Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Past Imperfect of Barack Obama

Speaking at the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches last month, President Obama posed a question that captured why many continue to view him as hope personified, while others seem to see him as an existential threat. “What greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished?” he asked.
“Not yet finished”: That’s the line that separates worship of the founders from belief in the unrealized potential of what they began; it divides those who are nostalgic for freedoms supposedly lost which now must be restored, from those who recognize that the freedoms enjoyed by some have always been partial, while the struggle continues to guarantee them for all.
In case anyone missed that first “not yet,” Obama offered it four more times before the Selma speech was done: “We know the march is not yet over. We know the race is not yet won … Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.”
More than merely a well-crafted string of phrases on a significant occasion, the notion that the United States is “not yet perfect” may be the single most enduring theme of Obama’s political life.
The speech largely credited with saving his candidacy in 2008—itself called “A More Perfect Union”—relied on the rhetorical interplay of “perfect” as an adjective and “perfect” as a verb. “This union may never be perfect,” he said, “but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”
Given in response to the controversy surrounding his longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright, the speech addressed race especially as “a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.”
This was for him not only an assessment of history, but a profession of faith. “I have asserted a firm conviction—a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people,” he said, “that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”
Read the rest here
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Monday, April 13, 2015

Christianity’s Rocky Relationship With Sex

The west used to be a place: Europe. Then the place got bigger: it extended across the Atlantic, embracing (or digesting) North and South America, and in the 19th and 20th centuries, it built up vast territorial empires which for a while dominated every part of the globe by direct rule or by influence.

As a result, the west is no longer a place, but a state of mind, to be found on every beach and in every shopping mall throughout the world. And one of the things marking it out among ancient and modern cultures is its obsession with sex. This sexual chatter sets the west apart. Every culture has its own hang-ups about sex – but most of them don’t want sex to be a topic of conversation; that would be rude. That great contrast is one of the reasons why there is so much anti-western feeling in many parts of the world. Even when there are plenty of other issues to get angry about, this is an easy target on which to concentrate rage.

I’ve long brooded on this curious distinctiveness of the west, and over my lifetime, I have listened to the furious debates within western culture itself that arise out of it. Why should this peculiarity exist? In my new BBC Two series, Sex and the Church, exploring the west’s sexual obsession, I range over more than 2,000 years to argue that it stems from the religion that, over the centuries, slowly took over Europe: Christianity.

Christian churches tear themselves apart arguing about the role of women, contraception, abortion, homosexuality and how to deal with wretched revelations about clerical child abuse. And our modern western pride in our openness about talking and laughing about sex in almost any situation is simply a reversal of two millennia of largely negative Christian chatter on that same subject.

The puzzle is all the greater because the central figure in this religion, Jesus, had very little to say about sex. True, he insisted on monogamy in marriage, and on no divorce (both insistences being new to his own Jewish culture, and rather shocking) – but beyond that, virtually nothing. Indeed, one story about him, in John’s Gospel, is a clear rebuke to those who want to be punitive about sex. He was teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, where the Dome of the Rock now stands, when a group of men dragged before him a woman accused of adultery. They asked Jesus whether they should stone her to death, the usual Jewish penalty for adultery. All he said was: “He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” And when they’d all shuffled off looking sheepish, all he said to her was that she should go off and sin no more. It’s a story of forgiveness and mercy, both of which are themes that run through Jesus’s teaching, and which might be thought to be at the heart of Christian teaching.

So how did the Christian churches turn Jesus’s few quiet words about sex into an ill-tempered centuries-long argument?

Read the rest here

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Southern Baptists and the Sin of Racism

“Racial reconciliation is not something that white people do for other people,” proclaimed Russell Moore in March. Moore, a white man from Mississippi, was opening a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, with an eminently tweetable, infinitely complicated call to end racial division within the church.

As membership in the Southern Baptist church stagnates and baptisms decline, and as America’s younger generations are becoming more diverse and less religious, this kind of rhetoric could seem like a straightforward bid for survival. Millennials care deeply about race and racial justice, so the church has to care, too. Moore’s calls for reconciliation seemed heartfelt, though, as did those of many of the pastors and leaders who met at the Southern Baptists’ conference on race. And they are part of a consistent, longstanding effort. Since at least 1995, the church has been publicly repenting for its history of racial discrimination.Arguably, it has made progress; minority participation in Southern Baptist congregations has blossomed. Yet after two decades, the public-policy arm of the church is still focused almost exclusively on conservative social issues, rather than topics like poverty and mass incarceration, which have a significant impact on racial disparities in America. As the demographics of the church change, the Southern Baptists will have to reckon with these issues—or, perhaps, face future decades of division within their churches.

In 2013, Moore was elected the head of the Southern Baptists’ public-policy organization, called the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or ERLC. He is full of pithy zingers; he’s a Christian leader suited for the social-media age. Moore has been a vocal advocate of immigration reform, sometimes out of keeping with the Republican Party; in July, he wrote that, “As Christians … our response ought to be, first, one of compassion for those penned up in detention centers on the border.” Many the ERLC’s policy priorities have remained the same, though, keeping a focus on conservative social issues, including opposition to pornography, gay marriage, and abortion; support for two-parent families; and a broad interpretation of “religious freedom,” defending vendors who refuse to provide services for gay weddings and businesses that won’t cover employees’ birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

But the most important change Moore has made since taking office has also been among the most subtle: shifting how Southern Baptists talk about race. For 25 years, Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land, was the face of the Southern Baptists in American politics. In the 90s, he led the denomination’s hard-right shift; years later, he became an appointee in the George W. Bush administration. Until 2012, he had his own talk-radio program, Richard Land Live! That show eventually proved his undoing: In a 2012 segment about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Land said that black political leaders were using Martin’s death to “gin up the black vote.” He also said that a black man is "statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man." His timing was particularly bad—he spoke just a few months before Fred Luter, a pastor from New Orleans, was slated to become the first-ever black president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Leaders in the church called for Land to be fired, arguing that his continued presence would undermine the meaningfulness of Luter’s election. Eight weeks later, following a review by the ERLC’s trustees, his radio show was cancelled, and the following month, he announced his retirement.

Read the rest here

Friday, April 10, 2015

White America's Silence on Police Brutality Is Consent

Late Tuesday, news broke that yet another unarmed American, a black man named Walter Scott, was killed by a white police officer. As with Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Rodney King nearly 25 years ago, the brutality was captured on video for the world to see. The New York Times put the damning evidence at the very top of its homepage and it quickly spread throughout social media networks provoking outrage, disgust, horror, grief. These reactions have come most vocally from black Americans. The silence from white activists, elected officials, public figures, and citizens has been deafening.

If you're white and have made it to this paragraph you might be thinking, or headed to the comments to write, "not all white people…" To be sure, there are white Americans active in efforts toward police reform. That population is, however, nowhere near the critical mass needed for change. Take for example New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. He made some unprecedented comments expressing "pain and frustration" after a grand jury failed to indict the NYPD officer who choked Eric Garner to death on film. He was quickly pressured to walk back that sentiment and, without the support he needed, did exactly that.

