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Top Ten Reasons I May Not Have Answered Your Question (Part 1 of 2)

The questions continue to pile in. Most of the questions are fantastic. However, some of them are a bit, shall we say, off target. Remember, the goal here is to honor Jesus Christ by “Equipping Believers to Walk in Truth.” As such, I try to pick questions that are broad, related to the nature and scope of my ministry, and common to a large cross-section of my audience. Therefore, don’t look for your specific question about what to do about your husband’s (or wife’s) particular proclivities anytime soon. Try to keep it broad and general. If you need personal pastoral counseling, I recommend contacting your pastor, or a biblical counselor in your area (more on that in my upcoming post).

Top Ten Reasons

10. I Am Disinclined to Do Your Homework

Of all the correspondence I receive, the easiest things for me to choose not to accommodate are the letters, phone calls and emails in which people treat me like a desktop reference. The correspondence usually goes something like this: “I have a paper to write for my theology class on subject ‘A’ and I was wondering if you could forward me a list of sources, pertinent quotes, and an outline if it’s not too much trouble (of course this is a slight exaggeration).” In order to understand my refusal to accommodate such requests, one must remember that I have served my time on both sides of the academic equation.

First, as a long-time student, I’ve discovered that learning to find the information is the lion’s share of learning. In other words, one of the most important lessons a student can come away with is how to find answers for himself, how to evaluate source material, and how to organize his research. Having someone do that for you is a direct route to incompetence.

Second, as a professor, I know the assignment was not, “get on the internet, find someone who has already done this work, and ask them to send you a template.” On the contrary, the professor in question undoubtedly wants the student to develop the aforementioned skills.

Finally, as a Christian, I do not believe it is ethical for me to do your work. If you have chosen to enroll in an academic program, you have chosen to rise and fall on your own merits. If I have published something that you find helpful, have at it. That’s what published material is for. However, if you are sinking in a program that is too much for you, it might be time for honest self-evaluation, or at least a discussion with your teacher about some tools to make you a better researcher and writer. And if you’ve chosen to spend your money on a degree from a pagan, anti-Christian institution and want to find source materials that will make your professors respect you, love God, stop mistreating Christians, and place their faith in Jesus (in ten to twelve double-spaced pages), I can save you some time… It’s not gonna happen. And if it does, it will be in spite of your work, not because of it.

9. VBM is Not a Counseling Ministry

It breaks my heart to read some of the counseling-related emails that come across my desk. Anyone who knows me, knows that beneath the tough exterior of the prophet is the slightly less tough heart of a shepherd (an inside joke for members of GFBC). That is one reason I have rejected the idea of a purely itinerant ministry over the years, opting instead to spend almost my entire ministry serving the local church in one capacity or another. I spend quite a bit of time counseling people from our church.

However, this does not translate well to email, letters, or phone calls. Moreover, the strength of true biblical counseling involves true biblical community. What good does it do, for example, for me to tell a man to stop being abusive, or neglectful toward his family if I 1) have no idea what his home environment is really like, 2) am never going to be able to see whether or not he follows through, and 3) have no access to disciplinary action should he choose to continue in sin? If, on the other hand, this man is in my church, I know his family, his environment, his follow-through (or lack thereof), and am part of a body that will hold him accountable through loving church discipline should the situation call for it.

8. I’ve Answered You Already

Some of the questions I receive have already been answered in my blogs, FAQ section, messages I’ve preached, or elsewhere. In these cases, I will either reply with a link, or (if the answer is blatantly obvious) give the questioner time to explore the site and find the answer.

7. Blackness is More Complicated and Less Monolithic Than You Think

Whether it’s a white pastor wanting to “minister to the black community” in his town, or a couple who just adopted a “baby with black skin” (the actual words used in one of the questions I received), I struggle to wrap my head around these types of questions. Some of these I answer; others I do not. And if I can be completely honest (you know I struggle with that), I find some of these questions quite offensive.

For example, the pastor in rural Mississippi who wants to know what he can do to get the “colored community” involved in his evangelistic crusade, and whether or not I’m willing to come preach so they’ll participate (cause we all know that the only thing it takes to get black folks to come to an event is to put a black preacher on the program), troubles me a bit. I wonder, for example, why he thinks a man who grew up in Los Angeles, CA, and now lives in Houston, TX knows more about blacks in rural Mississippi than he does (since he lives right next to them and loves them so much). Moreover, I’m wondering why one of those black pastors in rural Mississippi wouldn’t be the recipient of the email (or the preacher at the event). Am I somehow better than they? Not to mention the fact that evangelistic crusades are poor substitutes for real relationships.

