Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#Ferguson: No Longer RIP

by Anthony Neal
R3 Contributor

When we are young, we experience certain moments pre-linguistically, which is to say words do not entirely shape our world. There are certain gut reactions we have which are leftovers from our pre-linguistic days. These gut reactions or intuitions shape our early perceptual framework.  It is doubtful that certain of our present understandings could be explained otherwise. Even an analysis given totally to Wittgenstein’s framework would have to agree with this understanding, but would probably place this type of thinking within the realm of mysticism. Spinoza places this type of knowledge in his third category called intuition.

Once we learn language, the perceptual framework, which was formed pre-linguistically begins to fade, but we continue, in some ways to be given to gut reactions or intuition. For example, there are certain fears we have developed, for which we cannot explain. Also, because we are, as Chomsky puts it, prone to language, we make meaningless attempts to provide nomenclature for our fears such as the saying, “the boogey man will get you.” The fear may be warranted but the language used to describe the fear may add more to confusion than to the assuaging of the situation.

This also happens in religion. There is a certain guilt that must be accepted for the addressing of certain events, which were probably first experienced pre-linguistically, but are now described by terms or phrases which may be inadequate. To this point, I have been watching many stories, video, and photos from the activity in Ferguson. One picture, in particular, has really disturbed me. There was a young lady on her knees on the ground where Michael Brown was shot praying in front of a sign, which read, “Rest in Peace Michael.” Maybe, it is just me, and I stipulate this possibility first, but this phrase just seems inadequate when compared to the way in which he died. I know some will quote I Corinthians 15:58, but is it possible that this phrase is not appropriate in all situations and is a leftover from a perceptual framework which no longer works.

Since our words and phrases create worlds of understanding and color how we see in general and specifically, I would like to suggest that there are other phrases, which may be just as biblical but may also have a better application in certain situations such as Ferguson. How about, “Was my death in vain,” or “There is a time for everything, what time is it now,” and if that is too long then try “Why was I forsaken.” These are just a few of the new, more adequate phrases I would like to suggest for all senseless murders. We have typically tried to use a phrase, which is more adequate for a description of the person in the moment. However, if it is at all possible to change our perceptual frameworks in an instant with one phrase, or to at least move in that direction, then I suggest that the phrases I have put forth go a long way in serving this purpose.

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R3 Contributor: Anthony Neal

Dr. Anthony Sean Neal completed his undergraduate degree in Religion and Philosophy at Morehouse College and a master of divinity from Mercer University, focusing in the areas of philosophical theology and political philosophy. Anthony took his doctorate from Clark Atlanta University in Humanities focusing his studies in African American philosophy and religion. His research interests lie in the history of philosophy, aesthetics, and political philosophy. His teaching interests are his research interests plus logic. Anthony prefers to be considered a humanistic philosopher that focuses on understanding personhood, human rights, and human potential.

Negotiating Black Female Sexuality in the Black Church

When I was five years old, I joined the new Youth Liturgical Dance Ministry at my church. In the dance ministry we explored how to use our bodies to serve the Lord and minister to the congregation. However, there were some rules involved. Most of the movements we did solely involved arms, hands, or legs—no torso or hip movements because they could be perceived as sexual. We were also restricted in our appearance. Our ministry garments were loose and oversized so that no figure could be discerned underneath. We wore pants under the skirts and dresses that we danced in and a full unitard under all of that. The only parts of our bodies exposed were our heads, hands, and feet. These guidelines were all intended to prevent our bodies from distracting from the message of the Gospel we were supposed to be sharing.

Although these guidelines might seem typical of white Evangelical “modesty culture,” there was a slightly different context in this case. My church was African Methodist Episcopalian—a denomination founded by freed slaves. Most of the members of my church were Black and so were the women of the dance ministry. Thus, the form of “modesty culture” exhibited by the dance ministry was not just about shaming women, but critiquing the bodies of Black women in particular. In the Black Church, traditional Christian doctrine comes up against the sexual politics surrounding Black bodies. Black bodies have historically been exoticized and sexualized, putting them in direct opposition to the Eurocentric standards of purity that persist in the tradition of the Protestant Christian church. The hypersexualization of Black women dates back to European exploration of the African continent hundreds of years ago. Europeans viewed Black bodies as deviant and fetishized them. During slavery in the U.S., White slave owners thought Black women were incapable of not wanting sex. They were assumed to be always promiscuous, and were therefore routinely raped and sexually abused. Because Black bodies are always seen as sexual, Black women have to work extra hard in order to be seen as “pure”.

Because we’ve been subconsciously perceived as hypersexual and promiscuous for so long sometimes we try to completely remove ourselves from sexual pleasure in order to not fit that stereotype. We don’t talk about pleasure openly. We don’t teach our youth about it. We caution against pregnancy, against dressing a certain way, against hanging out with a certain group of people, against listening to certain music in order to appear as though we are not sexual beings. But we are.

Read the rest here

Rap vs. Religion: How Rappers Relate to God

It may be more complicated than that, though. Rappers, experts say, have their own relationships with God, which show their appreciation may come from a variety of sources. (R3 contributor) Ebony A. Utley wrote a book called “Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God,” which looked at how different rappers interpret and feel about God. Some women, for example, see God as a father and provider, according to the book.
Utley’s writings say that rappers use God in many ways, mostly to fit into the type of brand they’re trying to promote and how they feel religiously.
But rappers have taken this one step further. Rather than simply praising God or using him as inspiration, they, in turn, have tried to take on the role of God themselves.
Famous rappers have been known to take on the identity of a god, either as a way of showboating their sick skills on the mic or because of narcissism. According to The New York Times, vanity and self-promotion are largely popular among modern rappers, serving as a reflection of the current generation.
For example, Eminem compared himself to a god in the song “Rap God.” He claims he is omnipotent and can influence the world in much of the same way a god can. The song did win Eminem a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, but it also put him under scrutiny for homophobic lyrics.
Similarly, Kanye West has compared himself to religious figures for years. He even named one of his albums “Yeezus” and makes references to his spiritual abilities in some of the songs, including the aptly titled “I Am a God.”
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Americans’ Opinions On Spanking Vary By Party, Race, Region And Religion