The bottom line: The majority of white Americans believe the nation's police are doing a good job despite that work often ending in the deaths of unarmed black people.

In every major speech on race that President Obama has delivered during his presidency, he has reassured Americans of our collective will to form a more perfect union. When his 2008 campaign was in danger of being derailed by his Chicago pastor, Obama remarked on the "vast majority" of Americans who want a more equitable country. After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges for killing Trayvon Martin, Obama reminded us that, "Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race." And, when a grand jury failed to indict a white officer for choking a black Staten Island man to death, the President instructed: "...it is incumbent upon all of us, as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem."

Black Americans are largely on board with making police brutality an issue of urgent national interest. We've always been desperate for change. White Americans, not so much.

Read the rest here

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How Religion Became a Destructive — and Redemptive — Force for ‘Black Lives Matter’

Religious leaders have proven to be powerful voices within a larger conversation about “Black Lives Matter,” a conversation that opened up once again this week after the death of a man in North Carolina.

On Saturday, April 4, Walter L. Scott, 50, was shot five times in the back and killed during a routine traffic stop by officer Michael Slager, 33, in West Ashley, N.C. According to a statement issued by Slager’s attorney on Monday, Scott grabbed Slager’s Taser, an electronic stun gun, and tried to use it against him. But, a widely-circulated video appeared to contradict the officer’s account, showing that he tried to plant evidence on Scott.

Slager was charged with murder after the video surfaced on Tuesday.

Shortly before news of the murder charge broke, I was on a Christian radio program responding to questions regarding An Open Letter to Franklin Graham that I co-wrote in response to incendiary remarks that Graham had posted on Facebook one month before. In his post, he told “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” to “Listen up.” Then, in one paragraph, the son of Billy Graham, who serves as president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, presumed to understand the issue better than everyone else. Graham said the reason so many police killings are happening is “simple.” It can be reduced to two key factors: 1) people need to learn to “OBEY” authority and 2) bad parenting.

Our Open Letter responded: “It is not that simple.”

Context clarifies the most offensive aspect of Graham’s first Facebook post: He “simplified” the problem of police killings by erasing the two most significant factors in the relationship between police and people of color — power and race, and the two are inextricably linked in our American context.

Simple is what you get when you proof-text an experience; lifting it out of its historical, social, psychological, cultural and economic contexts. Simple is what you get when you examine that event as if it is an isolated, two-dimensional specimen, rather than a multi-dimensional, recurring pattern. Simple is what you get when you take race and power out of the equation in America.

Read the rest here

Critical Pedagogy in the 21st Century

Critical Pedagogy in the 21st Century with Dr. Carmichael Crutchfield
Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Youth Ministry, Memphis Theological Seminary

April 14 - 15, 2015
Lindenwood Christian Church, Stauffer Hall
(Directly across Union Ave. from MTS)

Lecture I
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 11:10 a.m.
“Why In The World Does Critical Pedagogy Matter?”

Lecture II
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 7:00 p.m.
“Critical Pedagogy and The Politics of Disposability”

Lecture III
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 11:10 a.m.
“Critical Pedagogy: Advocacy and Justice”

All lectures are free and open to the public. MTS students will receive one (1) hour of theological colloquia credit per lecture, and alumni will receive 0.1 CEUs per lecture. MTS Will also live stream the event here

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

2015 African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus Outstanding Research Awards

The African American Communication & Culture Division (AACCD) and the Black Caucus of NCA seeks nominations from division and caucus members for the 2015 annual research awards. Awards will be granted to the author(s) of theory and/or research on specific issues of concern to African Americans, Black ethnicity, or people of the African Diaspora representing a variety of communication contexts, processes, practices, theory development, or innovative research approaches. There will be one award for an outstanding book; one for an outstanding refereed article; one for outstanding book chapter; and one award for outstanding dissertation/thesis. Book nominations may include authored books, edited books, and textbooks. To be considered for an award, articles, books, and textbooks must meet the following minimum criteria:

Nominations will be accepted for works published between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.

At least one author must be an NCA member.

Award recipients will be announced during the division business meeting at the NCA convention in Las Vegas, NV and award winners should agree to attend the conference to receive their award in person.

In order to nominate the work of others or yourself, send a statement of nomination and the accompanying publication. Electronic submissions are strongly encouraged and preferred.

When nominating a book or textbook, please send an electronic statement to the awards committee chair, and ask the book publisher to mail (4) copies of the book under separate cover to the awards committee chair (Dr. Kami J. Anderson) if an electronic version of the book is not available.

All nominations must be postmarked no later than Friday, August 2, 2015 in order to be considered for the award. Please note that nominations will not be considered without receipt of the accompanying publication or book packet material.

Call for 2015 Outstanding Scholarly Book Award Nominations

Deadline: August 2, 2015

The African American Communication and Culture Division and the Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Book Award to be given to the author(s) or editor(s) of an outstanding scholarly book. Books published between July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015 will be eligible for consideration. Self-nominations are strongly encouraged. All letters of nomination should clearly explicate how the book makes, or promises to make, a significant contribution to African American communication scholarship. In addition, the nomination letter should note specifically which single chapter is best representative of the nominated book. The nomination packet should include the nomination letter and the book. Electronic copies, including proof pages, will be accepted. If electronic copies are not available, please submit (4) hard copies of the proof pages to the address below. You can also ask the book publisher to mail (4) copies of the book under separate cover to the awards committee chair if an electronic version of the book is not available. Please send nominations to Kami J. Anderson at kande139@kennesaw.edu or to the mailing address: Kennesaw State University Honors College – Marietta 1100 Marietta Parkway, SE Norton Hall 304 Marietta, GA 30060

Call for 2015 Outstanding Scholarly Article Award Nominations

Deadline: August 2, 2015

The African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Article Award to be given to the author(s) of a peer-reviewed journal article. Articles published between July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015 are eligible for consideration. Self-nominations for the article award are strongly encouraged. All letters of nomination should clearly explicate how the article makes, or promises to make, a significant contribution to African American communication scholarship. Please send the nomination letter and electronic copy of the article (preferably as a PDF) to kande139@kennesaw.edu.

Call for 2015 Outstanding Book Chapter Award Nominations

Deadline: August 2, 2015

The African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Book Chapter Award to be given to the author(s) of a chapter or essay appearing in an edited book. Articles or book chapters published between July 1, 2012-June 30, 2015 are eligible for consideration. Self-nominations for the article award are strongly encouraged. All letters of nomination should clearly explicate how the article or book chapter makes, or promises to make, a significant contribution to African American communication scholarship. Please send the nomination letter and electronic copy of the book chapter (preferably as a PDF) to kande139@kennesaw.edu.

