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What Kind of Christian Am I?


Since I officially split from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church last year (or more accurately, unjustly and illegally removed), part of my issue has been when people ask me "What denomination are you?"

To be honest, I still consider myself AME.  That is the denomination I was born into, baptized into, and spent the large portion of my life as a member.  When I felt the call for ministry, my first instinct was to go to the AME church and do my ministry there.

The AME Church has a very vast, broad and impressive history that I will always respect and honor, yet their actions of late (10-15 years) have been problematic for me, even when I was an active minister and member.

So even though I still consider myself AME in the historical sense, ideologically, politically  and spiritually, I'm not.  Because the tenants of the AME Church are in conflict with my inner core, especially on a spiritual and theological level and have been for quite some time.

Some may ask, "What's the big deal?  Just be who you are."  Which is what I am endeavoring to do, both within and outside of A Love Movement.  But I am accustomed to association.  I am accustomed to having the lineage and history of the AME Church behind me, and sometimes it is a bit daunting to not have that safety net behind me.

So as I watch Bill Maher tonight, with guests Mos Def (who should shut up sometimes) and Cornel West (my idol and frat brother), I heard Dr. West use a term I had never heard before.  In the midst of a conflict about the historical religious impetus behind certain ills and evil (which Maher, and many other of his comrades are in deep denial about), West described himself as a "Prophetic Christian," described Mos Def as a "Prophetic Muslim," and Maher as a "Prophetic Atheist."  

West said that the important connection between them (and I am paraphrasing) was not their religious affiliation, but their ability to look at the status of the world and be "prophetic" regarding the situation and what needs to be done.  In other words, the second term was relative, but the first term was the important one.

The first book of West's I ever read was a book called "Prophetic Thought in Post-Modern Times."  It was an awe inspiring book where he wrote about the need for all of us, black, white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, male, female, etc., to be more prophetic in their thought and in their approach to not only social issues, but economic, political and spiritual matters.

To be prophetic, in West's definition, is to be able to look beyond the surface, to look beyond the pundits, to look beyond the naysayers, to look beyond that which is being presented and take an accurate look at the true shape of our society.  To be prophetic, in West's terms, is to be able to see the bigger picture, to plan for it, to understand the ACTUAL past, not what we have been taught about it, in an effort to plan for the future.

Of course for many, anytime you use the words prophetic or prophecy, images of people like David Koresh, Sun Yung-Moon, the Mormon's, The Jehovah's Witnesses are conjured up, obscuring the real intent and meaning behind the term.  We're not talking fortune tellers here.  We're not talking about gazing into a crystal ball and predicting the next ice age.

To be prophetic, in the way I understand West's terminology is to have a practical application of the past, accounting for the fallacies and foibles of the human condition, and apply them in such a way that gives rise to hope, equity, fairness, and compassion, irrespective of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, political affiliation or religious identification.

At last, something makes sense. An identification I can be comfortable with.

Now, some may say, "You don't need labels.  Labels serve no purpose in our current society."  My response to such statements is that is an idealistic sentiment that bears no basis in or relationship to reality.  

How could I give you an inkling of where my religious ideals come from if I didn't use the label of "Christian?"  How could I let you know about my physical characteristics if I did not use the labels "black" or "male?"  How could you understand my political bent if I did not use the label "liberal" or "Democrat?"  How could someone truly understand why I am so passionate (another label) about my spiritual (another label) life without using the label of "minister" or "preacher?"

The reality is, if we use terms like "friend," "boyfriend," "girlfriend," "spouse," "dominant," "submissive," "monogamous," "polyamorous," "heterosexual," "bisexual," "homosexual" we are using labels, and we use them for a purpose to create a sense of common understanding.

We use labels to describe almost everything we do, say or think in life.  However, it is when we are dependent upon labels, when we become immersed in the most literal definitions of words that we run into problems.  Because after I identify myself with said label, obviously I will still have to give further explanations, but at least it gives us a starting point, a point of origin and a basic understanding of the terms being used.

Yet, these labels can also be used to distinguish one from others who claim the same label.  How many times have people on my journal said to me, "You are not like those other Christians."  It is a comment I am both grateful for and flattered by, because it also shows those who observe me that I don't march to the same beat as the others, that I don't think like others, that people are willing to give me the opportunity to communicate with them and not be hampered by the more dangerous and inflammatory aspects of those who also use the label.  In short, my use of the term Christian enables some to see diversity within a sometimes assumed homogeneous affiliation.

So Prophetic Christian seems to fit me.  Which is also ironic because David, the character in my novel, at one point begins to refer to himself as "Prophet."  However, the use of that term is intentionally misleading in the context of my novel, but I still chuckle nonetheless.

While I am not sold on the term, I do look around me at the others who are affiliated or pay attention to the ramblings that I do on the podcasts.  And I realize that most of you, are also prophetic in your own way.  Most of you have the ability and the desire to look past the surface and into the deeper meaning.  You are able to pause your previously understood notions and ideals and listen to something somewhat different.  You are sometimes willing to give a concept the benefit of the doubt, measuring it against your own internal yardstick before arriving at a conclusion.

For these are the attributes of a prophetic person.  Not tied to one definition or understanding, yet still seeking for greater understanding.  In order to advance, politically, socially, educationally, sexually, and spiritually as being seeking to improve the collective status of us all, we must be willing to look behind and beyond the previous understandings and definitions and dig deeper to that universal truth which we all seek to obtain.

Which is, no matter where we come from or what label we claim, we are still cut from the same cloth.  So it doesn't matter what religion we are or aren't, what race we are or aren't, what orientation we are or aren't.  What may matter most is our ability to become Prophetic, in the words of Dr. West, in our efforts to understand ourselves and help out each other in the process.

So yeah, Prophetic Christian sounds good to me.  But will need to work on it just a little bit. *smile*

Chuck Smoot

September 7, 2007

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