The arrest of Minnesota Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson, who is accused of abusing his 4-year-old son while disciplining him with a switch, has rekindled the long-running debate about corporal punishment. There haven’t been any public opinion surveys that have asked specifically about the Peterson case. Nor has there been consistent polling of American attitudes on the use of switches. But polls consistently show most Americans believe spanking is an appropriate form of discipline, although it varies by party identification, race, region and religion.
Since 1986, the University of Chicago‘s General Social Survey (GSS) has asked respondents, “Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking?” (For this article, I have merged the responses “strongly agree” and “agree,” as well as “strongly disagree” with “disagree.” I have also eliminated the responses in which people said they were unsure, though only 1.5 percent in the sample gave this answer).
Here’s support for spanking by year.
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5 People Who Aren't Helping Race Relations in 2014

This year, no one is safe when it comes to the ridiculous onslaught of ignorance about to people of color. Whether it was the media, celebrities, or members of our own community, the backwards advice and excuses for the degrading of our people was annoying. I write this top 5 list not to be funny, but actually as a public resource for those who might not know they are not helping race relations in an era where we should actually know better. If you are one of these individuals, fix it.
1) The Self-Respectability Preachers. For the last time, sagging pants and black-on-black crime is like bringing a butter knife to a gun fight (pun intended) when discussing the injustice faced by people of color in America. Seriously, stop it. Every black citizen who has been stopped and frisked, beaten and killed do not look like the skewed thug images that Fox News would like you to think. And at the end of the day, even if they did, that does not give them the right to be killed by law enforcement if they were unarmed. Furthermore, the idea that you can fit a better mode of humanity that will make you invisible from racial discrimination is beyond ignorant... it's imaginary. Rather than trying to rationalize ways to avoid fitting stereotypes, find better ways of combating the excuses to take away black lives because of them.
2) White Feminists and Their Double Standards. It's getting tired. You talk about equality and liberation for all women, but your messaging and advocacy only extends to those who are of your pale complexion. As many were reminded of how Jennifer Lawrence and her white peers were disregarded and disrespected during the iCloud photo hack, did you all forget that there were some notable black women like Jill Scott that could have used a shout out. Furthermore, for all those out there talking about leaning in, did you even take in consideration that women of color still have yet to actually get in the boardroom to actually lean anywhere? From constantly excluded various faces of color from the dialogue in general, white feminists act as if there is no intersectionality in the advocacy of all women. Do better.
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

#WhyIStayed: How Some Churches Support Spousal Abuse

Many have been understandably astonished and disturbed this week by the video of NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his fiancé in an elevator. As I was still processing this repulsive offense, I was came across dozens of heartbreaking tweets from abuse victims around the world using the #WhyIStayed, expressing why they had remained with the person who abused them. As I read these tweets, I began to realize how often I have heard abuse victims share that the Church was the reason #WhyIStayed. I began remembering how often I have heard of women who wearily return to those who hurt them time and time again, because that is what their church told them to do. Here are three common dynamics I have witnessed in churches that contribute to #WhyIStayed:

Abuse is not abuse.

Many churches have created a distorted understanding of physical abuse that occurs within homes. It is defined as a “relationship” matter that should be addressed within the “church family”, instead of a criminal matter that should be handled by the authorities. I recently listened to a well-known pastor answer a question about what to do if a wife is being physically abused by her husband. Not once during the pastor’s lengthy and seemingly empathetic response did he ever direct or even encourage the victim to contact the police. What this pastor probably doesn’t realize is that his silence about reporting this crime communicates that in fact this is not a criminal offense. Victims within these types of environments are often convinced by their abuser, or sometimes even by other church members, that being physically beaten is acceptable and sometimes even deserved. The police are seldom called.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why Holder Did Not Have to Come, or Why We March and Protest

by Andre E. Johnson
R3 Editor 

An Open Letter to James Woods

I read with interest the article by (former) Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas as she informed us of your series of tweets challenging Attorney General Eric Holder to come to Memphis to address the “Kroger racial hate crime.” You further challenge the Attorney General to “do the right thing” by coming to Memphis and to “address the cancer of ALL racism in America.” I guess since Holder went to Ferguson, in your logic, he should come to Memphis.

First, I would like to thank you for your concern. What happened in the Kroger parking lot Saturday night was not only awful, but down right wrong. To beat anyone as the group of youths did to those three people is indeed sad and speaks to how humans can treat other humans with total disregard to their humanity. As a pastor and professor here in Memphis, I too watched the video in disgust as I shook my head as yet another cell phone video captured another violent act. So thank you for your concern. Having someone of your statue and Twitter following advocating on the behalf of us here in the city of Memphis is indeed a good thing to have.

However, I do feel the need to inform you on your position challenging Eric Holder to come to Memphis and “do the right thing.” First, the incident did not constitute a “hate crime.” Now, I know how you came to believe that it did—our friends in the local media, especially television news coverage of the incident, initially framed it that way. They told us how this black mob indiscriminately just singled out unsuspecting white people and like a plague of uncontrolled rage, descended upon them viciously to beat them unmercifully. Just a cursory examination of the comment section of various media outlets and you would think we were readying ourselves for an all out race war.

Upon further inspection however, we discovered that one of the three people beaten that night—indeed the first one was an African American woman who was just getting out of her car to go into Kroger. Again, how would you know that if you only saw news coverage of the poor white Kroger employee who was unmercifully kicked, beaten, and left there at the door of Kroger?

However, Mr. Woods, I do believe your “Holder Challenge” comes from another misinformed place. First, many people, apparently including you, believe that there is some double standard when it comes to racism. This explains why in a recent study, white people actually feel they experience more racism than blacks do. Now, I do not have the time to explain to you the definition of racism. There are plenty of sources available if you really want to understand the insidious nature of racism.