Call for 2015 Outstanding Dissertation Award Nominations

Deadline: August 2, 2015

The African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award. Nominations should be made by the advisor of the dissertation or faculty member from the department in which the dissertation was completed. Eligible dissertations must have been defended between July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015. The nomination packet must include a cover letter written by the advisor or faculty nominator and the following: 1) a 500-word (maximum) abstract of the dissertation; 2) an article-length report of the dissertation (32 double-spaced pages maximum—includes title page, tables, figures, appendices, and references) OR a selection from the dissertation the applicant thinks is most representative of the study (32 double-spaced pages maximum). Please send the nomination letter and electronic copy of the nomination materials (preferably as a PDF) to kande139@kennesaw.edu.

If an electronic version is not available, please send four (4) copies of the nomination packet to:

Dr. Kami J. Anderson, Chair-Awards Committee
Kennesaw State University
Honors College – Marietta
1100 Marietta Parkway, SE
Norton Hall 304
Marietta, GA 30060


The killing of an 18-year-old black teen by a white police officer on a street in Ferguson was the spark that ignited years of frustration, distrust and anger. Protests of the killing of Michael Brown, fueled by social media, continued for weeks. Days were filled with marches and meetings, nights devolved into confrontations with police. New issues emerged to be explored, debated. Fervor ebbed, then exploded anew when a second, and third police shooting occurred. Protests moved into Clayton, the Shaw neighborhood, St. Louis University, downtown. A night of arson and looting followed the announcement that a grand jury would not indict the police officer. Protests spread across the nation. Here, from the epicenter, is the story of Ferguson.

Read and see the rest here from the St. Louis Dispatch 

Ferguson Forward: A Timeline

It’s been 6 months since the killing of Mike Brown, an unarmed St. Louis teen, who was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson, while en route to his grandmother’s house. Brown’s body was left to cook on the summer asphalt for four-and-a-half-hours as hundreds of family, friends, and community members gathered around. In response to his mother Leslie McSpadden’s anguish, an officer told her to “get it together.” That comment set the tone for how Brown’s community would be treated during subsequent days, weeks, and months when they gathered in the streets to mourn and to protest. Police brought out dogs, machine guns, and tanks to residential neighborhoods where they tear gassed and threatened both protesters and media with deadly force.

After seeing George Zimmerman get off for the killing of Trayvon Martin, after watching video of John Crawford being gunned down by police in a Walmart for carrying an unloaded firearm, which was sold by the store, after watching Eric Garner whimper “I Can’t Breathe” during his final moments as an NYPD officer choked him to death, after the countless deaths of so many other Black men and women, Brown’s death awakened a new generation of activism that continues to shape contemporary dialogue about targeted state-sanctioned violence against people of color, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ people.

What follows is a timeline of key local and national events that have shaped what many have proclaimed to be a rebirth of civil rights activism, commonly referred to as "Ferguson," the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement:

Read the rest here

Gardner C. Taylor, Dean of Black Preachers, Dies at 96

The Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, widely considered the dean of the nation’s black preachers and “the poet laureate of American Protestantism,” died Sunday (April 5) after a ministerial career that spanned more than six decades. He was 96.

The Rev. Carroll Baltimore, past president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, confirmed that Taylor died on Easter Sunday.

“Dr. Taylor was a theological giant who will be greatly missed,” he said of the minister who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

PNBC President Rev. James C. Perkins said Taylor “transformed America and the world for the better. How appropriate it is that God called Dr. Taylor home on Resurrection Sunday. In both life and death Dr. Taylor gave a clarion call to the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Concord Baptist Church of Christ, the imposing, block-long, brick church Taylor pastored for 42 years, became a beacon of hope and vitality for many African-Americans in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a model for the nation. When the church was destroyed by fire in 1952, Taylor defied naysayers by not only rebuilding the edifice, but also doubling its size.

Concord, one of New York City’s largest churches, operated its own elementary school, nursing home, credit union and million-dollar endowment used to invest in the community. But for more than four decades, it was Taylor who made Concord’s pulpit “the most prestigious in black Christendom,” proclaimed author and scholar Michael Eric Dyson.

Dyson described Taylor’s preaching style as a blend of technical aspects, brilliant metaphors and an “uncanny sense of rhythmic timing put to dramatic but not crassly theatrical effect.”

Read the rest here

If You See Something: The Prophetic Legacy of #MLK

Below is the keynote address given by R3 contributor Earle Fisher at the King Day celebration held on April 4 at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. 

I would like to thank the National Civil Rights Museum for the opportunity to speak at such an unforgettable location on such an unforgettable occasion. I would further like to salute the museum for the strides it has made over the years to articulate the story of the seemingly endless struggle for justice and truth in a world that seems to be overwhelmed by injustice and inaccuracy. The recent renovations continue to bear witness to the complexities of righteous representation of a story wrought with hope and despair; joy and pain; triumph and tragedy. The museum is part of the reason I remain hopeful and prayerful that we are advancing into the midst of a time whereby people of good will can push past shallow segmentation and sound bites and embrace the essence and challenge of who we have been and who we are becoming as a people, a nation and a world.

I think the story that is told in this place (not flawless but yet fundamental) is so vital to the faithful formation of future leaders that no one should be able to graduate from an institution of higher education in this city without first taking a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum. I think it should be written into the curriculum at all of our local colleges and universities. As a graduate and employee of a few of the institutions of higher education in the city of Memphis, I have been gifted with a unique perspective that I presume can be helpful in putting this contemporary climate into a more comprehensible context.

During my last semester at Memphis Theological Seminary in 2008, I took a life changing class entitled, “The Rhetoric of Dr. King.” Like many I had heard of and about Dr. King such that I presumed I knew him; as if he was an estranged ancestor who my family wanted to talk about each year at the family reunion. I thought I knew Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because the mainstream stations played the “I Have A Dream” rift each year in January and February. The mainstream would conveniently leave out the portion of the speech where Dr. King accused the country of “defaulting on a promissory note [of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness] insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

But during my sojourn through that course, I was honored to encounter an individual who endured a great deal of criticism, misunderstanding, fear, hatred and other elements that many of us here have encountered and persevered through in order to be in this place and time we stand. To my surprise and delight, I was re-introduced to a figure that had been romanticized and projected as a lot more passive, patient and priestly than he really was. The Dr. King I encountered in that class in 2008 was not simply a dreamer...he was an activist, civic leader, friend, pastor, scholar, father, husband and most of all a prophet.

As an African-American Preacher/Pastor in the Christian Religious tradition, I understand that the terms prophet, prophetic and prophecy are rather ambiguous and misunderstood by the masses. Most of us have encountered a compartmentalized and illegitimate form of prophecy and prophet. We most often associate the term prophet with one who sees into the future and under some mystical divine unction can tell people what will happen before it happens. But this notion over-mystifies and dehumanizes the reality of what a prophet is. It limits Dr. King to only having a dream and a superior approval rating in American culture during the early half of the 1960’s and regrets to put into perspective some of King’s core challenges, critiques and shortcomings. King was not perfect but he will always be prophetic. But he is more akin to the prophetic definition given by theologian Walter Brueggemann who in his writing The Prophetic Imagination, argues that “the task [and role] of the prophet is to criticize the dominant consciousness while energizing communities to move towards an alternative vision of existing.” This is how I have come to see the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Dr. King was not just a nice, Negro-preacher turned into professional, peace-making orator. Dr. King criticized the dominant consciousness of his day. King spoke out against unjust wars, rallied against racism, condemned classism and other forms of injustice. As a result, this prophet was vilified, had his approval-rating drop drastically, even among African-Americans and as most of us know well, was assassinated on the mountaintop of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. King was a courageous, intellectually inclined, profound prophet who transcended the systematic lethargy of his time and produced thoughts and practices that most would agree were divinely inspired. 

