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John Rankin
on Jeremiah Wright
& the Level Playing Field


[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.     E. Fox]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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.


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Date Posted -  11/21/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012