Second, you are also misinformed about something else—on why Holder or officials from the Department of Justice would come and intervene anywhere at all. In short, Mr. Woods, there is no need for Holder to come to Memphis because within an hour there was a press conference held by the Mayor and Police Director to address the crime. Within 48 hours, there were arrests, charges and soon to follow indictments and convictions. In other words, the people we entrusted to handle this situation did just that. There is no need for Holder or any other DOJ official to come to Memphis because the authorities are actually doing their job.

In your attempt however to shame the Attorney General, you did expose something else that many of us have been trying to articulate. In asking Holder to come to Memphis for the “racial crime,” you do at least acknowledge that there was some “racial crime” in Ferguson. 
It is good that you at least believe that a white police officer shooting an unarmed black person with his hands up (according to just about every eyewitness) is simply wrong and someone should do something about that.

On this, we agree, but I invite you to ask yourself not to ask why Holder will not come to Memphis, but why did he have to go to Ferguson? Moreover, while you are reflecting, ask yourself why they had to march, why they had to protest, why they had to yell, scream, and holler. Why did the people in Ferguson have to bring attention to the fact that Michael Brown laid on the hot pavement in an apartment complex, shot and dead for four and one half hours after Darren Wilson shot him? If you are honest in your reflections sir, I do believe an answer will come.

I believe you will look back at the “investigation” and see that it really was not an investigation. You will look back and see that there was no police report. You will look back and see that at the time of the writing, the authorities have yet to arrest Darren Wilson. You will look back and see that the officials do not take the citizens who witnessed the shooting and offered testimony seriously. You will look back and see that the entire government of Ferguson was indifferent at best to the plight of the family of Michael Brown. When you do this, then you will begin to understand why Holder had to come and why the DOJ is now conducting a Civil Rights investigation of the entire Ferguson police department.

In closing, I do appreciate your concern about the Kroger incident here in Memphis. We are continuing to have discussions around this incident. I am to participate in an upcoming vigil on the parking lot and conduct forums to address not only this but also other issues and problems germane to Memphis.

However, as the investigation of the Kroger incident concluded, it was not a hate crime or a “racial crime.” It was a crime of youth “wilding out” and doing some great harm. Here in Memphis, our officials acted quickly and made arrests and indictments will soon follow. That did not happen in Ferguson, so we continue to march, protest, and massively resist—trying to get people like you to understand that the system does not work for everyone the same way. Maybe the St. Louis DA will bring charges against Darren Wilson and maybe there will even be an indictment, but until then, see you in the streets. I will even make a sign for you.


Talk About Religion

Sitting in a folding chair next to neat piles of saffron, cumin and sumac, a portly man with an unbuttoned linen shirt looked me over as I lingered to take a photo of his vibrant shop. It was early September and, despite the stagnant heat which trapped an often unpleasant mixture of spices and body odor in alleyways, I was eager to explore Jerusalem’s Old City for the first time.
Privy to my excitement and observant of my distinguishing (read: exceptionally dweebish) tourist garb, he saw the insignia on my program-issued backpack and immediately made the association between me and the religion of the school I am studying abroad with.
“You’re a Mormon,” he stated. I looked at him and, without waiting for a sign of affirmation, he continued to vocalize everything he thought he knew about my religion. He told me what I believed. He pointed to things in his shop I would or wouldn’t buy based on a religious code of conduct. He wrapped my faith up nicely in a five-sentence summary. He never asked my name, but when he was finished, he leaned back in his creaky aluminum chair and exuded an air of smugness that said, “I know you.”
The saddest part was, he really thought he did.
Most people who know me also think they know what I believe. They define my faith according to hazy memories of what they learned in an American history class in high school, or the semi-informative 60 Minutes clip they caught when Mitt Romney ran for president. Even among my very closest friends, I can count on one hand the amount of people who have actually taken time to ask me what, exactly, I believe in.
Read the rest here

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Theology of Ferguson. Making Sense of the Senseless.

In Ferguson, we see a warped curtain of supposed wholeness pulled back, torn in two to reveal a broken community. We see open wounds and revelations of ugly fractures that happened long ago. Fractures that are still happening.

In Ferguson, women and men allow the Holy Spirit to drive them into the streets night after night, withstanding rubber bullets and snarling dogs and tear gas. They appear to us now as ragged and exhausted as a man hanging on a cross.

How do we make sense of the senseless?

How do we talk about something we should never have to talk about?

In the death of Mike Brown, and in the protests of Ferguson, MO, much has been brought to light.



Militarization of police.


White privilege.


The de-humanization of an entire community.

Ferguson is America at its worst.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains —
where does my help come from?

Our pain is an impossible project, one that raises questions we cannot solve on our own. Why would a good God permit evil to exist in the world? What, if anything, can we make of these events ? Some kind of an answer only begins to take shape in community, among others who are suffering. Our answers will not emerge from the desks of detached academics, but from the streets, among weeping mothers and grieving sons.

As emptied of hope as things appear, Ferguson is also us at our best.

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White Narcissism

In the 1940s my white father, who lived in Arkansas, was visiting Michigan for a Methodist conference when he found his assigned roommate was a black man. Outraged, he thought about requesting a different room, asking himself how he could accept and room with a man he perceived as inferior and hang onto his own self-esteem? Despite this inner conflict, he was polite to him and then was surprised to find that he liked the man. At that moment in his life, he faced white narcissism, and I will be ever grateful to him for stepping away from it toward a new way of being. His polite restraint allowed him to meet a black man who, he told me later, “was a better man than I am.”
Both men became trailblazers in the movement toward racial equality. Stories like this made me want to understand what was going on on the “other side of the tracks.” As soon as I could, I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City to study black liberation theology under James H. Cone and black history under James Melvin Washington. Cone’s writings had enormous influence on me.
When I returned to the South a dozen years later, I found a very different place from what I had left. Kudzu was everywhere; country shacks were disappearing from farmlands; white flight and black migration had radically changed city demographics; black political power was growing; and neighborhoods all over were much more diverse. As a pastoral counselor in Memphis, my caseload was as diverse as my neighborhood. Black liberation theology and black history made me acutely aware of hints of residue from slave psychological trauma. At first I noticed it mainly in the black clients who sought my help, but my anger at the obvious racism of white people kept me from looking at the slave-owning trauma my own racial family was saddled with. Gradually though, I began to see that years of slave ownership and white privilege had deeply harmed white folks, too—just in a more subtle way. My studies in black history had made me more sensitive to the black anger that seemed so justified to me, but it had not made me more sensitive to the white narcissism that is also a gaping psychological wound.
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The Elephant has Constructed the Room. Teaching Racism as a Biblical Scholar