I like to ask these pastors how many of the black pastors they are trying to get to the event have ever been in their church, or better yet, their home (and vise versa of course). It seems to me that people who don’t share life together would only be pretending if they ever shared a “crusade” together. It also makes me wonder, though, why I have never (and I mean never) received the opposite call from a black pastor interested in racial reconciliation looking for advice on how to reach out to the white community.

As for the parent of the adopted child with “black skin”… Why would a man who has never been (and probably would never be allowed to be) involved in a “trans-racial adoption” (not my term) have the answer to questions about what a child goes through when growing up in a family where he is so different? There is no way on God’s green earth I would be allowed to adopt (or walk down the street with) a little white baby. I’d be in jail every week trying to prove that I’m not a kidnapper. It’s tough enough having a bi-ethnic son. If it weren’t for Bridget’s light complexion we’d be in trouble.

Seriously, though, shouldn’t this question be addressed to a black man who was adopted by a non-black family? I would hope people who are bold and compassionate enough to adopt a little black baby into a white family do not actually believe my being black means I understand the black condition (as though there is such a thing) well enough to anticipate it’s strengths, weaknesses, struggles and faults in situations to which I have never been exposed.

And please don’t tell me (or any other black person for that matter) that you don’t see color. That is a lie, and quite frankly, an insult. We all see color, and we all have an opinion when we see a white couple walking down the street with a little black baby (or two, or three, or four). I know because I have heard them all… the good, the bad, and the ugly.

These issues are complex, and ignoring them won’t make things better. However, the answer is not to send emails to strangers based solely on their melanin count. Every child is different, and every family is different. There is no such thing as a singular experience shared by every black child adopted into a white family. As such, it is naive to assume that I (or anyone else) can answer such complex questions in an email or a phone call from hundreds, or thousands of miles away.

Trust me, I have my hands full trying to navigate the potentially treacherous waters of walking through life with the four little black boys my wife and I have adopted. I assure you that my being black will not eliminate the doubts, fears, struggles and questions they will inevitably encounter. Nor will it circumvent the identity crisis with which all adopted children wrestle.

As for what to do with a black girl’s hair… I’ll get back to you when we’ve mastered that one (see Jasmine’s blog post on that one).

6. I Don’t Have All the Facts

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17 ESV) This is related closely to the counseling issue, however, it is a bit broader. Questions of this type include people asking for snap judgments about activities in which their church is engaged, or “is it sin if…” type questions. Sometimes these questions are traps designed to elicit a response that can be used to cast aspersions (I learned this the hard way). Other times they are merely expressions of genuine confusion. In either case, though, they don’t lend themselves to easy answers.

For instance, when I get an email that asks, “our pastor decided to vote for a Democrat… should we leave the church?” Of course, I need more information. Was the Democrat running unopposed? Was the Democrat a relative? Was the Republican named Snow or Collins (if you got that one, you need to get out more… if you didn’t, shame on you)? In all seriousness, though, I am not about to answer questions like that. I’m not here to pass judgment on churches based on unsupported claims written in emails (especially the unsigned ones from nondescript email addresses)

Nor am I falling for the ones that ask, “What do I do if my father got drunk every night, beat my mother, molested me and my sister, and wanted us to help him rob banks… should I submit to him and live under his protection?” Sometimes this question is from a person who has heard that I teach that it is wrong for any unmarried woman not to live at home with her father (which I never have), and they either 1) agree with it (though I’ve never taught it), and want to know how to work it out in this very difficult situation, 2) they disagree with it (again, though I’ve never taught it and don’t believe it), and want me to go on record so they can then go out and write about what an abusive, woman-hating, “patriocentric” cult leader I am, or 3) they really like what they have actually heard me teach and can’t believe what they read on the blogs (often written by the person in scenario #2), so they do the Christian thing and actually ask me the question.

In either case, I would be a fool to answer without first discovering the real question. In some cases, pushing back like that leads to an assertion on the part of the questioner (especially in scenario #2) that I am obviously guilty and therefore trying to avoid answering the question (which leads to the same response as the aforementioned scenario). In other cases, it leads to a charitable response, a pleasant resolution, and a follow-up email a few days later telling me how the person who told them the lie in the first place refused to accept my answer and chalked it up to my abilities as a cult leader to convince people that the fact that I never said the things they accuse me of has any thing to do with the fact that… well, you get the rest.

As a result, I’ve made it a practice not to answer such questions (usually), but instead point people to blogs, books, or articles I’ve written, or sermons I’ve preached so they can decide for themselves. Unfortunately, this does not satisfy the people in scenario #2 since it is there contention that I don’t actually preach or write the bad things I believe; I just believe them and promote them through nefarious, undetectable means.