Tuesday, February 14, 2017

People Ought to Care What Michelle Higgins Says

What Hath PCA Racial Reconciliation Wrought?


Ms. Higgins



Michelle Higgins is a Black voice in the PCA to whom everyone ought to be paying attention.

She is the Director of Music and Outreach at South City Church in St. Louis, where her father, Mike, is the Lead Pastor. She holds the M.Div. degree from Covenant Theological Seminary where her father is a Dean.

In December 2015 she caused quite a stir in the evangelical world as one of the speakers at the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Urbana Missions Conference. The Urbana brochure introduced her in this way:
A native of St. Louis, Michelle Higgins is actively engaged in the #BlackLivesMatter movement through participation in civil disobedience, leadership development, logistics, and administrative support in both sacred and secular spaces.
 ...She is a proud supporter of local activism groups MCU (Metropolitan Congregations United), MORE (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment) and OBS (the Organization for Black Struggle), through which she has learned a great deal about collaboration and solidarity. She is also the director of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group. She serves as an organizer for the Leadership Development Resource Weekend (LDR Weekend), an annual gathering founded to address the core concerns of dignity, identity, and significance for people of color.
After Urbana I wrote twice about her Ms. Higgins: This Does Not End Well for the PCA and Why This Doesn't End Well for the PCA.

Last April she spoke for the Religion Department at Ashland University, a Christian school which thus describes its "Spirituality and Faith": "Affirms Christian values as a core element of the University's institutional identity, emphasizing faith in God, moral integrity and respect for the diversity of values and faith of each person in a community of learning." The Religion Department introduced Ms. Higgins to the University Community: "The Ashland University's Religion Department is hosting musician and activist Michelle Higgins on April 20-21. She will have a full schedule preaching, teaching and conducting workshops with Ashland students (emphasis added)."

In January of 2016 a interview with Ms. Higgins by the Religion News Service was published in the Washington Post. The interview was introduced as follows:
Higgins has been making waves. A leader in the BlackLivesMatter movement, she recently addressed a gathering of 16,000 evangelical students at an InterVarsity conference in St. Louis, during which she urged them to support the movement.

Her activism has drawn criticism, with some labeling her “Michelle the Marxist,” and others criticizing her for questioning the assumptions of the anti-abortion movement.
In the interview she was asked what Black Lives Matter is:

First and probably most publicly at this point, it is a political ideology. Blacklivesmatter.com is the official recognized political ideology founded by three women of color who are uplifting and affirming that multiple black lives have been ignored and abhorred by our system, and these different types of black lives must be affirmed in whole, holistically...
Black Lives Matter is also a decentralized movement...The decentralized movement of Black Lives Matter allows local pastors or local groups to use the phrase to mean all black people are despised systemically in such a way that our country does not hesitate to refuse them proper health care, quality education or fairness in the face of potential arrest...
Ms. Higgins was asked to explain her Urbana criticism of the evangelical sanctity-of-life position: 
If you are black, you wear your pants down on your hips or lower, if you say one curse word or consider for a split second that you might be gay, then you are not worthy of being marked as sacred to God. This is how many people in the evangelical church view victims.
'If VonDerrit Myers (a black man shot and killed by a St. Louis police officer in October) was wearing an ankle bracelet at the time that he was killed, then he deserved to die.” I’ve heard those words before, from the same people who would protest and get sick to their stomach at the idea that young babies are perishing at the hands of people who are sinful as well. But we are unwilling to give over our framework about the sanctity of life to God. We are unwilling to give over our framework about the worth and the value of nonheterosexuals. We are unwilling to say, “God, you are the judge of who should live and who will die. That belongs to you, and not us.”
During the current Black history month, Ms. Higgins was published by an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America minister who blogs at Trybal Pastor and describes herself as "Child of Creator; Guided by Ancestors = Revolution; Empowered by Holy Spirit = Transformation; Liberated by the Orishas and the Lwa=Love. #DecolonizeLutheranism." She wanted to share "a powerful exegesis from Michelle Higgins." Here it is:


Ms. Higgins:

Hebrews 12:18

Humanity is a sacred vessel, bearing treasures wherever we go,

whether or not we realize it.