One day in 2009 after President Obama took office, I walked into my Greek exegesis class at Ashland Theological Seminary in Detroit and one of two white male students asked, “Dr. Smith, don’t you think we live in a post-racial society given we have elected a black President and here I am sitting in your class a black female with a Harvard Ph.D.?” I didn’t doubt my student’s sincerity. I’d like to think that he felt safe enough in that space to ask that question of me. I breathed and seized the opportunity to address his question and discuss the masses of poor black people that, as Howard Thurman would say, continue to live “with their backs against the wall.” (Philippians, Acts or Eusebius were no worse for the wait). We must transcend our own class privilege as educators. The dilemma of the masses motivated me to write one of my first womanist biblical interpretation articles (“The Black Masses, The Global Imperative: A Womanist Reading of Luke’s Soteriological Hermeneutical Circle” in Reading Minjung Theology in the Twenty-first Century, Yung Suk Kim and Jin-Ho Kim).

My own experiences with racism (sexism and classism) have taught me that liberation is not achieved, for oppressed or oppressor, by avoiding “the elephant in the room.” But liberation is more likely to occur if we can acknowledge that "the elephant" has constructed the room. Racism is not just about individual acts of violence or aggression against a person based on their race, particularly by those of the dominant race, but it also concerns structural, systemic injustice. As Cornel West argues in Race Matters the first order of business is to recognize that “structures and behavior are inseparable, that institutions and values go hand in hand. How people act and live are shaped…by the larger circumstances in which they find themselves” (West, 8).

As a biblical scholar teaching others to be responsible, critical, liberating readers of biblical texts, I affirm that no exegesis is without presuppositions, as Bultmann argued. The presuppositions that we bring to our analysis of texts are part of the matrix that is our social location. Our social location is shot through with assumptions and judgments about race, class and gender. We live in a racialized world where we are asked to identify ourselves by socially constructed categories of racial distinction. Many of us live in segregated neighborhoods, attend segregated monochromatic schools with matching administrators and teachers, and worship in segregated churches. How can we talk about biblical interpretation and not talk about race - "the elephant" that is the room?

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A Dialogue of Classes: Interpreting the Real World

by Marguerite Spiotta 
Special to R3

As a college student at a liberal arts institution, the ways in which my courses interconnect and comingle never cease to amaze me. This semester especially, the subject matter of my four classes interconnect with such ferocity that I wonder if perhaps in the convergence exists absolutely no coincidence at all. In other words, I see God guiding and focusing my course work to reflect something greater and more indicative of the real world than my neatly labeled binders and sharpened pencils might suggest. My classes very much call on and interact with the real world, the one outside the stone covered walls of the Rhodes College community. Two of my classes in particular beg for this type of real life application – Public Speaking and Liberation Theology.

I write this post in reaction to and dialogue with Dr. Johnson’s post of September 4th, “Ferguson Fiasco: Doing Theology After Ferguson-Part 1.” In Dr. Johnson’s post, he highlights the ways in which the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri “reminded [him] (again) that [his] call as both pastor and professor is to do ministry in the real world. ” Johnson goes on to express the ways in which “the issues and problems in Ferguson are reminiscent of the issues and problems in the late 1960’s when, according to Canon and Pinn, ‘ministers and academics took a public stand against injustice and demanded a re-visioning of life in the United States that took seriously the humanity of African Americans’” (1). This forced me to question my own role in this theological discussion as a student, a female and white student at that. What should my theological response sound like? And perhaps more importantly, how can my theological response push me outside the walls of institutionalized academic study and into the real world?

I see a partial answer to my question emerging from something I learned in my Liberation Theology course. We first studied Paulo Freire, and Johnson’s discussion of the academic setting reminded me immediately of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In Freire’s book, he puts forth his model of partnership dialogue between teacher and student as well as the model of problem-posing discussion. Freire’s methodology, I believe, becomes relevant as I begin to grapple with the events transpired and still transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri. Freire’s model proves useful because it encourages dialogue rather than monologue. He promotes emergence and constant unveiling as opposed to submergences and silencing.

At this moment, I cannot yet identify my own resolute opinion in this ongoing discussion pertaining to Michael Brown, but I know that my voice begins through the type of dialogue that Freire supported. My courses dialogue with one another, and more importantly they dialogue with events happening in our society today. I see the academic setting as providing a launching pad of dialogue that interacts with the world in which we live. I look upon this academic school year with great hope that my voice will emerge strongly, relevantly and with a theology that ministers and caters to the sorrows and joys of this very real world.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

#Ferguson: Anyone But You

R3 Contributor

A few days ago, I read on The American Conservative website (of all places) an article entitled “Seven Reasons Why Police Brutality is Systemic, NotAnecdotal". The piece lists seven reasons why police misconduct is systemic, from inadequate training in nonviolent solutions, to the unfair, routine targeting of minorities, particularly African Americans.  I actually found the list during a search I conducted online looking for articles about police brutality.  Of course, Michael Brown’s murder and the subsequent (mis)handling by Ferguson police of peaceful black protestors in response to the killing has been on my mind, but ironically, those events did not prompt my search.  What did prompt it was the chance collision I had with the 2004 film, Crash. 

Earlier that day, I subbed for a colleague in her editing class, during which I was to show students the film. I had some pressing work to finish in my office, so I left the students to watch the film on their own. But when I returned to the classroom, Crash had progressed to the scene of a literal crash in which Thandie Newton's character, Christine, is found in her demolished automobile, upside down, by Matt Dillon's character, Officer Ryan.  In the well-developed scene, gasoline leaks methodically from the hood of Christine’s car onto the ground, slowly snaking its way down the hill on which the accident she was in took place. The other car in the crash has a fire in its engine, and sparks jump and fall from under the hood like snow. In a race against the inevitable, Officer Ryan attempts to free Christine from the wreckage. The problem is, as soon as Christine looks up to see who will be her savior, she recognizes her assailant.

