When I was a child my mother worked with inner-city minority youth. She was already doing this work well before I was born, but my memories of her involvement go from when I was 6 years old until the age of 12. I remember being her tag-along on various trips with the Urban League and similar youth groups to career fairs, college fairs, youth lock-ins, and boating trips. A few years ago, at work, I was helping a professional-looking black gentleman. He recognized my name and asked if I was related to my mom. When I told him our relationship he said that he wouldn’t be where he was today if it weren’t for her packing them up when they were in high school and taking them to a college fair in Chicago. Before that visit, he said, college wasn’t something he ever saw as an option. My mom truly believed in those kids all those years, to the point that she took it upon herself to work with them, encourage them, and make the world bend to her desire to get them to that college fair. This well-dressed, professional, black businessman demonstrated the power of hope to me in a way that I didn’t understand in my tag-along days.
The Glass Ceiling
Often when people hear the word ‘hope’, they confuse it with the word ‘wish’. When someone wishes for something there is an unspoken understanding that they should feel lucky if they actually get it. The assumption is either the thing is undeserved or a long shot. ‘Hope’, on the other hand, says that the thing is either mine or that it can be mine. The assumption is that all the resources needed to have the thing hoped for have been attained or are easily attainable. Why am I splitting hairs about this? These two vantage points, that directly impact how one views oneself, are powerful enough to alter generations. When the professional black businessman was a teenager on the southside of Peoria, Illinois, his future aspirations were limited by his support system and perceived opportunities. My mom working with those kids, pushing them to excel, investing in them, encouraging them, and believing they could rise above, all while speaking life over them, turned a wish to hope. With hope, a person goes from victim to empowered and generations shift.
Attached to much of Marxist ideology is something called critical theory. Critical theory, with its fixation on power structures, depends on people adopting a subservient identity, essentially keeping them in the mindset of wishful victim. In order for Marxism to take hold, there must be the sort of civil unrest that leads people to see the world without hope. It is in the interest of a Marxist to keep a people group down with no vision of advancement apart from the path the Marxist has set. Quick question- If I am oppressed because I was born black in the U.S., how does Marxist ideology help me rise above seeing myself as oppressed?
What is sad is how this ideology has crept into every facet of life, even the church! The vast majority of articles, books, speeches, and sermons on race and culture assume this mindset and so take a subservient, or wishful, position with regard to source, status and standards. Subservient is defined as ‘useful in an inferior capacity’ or ‘subordinate’. It's like going to the gas station to buy your sushi.
As followers of Christ, our hope is in God and is essential to having peace in our heart. Hope is a vantage point, a fixed reality that we are to operate from that is superior to anything any person can do to or for us. Jesus walking this earth and revealing God’s will and love for us is the source of our hope. God signing off on everything Jesus declared by raising him from the dead makes our hope a sure thing. The hundreds of people who witnessed the resurrection testified to it with their lives. In the face of persecution so vicious it makes what we go through in the U.S. look like a five-star resort, they changed the world. For the first few hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, followers of Christ expected to be persecuted and possibly killed. As they were banned from synagogues, disowned from their families, and had their livelihoods taken from them, they looked to God as their source and the one who would somehow make all of the cost worth it. The Apostles would travel from region to region, church to church, encouraging the believers in who they were IN Christ. Almost every one of the Apostle Paul's letters- Galatians, Ephesians, Romans, Colossians, and Thessalonians- encourage the believers in who they are and where their hope rests in the face of persecution.
Popular culture’s message promotes the same sort of subservient, wishful thinking the Marxists preach. Government has been put forth as our hope and is seen as the ultimate answer to all of life's problems. What is their answer to black kids reading at lower levels? More government programs. What is their solution for fatherlessness? More government interaction at younger ages and a system that incentivizes single parent households. What is the solution for children being raised in poverty? State-funded abortion clinics that target minority neighborhoods. Or as some of my well-meaning white friends will say, “It’s better that a child never be born than for that child to have to be raised in a harmful or disadvantaged environment.” But large government structures are not able to operate with the compassion needed to bring change on a case-by-case basis. When people place all their hope in an impersonal, man-made, subservient source to provide what is needed for flourishing, the bureaucracy involved tends to make matters worse. One of the major differences between black families in the 1960’s and black families now is the welfare system. Are we better off now as a people with this shift? The thinking behind the welfare system was good, but the bureaucratic standards don’t encourage flourishing. Rather, they discourage people from advancing and bettering themselves. Subservient sources are incapable of addressing the root problems that cause low reading levels, fatherlessness, and poverty. These can only be addressed through a compassionate love that bears with people and encourages them to have a superior hope, that helps build a vision of a different life for themselves and their families.