Ours is a testimony of Blackness embodied, pursuing a treasure we were once told to forgo, forced to forget. Set on a course of discovery from the ports of our invisibility, descendants of Mother Africa who now people the Americas still have a mountain to climb. Stony the road we trod.
For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom, and storm; Hebrews 12:18

After the great liberation and Exodus, when Moses had gathered all the people at Sinai, they trembled at the greatness of The Presence. The mountains were wrapped in smoke. There was lightning and thunder hurling through the skies, sounds like trumpet blasts and the sight of fire descending upon the mountain of God. The whole terrain shook. The sights and sounds were inapproachable; here was a God of glory. Here was a mountain that cannot be touched.

Here the Lord informs the people: “I am not human. I have made you in my image and stretched out my arm to deliver you from oppression. I want you to live in the way I will show you.”

(Curmudgeon: To compare the Exodus account with Mrs. Higgins retelling of it, see Exodus 19 and 20. The mountain must not be touched by the people, because it is the place of the special manifestation of the LORD in his holiness and power. He is the God whom no man can see and live, and whose visible manifestation of himself in thunder, fire, and lightening testify to his total "otherness" of being. When God spoke he identified himself as the God who had liberated from slavery the people who belonged to him, the Old Testament covenant people, not all the slaves in the world. As redeemed people they received the Ten Commandments, but even that was too much for them. They did not believe they could continue to hear the voice of God and live, so they asked that Moses serve as their mediator, to hear the Word of the Lord and convey it to them. As the mediator Moses was a forerunner and type of Christ, who himself is the embodied Word of God and the speaker the Word of God to us so that we can see and hear God and live.)

Ms. Higgins:

The writer of Hebrews prophecies (sic) of a new mountain where God’s glory shines; where jubilation and abundance are the testimony of the peoples gathered there. Access is now the mark of God’s glory. Here the Lord informs the people: “I have become human. I lived among you and stretched out my hands so that you might touch me and know my empathy. I want you to live in the way I have shown you.”

If Sinai is the mountain of God, Zion is the mountain of the people. But both places direct us to see God alone as the only Spirit that can cause humanity to tremble.

(Curmudgeon: To compare Ms. Higgins restatement with what the Apostle actually wrote, see Hebrews 12:18-28. It appears she missed the point. The people were not allowed to touch Mt. Sinai, for reasons stated above, but Mt. Sinai was still a touchable thing because it was a mountain on earth made of earthly materials. Even when the LORD appeared there, the people could have touched the untouchable mount, but they would have died. The mountain to which we have come under the new covenant is also not touchable, but for a different reason - because it is not here on earth. It is in heaven. We have come "to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." There is absolutely nothing about, "I lived among you and stretched out my hands so that you might touch me and know my empathy." We believers on earth are joined in our worship to the angels and saints in heaven. We should be grateful we belong to the unshakable heavenly kingdom because of our heavenly Mediator who shed his efficacious blood for us, and we must be careful that our worship is acceptable and reverent. The God of the new covenant is no less a consuming fire that the God of the Old Testament. Mt. Zion is not the mountain of his people. It is heaven, where the church of the firstborn, consisting of the souls of the now perfected righteous, meets and worships.)

Ms. Higgins:


We remember…

In the months after Vonderrit Myers, Jr. was murdered by police officer Jason Flanery on Shaw Blvd. in south Saint Louis, police descended upon neighborhoods in the city with fire and smoke. They struggled to enforce fear and foolishness (what they called law and order), crushing residents and activists into blockades, then demanding that we “go home” as they waged war on our streets. They hunted our brother and shed his blood in the street. They constructed lies and shielded a murderer, they painted Vonderrit as a monster. Flanery later admitted that he was just out looking for “who the players were that night”, since he presumed that “groups of people loitering with no destination often commit crimes.”

(Curmudgeon's Note: Here are three newspaper stories about what Ms. Higgins calls the murder of Vonderrit Myers, Jr.: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times )

Ms. Higgins

Was he so deteriorated by his own hatred that he couldn’t see that WE ARE AT HOME? Vonderrit had reached his destination. It was Flanery who was wandering, loitering with no purpose, and bound to commit a crime. These false and failed “protectors”, they tried to build a mountain and make themselves untouchable, tried to make us tremble. They didn’t know that we tremble for no one. We cannot be blinded by paranoid thunder and artificial authority, for we have seen the glory of access. We have touched the truth.

