Friday, March 30, 2012

Faces and Places of Christ: An Introduction

by Edward J. Blum
R3 Contributor

Looks can kill, and looks can sell. Just ask two young men from Florida: Trayvon Martin and Tim Tebow. The media frenzies surrounding them put on display the power of looks and looking. When Barack Obama weighed in on the Martin case, he drew attention to physical appearance. “If Trayvon was my son,” the president intoned, “he’d look like Trayvon.” Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum spat in response. Obama was playing “the race card” and he wouldn’t have spoken out if Travyon looked “white.”

As some reporters went south, others moved from west to east following the Tebow mania train. As the newest New York Jet, Tebow left his mile high domain for the bright lights and big city.The New York Post immediately joined Tebow’s looks to Tebow’s lord. The Post not only referred to Tebow as “the heavenly hunk,” but also ran a photograph of him from GQ where he posed like Jesus on the cross, shirtless, “sweaty and steamy.”
Read the rest here

Welcome to R3: Cona' Marshall

Cona' Marshall is in pursuit of a PhD in African American and African Studies specializing in Cultural Rhetorics at Michigan State University. She obtained a Master's of Theological Studies and a certificate in Black Church Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Sociology, Religious Studies and French. Email her at or follow her on twitter @IAMMYHAIR23

A Eulogy for Alex

*On Saturday March 24,2012, we celebrated the homegoing of Alex Heidelberg (on the left). Alex was a young, vibrant, smart and gifted young man who committed suicide. He was 19 years old. At the time, I had a lot to say, but at the same time, did not know what to say. God was gracious to me on that day and I thank God for God's graciousness and mercy that allowed me to say something. I would also like to thank Alex's parents, Margaret and Rod Heidelberg for allowing me to share this with you. Below is the eulogy.

Rev. Dr. Andre Johnson
Pastor, Gifts of Life Ministries
Memphis, Tennessee

“What We Don’t and Do Know”

Romans 8: 35, 38-39

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalms 49:15

But God will redeem my life from the grave; God will surely take me to himself.

As humans, we have this insatiable appetite to know the answer to “why” questions. We want to know why stuff happens; why this and not that; why up and not down; or vice versa. We want to know the why questions. It starts when we are a child, when our parents tell us we can’t do something or go somewhere, then we look up to them and ask “why?” And it continues as we grow older, we just want to know the answer to the why, “why you don’t like me?”

This is especially true when events happen in our lives that shake our foundation. When our world spins out of our control and when we begin to lose a grip on reality, we then really want to know what’s going on here. So when the going gets rough and the going gets tough, we want to know why. Why Lord is this happening? Why do I feel like this? Why am I always in this same trouble? Why did he or she leave me this time? Why Lord, do I always feel lonely and depressed?

However, even though it may take some time, and it really does not feel good while we are going through, we sometimes get the answers that we have been searching. For you see sometimes, we cause our problems and after we get over our pity parties and feeling bad about ourselves, the Spirit comes and gently reminds us that it’s simply our fault. Sometimes the answer is that it’s another person or group that causes our pain and suffering. But whatever the reason, even though we are still ask the why questions and wonder about what’s going on, we do get some sort of answer and it allows us to rectify the problem and we can then move on with our journeys.

Then something like this happens (suicide) and everything is off script—the “why” questions are asked, but the answers don’t come too quickly. When something like this happens, your whole equilibrium is off and you can’t seem to find balance. When something like this happens, you don’t have to worry about folks too much getting on your nerves because many of them don’t know what to say or how to act. When something like this happens, it stops everybody in their tracks trying to figure all of this stuff out. And it is then that you realize a profound truth about being human—we are finite beings with limited knowledge and even though we may ask, there are just some things that we just do not know.

We don’t know. We don’t know why Alex died this way—we don’t know. We don’t know what was going though his mind at that particular time—we don’t know. We will never understand the cloud of confusion and frustration that he bore in his body and mind—we don’t. We don’t know how he felt the day before or the last week—we don’t know.