A few scenes earlier, Officer Ryan, in typical bad cop fashion, feels up Christine when he slams her and her husband, Cameron (played by Terrance Howard) against their SUV for resisting Ryan’s commands.  The reality is that Officer Ryan and his partner pull the couple over, suspecting that they are drunk, when Ryan notices Christine surface from performing fellatio on her husband.  Although Ryan clearly wants to mess with Christine and Cameron, what could be a routine "driving while under the influence" check, quickly escalates to sexual assault. As Cameron watches helplessly, not willing to challenge or confront the LAPD, his beautiful wife in a cocktail dress is aggressively and perversely fondled, under the guise of a check for weapons, by Officer Ryan. So back at the car crash, when Christine recognizes Officer Ryan as the policeman who assaulted her, even as the gasoline from her car nears the burning car some 100 yards away, she begins to scream and beat Ryan back - "Not YOU!!! Anyone but YOU!!"

And hence, what I see as a prime and eighth reason why police brutality is systemic and not anecdotal.

I’m fully aware that Crash is a movie, but movies do mimic reality. And the problem with police brutality, whether it's depicted in a fictional cinematic narrative, or on the streets of your city or mine, is that when a police force is ready and willing to do the work they're supposed to do - which is to serve and protect the public - there is so little trust and so much trauma built up between the two groups that the police are the last people we'd go to for help. The absolute LAST. Which leaves us somewhat akin to those courageous black folk in Ferguson, who literally decided that they'd rather die at the hands of an unjust police force, than to let another day go by in which their rights as American citizens are disrespected, disregarded, and trampled upon.

Not you, Officer Darren Wilson. Not you, Ferguson police force. Anyone but you...

R3 Contributor: Natalie Bullock Brown

Natalie Bullock Brown is an award-winning and Emmy nominated producer and consultant, and is chair of and an assistant professor in the Department of Film & Interactive Media at Saint Augustine's University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Natalie served as co-host for Black Issues Forum, a public affairs program on UNC-TV, the local public television station, for over twelve years. She recently produced a 38 part dvd series documenting the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference of Freedom Summer, and also produced a similar multi-part series documenting the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Natalie is also in the development phase of a documentary about black female beauty.

Before joining Saint Augustine's University, Natalie maintained a freelance career, providing production, research and rights clearance consultation for clients including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, filmmaker Ken Burns and Florentine Films, media companies Jazz Video Networks and Dreamtime Entertainment, award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, and others. Prior to going freelance, Natalie served as a producer and correspondent for UNC-TV, North Carolina’s statewide public television network. Before that, she worked for filmmaker Ken Burns in his New York production office, serving as an associate producer on Burns’ 10 part PBS series, Jazz, and as a production coordinator on Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s Frank Lloyd Wright.

Natalie has taught documentary filmmaking as an adjunct professor at Saint Augustine’s, production classes at North Carolina Central University, and has conducted workshops on archival film and photo research for the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Natalie holds a Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from Howard University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northwestern University. She began her work in film as an apprentice editor at National Geographic Television.

Natalie's Contributions:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Discovering a Lost and Forgotten Early Christian 'Gospel'

Imagine discovering a lost and forgotten ancient Jewish/Christian writing, one not included in the New Testament, that dates to the earliest days of the emergence of Christianity. For historians of early Christianity or ancient Judaism, there is nothing more exciting -- think of the amazing significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Nag Hammadi "Gnostic" gospels.

That is precisely what we have in the case of the Didache (pronounced "did-a-kay"), an ancient Greek manuscript discovered in 1873 in a library at Constantinople by a Greek priest, Father Philoteus Bryennios. "Didache" means "teaching," and its full title is "The Teachings of the 12 Apostles." This precious copy of the ancient text, dating to the late first or early second century CE, is mentioned by early Christian writers but had disappeared. Few Christians today have even heard of it, but you can read it online, in several translations with commentary, here. This text allows us a glimpse into a largely forgotten form of early Christianity, one that stands in rather stark contrast to the Christianity developed by the Apostle Paul some decades after the death of Jesus.
The Didache is divided into 16 chapters and was intended to be a "handbook" for Christian converts. The first six chapters give a summary of Christian ethics based on the teachings of Jesus, divided into two parts: the way of life and the way of death. Much of the content is similar to what we have in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain -- that is, the basic ethical teachings of Jesus drawn from the "teaching" source now found in Matthew and Luke. It begins with the two "great commandments," to love God and to love ­one's neighbor as oneself, as well as an alternative version of the Golden Rule: "And whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to another."
It contains many familiar injunctions and exhortations, but often with additions not found in our Gospels. Here are a few examples:
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Patriarchy and Invisibility: An Asian American Woman’s Silencing

Asian American woman have lived and suffered in a problematic cycle of racism from the wider community and patriarchy from within the Asian American community.

I attended my first Feminist Studies in Religion (FSR) Leadership meeting in June 2014 and learned a lot about its history and its organization. Through this meeting, I came to appreciate the long historical development, as well as the goals and achievements of the FSR.

During a casual lunch conversation, a few of us were brainstorming on what the next roundtable topic might be for the next FSR journal publication. I suggested that we focus a roundtable around Asian American Feminist Theology. I wondered if there had already been a journal edition that already covered such an issue.

While going through the archives of the journal publication, we discovered that there has never been a roundtable on Asian American Feminist Theology during the past thirty years. This reality hit me hard. It reinforced my own understanding of how Asian American women and their role have become invisible within the dominant culture and society. This is another example of how woman are pushed to the margins and left there. At the margins is not a suitable place to be as they are often unseen and unheard by patriarchal leaders of their community.

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One Army Under God?