(Curmudgeon: As I understand this, Mr. Meyers had reached home, where he should have been safe, because he was in a black area of the city. It was not he who was acting in a suspicious manner and who might commit crimes - which he had earlier - but the policeman, working that night for a private security company, was "wandering, loitering with no purpose, and bound to commit a crime - murder Mr. Meyers. The day of fearing the illegitimate power of law enforcement officers is over, because Black people have "seen the glory of access" - to God through Christ the mediator? - and have "touched the truth" - of Christ the truth apart from whom no one comes to the Father?)

Ms. Higgins

We are mountain of God.

(Curmudgeon: Well, no.)

Ms. Higgins

What witness is housed in our bodies, these lorded and fabled casks of bronze?
We are Ebenezer, a rock of remembrance:
for the groans of our ancestors
and the triumphs of our forgotten kings.
We fear not to shut down the shit that broken systems call justice.
We are stones hewn from Zion’s mount,
we touch and embrace one another,
to bear witness of our access to our once feared God-self.
We are the sword of God’s resistance:
for the accomplishment of vengeance without fear.

(Curmudgeon: If I understand this, Black people as Black people are stones cut from Mt. Zion, the heavenly church. They touch and embrace one another and so bear witness that they can now be comfortable with what they once feared, their Black God-selves. As Black people now in touch with themselves, they resist the pseudo-justice of society and are God's instruments of vengeance on the majority oppressive society.)
Ms. Higgins 
False testaments fed to us by white supremacy (those fragile stories of frenzied, fearful worship) now give way to a testimony we can touch and feel. The Black storm now an embodiment of the divine. As God’s fire dwells among the people, God’s thunder becomes the people; and the people become God’s great cloud of smoke. Our Blackness is God’s thick darkness — we cannot be approached, neither seen nor touched by those whose evils have corrupted their sight.
(Curmudgeon: Remember Black people as Black people are God's people: "The black storm now an embodiment of the divine...God's thunder now becomes the people; and the people become God's great cloud of smoke. Our blackness is God's thick darkness..." )
Come to this mountain, dark, strong and sweet.

Come and see, this mountain of Zion’s might.


What have we got here? We have an example of "Black exegesis." Those who who keep up with our universities are familiar with "a feminist reading of..." or "a Marxist reading of..." What Ms. Higgins gives us is an example of "a Black reading of Scripture." It is indeed Black, but it is cut loose from the historic principles of interpretation of Scripture. Of course, that means nothing, for those principles are the white and western principles.

Unfortunately, Ms. Higgins is not alone in this approach. Jemar Tisby, who heads heads the African American Leadership Initiative at Reformed Theological Seminary, takes a similar approach arguing the need for an indigenous Reformed 
theology:


Mr. Tisby


Mr. Tisby: 
Yet indigenous refers not only to the people involved but also to the type of theology being done. The theology itself has to be indigenous to African Americans... 
.... 
An indigenous Reformed movement among African Americans will draw upon existing Reformed theological formulations, but it will not simply mimic them. Theology, not truth, will be adapted to the unique social and cultural milieu of Black communities.
 Commentary by the Curmudgeon:
...an indigenous movement will require an indigenous theology. The type of theology will be different for the theology itself must be indigenous. This theology may draw on existing Reformed theology as suggestive of lines of investigation or even as a kind of source material, but the theology must be adapted to the unique culture and circumstances of Black communities. 
...Mr. Tisby and other African Americans believe an indigenous theology is required by race. Some females believe it is required by gender. Males don't have the same chromosomes, nor the history and experience of oppression in a patriarchal society. In fact males are the oppressors of females. Just as we need feminist studies in general, so we need feminist theology in particular.
The part of this statement, however, that leaves me scratching my head when I stop banging it against the wall is that "theology not truth will be adapted" to the African American milieu. What does that mean? What is the distinction between theology and truth? Try this for comparison: "It is ethics not morality that must be adapted. 
 Mr. Tisby:
Since today’s questions and issues are different than the ones faced 500 years ago, we have “do” theology differently. We have to have different paradigms for drawing out the truths out Scripture and applying them to situations and questions that most affect African Americans. 
Many will read this idea of doing theology differently as changing or compromising God’s truth. This is not at all the thrust of an indigenous Reformed movement. God’s word is unchanging and eternal. But every evangelist and missionary, including the Biblical writers, recognize that while truth is timeless, applications are endless. If we want to more effectively apply God’s word to a variety of cultural contexts we’ll have to figure out a variety of methods of application. 
...
Reformed theology that truly comes out of the African American experience will look different from the Reformed theology that comes out of, say, 16th century Europe or 19th century North America.