We don’t know why every two hours in this country some young person commits suicide; deciding that it was the best option that was available—we don’t know. We don’t know why African American males make up 81% of the black youth suicides in this nation—we don’t know. We don’t know why folks with messed up theologies have already assigned Alex to hell when that is the furthest thing from the truth. As if, you have a heaven of hell to put anyone in at all—we don’t know. We don’t know why Alex felt that his only option out from his pain and suffering was to end it all—we don’t know. And all of our guessing, all of our blaming, all of our shaming, all of our innuendos, all of our guilt trips, all of our should ofs could ofs or would ofs, will only not bring Alex back, but in the end we still will not know—there are some things in life that we just will not know. As I told G’Life on Thursday, our foreparents had a saying for that—we will understand it better by and by. They understood that in a fallen creation, stuff happens!! It’s messed up and no theological, exegetical, deep philosophical analysis will make any of this better. There are some things we just do not know!!

But while there are some things that we don’t know, there are some things, by faith, that we do know. We know that we still serve an awesome God—one that sits high and looks low—there are some things that we do know. We know we serve a God who is there with us—one that knows everything about us—there are some things that we do know. We know we serve a God who understands what it is that we are going though. All of our trials, all of our pain, all of our suffering; all of our ups and downs; our ins and out—there are some things we do know. We know that we serve a God of love and compassion. That’s why Paul can write as he reflected over his life, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Then he writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And what Paul was trying to say, is what I am trying to tell the family today—nothing shall separate us from the love of God. Not relationship issues, not family squabbles, not frustrations and vexations, not anxiety, worry and doubt, not cloudiness or confusion, not he said or she said, not mistakes in the past or mistakes in the future and sure (as heck) not suicide—nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

That’s why the Psalmist, even before Paul wrote, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.” What that tells me is that even in the grave; even after we pass on from here; even as we are entering a new eternity; even as we cross over into a new reality, God still loves us and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. And even is Alex’s darkest hour, this loving and compassionate God met him and provided safe passage through his own valley of the shadow of death,—for God was and is with him.

And I came to remind this grieving family with more questions than answers, that instead of focusing in on what you don’t know, start to focus on what you do know. Because you know, that you loved some Alex Heidelberg. You know, that he was (and is) a precious gift from God. You know that he brighten up your lives and that we are all better because he came into our lives. You know that he loved you and wanted to be the best he could be.

So in that spirit we can come to thank God for the life of Alexander Heidelberg. And to use brother Rod’s (Alex’s father) refrain that he yelled out at the altar this past Thursday night, thank you Lord for the 19! Thank you Lord for 19 years of blessings. Thank you Lord for 19 years of gifts and abilities. Thank you Lord for 19 of love and affection. Thank you Lord for 19 years of joy and happiness. Thank you Lord for 19 years of having a son, grandson, nephew, cousin, brother, and loved one in my life. Thank you Lord for the 19!!!

So no, we don’t know some things, but what we do know; we are going to hold on to it, because that’s how we are going to make it through this trying and tough situation. We will miss you Alex, see you real soon!!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Islamic Perspective on Religious Pluralism

by Engy Abdelkader

Islam is often viewed as an inherently violent and intolerant world religion. This misconception is fueled in part by the miscreant deeds of some Muslims, particularly toward those of other faith beliefs.

That conduct is then unfairly imputed to Islamic doctrine and coreligionists globally.

The imputation is unfair because the individual Muslim's action may not in fact be supported by informed readings of Islamic legal strictures, nor necessarily be representative of the 2.2 billion Muslims in the world.

This is especially true of violence against religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries, like Egypt or in any country, period.

Discrimination, oppression and/or violence against an individual or group based upon religious affiliation -- or no affiliation -- is fundamentally wrong no matter how you look at it.

This is particularly so from an Islamic perspective.

The Quran is Islam's foundational text regarded by Muslims as the literal word of God. It constitutes a primary source informing Islamic law. And it articulates several significant principles regarding inter-religious harmony, peaceful co-existence and religious pluralistic success.

Several of these principles bear mentioning here.
Read the rest here

The Hoodie Cover Up

By Kia Granberry
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
Follow her on Twitter @livelovekia