Therefore, those of us who seek to stand in a similar posture as the prophet King; those of us who seek to evoke the ethos and ethics of such a forerunner for true democracy, liberty and justice for all would serve ourselves well to use the tools we have been given – tools of foresight and insight; courage, creativity and compassion – to not only bring to fruition the hopes, dreams and aspirations of who PBS called “Citizen King” but moreover, to construct a contemporary scene, a vision of equity and inclusion that could guide and direct us beyond that insensitivities and shortcomings of our yesterdays and our shortsightedness about tomorrow.

King talked about what he felt, what he deeply believed and what he saw. And I believe that if we can muster up the honesty, integrity and tenacity that is needed is such a tense, oppressive and exploitative climate, we too can make a positive impact on our communities and our world like Dr. King did.

A few years ago I was at Memphis International Airport going through the security checkpoints when I saw a sign with words that will forever be etched in the archives of my mind. The terror threat level was high and the TSA deemed it necessary to strategically post signs that said, “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING… SAY SOMETHING!” The sentiment of the sign was one of exigency and attentiveness – echoing what Dr. King called “The fierce urgency of now.” But it was not a “sightseeing” spectacle. It was also a call to action, a call to involvement; a call to get one’s hands dirty (if you will). The TSA had concluded that it was not only one group’s job to fight against terror and danger – it was everyone’s job individually and collectively.

What was true that day is still true on this day. Issues of social justice still require our sight, our speech and our collective strength. But there are too many times when people have neglected to look. Or if they did look they neglected to speak. Or if they spoke it was lip service but not life service. For far too long we’ve been blind, silent and disjointed. As a result we’ve found ourselves behind the eight-ball of injustice which has pigeon-held us in both the past and the present.

But no longer is this type of passivity acceptable. I trust that’s why we’re gathered her today – that’s why I’m here today. I didn’t simply come to honor the life, legacy and love of our invaluable American hero Dr. King. I came to carry his mantle. I came to let somebody know what I see. Some of it is disturbing. I see greed on Wall Street that exploits people on Main Street. I see frivolous political posturing on Capitol Hill in the form of filibusters and partisanship. I see negligence and insensitivity in City Hall that continues to demonize and abuse the poor and working class in the name of urbanization and social progress. I see a sophisticated racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and narcissism that masquerades around under the guise of liberty and patriotism. I even seen ministerial leaders who are so insensitive they will raise funds for a jet but won’t lift finger for justice. Some of what I see disturbs me. I see greed, fear, poverty, pain and injustice.

But that’s not all I see. Just like Dr. King, I am a man of faith so, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of coming of the LORD.” I not only see disturbance but I also see some deliverance. I not only see greed but I also see grace. I see streams in the desert. I see crooked places being made straight. I see civil rights soldiers marching in Selma – lets march with them. I see the faith of community activists in Ferguson – lets fight alongside them. I see the boldness of the #BlackLivesMatter movement – let’s build with them. I see a movement manifesting itself in Memphis. I see some hope, courage, love and potential. That’s why we’re here... because together we can see something, say something and do something!!! I SEE SOMETHING… SO I STOPPED BY HERE TODAY TO SAY SOMETHING… AND I ALSO CAME TO DO SOMETHING. I HOPE ALL OF US WILL ALSO DO THE SAME.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

‘Christian America': Corporate Invention or Founding Fathers’ Vision?

Recent surveys have indicated that many, if not most, Americans believe the founding fathers wanted this nation to be officially Christian. But a new book by Princeton historian Kevin Kruse slices and dices this notion with razor-sharp facts and anecdotes. In “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America,” he shows how corporations such as General Motors and Hilton Hotels partnered with clergymen and politicians to conflate patriotism and pietism. Here he tells how our nation’s Ten Commandments monuments were originally movie marketing props and how evangelist Billy Graham participated in America’s shifting mindset.

RNS: You argue that “corporate America invented Christian America”? Explain.

KK: By “Christian America,” I don’t mean the idea that this is a country in which Christians and Christianity have played a fundamentally important role. I’m talking about the belief that the state itself, politically speaking, is officially and formally a “Christian nation.” Most of the markers that Americans invoke when they argue that we are one – the words “under God” in the pledge, the national motto of “In God We Trust,” the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Day of Prayer, etc. – are creations of the modern era and, more specifically, creations of corporate America.

RNS: Creations of corporate America?

KK: Starting in the 1930s, major corporations and business lobbies marketed a new language of “freedom under God” to discredit what they denounced as the “slavery of the welfare state.” As their campaign swept the nation in the 1940s and 1950s, many Americans came to think of their country as officially “one nation under God.”

RNS: You said “America as a Christian nation” is a modern invention, but others counter that it traces back to our founding fathers. What say you?

KK: The founding fathers were religiously diverse, but on this issue they were nearly unanimous in insisting that the United States of America was not a Christian nation. The Declaration invokes the Creator, of course, but the Constitution – the basis of our government – pointedly does not. Other than dating the document “in the year of our Lord,” the only mentions of religion in the Constitution and Bill of Rights are ones that keep the state at arm’s length from the church. Even more directly, the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli – begun by Washington, signed by Adams, and passed unanimously by a Senate half-filled with signers of the Constitution – states quite clearly that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

RNS: You say that some of this notion was a response to Roosevelt’s New Deal. How so?

KK: Roosevelt himself deserves some of the credit, as he regularly invoked religion in his speeches for the New Deal. His first inaugural address was so laden with Scripture that the National Bible Press put out a chart linking his text to the “Corresponding Biblical Quotations.” The business interests he denounced as “the moneychangers” decided to beat him at his own game, using religious rhetoric to repackage their worldly agenda in heavenly terms. As both sides of the debate blended religion and politics, ideas of piety and patriotism became closely intertwined for all.

RNS: How did Billy Graham partner with American corporates to propel this idea forward?

Read the rest here

Ferguson Faces Its Future

Our national conversations and activist actions around race and racial injustice tend to flourish when centered around one locality. The best recent example is Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb that quite literally ignited last summer after unarmed teen Michael Brown was gunned down by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. That was followed by one of the grossest displays of militarized police violence the country has witnessed since 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

That’s a big reason why President Obama couldn’t go to Selma last month and not say the word “Ferguson.”

