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Defying Political Labels: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.

Guest Editor of the January-February 2012 issue of Ministry Today, with the theme of Social Transformation

On Oct. 16, the new memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was finally completed. There was only one problem with the work: The wrong words were carved on the statue. The tone of the phrase misrepresented "the spirit" of the fallen leader. After a huge controversy, the memorial leadership decided to change the writing on the statue.

This change was legitimate. Unfortunately, an illegitimate expression occurred this past week. Politico reported that Tavis Smiley had been disinvited from the 20th annual MLK luncheon, hosted by the Peoria Civic Center. Why? Mr. Smiley has said publicly that President Obama had not done enough for black Americans, which, according to the center, upset some people. He was replaced by reliable liberal Michael Eric Dyson.

In later interviews, Mr. Smiley noted that only a small handful of the 1,500 ticket holders for the event complained about his comments, resulting in his ouster from the luncheon. He also made it clear that he supports President Obama, but as a journalist feels obligated to hold him accountable for his actions in office. While I may disagree with Mr. Smiley on some issues, I certainly agree that his honest appraisal of President Obama's performance should not disqualify him from speaking at a luncheon honoring Dr. King.

In fact, Smiley's dismissal from the event dishonors Dr. King's legacy of holding all political leaders accountable for their actions and judging people based on their character, rather than their skin color. As I have written before, this is yet another example of the totalitarian attempts at thought control by leaders in the black community who purport to speak for Dr. King and African-Americans in general. We blacks who refuse to kowtow to the extreme left are not only disinvited from events, but often publicly excommunicated from our own race.

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The Church as a Prophetic Voice

by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.

I am often asked why I spend so much time engaging in the moral battles of our day. My critics see my work outside the pulpit as crass political pandering or fleshly power grabs.

They often are joined by a host of folks in our culture who want to renounce the religious right. These peace-loving believers have not been able to identify with angry, self-appointed spokespersons who have historically dominated the media.

Despite the excesses of some of our forerunners, the church dare not withdraw in monklike fashion from the public square.

Christians are called to perform a "prophetic" role in modern-day culture. What does that mean? In both the Old Testament and New Testament, prophets were charged by God to deliver important messages to their contemporaries. They served as God's conscience to those they were sent to.

In addition to speaking their messages, these prophets often demonstrated them to the culture in which they lived. They were like walking, talking billboards placed at key intersections in their nation to relay God's messages.

It wasn't always a comfortable lifestyle. Isaiah went around naked. John the Baptist wore the most unusual clothes.

I'm not calling for bizarre or spooky behavior, but I am asking Christians to recognize that we all have prophetic assignments. We have been called to speak and live out the truths of God—right where we live and work.

We cannot sit by idly and watch the nation roll over a cliff. We must cry out a warning and model the Lord's priorities.

The best scriptural example of the folly of noninvolvement is seen in the book of Ezekiel. The majority of the prophets of Ezekiel's day did not get involved in the major social problems of the nation. The Lord figuratively referred to Israel's cultural problems in Ezekiel's day as "breaches in the wall."

Ezekiel 13:4-5 reveals the problem: "O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts. You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the Lord" (NKJV).

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A New Communion of Churches Committed to Evangelistic and Prophetic Action

by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.

On June 10, 2011, the International Communion of Evangelical Churches (ICEC)—a new communion of churches—was formed. This confederation has been organized by a multi-racial and multi-cultural group of churches to address the problems that blight the urban landscape, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Our vision is to raise up churches with a mission to transform the cultures in which they operate. Our historic model is the work of John Wesley and others who created a movement that eventually came to be known as the Great Awakening. While remaining true to the biblical mandate to win souls and to care for the poor, our confederation of like-minded, independent churches will collaborate and deploy resources to transform their cities, states and nations.

In addition to prioritizing relevant, evangelical preaching designed stir a back-to-the-Bible movement in the U.S., the communion will also speak out on cultural trends and public policy issues of the day. In the spirit of John Wesley and the first Great Awakening, it is imperative that the church transcends race and politics to address the pivotal issues we face as a society.

Too often the church in America has been guilty of taking a very myopic view when addressing the issues of righteousness and justice. On one hand, the "Christian Right" has focused on personal, moral or righteousness issues, while dismissing issues regarding biblical justice. On the other hand, a great number of African-American and minority-led churches have been mostly vocal on issues pertaining to biblical justice, poverty and civil rights, while being absent on those relating to righteousness.

The church in America is too divided and is in desperate need of racial reconciliation. Therefore, a strong visual demonstration of unity is required to speak to the world—"The church of Jesus Christ has been called forth under God from every nation tribe and tongue to be one with Him." Jesus clearly stated this visual demonstration of oneness in the church would indelibly mark the psyche of an irreligious world and prove to humanity that God indeed sent Jesus into the earth.