I was one of the organizers of a very large prayer vigil for Trayvon Martin and the youth of the Mid-South. We did tons of press interviews for televised and print media…we were even on the radio. Not once, however, did any of us wear a hoodie. This was no accident. This was not because temperatures rose to almost 85 degrees some days in Memphis. This was not because I don’t personally enjoy wearing hoodies. This was an intentional statement to everyone having hoodie marches and hoodie Sunday services: “I respect your collective efforts. I am grateful to see you gather so many people together to raise awareness about this injustice. Furthermore, I understand the symbolism of the hoodie. But, I beg of you, let’s not allow the hoodie to mask the real issue of RACE!”
You see, for so long our melanin-challenged neighbors have tried to pluck out a miniscule detail for each hate crime to justify the unlawful actions of racist individuals. For Emmit Till it was the alleged whistle and for Trayvon Martin, it is the hoodie. But, I believe that if Emmit Till had whistled or been mute, he would have been murdered. I believe that if Trayvon Martin had been wearing a hoodie or the Hollister shirt (he is also photographed in)…he would still be dead. The mass public’s obsession with the hoodie has pacified the rising fears of fence straddling non-minorities who want to wish away racism but, not disown their racist friends, coworkers, and family members. And, we have got to stop helping them…by shifting our focus, our language and our passions to the race induced hatred running through the veins of Zimmerman and thousands like him and far, far, far away from hoodies!
Skateboarders, primarily Caucasian, are often seen in hoodies. No threat. Caucasian college students at Harvard and Yale walk to class in their hoodies and Birkenstocks. No threat.
Was Sean Bell wearing a hoodie when he left the party before he was shot to death by racist law enforcement officers? Was Amadou Diallo wearing a hoodie when he was senselessly killed? Was Dr. Martin Luther King wearing a hoodie when he was gunned down? What about Malcolm X? Nope. No hoodie there either.
Rappers are the universal symbol of what is dangerous [heavy sarcasm here]. The last time I checked, rapper wardrobe rooms included white or black tees, crisp jeans, brand new custom sneakers and a few overpriced chains. Nope. No hoodies.
But you know who DID have on a hoodie? The Unabomber. And he wasn’t a brother!
So what is our obsession with the hoodie now?
I’ll tell you. We live in a post-civil rights era, where Black, White and Brown alike want to pretend that the struggle is over because there happens to be an African American man in the White House. How ugly of us, to cry racism when we have come so very far! How insensitive of us to think that our white neighbors, who likely voted for President Obama could still have incipient racism sneakily lying dormant and one night in the rain this racism might cause them to think a young, innocent African American boy is a threat…how wrong of us! We should just accept that our young black boys are an automatic threat and be shocked when white boys, like the ones who murdered James Craig Anderson in Mississippi are caught.
We had better accept it…because any cries about racism will be covered and smothered like hash browns at Waffle House. It will be swept under the rug or buried under unwarranted emotional soliloquys from non-minorities about how they have Black friends and would never act out of racism. Of course they wouldn’t, because racism doesn’t exist. Right? Wrong!
So, instead of admitting that we have much more ground to cover…we cover up the nasty racial climate of our country with a hoodie. We’d rather die of a heat stroke than admit that racism is still alive and well. It was racism that killed Trayvon Martin. It was racism that killed Sean Bell. It was racism that killed Emmit Till.
It was not a hoodie. And I don’t care how many Geraldo Rivera’s tell you otherwise.

Progressive Muslims Launch Gay-Friendly, Women-Led Mosques In Attempt To Reform American Islam

At first, the devout Muslims who gathered in a Washington, D.C., conference center seemed like they could have come from any mosque. There were women in headscarves and bearded men who quoted the Quran.

But something was different. While mingling over hors d'oeuvres, they discussed how to change Islam's future. A woman spoke about fighting terrorism; she had married outside the Islamic faith, which is forbidden for a Muslim woman. A Pakistani man mentioned his plans to meet friends for drinks, despite the faith's ban on alcohol.

In a corner of the room, an imam in a long gray tunic counseled a young Muslim with a vexing spiritual conflict: being gay and Muslim. The imam, also gay and in a relationship, could easily sympathize with the youth's difficulties.

On this brisk Monday night in late October, members of Muslims for Progressive Values, a nascent American reformist organization, had gathered from around the country to celebrate a milestone: In four years, the group had grown from a few friends to a thousand members and spawned a string of small mosques and spiritual groups that stretched from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
Read the rest here

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities Elects New President

From the official press release:

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has announced the election of the Reverend Dr. Barbara A. Holmes of Memphis, Tennessee as its eighth president. The seminary’s Board of Trustees confirmed Holmes’ appointment Wednesday afternoon, after which the new president addressed the board and spoke to members of the faculty, staff, and students. Holmes will relocate to the Twin Cities and assume her duties in July. “The selection of Holmes signals the beginning of a new era,” stated the Reverend Carolyn Hendrixson, board chair. Hendrixson continued, “For seminaries around the country, it’s no longer business as usual. Our leaders need to be multi‐faceted administrators, fundraisers, and program innovators. We have found this dynamic combination in Dr. Holmes, and we look to her leadership to move our progressive initiatives forward.”