There was also the matter of inconvenient, yet symbolic timing: Days before the March 7 commemoration of the violently interrupted voting-rights march known as “Bloody Sunday,” the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a mortifying 102-page report about Ferguson, detailing excessive force by police officers, financial bleeding of citizens through petty arrests and ticketing, and unchecked racial bias that metastasized throughout the police and courts.

Noting that he’d been asked in the wake of the DOJ report whether anything had changed with regards to race in this country, Obama chose to respond instead to a straw man. “I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed,” he said in his Selma speech. “What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic. It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom. And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.”

In the midst of otherwise brilliant oratory befitting the moment, this was a very strange thing to say. The ’60s were not some demarcation line for institutionalized and legalized racism, as Obama knows. And the killing of Michael Brown was indeed sanctioned by both law and custom, as the government’s report makes plain.

Something that can demonstrably change the city, however, will take place this coming Tuesday, April 7: Ferguson will vote in its first local election since Brown was killed.

Read the rest here

A Hispanic Rethinking of the Cross

Crosses are the electric chairs of the past, the means by which the civil authorities punished transgressors of the law. If ancient Rome had the means of electrocution as oppose to crucifixion; I wonder if today’s Christians would be walking around wearing miniature golden electric chairs around their necks. Because we resignified the cross to point toward a religious tradition as opposed to a means of state-sponsored capital punishment, we lose the original purpose of the cross, to kill enemies of the state. All executions eliminate those who do not “fit” how those in power defined civilized society. And while today’s U.S. capital punishment system is usually geared toward those who have engaged in acts where someone lost their life (i.e. murder); we cannot ignore the fact that the poor and those who are of color disproportionately are imprisoned and executed.

The Jesus of the Gospel narratives, and the Jesús sitting today on death row share a similar circumstance; both are executed under the law that, in spite of their obvious flaws, contradictions, and biases, is presented as fair. But there is a reason we do not talk about a “court of justice,” but instead use the term, “court of law;” we as a society follow laws not seek justice. And because laws have historically and consistently been written to the determent of Hispanics (and other marginalized communities), we are left wondering if the purpose of the cross, like the purpose of all executions, is to reinforce control over darker bodies to demonstrate what awaits those on the margins of power and privilege who dare to rebel against the current social structures. The punishments metered out by courts of laws, laws designed to the determent of the disenfranchised, are more for the benefit of others from disadvantaged communities to serve as warning that if they too step out of place, then they can expect similar punishment (revenge).

Read the rest here

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#FergusonFiasco, Part 3: After the DOJ Report: A Reader

On March 4, 2015, the Department of Justice issued two reports that focused on the events that centered on the killing of Michael Brown by then Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The first one determined the evidence did not support that Wilson violated federal law in killing Michael Brown. The second one, "revealed a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department" that violated the "First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law." Here at R3, we started the first Reader on the Ferguson Fiasco by examining the killing of Michael Brown. The second Reader focused on material in response to the Grand Jury's decision not to indict. The third Reader focuses on material in response to the DOJ's reports. Read our collection of Readers here.

1. A City Where Policing, Discrimination and Raising Revenue Went Hand in Hand
2. Conservatives Who Hate Big Government Are, Surprisingly, Not Up In Arms About Ferguson
3. Ferguson's Conspiracy Against Black Citizens
4. Attorney General Holder Eric Holder on Ferguson, Missouri Investigation
5. It’s Not Just Ferguson
6. The Ferguson emails show how little race and racism have changed in the Obama era
7. White House Reporters Focusing On The Wrong Email Scandal

8. Ferguson’s True Criminals
9. Darren Wilson Is Cleared of Rights Violations in Ferguson Shooting
10. The Gangsters of Ferguson
11. DOJ report on Ferguson reads like the description of a totalitarian police state
12. Ferguson judge behind aggressive fines policy owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes
13. Ferguson police one of many law enforcement agencies facing federal reforms
14. Can the Ferguson Police Department Be Fixed?
15. Stunning Ferguson report revelations: Why a complete overhaul is needed, now
16. How to Rebuild the Ferguson Police Department
17. The Ferguson Nightmare
18. The Ferguson e-mails show how little race and racism have changed in the Obama era
19. Introducing the Justice Issue
20. Blame Sharpton For Ferguson If You Wish--But Don't Pretend Rights Of Blacks Were Not Shredded By Cops
21. The Road from Selma to Ferguson
22. How Racism Became Policy in Ferguson
23. The Injustice the DOJ Uncovered in Ferguson Wasn’t Racism
24. Comparing Selma To Ferguson: 'Mike Brown Is Our Jimmie Lee Jackson'
25. Ferguson Became Symbol, but Bias Knows No Border
26. Racism in Ferguson PD is policing done right, and that’s why it is so wrong
27. Walking in Ferguson: If you're black, it's often against the law
28. Colin Powell ‘shocked but not that surprised’ by Ferguson report
29. The Ferguson Report Was Damning, But It's Not Just A Ferguson Problem
30. 'Madison, Wisconsin, Is Not Ferguson, Missouri'
31. From Selma to Ferguson: How Far? Not Far Enough
32. Grading Obama On Race, After Ferguson And Selma Anniversary
33. Selma and Ferguson
34. Ferguson Is America and the Time to Act Is Now
35. Progress After Ferguson? Good Ideas Need Good Implementation
36. Racial Tension Draws Parallels, But Madison Is No Ferguson
37. From Ferguson to Charleston: The race for racial justice
38. America’s “black body” reality: How Selma, “Scandal” & Ferguson reveal an ugly truth
39. Ferguson’s Police Chief Resigned, Now Fire the Rest of the Cops
40. America's inability to respect the full humanity of black life
41. How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty
42. Everything You Need To Know About What's Happened In Ferguson
43. On the Front Lines in Ferguson
44. What next for Black Lives Matter in Ferguson after city's police shooting?
45. Race, outrage and white male excuses: It’s much worse than just one frat boy
46. Nine solutions to fix Ferguson
47. West Florissant today: Ferguson streetscape redrawn by tension and grief
48. Not just bird chirping: Black Lives Matter chants will resound this spring
57. Who's being attacked in Ferguson?
58. Race relations take big step backward in Ferguson
59. What Are The Ferguson Shootings Really About?
60. ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie
61. The Ferguson DOJ report looks a lot like other excessive police force reports
62. Stop poisoning the race debate: How “respectability politics” rears its ugly head — again
63. Why Black Lives Matter activists aren't winning over whites
64. John Oliver slams for-profit policing in Ferguson and across the country
65. Reconsidering My August Post on Ferguson and ‘Conflicting Accounts’
66. When Ferguson hits primetime: How shows like 'Scandal' handle race
67. If Ferguson Stays Ferguson, Blacks Have No One to Blame But Themselves
68. Next Steps on the Ferguson Front
69. The Black Lives Matter Movement Doesn’t Need Perfect Symbols
70. Fleece Force: How Police And Courts Around Ferguson Bully Residents And Collect Millions
71. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Municipal Violations (HBO)
73. The rise of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis
74. Missouri Police Will Restrict Tear Gas After Ferguson Lawsuit
75. Teaching About Policing and Race in America
76. Ferguson mayor says it's not fair Justice Department report focused on race
77. New Nonprofit, Incubate Ferguson, Aims to Empower the City’s Residents

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Towards a White Supremacist Jesus

Just in time for Holy Week, the State of Indiana has passed a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law explicitly permits for-profit corporations from practicing the “free exercise of religion” and it allows them to use the “exercise of religion” as a defense against any lawsuits whether from the government or from private entities. The primary narrative against this law has been about the potential ways that small businesses owned by Christians could invoke it as a defense against having to, for instance, sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.

