[COMMENT: John Rankin is one of the best apologists
about today. He understands the Biblical centrality of the "level playing
field" as well as anyone I know. The level playing field is
right at the core of how God makes Himself known to us. Rankin knows how
to reach out to those who deeply disagree with him.
My Forum with Jeremiah Wright – Part I
On November 6 at Kingdom Life Church in Milford, Connecticut, I
hosted Mars Hill Forum #139, and my guest was the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah
Wright, pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago,
and former pastor to President-elect Barack Obama. There were some 700
people in attendance.
There was also a very large media presence,
but for most of them, they were looking for a controversy that did not
happen, and some in their midst became creative in order to find it.
The topic was: “The Bible, Race and American History: What are the
Issues?” It was designed to be an open-ended conversation, and that is
what it was.
Dr. Wright gained media notoriety in the spring when
certain clips from some of his sermons were aired over and over –
including some hyperbolic statements interpreted by many in a damning
way. So why did I invite Dr. Wright?
First, when I saw him on
C-Span in June, addressing the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP), I knew this was a man I could have a public
conversation with – his interests were clearly theological and pastoral
at a level deeper than the political. I knew there was far greater
context to his clipped statements.
Second, in my Mars Hill Forum
series, I host the widest range of advocates who are willing to have a
public conversation on issues of theology and politics, and the
interface with culture. This I do on issues where we might disagree
deeply, partly, or not at all. We have an even-handed format where we
are both heard, where we both dialogue and where the audience
participates. There are no restrictions placed on content or questions.
There are those who refuse such a level playing field invitation,
and that happens often with well-known partisan advocates of one stripe
or another. For those who do accept, intelligence and graciousness in
discourse is assumed, and in all my forums to date, only twice were my
guests deliberately otherwise.
Third, and biblically speaking,
the level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally is radically
and uniquely biblical. In Genesis 2, Yahweh Elohim gives us the choice
between life and death side by side, not forcing either on us. Love is
chosen, not forced, thus the goodness of the truth is presented to us,
not required of us. But too, we will reap what we sow – whether life or
death. I examine this “theology for the grass roots” in my book, "The
Six Pillars of Biblical Power."
When Jesus faced his sworn
enemies in the debate during Passover week, he gave them a level playing
field to rake him over the coals with their toughest questions. They did
so, and ended up daring not to ask any more questions. They thus
silenced themselves in the presence of the One who had proved himself
blameless as the Lamb of God, able to die for our sins, rise from the
grave and return one day as the King of Kings.
If Jesus can do
this with his enemies, we can do this with all people. This power of the
level playing field is a biblical political philosophy, and examined in
my book, "The Six Pillars of Honest Politics." It allows truth to rise
to the top, and invites all people equally to say yes to the Gospel.
Jesus came not to condemn but to save.
Fourth, how many of us who
are white have any conception of what it is to grow up as a black
American who is greeted from childhood with the heritage of slavery?
Greeted by four hundred years of dehumanizing and murderous chattel
slavery, and the ensuing century plus of residual and even deathly
racism? Might we too get emotional in worship and occasionally
hyperbolic in preaching under such a weight?
How many pro-life
white preachers in the 1980s, for example, declared that the nation was
under a curse because of the sin of human abortion? To curse is to damn.
For a born or unborn person to be reduced to disposable chattel is
equally damnable in the final analysis. And those who push such evil are
the most accountable.
Fifth, apart from God’s grace, we are all
reactive when violated by others, and the reactive can only find a
redemptive home in the presence of the Redeemer. Thus, in my forum with
Dr. Wright, I sought to emphasize the proactive Gospel, and he honored
the proactive quite explicitly.
So, for those who might rush to
judgment, it is better to lift up Jesus and see what proactive beauty
can be affirmed? Or is it better to react to reactions, which if we do,
we will all drown in the same miserable soup?
In my next blog, I
will address the proactive substance of the forum, and why I place such
great confidence in the power of the level playing field as pursued it
in the Mars Hill Forum series. A DVD or CD of the forum is available on
either of my main websites: www.johnrankin.org or www.teinetwork.com.