Since 1998 Holmes has served in both faculty and administrative capacities at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee. She is currently professor of ethics and African American religious studies and served as vice president of academic affairs and dean from 2005 to 2010. Noting that United’s history of ecumenical dialogue and progressive education attracted her o the position, Holmes added, “United’s commitment and its unwavering support for underserved groups match my own theological perspective.”

A sociology major as an undergraduate, Holmes earned a master’s degree in education and taught kindergarten before deciding to enter law school. For 10 years she worked as a litigator and corporate attorney. While her interest in ministry was cultivated as a young girl, her pursuit of a calling was hindered by a lack of women role models. Eventually, she received the support she needed and left the law to attend Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. She continued on to earn her Ph.D. in religion at Vanderbilt University.

United Theological Seminary is an ecumenical institution offering master’s and doctoral degree programs that prepare religious leaders to transform the church and society. Founded in 1962 as a seminary of the United Church of Christ, United was among the first in mainline Protestantism with an ecumenical focus. The founders intended that the seminary ioneer new ways to educate people for ministry in a changing world. After 50 years, United ontinues to implement and elevate that vision.

For more information about Dr. Holmes and her background, please visit our homepage,

See the video, meet Rev. Holmes below

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One Nation, Not Under God

Picture this scene: A recently elected president announces that he will decline to place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. When people object, he replies that he doesn't believe in God, so it wouldn't make much sense for him to go through the motions of a religious ritual when he does not share that religion's beliefs.

Chances are you think such a thing is unlikely. After all, the politician would never have gotten elected in the first place without proclaiming his belief in God. It has happened, however—just not in America. The current prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is forthright about her atheism and did not put her hand on a Bible at her 2010 swearing-in, generating a meaningful but not outsize controversy.

Back here in the United States, however, our politics seem to be consumed more with religion than they have been in quite a while. That's partly because we're in the midst of a contentious Republican primary in which candidates are competing to see which totems of identification they can brandish with the most vigor, and religion is high on the list. So Newt Gingrich says that President Barack Obama "has basically declared war on the Catholic Church" because his administration thinks that the Church's affiliated organizations don't have the right to decide which laws they will obey and which they won't. Rick Santorum believes that Satan is "attacking the great institutions of America," and that mainline Protestantism "is in a shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it," views which have won him the adoration of evangelical Republicans across the country. And as is the conservative habit in recent years, much of the rhetoric centers on the idea of victimization: that Christians are being hounded and oppressed by an aggressive secular state out to destroy their faith.

To which most atheists would reply: Were we engaged in a powerful conspiracy to destroy religion? I must have misplaced my War on Christianity organizing committee meeting invitation.
Read the rest here

Jesus is not going to work it all out

by Jamilah Lemieux

There, I said it. Hate me now, but I won’t stop now.

I understand that that the above sentiment is particularly controversial from a non-Christian. However, do understand that I am NOT challenging anyone’s religion. Despite my own views, I acknowledge that religion has done many powerful and transformative things across the globe and has sustained movements, people and storied institutions for which I have the utmost respect. Sure, it’s hurt many, many people as well, but that’s not the point of this rant.

My issue is with the anti-intellectual approach to the world that says if we put it all in the hands of Jesus (or God/Allah/Jehovah/etc…), everything will be okay.
Read the rest here

Congressman Bobby Rush Speech on the House Floor

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Justice For Trayvon Martin: Where Are Our White Faith Leaders?

by Mark Pinsky

In the halcyon days of the 1960s civil rights movement, no march, protest or demonstration in the South was complete without white ministers, priests and rabbis prominently in the ranks, linking arms with their African American brothers and sisters. Each was acting -- as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once described himself -- as a "drum major for justice." Of course, in that era, most of the white clergy were from up North.

But in the case of the movement in support of the cause of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed, 17-year-old African American fatally shot Feb. 26 in a gated community in this Central Florida town, local white faith leaders have been missing from action in the movement for justice for nearly a month.

From both this world and the Great Beyond, I can hear a chorus of that great trio of social action veterans, Father Theodore Hesburgh, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, reciting the verse from Deuteronomy (16:18-20): "Justice, justice, shall you pursue!"