Any time right-wing conservatives declare that they are trying to restore or reclaim something, we should all be very afraid. Usually, this means the country or, in this case, the state of Indiana is about to be treated to another round of backward time travel, to the supposedly idyllic environs of the 1950s, wherein women, and gays, and blacks knew their respective places and stayed in them. While the unspoken religious subtext of this law is rooted in conservative anxieties over the legalization of same-sex marriage in Indiana, Black people and women, and all the intersections thereof (for instance Black lesbians) should be very afraid of what this new law portends.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby decision that corporations could exercise religious freedom, which means that corporations can deny insurance coverage for birth control. Now this same logic is being used to curtail and abridge the right of gay people to enjoy the same freedoms and legal protections that heterosexual citizens enjoy.

And given our current anti-Black racial climate, there is no reason to trust that these laws won’t be eventually used for acts of racially inflected religious discrimination, perhaps against Black Muslims or Muslims of Arab descent, for instance. Surely this kind of law in this political climate sanctions the exercise of Islamophobia.

Read the rest here

We’ve Used ‘Religious Liberty’ For Discrimination Before

During the furor over Indiana’s new “religious liberty” law, the debate has been haunted by some not-too-distant memories of the last time rapid social change encountered an embattled conservative population placed on the defensive. Yes, it enrages today’s religious conservatives to hear their demands for a zone of “conscience” in which they may choose to exempt themselves from antidiscrimination laws with similar demands a half century ago. But the parallels cannot be wished away.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became an unavoidable and imminent reality, conservatives—not all of them southerners—executed a strategic retreat, accepting the demolition of de juresegregation but defending de facto segregation via private action. This required last-ditch opposition to the provisions of the law prohibiting discrimination by employers and those offering “public accommodations” such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Here’s how the 1964 Republican presidential nominee took his stand with Dixieland:
I wish to make myself perfectly clear. The two portions of this bill to which I have constantly and consistently voiced objections, and which are of such overriding significance that they are determinative of my vote on the entire measure, are those which would embark the Federal Government on a regulatory course of action in the area of so-called "public accommodations" and in the area of employment--to be precise, Titles II and VII of the bill. I find no constitutional basis for the exercise of Federal regulatory authority in either of these areas; and I believe the attempted usurpation of such power to be a grave threat to the very essence of our basic system of government, namely, that of a constitutional government in which 50 sovereign states have reserved to themselves and to the people those powers not specifically granted to the central or Federal Government.
Goldwater didn’t merely object to these portions of the law on “constitutional conservative” grounds, however:
[I]n addition I would like to point out to my colleagues in the Senate and to the people of America, regardless of their race, color or creed, the implications involved in the enforcement of regulatory legislation of this sort. To give genuine effect to the prohibitions of tho bill will require the creation of a Federal police force of mammoth proportions. It also bids fair to result in the development of an "informer" psychology in great areas of our national life--neighbors spying on neighbors, workers spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so. These, the Federal police force and an "informer" psychology, are the hallmarks of the police state and landmarks in the destruction of a free society.
This prediction, of course, was thunderously wrong, but it reflected the kind of “slippery slope” arguments we are hearing today with respect to enforcement of nondiscrimination laws involving LGBT folk. Just as importantly, Goldwater and many others were engaged in an effort to depict discriminators as victims of government overreach simply wanting to live their lives according to their religiously informed consciences.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

God Did Not Kill Jesus on the Cross for Our Sins

“Why did Jesus die on a cross?”

I suspect that question has been asked since the day Jesus actually died on a cross.

The most common answer for many Christians, “he died on a cross to pay for our sins” (penal substitutionary atonement) is actually a relatively recent concept. In fact, it only became a part of Christian teaching about 1600 years after Jesus was crucified.

Many of the limited number of verses used to demonstrate that penal substitutionary atonement is biblical along with early Church writings that seem to agree, only point to Jesus’ death being related to the sins of humanity — not necessarily an assertion that his death was a substitute for our sins.

In interpreting those verses, it’s important to recognize that most Christians believe “sin” means breaking certain moral rules established by God, as recorded by the writers of the Bible.

But, I believe Jesus found this popular understanding of sin (during his lifetime and today) to be far too superficial and simplistic. When he said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill,” in Matthew:5:17, what he was really saying is, “I did come to destroy how you are using the Law,” (and, thus, how you understand sin).

Did you notice how awkwardly and abruptly that quote from Jesus ends with “fulfill”? Some translations of the Bible actually throw in a “them” (as in “to fulfill them”) to avoid that awkwardness, but, the truth is, it is simply not there in the original language.

Read the rest here

Monday, March 30, 2015

What Makes Indiana's Religious-Freedom Law Different?

No one, I think, would ever have denied that Maurice Bessinger was a man of faith.

And he wasn’t particularly a “still, small voice” man either; he wanted everybody in earshot to know that slavery had been God’s will, that desegregation was Satan’s work, and the federal government was the Antichrist. God wanted only whites to eat at Bessinger’s six Piggie Park barbecue joints; so His servant Maurice took that fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1968 decided that his religious freedom argument was “patently frivolous.”

Until the day he died, however, Bessinger insisted that he and God were right. His last fight was to preserve the Confederate flag as a symbol of South Carolina. “I want to be known as a hard-working, Christian man that loves God and wants to further (God’s) work throughout the world as I have been doing throughout the last 25 years,” he told his hometown newspaper in 2000.

Growing up in the pre-civil-rights South, I knew a lot of folks like Maurice Bessinger. I didn’t like them much, but I didn’t doubt their sincerity. Why wouldn’t they believe racism was God’s will? We white Southerners heard that message on weekends from the pulpit, on school days from our segregated schools, and every day from our governments. When Richard and Mildred Loving left Virginia to be married, a state trial judge convicted them of violating the Racial Integrity Act. That judge wrote that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

That’s a good background against which to measure the uproar about the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Pence last week. I don’t question the religious sincerity of anyone involved in drafting and passing this law. But sincere and faithful people, when they feel the imprimatur of both the law and the Lord, can do very ugly things.

Read the rest here

Rev. Dr. Lester McCorn: An Africentric Ministry Approach to Prophetic Community Engagement

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Agree to Disagree: Millennials Talk Sex and Morals

When it comes to consensual sexual ethics among millennials, all behaviors are on the table … if the time is right. For the same generation in which no single religious group claims more than about one in 10, there is also little clear generational consensus on sex and reproductive health, a new report finds.