The ICEC will merge with several networks of Christian organizations and ministries from around to world to become, in a pragmatic sense, a network of networks. This new wineskin will provide a clear vision, practical strategic plan and straightforward message for dealing with the issues of righteousness and justice around the world.

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Respecting God's Gift of Life

by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.

In early 2010, Catherine Davis and her Atlanta-based Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) organization launched a groundbreaking effort to stop the egregious number of black abortions in their state. The organization decided to use billboards to present its case for life—that's right—billboards.

The 80-billboard campaign permeated the skyscape of Atlanta. Because of its scale, the campaign was nothing less than cutting-edge innovation. The billboards read, "Black children are an endangered species." The words encircled the face of an adorable black child. In addition to the message, the only Web address listed was  "toomanyaborted.com."

At the website, the message was very clear. Their research and statistics were complete. The editorials were also compelling. The Georgia Right to Life group had designed a sophisticated communications vehicle. Yet, it all started with a winsome message from the billboards. The graphics experts say that billboards can only effectively use seven words—just seven words and a visual impression. Therefore, the designers tastefully showed the innocence of a beautiful black baby.

This campaign was controversial, not because of its effect on Atlanta drivers or the average Joe. Changing lives by saying, "Respect yourself!" should hardly be controversial. The controversy aroused from their effectiveness as record numbers of black girls are going to their Website. Angry pro-abortion groups and Planned Parenthood have attempted to label GRTL as "deceptive." GRTL was also accused of working against the best interests of young black women. Some even have demeaned Catherine Davis as, you guessed it, a "sell out."  Once again in opponents' minds, the "naive black crusader" was being used by white extremists. In response to pro-abortion advocates, Davis had also been pitted against them on CNN, NPR and in a recent New York Times article.

Despite opponents' vitriol, GRTL's work was both tasteful and historic. How was it historic? First, its anti-abortion message was direct and hard-hitting. Second, targeting blacks so directly, without condemnation, was revolutionary. This was a major course correction in anti-abortion marketing. As a result, it was finally piercing the cultural veil over the issue of abortion in the black community.

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Defending Truth Without Compromise

by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.

The most frequent objection of those who fear the presence of believers in government is, "What right do you have to impose your morals on us?" Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council tells them, "The same right you have to impose your lack of morals on us." Someone's values will always be reflected in public policy. Almost every government policy decision is a value judgment. In this postmodern world, where moral relativism is the philosophy of choice, these value judgments are often based on the conditions of the moment rather than objective, transcendent, biblical truth. This is where the two sides diverge.

Bible-believing Christians believe there is absolute truth, a view that was held by all Christians until the turn of the 20th century. Belief in objective truth is the first step in developing a Christian worldview. A Christian worldview is based on the belief that there is a personal God who is directly involved in the activities of man and who authoritatively communicates to man through His Word and the Holy Spirit.

Shortly after the Civil War, the Protestant church divided over this belief in a literal interpretation of Scripture. Liberals moved away from Scripture as the sole authority in order to accommodate "rational truth," which they saw as incompatible with the Bible. These liberals embraced the "essence of Christianity" rather than the inerrancy of Scripture so they could synthesize their Christian thought with so-called scientific findings of the day.

One of the preeminent voices to emerge in defense of absolute truth shortly after the turn of the century was a Princeton Theological Seminary professor and Presbyterian minister, J. Grescham Machen, who would later lead a split within the Presbyterian church over the rejection of biblical orthodoxy. In his definitive work, Christianity and Liberalism, Machen said that liberalism was not only theologically wrong but was not connected at all to true Christianity. "What the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a different category." Machen felt that the argument was no longer between two views of evangelicalism, conservative and liberal, but rather a conflict between two religions. Liberalism is "a type of faith and practice that is anti-Christian to the core," Machen wrote.

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America’s Way Out

by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.

The role of the church in the public square has been the subject of many recent debates. Much of the concern about Christians and the evangelical church has centered on how we will use our considerable secular power at the ballot box. While I agree that the church should fully engage in the democratic process, there is much more we can offer the American public.

This article is something of an open letter to the Christian community. After weeks of reflection upon our current national problems, I arrived at a blinding flash of the obvious. My epiphany is that our spiritual standing before God is our greatest gift to the nation. In a manner of speaking, we have friends in "high" places. We are the ultimate insiders.

When we pray and believe things happen. Unfortunately, we have not always understood the ways of God. We often pray when we should lobby and we lobby when we should pray. For example, during the Bush presidency there has been more prayer offered up for the nation than ever. As a result of all the prayer the Lord did many good things. In addition, he also allowed things to occur which could bring the rest of the nation to her knees. There is a war raging in Iraq, the economy is in shambles, and energy costs are soaring. Our national woes may cause millions to lose confidence in false gods, humanistic ideologies, and even their own abilities.

America needs to return to God and the Bible. Radical cultural reform and repentance will release the blessing of God to our land. Without such a spiritual awakening, the nation may languish for years in the throws of economic depression and moral decline. The scriptures say "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" Prov. 14:24 (KJV).

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