The first white clergy didn't appear publicly in support of the Martin family until March 21 -- and that lone exception was there by invitation. Leaders of the growing movement, primarily local and national black pastors and elected officials, invited a Southern Baptist preacher, the Rev. Alan Brumback, of the diverse, 1,000-member Central Baptist Church of Sanford, to lead one of the opening prayers at an evening rally at the city's lakeside municipal park, which drew a crowd of more than 8,000.
Read the rest here

Resurrection Power: Rapper Appropriation of the Crucified Jesus

by Ebony Utley
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor

*This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of the Memphis Theological Seminary Journal

Hip hop heads are drawn to the crucified Jesus not because they want to die, but because staring down death makes them feel most alive. According to cultural critic and theologian, Michael Eric Dyson, crucified Jesus is “the God who literally got beat down and hung up, the God who died a painful, shameful death, subject to capital punishment under political authority and attack, but who came back, and keeps coming back, in the form and flesh we least expect” (286). Crucified Jesus is the prototype for rappers’ visual depictions of resisting death via resurrection.

Remy Ma is the first female rapper to position herself on a cross on the mixtape Shesus Khryst (2007). The cover depicts a topless Remy on a cross. Long hair conveniently covers her nipples. She wears cloth panties, but the contours of her breasts, stomach, and hips reveal a curvaceous body. Her arms are bound with ropes and blood streams from the nails in each hand. There is graffiti on the cross; a skull is etched above her head. To her right is a cemetery, to her left a cityscape. Bright sunlight streams from the heavens giving the dark cover a sepia-toned glow. Remy further emphasizes her femininity in the “Shesus Khryst” video. It opens with Remy on her back. The camera pans her body; her arms are raised above her head and bound to a horizontal cross resting on the ground. Occasionally, there are shots of Remy standing without the cross. She wears a crown of thorns, a white cloth covers her breasts like a halter top and a similar cloth is wound around her waist as a skirt.

Remy extends the traditional spectacle of crucifixion to include sexualizing death. She encourages audiences to enjoy looking at an attractive, partially clothed, bound, and vulnerable woman. However, Remy also resists these patriarchal expectations for femininity by refusing to remain on the cross. The crucifixion is merely a temporary setback that inspires her determination and increases her resurrection potential. Audiences are encouraged to read her crucifixion on the cover art as a transition from the death in the cemetery to life in the cityscape. The video appropriately concludes with a shot of an empty cross visually to imply that Remy has been resurrected. Remy may have been the first female rapper to self-crucify, but she was not the first rapper depicted on a cross. Her representation’s significance lies in the affirmation that a woman can feminize and sexualize Jesus’ death and resurrection in order to draw attention to the power of a living woman savior. The male rappers who paved the way for Shesus Khryst, however, are Nas and Tupac Shakur.

Queensbridge rapper Nas draws controversy when he portrays himself crucified on a cross in “Hate Me Now” (1999). Nas elicits strength from the resurrection of Jesus. He and featured artist Sean “Diddy” Combs’ recurrent adlibs of “I won’t stop, I can’t stop, It ain’t never gonna stop” suggest that acquiescing to death is merely the first step to overcoming death and living in perpetuity. Nas becomes more alive with every attempt to eliminate him.

Nas is certainly inspired by Jesus, but his appropriation of resurrection power emboldens “Hate Me Now” to diverge from the biblical narrative. “Hate Me Now” impugns the haters. Diddy declares that he wants the “weak, jealous motherfuckers” to die. Nas draws hatred for his material possessions—money, clothes, cars, jewelry, and women. The platinum cross that he wears around his neck is a constant reminder of how Nas differs from Jesus. Nas’ encouragement of hatred, displays of crass materialism, hedonism, and arrogance directly contrast Jesus’ life on earth. At the exact moment that we first see Nas hanging from a cross, we hear Diddy say, “I like this… I like the way this feels.” Whereas Jesus prayed in Matthew 27:46 “My God why have you forsaken me,” Nas says, “Do it now! Get this shit over with.” There seems to be little biblical similarity here, and yet Nas is eager to be crucified because being persecuted is a badge of honor. It means God has shown the person under attack so much favor that his detractors want to kill him. Nas is grateful that God has given him enough material possessions to incite envy. Now that he knows how Jesus’ story ends, Nas anticipates an attack as much as he anticipates being resurrected by the same power that brought Jesus, the ultimate conqueror, back to life.

