Friday, March 21, 2008

What's In Store: The Spiritual Marketplace

Readers of baldblogging may remember previous posts about various issues dealing with today's spiritual marketplace. I've commented about it in the context of my teaching, documentaries, the installation of a Cardinal, recent scholarship (here too), and religious celebrity (be sure to read this scholar's work on religious celebrity and keep an eye open for her forthcoming work on the religious celebrity of Oprah). Darren Grem has some keen thoughts on the topic as well, in addition to what looks like a great dissertation on related subjects.

Well, I'm happy to announce another "offering" on the subject--a book titled Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace. Co-authored with friend and comrade Shayne Lee, a sociologist at Tulane University and author of T.D. Jakes: America's New Preacher, New York University Press will publish Holy Mavericks in 2009.

Holy Mavericks uses the theory of religious economy to study contemporary religious trends in the United States. It imagines this country as a spiritual marketplace where religious firms offer spiritual goods and services to religious consumers.

The result of nearly three years of research and extensive participant-observation in Connecticut, Florida, California, Georgia, and Texas, our project explores the extraordinary appeal of five evangelicals who make strong cases to replace Billy Graham as America’s leading preacher and evangelist: Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and Brian McLaren. They pastor some the largest churches in the nation, lead vast spiritual networks, and are among the most influential preachers in American Protestantism.

They write best-selling books and draw thousands of people to their conferences. They are fixtures on the airwaves, appearing as special guests on television programs. Newspapers report on their vast influence. Thousands of websites, blogs, and chat rooms dispatch their names throughout cyberspace, both praising and chastising their ministries.

Through the power of their appeal, rather than the authority of ecclesiastical positioning, they assemble multi-million dollar ministries and worldwide renown. With weak or no denominational ties, they are free agents who make their mark on contemporary American society.

When the time comes, get your copy here.

[Photo credits here, here, here, here, and here.]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

For Those With Eyes to See and Ears to Hear

Svend Akram White, who blogs over at Akram's Razor, recently published this article on responses to Barack Obama's recent speech. Thanks, Svend, for prophetic clarity in these times of fog and haze.

Scholar Jon Pahl also has some insightful points--a Holy Week meditation on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Ed Blum muses about prophets and politicians here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

God's Time

God's Time

"I've only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can't refuse it,
Didn't seek it, didn't choose it,
But it's up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give an account if I abuse it,
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it."

Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays
(Be sure to check out Randal Jelks's forthcoming book on Mays. Click here to watch Jelks's February 19, 2008, lecture on Mays at the U. of Kansas. You may have to scroll down to find it.)

Knight is Right, Too

In the previous post I argued that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's denunciations of white power and white Christianity were right. In this post, I suggest that some of what Steve Knight observes about the Wright/Obama controversy is right on as well.

Steve blogs over at Knightopia and routinely has insightful posts and keen insight into the complexities of faith and culture. He is the co-founder and co-organizer of the Emergent Cohort in Charlotte, NC. Steve also arranged things for Brian McLaren's stop in Charlotte for his Everything Must Change tour.

On Monday, March 17, Steve and Anthony Smith (a.k.a. the "Postmodern Negro") taped a conversation--in the context of the Wright/Obama controversy--about the implicit whiteness that shapes and forms North American evangelical theology on the one hand, and on the other the imperative for white Christians to read deeply in black theology and literature and culture to understand, for example, why the Rev. Wright said what he said, and made the claims he made. Smith discusses key elements of how many African Americans see the church and the world and explains what an Afrocentric theology actually looks like. Knight discusses white privilege and how it plays out in politics and in the church, and suggests that white folks own up to the history of privilege, what it looks like today, and why a deconstruction of it matters. There's also a discussion of the black Jesus. These are simply a few highlights of the conversation; the entire discussion deserves a good listening.

In sum, Knight offers these thoughts: "The bottom line is: White Christians need to work harder to understand the history and complexity of the black church tradition and the role of prophetic voices (like Rev. Jeremiah Wright)."

I couldn't agree more. Like Wright, Knight is right.

[Update: read the text and watch Obama's Philadelphia "race" speech here, and check out Obama's discussion on the Tuesday episode of ABC's Nightline. Ed Gilbreath offers up some good commentary, as usual.]