THE path from leaving Bibles in naval hotel rooms to placing weapons of mass destruction in the hands of religious zealots might seem rather a long one. But Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force captain who set up the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), argues with passion that both things are undesirable for the same reason, and both need to be opposed in the same spirit. His watchdog and campaign group has set itself the task of challenging a new variety of fundamentalism which it says is afoot in the services. It insists that the armed forces, like every other form of state authority, must be religiously neutral in accordance with the Constitution.

One of the latest battles joined by the MRFF, and several other lobby groups, concerned the practice of leaving Bibles supplied by the Gideons, a charity which encourages the study of scripture, inside rooms in lodgings run by the navy. About a month ago, it emerged that Gideon Bibles had been removed from at least 3,000 rooms in navy lodges in response to secularist complaints. That in turn triggered massive protests from Christian and conservative lobby groups, and the Bibles were duly returned to the rooms. Mr Weinstein was disappointed: he insists that there is a real difference between making religious material available upon request at a registration desk, and placing such material—whether it be Christian, Muslim or even atheist—inside rooms. In his view, the latter practice indicates that the powers that be have taken the side of a particular religion, which the First Amendment forbids.

Whether Bibles are kept at registration desks or inside rooms may not seem all that big a deal. But the human stakes are higher in another religious-military row that erupted last month, when an atheist airman at a base in Nevada was denied the opportunity to re-enlist because he declined to say the words "so help me God". In an older air force regulation, it was laid down that those four words could be omitted on grounds of conscience; but this waiver was removed from a new rule issued last year—you either invoke the Deity or you cannot take up your responsibilities to the nation.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For Michael Brown, Justice Is Not a Gift. It’s a Right

This whole Michael Brown thing,” a local white business owner informed me, “is a case of reverse racism!” The Saint Louis native continued, “Those people over there on the north side kill and shoot each other all the time and nobody says a word. Now that it’s a white cop, it’s suddenly a big deal.” As he brazenly brushed aside the “no free refills” sign at the coffee shop in order to refill the beverage he bought yesterday, he continued without a hint of irony, “And I’m glad they released that video of him stealing, they tried to paint that kid as an angel. He wasn’t no angel. He was a thief!” 

Black and/or impoverished people steal. White and/or wealthy folks enjoy customer perks. “This kid was a criminal,” he maintained, “plain and simple. You can’t expect to steal, assault a store clerk, and then expect to get away with it.” I asked him why, then, Wynona Rider or Lindsay Lohan do not end up fatally shot when they shoplift or engage in familiar, reckless young adult behavior? Or why police officers did not accost the seven privileged 18 and 19-year-olds who recently broke into NBA all-star Ray Allen’s Tahiti Beach home in Coral Gables? 

He responded, “Look, I don’t have all the answers okay.” But he did have the parameters by which a just inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown should occur. He concluded his lunchtime soliloquy by stating, “Look, those people over there just need to work on their own problems before they blame or ask the police for anything and expect any sympathy.” 

Residents of a nearby suburb expressed similar sentiments to a New Republic reporter. Under the condition of anonymity, a group of white residents gathered in a coffee shop chimed in with disputed narratives about the crime, followed by certainties such as “I don’t even know what they’re fighting for.” Another embellished, “The kid wasn’t really innocent … he’s got a rap sheet already, so he’s not that innocent.” In reality, Mike Brown does not have a criminal “rap sheet.” 

In fact, Mike Brown’s juvenile record is stellar compared to that of white teen idol Justin Bieber. But Brown does have another kind of rap: he is black. African Americans and those living in underserved communities, are expected to somehow pull off the herculean feat of proving themselves fit for justice in the eyes of the wealthy and elite before they can “rightfully” petition for a just investigation. 

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Sticks, Stones,Words, & Punches: They All Hurt!

by NaKeesha Weston
Special to R3

Posted Originally at The Cost of a Covered Girl

It started out as words “I made you!” “No one wanted you before I did!” “No one else will want you!” Then it turned into a head push, a shove, an arm grab. After a while it graduated into punches, slaps, and full out knock down drag out fist fights.

I was very young and in an abusive relationship. Part of me knew that was not ok but part of me believed that I provoked it, he was just having a hard time, he just needed me to love him well, or that if I fought back and “won” it made it ok (I will admit that over time at times I was the aggressor). I also believed that he would make good on his promise to do worse (which he made good on two years later when I became pregnant by someone else). I was one of the lucky ones. God spared my life. One of those punches should’ve taken me out, including one while driving down the highway. I am here writing my story instead of a journalist telling it on the five o’clock news. For that, I am eternally grateful to God!

I’ll add that weak has never described me. I know strength. I have strength. I have intervened on domestic abuse in my very own family as a young girl. I have raised two daughters alone and they are FEARLESSLY AMAZING! I have carried my family through the worst of times. I have shouldered loads never meant for one person. Strength? Yea, I know strength! Yes, I have strength! However, I did not have the mind (for lack of a better word) to leave that situation before it exploded to the irreparable. I hated myself for a long time for staying as long as I did. I hated myself for taking what I took. I also loved him very much and believed he was a good person that just needed me to love him well.

I am sharing this story in the wake of all of these domestic violence tragedies we’ve experienced or re-experienced over the last week in the news. I am sharing this story in the strength (that my knees are shaking in) to stand. I am sharing this story because some person’s ears (and heart) are open in a way that they may have never or will never be open again. I am sharing this story out of love. I am sharing this story hoping that you will never believe it happened to me and yet identify with my now strength and muster up some of your own. I am sharing this story hoping someone will surround someone with love. I am sharing this story hoping someone will say the words they need to say to someone. I am sharing this story praying it helps.

In closing I’d like to share an excerpt of a prayer someone prayed for me after I shared this story.

“Lord God, even now I pray that you would move on my sister's heart and her mind. You have been here with her in dangers seen and unseen. In times sure and unsure. I times of upheaval and in times of calm and through every space you have shown yourself to be faithful….I also ask that you would cover her. As she feels the wind blowing on both sides, as her vulnerability is becoming more acute in this moment, please God... please cover her like a warm, protective blanket. Cover her heart. Cover her mind. Cover her emotions and remind her that in her weakness your strength is made perfect.” Be with those who know and love her Lord. Show them, oh God, how to support her. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rev. Jasmin Sculark to be Installed as Permanent Minister at Jericho City of Praise

For nearly four years, Jericho City of Praise, one of the largest churches in the Washington area, has been the object of a power struggle between the son of the sanctuary’s late founders and elders who took control of the church after the second of the two founders died in 2010.

