SUGAR LAND—Christians cannot cling to privileged positions and honestly claim to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God,” an African-American pastor from Philadelphia told the Micah 6:8 Conference.
Eric Mason, founding pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, pointed to “an abandonment of evangelicalism” by many African-Americans due to the flawed witness of many evangelical churches.
‘Prophetic voice’ or ‘pathetic voice’
Black Americans are not rejecting orthodox Christian doctrine, he said. However, they are rejecting a brand of Christianity that is “captive to a political ideology” and focused on protecting the privileges some enjoy at the expense of others, Mason told the conference at Sugar Land Baptist Church near Houston, sponsored by Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission.
Rather than offering a “prophetic voice” that speaks against injustice, too often evangelical Christians have demonstrated “a pathetic voice,” he asserted.
Christ’s church is called to be distinct from prevailing culture—a “community of love” committed to justice for the oppressed, Mason insisted.
“An act against my neighbor is an act against me,” he said.
Love immigrant neighbors
Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy with World Relief, described how growing up as the daughter of Korean immigrants shaped her consciousness and identity both as an American citizen and as a follower of Jesus Christ.
“Behind every statistic and policy discussion there is an individual story,” she said.
Yang offered a brief history of immigration policy in the United States, as well as an overview of global migration and the plight of refugees.
“The world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II,” she said.
Out of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens in the United States, between 40 percent and 50 percent entered the country lawfully, but they overstayed their visas, she noted.
‘It’s a biblical issue’
Immigration has a direct impact on the church, she asserted.
“It is a biblical issue,” Yang said. “It is a church issue. It is a missional issue.”
From the patriarch Abraham in the Old Testament book of Genesis to the experience of Jesus and his parents fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of innocent children, the Bible chronicles the stories of immigrants and refugees, she said.
The word that most accurately could be translated “immigrant” appears 92 times in the Old Testament, she noted. The New Testament commands to “love your neighbor” and care for the most vulnerable include immigrant neighbors, she added.
“Christians are called to hospitality and love for strangers,” Yang said.
While the government’s legitimate role includes ensuring the safety of citizens and promoting the common good by regulating borders, the church’s role is to love unconditionally, she insisted.
God is bringing people from countries where the proclamation of the gospel is stifled to the United States, giving American Christian opportunities to “make disciples of all nations” without every leaving home, Yang said.
Some of those new believers from other nations are the most fervent and effective evangelists for reaching their own people, she observed.
“The immigrant population is infusing life and vitality into the church,” she said. “Migration is not just changing the face of our country. It is changing the face of Christianity.”
Develop a theology of poverty
Steve Corbett, co-author of When Helping Hurts, encouraged Christians to develop a theology of poverty.
“How we define poverty determines the solutions we propose,” he said.
The Triune God is inherently relational, and human beings bear the Creator’s image, he said.
“We are created to be other-centered,” he said.
People are affected by economic, political, social and religious systems, he said. The fall of humanity not only resulted in breaking the individual’s relationship to God, but also affected all the relational systems involving humankind, he observed.
“Poverty alleviation is about reconciling relationships,” he said.
If poverty is viewed in terms of relationships that do not work or that are not harmonious, then poverty affects everyone, he noted. At the same time, he warned against minimizing the plight of people who lack essential resources.
“We are all poor, but our material realities are different,” he said.
Christians are called to a “ministry of reconciliation … walking with the poor,” he said.