“Across seven behaviors related to sexuality [including: using contraception, sex between minors, unmarried cohabitation], there were no issues for which a majority pronounced them morally wrong in general,” the report, authored by Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox at the Public Religion Research Institute, states.

Millennials prove a regular source of fascination for commentators and other millennials alike. This is the generation that launched a thousand think pieces, and understandably so — in study after study, millennials consistently defy both traditional categories and expected reactive categories alike. (We’re an obstinate bunch.)

When it comes to sex, PRRI’s new release highlights what its authors call “situationalist ethics” — a flexible set of acceptable behaviors. Far from displaying a lack of moral code, the report suggests millennials embracing nebulous but durable moral through-lines that eschew the “whats” of behavior for the “hows” and “whens.”

For example, in the case of sex between two adults who have no intention of establishing a relationship, millennials are evenly divided for and against (37 percent), with a significant number saying it depends on the situation (21 percent).

When it comes to abortion, most say it depends on the situation (39 percent), though more say it’s morally wrong than morally acceptable. Using artificial forms of birth control is by far the clearest point of agreement, with a full 71 percent saying it’s morally acceptable and another 14 percent agreeing, depending on the situation. Only 9 percent rejecting the use.

Read the rest here

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Long, Ugly History of Racism at American Universities

Demands to rename Tillman Hall at Clemson University, the circulation of a video showing a racist chant at the University of Oklahoma, and the discovery of a fraternity pledge bookdiscussing lynching at North Carolina State University demonstrate how persistent racial issues are on college campuses.

Benjamin Tillman was a post-Civil War politician, racial demagogue, and participant in racial violence who was critical to Clemson University’s founding in the late-nineteenth century.

Tillman was not the only one. The University of North Carolina trustees are considering a request this week to rename Saunders Hall. The building was named in 1922 for William Saunders, a leader of the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan.

Buildings named after participants in racial violence and songs celebrating the segregation, as well as the lynching, of black people are not merely offensive. They recall the violence used to maintain all-white institutions for much of this country’s history.

In fact, colleges and universities historically have supported hierarchies of race and other forms of difference from their founding in the colonial era through the civil rights struggles of the late-twentieth century.

As a co-founder and director of the Transforming Community Project, I used the history of race at Emory University to help members of the university community understand the meaning of equity for the institution today.

In 2011, I co-organized “Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies,” the first conference on the history of slavery and racial discrimination at institutions of higher education. Scholars and administrators from across the United States shared the troubled past of slavery and segregation of a majority of colleges and universities.

Read the rest here

The Southern Baptists’ Challenge on Race

In the wake of tragic shootings of unarmed black men at the hands of vigilantes and white police officers, many institutions across American society, from the president on down, have sought to foster “national conversations” about race.

Perhaps surprisingly, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention is sponsoring one of the most important and fruitful such conversations. The SBC’s public policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has hosted a summit on racial reconciliation this week in Nashville, Tenn.

Founded in 1845 in a split over slavery, the SBC has made laudable efforts to overcome its racist past. Some moderate and liberal Southern Baptist leaders prophetically denounced racism and supported the civil rights movement, but those very leaders were forced out of the denomination during a period of conservative resurgence in the 1980s. (Today’s SBC leaders are in the tenuous position of saying that moderates were right about race but wrong about everything else.)

Southern Baptist leaders are determined to challenge the lingering indifferent or crude attitudes on race where they still exist among the denomination’s mostly white, mostly Southern constituency.

Charged with carrying out the SBC’s political priorities, the ERLC is best known for its advocacy for religious freedom and against abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet in the wake of unrest over last year’s deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., the ERLC hastened its plans to hold a summit on race.

The Nashville event drew more than 500 clergy, lay leaders, and seminarians from across Southern Baptist life. Thousands more watched a live stream online. The speaker lineup was male-dominated but was decidedly mixed race. The ERLC was much more eager to hear from ethnic minorities at this summit than it was to hear from gay people at its fall conference on homosexuality.

While the sexuality conference projected certainty and unanimity — acceptance of homosexual expression is inconsistent with Christianity and will not be tolerated in Southern Baptist churches — white Baptists came to their race summit with genuine humility and a spirit of repentance for the harm racism has caused.

Read the rest here

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#AAR Panel: God’s a White Racist: Ferguson, Black Death, & Racing Religion

Below is the description, written by Daniel White Hodge, of a panel that the American Academy of Religion (AAR) recently accepted to its 2015 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, November 21-24.


W.E.B. DuBois’ historical and perplexing question “What meaneth Black suffering?” is highly applicable in an age where vulnerable Black bodies —men, women, young people—seem to matter little in a moment of proliferating and seemingly unstoppable racialized violence. Missing in the bevy of public discourse are queries such as, “How might “law” and “order” techniques among white police officers be connected to an American Christian hegemonic theodical ethos of “country” “certainty” and “protection.” Theologically speaking – god talk and rhetoric plays an uncanny role on both sides of justice seeking and continued violence. Darren Wilson claimed it was “God’s will” that he murder Michael Brown, while protesters and activist on the ground claim god as “on their side.” “Is God “another Black cop waiting to beat my ass,” as the rapper and Hip Hop prophet Tupac Shakur poignantly suggested? Does religion, more generally, have a role in the avenging of Black lives? And, “how does a God, who is socially portrayed as a “loving,” “caring,” and “kind” deity, react to the injustice had in cities like Ferguson in the U.S. and around the world?”

The events that hemorrhaged onto the national scene during the late summer months in Ferguson, MO animated the deep and complex issues of race in the U.S. – a place that has self-identified as sacred and just. To further complicate things, the media blurred the violent death of Michael Brown by casting him as a thug, deviant, and hardened criminal; in other words, as a devil, as someone who “…deserved to die.” The continuing significance of race in America is developing rapidly, add in Eric Garner, John Crawford, Dante Parker, Ezell Ford, Kajieme Powell, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride and a growing number of Black youth viciously killed by White police officers, and you have is this: a New Jim Crow to use the title of Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking text. With continued admiration, love, and social respect - police officers have been lifted up and portrayed as “god-like” and unmarked – not able to do wrong and above the fray of human biases and violent dispositions. As Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch remind us, “Americans are ambivalent about the police. WE are fascinated by them…television shows typically present the police in a sympathies light, even when they act aggressively”(2006, 1). Therefore, it stands to reason that a White police officer – constructed as unscathed and god-like will rarely be found guilty of killing a socially labeled “thug” or “criminal.”