  Commentary by the Curmudgeon
... an indigenous theology will require indigenous methods: ... Neither Mr. Tisby nor African Americans are alone noting the historical and cultural distance between the early 21st century and the Reformation era...But Mr. Tisby is saying that the distance is greater for African Americans than for those of northern European and British descent. This requires an uniquely African American theological method. 
Perhaps the main difference between this approach and the Reformers is that, while the Reformers knew they were addressing issues of their time, they did not think the substance of their theology was time or culture bound... Some of the issues were timely; the theology was timeless. The Reformers did not see themselves as producing a theology indigenous to their ethnicities, histories, or cultures. 
Is anyone out there paying attention?

Where are the two PCA theologians who moved the racial reconciliation movement front and center with their resolution of repentance for the PCA's failures during the Civil Rights movement? Do they really think the Gospel will be left pure?

I'm an Anglican by choice and conviction. So why should I care? Well, I was ordained and served for 40 years as a minister in the PCA. I'm still a Calvinist. And, I still care about my old church. And, I think if this sort of thing wins the day, the PCA will not only not be its old self, which it has not been for a long time, but will become something will little continuity with itself except its name.

One of my REC friends commented last week that evangelicalism is fast become mainline Christianity. Can't argue with that. 



















15 comments:

  1. The PCA has nominated a Committee of Crickets to deal with this vital issue.

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  2. See what she thinks of Covenant Seminary and the PCA here: http://imgur.com/a/4plUY

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  3. Bill,

    I think Anonymous is trying to say that no one in the PCA wants to touch this with a ten foot pole.

    Personally, I am grateful to you for bringing this to light. I certainly don't recognize the way Higgins and Tisby use Scripture as being faithful to the author's original intent. Both are graduates of orthodox, reformed seminaries. Hmmm. Wonder what their professors think.

    As for the two theologians who brought racial reconciliation to the front and center, I cannot say what they think about these things. Sean Lucas seems to be above the fray with his new call at Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis: http://byfaithonline.com/sean-lucas-senior-pastor-elect-at-independent-pres/

    Ligon Duncan must have his finger on the pulse as Jemar Tisby is a special assistant to him at RTS: https://www.rts.edu/jackson/faculty/bio.aspx?id=693

    Like you, I'm waiting to see if anyone is going to reign in Higgins and Tisby. At present it doesn't look too promising. In fact, if anything, seats are being made available in the PCA for folks with these points of view.

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  4. Previous comment was posted by Dave Sarafolean. Not sure why Blogger posted me as Anonymous.

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  5. Dave S. in case her comments are removed. This is what the daughter of the PCA's national seminary "Dean of Students and Adjunct Professor of Applied Theology" thinks of her father's institution: "...But the denomination they represent is still corrupted with rampant misogyny."

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  6. Wonder how Ms. Higgins juggles serving both Christ and black liberationist Marxism?

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  7. David wrote quoting Michelle Higgins:

    "...But the denomination they represent is still corrupted with rampant misogyny."

    Wow! And yet she keeps being invited to give her opinion. I crossed paths with her more than once at last year's General Assembly (in the lobby, not on the floor). I suppose she was there to give her views in one or more of the "continuing education" (my term) seminars open to all commissioners.

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  8. For the record, this is not just a PCA thing, sadly. I'm a (Reformed) Baptist, our church is affiliated with the SBC, etc. RAAN also includes one Jarvis Williams who is a New Testament professor at SBTS. His explicit racialism is also concerning to me. I'm a layman, not an elder (though I teach and am a Deacon), and I've struggled with whether or how to bring this up. I'm afraid, as referenced above about "becoming mainstream", that despite winning the battle of the Bible and some other things in the 70's and 80's, that the SBC is now, under the guise of its "racial reconciliation" program, slipping back into old errors by another door. Any thoughts on this? Our church gives most of our money not directly to the Cooperative Program, but directly to institutions. One of our elders is black, but is very conservative and I suspect would hate the positions and views of Higgins and Williams, etc. I'm just not sure how to collect the evidence, as it were, and how to bring forward my concerns to the Elders. I feel like at this point that SBTS should at least consider reviewing Mr. Williams and I'd prefer if they terminate his contract over his RAAN comments. (I wonder what it's like to be his student? Does he accuse or police his white students for "microagressions" and ask them to check their privilege, etc.?) But I also know how close our church is with the ERLC and suspect it would be a tough sell to ask our Elders to make a public declaration of non-support to the SBTS until something is done.