[Photo credits here and here.]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wright is Right

"The whites have always been an unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood-thirsty set of beings, always seeking after power and authority."

The Internet is abuzz with stories, columns, and musings about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments regarding the United States and 9/11, as well as his criticism of white America in the context of his support of Barack Obama. Some pundits are even calling the seasoned pastor and prophetic cleric a racist.

Denial and amnesia are unfortunate, and today seem to afflict the rich and the powerful. Truth telling and prophetic witnessing, yet again, scream from the margins. For those with ears to hear, and with eyes to see....

All of this is interesting in light of the attention Jeremiah Wright's jeremiads have gotten. Some of the saner, more illuminating posts on Wright come from historians Ralph Luker and Ed Blum (HT: Paul Harvey) and religious studies scholar Jonathan Walton. Diana Butler Bass also offers important thoughts over at God's Politics. Anthony Smith weighs in here, and antiracist activist Tim Wise clarifies matters, too. Jim Wallis crafts a customary illuminating response here, and Adam Taylor discusses the context of prophetic preaching here. And Ed Gilbreath muses about events here and here.

Wright's criticism of America--and indeed criticism of white America and white Christianity--not only took place in the context of a black church, but also is part of a long history of prophetic utterance and righteous indignation. Wright spoke the truth--and he did it with rage, and screaming, and with what we might call a performative utterance--but he spoke the truth that many still refuse to hear. And, the Christian church possesses the concepts and categories to work toward reconciliation, and this is one of the aims of Wright's church. Reconciliation can't come about without truth-telling, and truth-speaking--and truth-seeking.

Do you remember.....Richard Allen, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, David Walker, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Vernon Johns, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, James Baldwin, etc.? The list goes on and on.

Luker and Blum trace out the history of these folks, and Bass adds key thoughts to the retelling of this story (and Wise is his usual contrarian, prophetic self), but I would like to highlight the work of David Walker, a free black man deeply involved in the abolitionist movement and who worked in Boston at a second hand clothing store in the early 19th century. Famously, he published in 1829 An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World and shipped the pamphlet South. Word spread about Walker's Appeal, and it is to this document I appeal in 2008. It is simply one part of the history about which Luker, Blum, and others offer reflections.

Like Rev. Wright, Walker spoke in the context of the prophetic Christian tradition.

Here is Walker:
"Are we MEN! ! -- I ask you, 0 my brethren I are we MEN? Did our Creator make us to be slaves to dust and ashes like ourselves? Are they not dying worms as well as we? Have they not to make their appearance before the tribunal of Heaven, to answer for the deeds done in the body, as well as we? Have we any other Master but Jesus Christ alone? Is he not their Master as well as ours? -- What right then, have we to obey and call any other Master, but Himself? How we could be so submissive to a gang of men, whom we cannot tell whether they are as good as ourselves or not, I never could conceive. However, this is shut up with the Lord, and we cannot precisely tell -- but I declare, we judge men by their works....The whites have always been an unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood-thirsty set of beings, always seeking after power and authority."

Jesus said that you can judge a tree by its fruit.

Walker continues: "Let no man of us budge one step, and let slave-holders come to beat us from our country. America is more our country, than it is the whites-we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from our blood and tears: -- and will they drive us from our property and homes, which we have earned with our blood? They must look sharp or this very thing will bring swift destruction upon them. The Americans have got so fat on our blood and groans, that they have almost forgotten the God of armies...."

And finally:
"What nation under heaven, will be able to do any thing with us, unless God gives us up into its hand? But Americans. I declare to you, while you keep us and our children in bondage, and treat us like brutes, to make us support you and your families, we cannot be your friends. You do not look for it do you? Treat us then like men, and we will be your friends. And there is not a doubt in my mind, but that the whole of the past will be sunk into oblivion, and we yet, under God, will become a united and happy people. The whites may say it is impossible, but remember that nothing is impossible with God."

Indeed, nothing is impossible with God.

Read more from Walker's Appeal here.

And on a final note.....I don't remember where I read or heard this [Update: found it.], but I can't recall seeing or hearing anyone denouncing the inflammatory statements made by San Antonio minister the Rev. John Hagee, the fiery parson who recently endorsed John McCain. Hagee has thrown his full support behind the nation of Israel, and recently called for a U.S. invasion of Iran.

Once again, Wright is right.

[Photo credits here and here.]