Before there was Remy or Nas, Tupac Shakur aka Makaveli crucified himself on a cross on the 1996 cover art for The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory. The cover depicts a black man who resembles Tupac, including a head wrap and a THUG LIFE tattoo across his abdomen, which is an acronym for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone. The cross is imposed over a worn Bible. Blood streams down his body past the THUG LIFE. There are nails in his hands and feet, barbed wire around his wrists and ankles. A larger crown of thorns is weaved into his head wrap. The cross is an urban map including: Hollywood, South Central, Los Angeles, Watts, Compton, Long Beach, Detroit, Chicago, Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, East Orange, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Houston. The cities are labeled in their approximate geographical regions. A compass rests on top of the cross and West, which represents Makeveli’s home in California, is visibly marked with a W. The caption reads, “In no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ.—Makaveli.”

Many fans interpreted this cover as evidence that Tupac faked his own death. The album was released two months after the 1996 Las Vegas drive by shooting which ultimately led to Tupac’s untimely murder. Two years earlier, Tupac survived a near-death experience after someone shot him five times, in what appeared to be a robbery in New York. Fans believed that if Tupac could cheat death once, he certainly could do it again. Besides, Tupac lived death. His artistic corpus is filled with narratives about his experiences with death from the murder of comrades to descriptions of prison as a confinement like death to visions of death and the afterlife in his videos. Alive theories highlight the facts that Tupac was shot on September 7th at 4:03am (4+0+3=7) at the age of 25 (2+5=7) and died seven days later on the 13th and are further fueled by Tupac’s Makaveli moniker. Tupac was an avid reader of Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli who was infamous for his work, The Prince, which advises political leaders to undertake innovative and unscrupulous actions to usurp and sustain power. Machiavelli is said to have faked his own death to fool his enemies. Tupac adopted Makaveli as his alias just before he died. In this context ardent fans sometimes read Makaveli as mak-alive, make alive, mock-a-veli, which suggests he is mocking those who believe him to be dead, or mack-a-veli because he pimped not only death but also the music industry into succumbing to the belief that he is dead while maintaining multi-platinum album sales.

The “alive” theories combined with the Makaveli moniker communicate an important message to urban America (especially for the thugs living in those cities noted on the cross) about the necessity of resisting death. Dyson explains that if facing death is normal for “the nobodies of American life—poor, black, desperate, hopeless, urban citizens,” then resurrection is the ultimate act of resistance and the ultimate manifestation of power (263). Although Tupac may be physically dead, the resurrection of his life through his art is psychologically empowering because it conveys invincibility.

Other rappers have appropriated resurrection themes. The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut

was titled Ready to Die in 1994. Life After Death was released only sixteen days after his untimely murder in March 1997. The posthumous album Born Again (1999) perpetuates the theme in its title. 50 Cent resurrected Tupac and B.I.G.’s gangsta ethos in 2003 not with his album title Get Rich or Die Tryin,’ but with a promotional campaign about surviving multiple gunshot wounds. Resurrection is a theme that can mark the end, the beginning, or the middle of one’s career. Album titles with key words like return and rebirth as well as music videos with death and resurrection scenarios are a staple for rappers reinventing themselves mid-career.

Tupac was the first to take the place of the crucified Jesus in mainstream hip hop, not to celebrate death but to encourage resurrection as a form of resistance. Although it may appear blasphemous, Remy Ma, Nas, and Tupac push the boundaries of religion until they arrive at Jesus—an accessible model—for surviving patriarchal expectations for women, jealousy, and death. Jesus is a cultural icon for resisting the rules especially those for life and death. By imitating a Jesus who suffered unjustly and yet emerged victorious over death, rappers boldly appropriate Jesus’ resurrection as their own.

Works Cited

Dyson, Michael Eric. Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. New York: Basic

Civitas Books, 2001. Print.

---. Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture and Religion. New York: Basic

Civitas Books, 2003. Print.

NasVEVO. “Hate Me Now.” YouTube. 25 October 2009. Web. 9 June 2011.

RemyMaTV. “Shesus Khryst: Official Music Video.” YouTube. 2 November 2009. Web. 9 June 2011.

Shakur, Tupac. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Death Row Records, 1996. CD.