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  9. Thank you for your comment. I really don't have a lot of input in how you should proceed in a Reformed SBC congregation. I have read most of what Dr. Williams posts at RAAN. While he writes some good things, I agree that some of his writing has the same outlook as Jemar Tisby, et. al. The only advice I have is this: Proceed in a cautious and moderate way. Don't throw bombs in among the elders. Rather, collect a number of Dr. Williams pieces published by RAAN that you find to be of concern. Present those to the elders with a cover letter expressing that you have read these materials, have concerns about them, and wonder if the elders are aware of these writings, and, if so, what they think about them. The Lord be with you.

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  10. Speaking of....https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/on-my-shelf-life-and-books-with-jarvis-williams

    "Which book do you wish every evangelical Christian would read and why?
    •Richard Delgado’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. A necessary book because evangelicals still tend to be decades behind on critical race discussions."

    Hmm, being Biblical and "decades behind" the World is what we are called to. Only Liberals ask that we "catch up".

    Some "mainstream" critiques of CRT:

    http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1238&context=cjlpp

    http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2124&context=bclr

    http://hlrecord.org/2016/02/racism-justified-a-critical-look-at-critical-race-theory/

    And shouldn't Christians be bothered that the entire "social construct" meme at the foundation of CRT is exactly the same as that being used to push the LGBT agenda? How can an SBTS professor be pushing this with any integrity with respect to sexuality? How could the SBTS board and Al Mohler, et. al. not see this and be bothered by it? And yes, Williams is in favor it (https://www.raanetwork.org/cruelty-of-color-blind-theory-in-churches/).

    Another quote from Williams:

    "This book shows how [the] evangelical movement and white supremacy are closely connected. Evangelicals tend to ignore racial discussions because evangelicalism has historically benefited from racism. This book will help evangelicals see this and hopefully move them to repent."

    Wow! Let me rephrase..."This book shows how the civil rights movement and Progressive supremacy are closely connected. Black Christians tend to ignore discussions of Progressive evils because blacks have historically benefited from the civil rights movement that spawned it. This book will help black Christians see this and hopefully move them to repent."

    Sorry to be "bomb throwing", but this is my gut reaction to such stuff. No, it's not how I'd approach my Elders about it.

    Sorry, I don't have a blog of my own, but this will be my last vent. Don't want to hijack yours! Thanks for the opportunity.

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  11. Do you have any sources for this, especially Tisby's stuff? I am trying to investigate this further. Thank you.

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    1. You can read a great deal of material by Jemar Tisby at the Reformed African American Network.

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    2. Thanks. I was hoping you could do the hard work of digging through all that mess for me haha.

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  12. Although not a PCA member, I have gained much from the PCA. Michelle Higgins and her fellow travelers grieve me. I've allowed her to rob a lot of my joy. I live in St. Louis. I went to a King Day celebration two years ago. While it was happening, a black man was shot dead at a KFC across the street. After the sermon, she grabbed a microphone and announced that "we are all going over there to march. Another brother has been killed as we celebrate Dr. King's legacy." This angered me because nobody yet knew the details. Later it came out that the fellow was pointing his gun at the cops and was ordered 4 times to drop it. Michelle is an embarrassment to your denomination. It is only a matter of time until she says or does something like Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal said when she suggested assassinating the President.
    THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS is that many of the PCA Churches in the white suburbs are way out of touch with the needs and hurts of black folks. I started an inner city ministry in a white suburban Church (Not PCA) BECAUSE I'M PRO-LIFE. Black inner city kids are often unwanted or ignored....by their own parents, but even worse, by the Church that knows better and claims to love the least of these. These issues are really one to the Lord. An authority in my Church made it impossible for me to continue the ministry because it's growth had started overshadowing other "important" things like outings to hockey games and concerts. I visited a white suburban PCA Church and mentioned to the pastor what my vision was for rebuilding it and would he be interested in my ministry. He said that he was only going to concern himself with the (white) people in the immediate community. This, after a passionate sermon about reaching the world for Jesus. Coward. Honestly, the conservative suburban Church created the Marxist Michelles in the evangelical world. It is time the PCA and other denominational bodies begin to see all of Christ's work as worthwhile!

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