From right ring pundits, evangelical mega church pastors, to dominant culture religious leaders and scholars of religion and theology alike, there is trouble and silenced trepidation in discussing such problems – often with a flawed logic that relies upon sacred/profane dichotomies and political designations (Sanders 2014). Come late November of 2014 and the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the social media networks lit up with religious talk on race, police terrorism, and Black lives. Whether scholar of religion and theology, religious leader or politician – the color line fractured across race/ethnicity/class was clear and stark – some nerved into silence, others attempting to articulate why religious spaces and scholars of religion ought to address these concerns and activists on the ground, bewildered and struggling to grapple with race, religion, and the religiosity of a civil rights generation in what clearly were tactics of a post-civil rights age.

This panel critically engages what role, exactly, does (or ought) religion play in addressing race, suffering, vulnerability, and state sanction terror on black lives? More importantly, how has dominant culture created a hegemonic religious atmosphere in which one side is “right” and the other “wrong” regarding race? How are sacred/profane dichotomies used under seemingly secular vocabulary and rhetoric to sort, classify and categorize bodies according to perceived worth and value in American society? How has Western Evangelicalism created a block in furthering the knowledge, scholarship, and pursuit of racial awareness inside religious domains while remaining “neutral” or “non-biased” in approach and leadership? As Soon-Chan Rah reminds us, “Because theology emerging from a Western, white context is considered normative, it places non-Western theology in an inferior position and elevates Western theology as the standard by which all other theological frameworks and points of view are measured” (2009, 78).

Therefore, this proposed Wild Card session will explore a two-pronged approach to this current social crisis: 1) how ought religion/race be theorized and discussed? What role do they play in which lives matter? What role does the sacred/profane binary play as a rhetorical strategy and political designator? 2) How has media shaped religious and racial perceptions in the public sphere in Ferguson and beyond? How has black rage been projected in these spaces? What does religion have to do with this?. Papers presented will critically explore such questions from multiple perspectives, approaches and methods of analyses. Overall, this proposed Wild Card Session explores the scholarly intersections of race, class, religion, theology and region in the midst of what some are calling a “new civil rights/black power moment.”


Rah, Soong-Chan. 2009. The next evangelicalism : releasing the church from Western cultural captivity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books.

Sanders, Katie. 2015. Bill O'Reilly cites faulty data for claim about shooting deaths of blacks, whites by police. Politi Fact.com 2014 [cited 2/27/15 2015]. Available from http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/dec/04/bill-oreilly/bill-oreilly-cites-faulty-data-claim-about-shootin/.

Weitzer, Ronald John, and Steven A. Tuch. 2006. Race and policing in America : conflict and reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Ralph Watkins: Associate Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth, Columbia Theological Seminary

The Generational Divide in the Black Church: The Future of the Prophetic Witness in a Time of Crisis

This paper looks at the response of the African American church to the series of deaths of African American males at the hands of the police. Specifically the response of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia that is led by pastor, Rev. Dr. Raphel Warnock is the focus of this paper. In response to the national crisis Pastor Warnock convened a gathering of national and local leaders for a conversation at Ebenezer Church. On that evening the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, was the keynote speaker. The mayor Atlanta, Kasim Reed, Bernice King, Wyatt Walker and other dignitaries were also present and spoke as well. What was evident that evening was that there was a generational divide and an attack on the Black church by the young adults at the event. Aurielle Marie Lucier, the leader of young activist, Young People for (YP4) and Its Bigger Than You, walked out of the meeting after speaking and proceeded to go outside and hold a rally with her peers. Aurielle and her peers were not buying what the elders were selling. They saw this issue radically different than did the elders in the packed church that evening.

This paper is supported by my video and still images that record the event. The still images and video support the argument the paper suggest about the divide between young adults and the African American church. The paper explores the reasons for this generational divide and suggest possible ways the institutional church can partner with young adult activist organizations to construct an activist agenda appropriate for the future of the institutionalized African American church. The paper explores the prophetic tradition of the African American church while raising the central question: Are the today’s prophets living outside of the institutionalized church thus making us rethink what we label prophetic faith in this age?

Monica Miller, Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies, Leigh University

When God ‘Aint Good and Humans ‘Aint Better: Ferguson, Black Death and the Monstrosity of Religious Rhetoric

From George Zimmerman’s claim that “it was god’s plan” that he murder Trayvon Martin, to Darren Wilson’s racialized portrayal of Michael Brown as a Hulk Hogan like demon with superhuman powers to charge through bullets, to the silence among atheistic, humanist and free-thought communities as well as many (white) scholars of religion in response to the proliferation of state sanction murders of black and brown bodies at the hands of police and vigilante justice to claims that god is a “white racist” – religious and theological language has played a precarious role in shaping social, political and civic responses – some well-intentioned, some explicitly racist, some in the “spirit” of justice-making and seeking – but all seemingly undergirded by a counterintuitive logic that has failed to generate a critical conversation regarding “religion’s place” in responding to these ongoing societal concerns. This paper explores the competing strategies, uses and tactics of religious and theological rhetoric that helps to mediate the various “operational acts” of competing methods of black social protest with an eye towards black skepticism and addressing the problem of “evil” in an age of political correctness.

Andre E. Johnson, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Religion and African American Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary

Race, Ruckus, and the Color of God: A Spirituality of Ferguson

William R. Jones in his book “Is God a White Racist” challenged James Cone’s liberation ethic that argued God was (and is) on the side of Black people because God is on the side of the oppressed. What Jones surmised was that the hell many black folks go through, surely this God, who Black folks continue to cry out to and wait upon, this God must be a white racist. Cone and his supporters had an answer—God is not a white racist because we serve a black God. However, with the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, many questioned the blackness of God. If God is Black, some may suggest that “God is an Uncle Ruckus.”

In this paper, I first examine the notion of a “racist” and “black” God through the theologies of Jones and Cone. Second, in keeping with the spirit of the panel, I examine how God functions for some of the activists and protesters in Ferguson. Finally, by examining ways churches have responded, I argue that Ferguson has also opened up new avenues for the church to respond.

Performing Resistance: Hip Hop’s Fight Against Institutional Racism in St. Louis, Missouri

Police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 is part of an endemic system of structural racism against Blacks in St. Louis, Missouri. This interconnected system entails racialized spaces with low rated air quality, disparate health care, unfair housing practices, failing schools, commercial redlining, over -policing and an unjust justice system. Three emcees from St. Louis: Kareem Jackson (Tef Poe), Travis Tyler (Thi’sl) and Marcus Gray (Flame) have responded. They uniquely understand the effects of racialized oppression in St. Louis. Several modes of activism are necessary to fight the interconnected system of institutional racism.

Using a performance studies theoretical framework, this paper will analyze the repertoires of Tef Poe’s, Flame’s and Thi’sl’s performances and their activism. Tef Poe does not identify as a “conscious rapper” or a Christian but asserts he is religious. He led protests, performed during Ferguson October and testified before the United Nations Committee Against Torture. Flame and Thi’sl are overtly Christian. Flame held Hope for Ferguson which was a “buycott” and included a live concert. Thi’sl organized Hope for the City which involved a prayer meeting under the Arch in St. Louis and a concert. Hip Hop, as a form of protest, has responded in St. Louis and provided illustrations for combating the evils of racism.