"Get Out!" Santorum, Perkins and the Religious Right's Vision of America

by Peter Montgomery

March 19 was a lousy day for Rick Santorum's campaign. Reporters repeatedly questioned him about his Sunday evening appearance at Tony Perkins' home church, where, as People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch blog reported, Santorum applauded a pastor who screamed that America was a Christian nation and those who didn't like it should "Get out." It was America's Christian faith that made it a great nation, Terry said, and America's biggest problem is that we now fear men more than we fear God.

Santorum's awkward response when questioned about Terry's comments was that he wasn't really listening all that closely to the pastor introducing him, and didn't agree with all of his comments. By the end of the day, some journalists were moving on to Santorum's foot-in-mouth assertion that the economy wasn't the main issue in the campaign and that he wasn't worried about the unemployment rate.

While the media may understandably focus on Santorum's garbled economic message, his Sunday evening appearance is worth a longer look -- for what it tells us about Santorum and the Religious Right movement that is propelling his campaign.
Read the rest here

Religious Rhetoric's Volume Goes Up in Elections

By: Martin Marty

Almost fifty times a year, the weekly Sightings column by Martin E. Marty appears. Almost every time it is based on documentation from print or digital or electronic media: newspapers, blogs, films, etc.

This week is different, not because our attempt to treat "public religion" or "religion in public" this time has no documentary base, no empirical grounding. Instead, its background is too abundant, too rich.

When we started monitoring media here not many years ago, there was fear that a nation whose citizens often liked to say "religion is a private affair" has gone to the other extreme and they find religion too available, too exploitable.
It is difficult to sort through the signals in quest of significance. Seldom is this plethora of sacred, spiritual and religious signs more evident than in an election year.
Read the rest here

How Romney could transcend Mormonism with civil religion

by Dan Birdsong

There has been a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of the Mitt Romney campaign, even before it officially began, to divert attention from the presidential candidate’s Mormonism by attempting to connect with primary voters by talking about a shared civil religion. But to be effective Romney must take this strategy much further.

What’s civil religion? It’s patriotism’s kissing cousin. It’s a kind of deeper version of nationalistic pride. It is an effort to link patriotism to morality and virtue. Think the phrase “God and country,” or the solemn reverence so many Americans have for our nation’s founding documents.

Romney puts himself at a disadvantage to his rivals and past presidents because he cannot, or is unwilling to, seamlessly link his faith to his patriotism.

Such a strategy would enhance what media types call his “personal narrative” and would go a long way toward forging a strong emotional connection with voters. Here’s how he can do it:
Read the rest here

Richard Dawkins to atheist rally: 'Show contempt' for faith

About 20,000 atheists gathered within shouting distance of the Washington Monument on Saturday for a Reason Rally hell-bent on damning religion and mocking beliefs.
A full pantheon of demigods of unbelief -- British scientist and full-time atheism rabble-rouser Richard Dawkins was the headliner -- kept a crowd of all ages on their feet for more than six hours (and counting -- I left before the band Bad Religion was set to play).

Dawkins didn't appear until five hours into the event, but few seemed discouraged by the near-constant rain or drizzle. They whistled and cheered for his familiar lines such as:

I don't despise religious people. I despise what they stand for ...

Evolution is not just true, it's beautiful ...

Then Dawkins got to the part where he calls on the crowd not only to challenge religious people but to "ridicule and show contempt" for their doctrines and sacraments, including the Eucharist, which Catholics believe becomes the body of Christ during Mass.
Read the rest here

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hip Hop and Religion

Our newest contributor Ebony A. Utley discusses the Illuminati, Jay-Z, Hip Hop and Religion on "Left of Black."

Our Contributor: Ebony A. Utley

Ebony A. Utley, Ph.D. is an expert in popular culture, race, and romantic relationships. Her book, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God tackles a sensitive and controversial topic: the juxtaposition—and seeming hypocrisy—of references to God within rap music. In her other research, Utley examines how Americans talk about race and racism, asks probing questions about women’s experiences with infidelity, investigates beliefs about marriage, and explores the tenuous relationship between hip hop and love. In addition to national radio, print, and online appearances. Utley lectures at universities across the country and is an assistant professor of communication studies at California State University Long Beach. She resides on the web at Follow her on Twitter @u_experience

Saturday, March 24, 2012

“God’s Right Hand”: a new biography of Jerry Falwell

by Michael Peppard

I just finished reading Michael Sean Winters’s new biography of Jerry Falwell, God’s Right Hand: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right (HarperOne, 2012). Being familiar with his previous work (and the author himself), I must say that he did a fantastic job of writing with a different voice. If I had not known who the author was, I would have had no idea of his political leanings. Kudos to Winters: he has written a balanced biography of a controversial figure.