Since then, the church has been without a permanent leader, as the founders’ son, Bishop Joel Peebles, and thousands of his followers have worshipped in public-school auditoriums, sponsored programs and filed lawsuits in hopes of returning to the 100-acre campus in Landover. In the schism, all but of a few hundred of Jericho’s estimated 19,000 members left the church.

Leaders at Jericho hope they can begin writing a new chapter on Sunday. The Rev. Jasmin “Dr. Jazz” Sculark, an evangelist of national standing who is known as the “Daughter of Thunder,” will be officially installed as the pastor of Jericho by Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Rev. John K. Jenkins and a host of local and national pastors.

While Sculark, a native of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, is accustomed to preaching to large congregations across the United States, for the past six months at Jericho she has quietly built a flock that is now numbers about 1,000. The goal has been to restore the sense of pride and community that was a hallmark of the church before the death of Betty Peebles’s in 2010. Her husband, James Peebles, with whom she founded the church, died in 1996.

Sculark said she hopes to continue the church’s grand tradition of being a mandatory stop for nationally known speakers and a site for gospel recordings, and to move the church beyond its recent troubles. Joel Peebles has waged a legal battle to gain control of the church, which is run by a board comprising some of his late mother’s closest employees.
But on Sunday, Sculark, who arrived at Jericho in April, hopes to usher in a period of tranquility at Jericho. She spoke with The Post’s Hamil Harris recently about her vision.

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Black Urban Males and the Diminishing Public Deal

By R. Drew Smith
Special to R3

Published originally in KineticsLive

There is a scripture verse that has become a tag line for the thriving praise and prosperity emphasis within American Christianity: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29: 11, NIV). It should be noted that the popularity of this verse has coincided with a growth in the percentage of American households receiving $35,000 or more in household income. White households in this income range, for example, increased from 56 percent in 1975 to 66 percent in 2006, and black households increased from 43 percent to 47 percent. During that same period white median household income increased from $39,500 TO $50,500 and black median household income increased from $23,500 to $32,000. The social promise embodied in the Jeremiah verse no doubt interacts with the upward social trajectories of the more socially successful classes in mutually reinforcing ways.

This verse gets turned on its head in more than one way when it is considered alongside the tragic circumstances that unfolded recently in Ferguson, Missouri. The fatal confrontation between police officer Darren Wilson and an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, and the ensuing confrontations between heavily armed law enforcement personnel and large numbers of persons protesting Brown’s killing have confirmed in very poignant and telling ways, a dangerous distance that has developed between younger generation, low-income urban blacks and key sectors presumably concerned with public well-being. Brown’s killing, and the very uneven and frequently cold public response to a large number of apparently unjustified police killings of black males, leaves many blacks feeling that to the extent there is some grander social design shaping their American social existence it seems intended more for their harm than their good.

This is made clear in a disproportionately punitive law enforcement approach to black youth, where black youth, representing 26% of juvenile arrests, comprise 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of youth judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice). In general, African American males are six times more likely than white males to be incarcerated (Pew Research Center), and the prison sentences black males receive are 20 percent longer than white men receive when charged with similar crimes (U.S. Sentencing Commission). And as revealed by the recent deaths of Brown, and also of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, black men are far too likely to be subjected to disproportionate force by the police. This undoubtedly contributes to the staggering fact that two black men per week are killed by officers of the law. For many black males, therefore, justice seems neither blind nor balanced, and the police seem intent on neither serving nor protecting.

While there have been encouraging levels of outrage and sympathy expressed across the nation in response to Brown’s killing, there have been many others who have made it clear they feel little or no angst about a policeman gunning down an unarmed black teenager, (even on the heels of the killings of the unarmed Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin in the name of law enforcement). In the days since Brown’s shooting, rallies in support of justice for Brown (though marred by violence from a segment of the protesters) were responded to initially by a massive show of force by law enforcement personnel, and by high-profile derision from conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilly who dismissed protestors’ calls for justice as insincere, one-sided, and less deserving of public attention than the looting and rioting associated with the protests.

The racial divide and the sympathy divide are also evident in the emergence of white counter-mobilizations and fund-raising in support of Officer Wilson (with moneys raised for Wilson now eclipsing those raised for the Michael Brown Memorial Fund). The divides are captured as well in data from a Pew Research Center poll in which only 25 percent of whites as compared with 54 percent of blacks indicated they were following the Ferguson story closely. Is there any wonder that young African Americans would in some instances resort to collective violence as they did in the aftermath of the Brown shooting (and in the aftermath of the 1992 acquittal of officers whose brutal beating of unarmed motorist Rodney King was caught on videotape). When obvious injustices go unpunished and community protestations are met with indifference, derisiveness, or repression, people understandably resort to less conventional means in order to be heard.

Although few, as yet, are privy to all the facts in the Brown shooting, it is distressing that in a nation that enshrines citizen rights and equal protection under the law there has not been a broader American willingness to concede the fact that African American males have too often been denied the expectation of fairness and mutual regard implied in constitutional conceptions of “the American public.” Too often, black males are not seen or treated as “America’s promise.” They are seen and treated as “America’s problem”—and the subtext to the “black-male-as-problem” trope (since its conceptual imposition during the slavery era) is that black males are violence-prone. But while violence within black communities clearly has reached alarming proportions, violence by “angry white males” in the form of mass-casualty violence directed at schools, shopping malls, sporting events, military bases, and government office buildings has also reached alarming proportions. Yet we do not see the same kind of “preemptive” police rousts, stops, searches, and killings of white males that have been so routinely visited upon black males. When white males act out, we look for underlying causes. When black males act out, we proceed reflexively and unswervingly to judgment and to calculations of the metrics of punishment. If Kajieme Powell had been a white male daring two white St. Louis policemen to shoot him, would they have been quite so quick to oblige? For the law enforcement sector to gain greater public trust within black communities it will have to systematically address the glaring racial disparities in the enforcement of the law.