A person cannot have this hope if they believe they are inferior or of a lower status. Furthermore, someone who believes they are inferior will be too focused on how people perceive them to be able to encourage someone else. For a little over a year now I have been developing friendships with a number of chronically homeless people. Initially I thought, I know a number of leaders of nonprofits and other people who can help my friends with resources for thriving and can encourage them. From the outside looking in, the solution to their problem seemed very simple and I estimated that with encouragement, guidance, and my connections, I could have them self-sufficient in about five months. I soon found out that first I have to break down a huge barrier. The greatest barrier to them thriving is how they view themselves. When a person settles in their mind that eating scraps is as good as it gets, me saying something different can be taken as an attack on their identity. The chronically homeless people I know are the most self-centered people I have ever come across. They are always in survival mode and the constant focus on what they lack makes them unable to think beyond themselves. When I gave them things my thought was, “Now you have a reprieve from survival mode. Let’s map out a realistic plan to change your trajectory.” Their mindset was, “I wonder how much more I can milk this guy for?” They didn’t even have the capacity to imagine themselves not being homeless.
This is the mindset where both Marxism and popular culture thrives. This mindset and those who hold to it tell me I am oppressed because of my race. But, in Christ, I am told I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). The culture says I am a victim of white supremacy and there is a system designed to keep me down. With God, I am told I am an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and I will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Marxism needs people to believe they are powerless unless there is an uprising (that elevates the Marxist leaders into power, of course). In Philippians 4:13 I am told I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Do you see the conflict of these thoughts? In order for Marxist ideology to take root in a society, people must be stripped of their identity in Christ. The goal is for the people to believe they are inferior so deeply they cannot even imagine themselves not being oppressed. The hope that is needed for thriving is a threat to the hopelessness needed for control.
A few years back, when the movie Black Panther was still in theaters, I visited a black church for their anniversary service. At this service, guest pastors and guests of honor presented and spoke words of encouragement and blessing over the church. Black Panther proved to be a perfect depiction for the preachers to use to discuss racism in the country. To the preachers and the black community at large, the movie was a picture of hope in a black utopia (to be clear, I also like this movie and own it). One preacher told the story of a conversation he had with one of his members upon leaving the theater after watching the movie. The person expressed how he had liked the movie, but couldn’t get on board with the paganism practiced by the main characters. The preacher used this moral conflict to educate his church member, and now all of us at this service, about why we should embrace the paganism within the movie as it was culturally accurate to some African tribes. His reasoning was that the white man had forced their paganistic religious practices on us for so many years and now it was time we embraced our own pagan roots. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped as I waited for the other pastors to immediately call this out as foolishness. To my surprise, they smiled and encouraged it and the congregation clapped and said amen.
When the standard is not Christ, something else will take His place. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul telling the Corinthian church “Practice the worship of your ancestors’ idols since the Romans have forced their emperor worship upon you?” No, instead he says “You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:21) When Christ is the standard grace, truth, and peace reign.
The motivation behind popular culture and Marxism is pride that leads to coveting what other people have. When the focus is on what other people have or do and what you lack or can’t do, then that becomes the idol of your heart. When a culture covets their idol for long enough, a preacher can point to the idol as justification for an action and no one will bat an eye. When you measure your life against a subservient standard based on comparisons, you become ungrateful of everything you have and bitterness consumes your heart.
In Hebrews 11:1 we are told faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Hope is a reality that you can build your whole life on. Faith is that hope lived out and without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). For those who are in Christ, our hope is a person, Christ Himself, and we live in faith as children in the kingdom of God. If someone could steal that hope away, they can get a people to live their lives without faith and, again, without faith it is impossible to please God. The battle we fight is not against flesh and blood, but there is something working behind the scenes to get us to trust a subservient source, to believe we are a status lower than children of God, and to yearn for idols. Something is at work to steal our hope, kill our desire to thrive, and destroy our peace.
There is a part in the Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11) where Jesus is tested by Satan in the wilderness during a period when he wasn’t eating for 40 days. Each test began with Satan saying, “If you are the Son of God...” This was done to get Jesus to question His status as “son”. At one point Satan challenges Jesus to throw himself off a building to see if God will catch Him. This was done to try to get Jesus to question His source. Then Satan took Jesus up to a high mountain and promised Him the world if He would bow down and worship him. This was done in order to get Jesus to yearn for an easier path to God’s design, to yearn for the idol of ease. Yet Jesus knew who He was and whose He was and countered each attempt to deceive Him with truth.
Social media is dangerous many times because it is hard to judge the tone people are using to express with their opinions. If I am honest, I did not want to write on this topic and my motivation is one of heartbreak. I can see and feel the hopelessness and it breaks my heart. I feel like King T'Challa's mother in the movie Black Panther, yelling from the sidelines during his challenge with M'Baku- “Show him who you are!" We are a people who have been tempered by fire, tested generation after generation, and now are very strong. Much of this perspective has been lost from our narrative through fatherlessness, but the heritage is still there and I am telling you, you are more than conquerors. Don't agree with views and opinions about yourself that are not true and are intended to keep you mentally enslaved! These agreements try to get people to question their identity and worth in Christ and are meant to steal away the very hope needed to thrive. Next week I will address the other flaw from popular opinion on race and culture which is "they negate the finished work of Christ."