intentionally caused our diversity.  God is glorified by our diversity.

— from Babel and Pentecost by Wendell Griffen

I wish I had said that.  I will not think of Babel in the same way again.  Griffen’s interpretation gives even more meaning to the Pentecost event, as God’s means of bringing diversity together again to send us back out into the world with God’s message of hope and salvation.  Read the entire sermon here.

Judge Wendell Griffen is a former Arkansas appeals court judge; the first person of color to join a major Arkansas law firm; CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting; pastor of New Millennium Church; professor of law at the University of Arkansas’s Bowen School of Law.