However central the law enforcement sector is to the fatal confrontation in Ferguson and to similarly racially-charged confrontations elsewhere, public failings associated with other domains also contribute to black frustration, defiance, and disillusionment. Governmental leaders more concerned with supporting tax breaks for the wealthy than effective educational and job training opportunities for the poor abandon segments of the community most in need of their support. And while governmental inattention to the poor is a public failing, negative attention is as well—and the law enforcement sector has plenty of company in this regard. The media is quick to provide negative coverage of black males. Our schools are quick to expel black males. And the American public is quick to accept these various ill-treatments of black males as normative.

Culpability is widespread for the fatal confrontations in Ferguson and in other urban spaces. Addressing this crisis will require a national, cross-sector, and interracial pursuit of a more vitalized and robust conception of “public” that acknowledges as Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Creating social spaces capable of embodying this conception of public has proven extremely difficult, but America is blessed with a rich array of social and spiritual resources that can be deployed in this ongoing effort—including traditions of free speech, free-flowing information, and protected dissent that help bring social failings and shortcomings to light, and civic, religious, and constitutional principles that shape and insist upon democratic, humane, and just social practices. We must continue to pursue these richer conceptions of public within each of our communities, geographic contexts, and organizational frameworks. Failure to do so will undoubtedly reproduce the tragic clashes and confrontations suffered recently in Ferguson and in too many other contexts across this nation.

R. Drew Smith, PhD. is Professor of Urban Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Co-Convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race

Where College Football is a Religion, and Religion Shapes College Football

Hugh Freeze takes his seat near the back of the Mississippi football meeting room, and from here, with his three daughters sitting to his left, the Rebels coach can see everything.

Players begin filing through the doors a few minutes before 10 a.m., some wearing dreadlocks and others buzz cuts. Several carry Bibles. Christian music plays through the speakers of this 200-seat auditorium, and Freeze mouths the words to a song titled “Jesus Paid It All.”

This room in the Manning Center is where the Ole Miss football team gathers to discuss its mistakes, players’ hopes and goals, the opportunities and pitfalls that lay ahead in the season, and anyway, doesn’t that sound like life? To Freeze, it makes sense to merge his beliefs with his coaching, holding a Fellowship of Christian Athletes worship service each Sunday during the school year. For the Rebels’ players and coaches during the season, this is church.

“The most important thing we have is the platform we have to impact the lives of the people in our program,” says Freeze, 44. “When my life comes to an end, how much does that scoreboard really matter?”

In this part of America, college football fits somewhere between pastime and obsession, and like church, it is more than a weekend activity. Nothing says more about a Southerner than the team he cheers on Saturdays and the church he attends on Sundays — “the two things we love the most,” says author Chad Gibbs, Auburn fan and Methodist. To many, the merging of cultural forces feels natural; to others, the most stark instances are uncomfortable — maybe even inappropriate.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Damnation, American Style: How American Preachers Reinvented Hell

Among the many congratulatory letters George Washington received after assuming the presidency was one from “the Convention of the Universal Church, assembled in Philadelphia.” “SIR,” it began, “Permit us, in the name of the society which we represent, to concur in the numerous congratulations which have been offered to you.” The letter reassured the president that “the peculiar doctrine which we hold, is not less friendly to the order and happiness of society, than it is essential to the perfection of the Deity.” One of its signers, Universalist minister John Murray, had known Washington since serving as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War. The minister and his second wife, Judith Sargent Murray, had even stopped to dine with the Washingtons on their way to the Convention. Thanks in large part to their efforts, universal salvation was no longer an obscure creed espoused by a scattered few. Now the Convention sought to establish Universalism as a recognized, socially responsible faith.

Washington responded favorably. “GENTLEMEN,” he began, thanking them for their well-wishes, “It gives me the most sensible pleasure to find, that in our nation, however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines, they generally concur in one thing: for their political professions and practices, are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions. I am also happy in finding this dispositionparticularly evinced by your society.” Such affirmation of the Universalists’ civic friendliness, from none other than the first president of the newly United States, must have gratified the Convention. They were well aware that other Protestant clergy, especially the Calvinists, disdained their “peculiar doctrine.”

One of Universalism’s harshest critics was a Presbyterian minister also named John Murray and close in age to the other. To distinguish the two, their followers dubbed the Universalist “Salvation” Murray and the Presbyterian “Damnation” Murray. While “Salvation” preached the eventual redemption of all humanity, “Damnation” treated congregants and readers to vivid depictions of a hell gaping wide for sinners of every stripe. Universalism, he argued, offered license to sin without fear of consequences and undermined the justice of God by making Him a weak and ineffective ruler. “Salvation” and Judith Sargent Murray, for their part, believed that the promise of heaven for all presented a more perfect and rational view of God as loving and merciful rather than vengeful and arbitrary. Such a God, they hoped, would do more to inspire virtue and good works in the new nation’s citizens than a tyrannical deity who could arbitrarily condemn a significant part of His creation to eternal perdition.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Our Churches Can Be Bridges of Hope After Ferguson Tragedy

Only a few weeks have passed since the horrific shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, in Ferguson, Mo. As I have reflected on this tragic incident, I am not a big supporter of clichés, but the phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” seemed to have great validity.
Countless incidents have occurred nationally and right here in North Texas that mirror the Brown tragedy. My heart constantly aches at the sight of excessive force being inflicted on unarmed victims and peaceful protesters. These deplorable images harken back to the turbulent times of the 1960s, and I am thoroughly convinced that if a proactive plan is not implemented, history will simply repeat itself. So, in the words of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Where do we go from here?”
I believe the faith community must play a critical role in addressing issues that plague many underserved communities throughout the country. The church has been at the center of every significant movement in America. The church has been a prophetic voice to advance causes of justice and civil rights. The church has also been the conscience of the state and must continue to be our nation’s moral compass.
Again I pose the question: Where do we go from here? 
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