This is not to say that Winters is not critical in his approach. With a keen eye for political rhetoric, he puts Falwell’s most famous characteristics (and antics) under the microscope and sorts out the core principles from the frequent bloviating. There are myriad facts and anecdotes about Falwell’s rise to power for those interested in tracking it, but Winters also offers some long-view analyses worth considering and testing against other evidence from the Religious Right.
Read the rest here

The War On Religion Does Not Exist

by Rev. C. Weldon Gaddy
Huffington Post

Apparently, attempts are underway to open a new front in the supposed "war on religion" in my home state of Louisiana as it takes center stage in the presidential primary season. Truth be told, from what I have seen lately, those claiming there is a war on religion are the ones most guilty of waging that assault.

With sadness and disbelief, last weekend I watched as Greenwell Springs Baptist Church pastor Dennis Terry introduced presidential candidate Rick Santorum at his church. Terry believes -- incorrectly -- that America was founded as a Christian nation and that those who don't agree with him should "get out." I have been a Baptist my entire life, and I have been a minister for more than 50 years -- the last 20 in a church in Monroe, LA. I can tell you without question that Pastor Terry's perspective is not authentic to the historic Baptist tradition. Indeed, I fail to see how it is consistent with the teachings of Jesus who invited all people into his presence.

The reality is that Pastor Terry's perspective, though terribly troubling, is not unique to him. Unfortunately, such vicious and exclusionary rhetoric has become widespread across the more conservative branches of Christianity. Equally disturbing is the fact that a candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination would embrace this point of view. No doubt Rick Santorum is a conservative Republican who relies much more on religious rhetoric than I would like any candidate for public office to do, but until now I had not seen him associate himself with a perspective that tells people who do not hold his view on religion to "get out" of the country. Whether or not Mr. Santorum knew what message Pastor Terry would convey in his introduction, he in the end provided a platform for a discriminatory and close-minded perspective inappropriate for anyone wanting to serve as president for all Americans.
Read the rest here

“Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion” by Alain de Botton

In a career spanning some 20 years and eight previous books, Alain de Botton has made a name for himself in the land of high-end self-help — in print, television documentaries and with his School of Life — by harvesting what he deems useful from great thinkers’ ideas and applying them to everyday life. In his “Consolations of Philosophy,” the Swiss-born, British-educated philosopher cited one of his heroes, the 16th-century essayist Montaigne, for teaching him that “what matters in a book is usefulness and appropriateness to life.” De Botton offered advice on how to stop wasting time in “How Proust Can Change Your Life” and suggested improvements to the often soul-sapping business of earning our keep in “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.”

Now, in what is sure to be his most controversial book, “Religion for Atheists,” de Botton turns his attention to aspects of religion he considers worth saving. Employing his usual mix of (mostly) cogent, highly personal discourse and quirky, often hilarious photographs, he tries to make a case for not throwing out the baby with the baptismal water.
Read more here

Friday, March 23, 2012

Religious Rhetoric in Tyler Perry’s Play Madea’s Family Reunion

Tyler Perry is an African-American media phenomenon producing, directing, writing, and acting in gospel musical stage plays and movies. He hit the American national scene in 2005 when the film adaptation of his gospel play Diary of a Mad Black Woman debuted in movie theaters. The purpose of this paper is to examine Tyler Perry’s play Madea’s Family Reunion, which traveled around the country in 2002-2003, to describe the intersections of and relationships between African-American popular culture, religion, and rhetoric. I will argue that the songs in Madea’s Family Reunion are rhetorical forms of religious expression within an African-American Christian and performative context. I will draw upon Laurent Pernot’s discussion of four rhetorical forms of religious expression for my analysis.

As African-American popular culture, gospel musical stage plays focus on the idioms and practices of black American Christian churches and the intimate and romantic lives of single, heterosexual women and married black women (Williams and Coleman). Perceived to be pleasurable and good by its primary audience—African-American women (Pollard 65-6; Robertson), gospel plays consist of personas, arts, and rituals, express African-American beliefs and values, and are affected by production and dissemination practices and media industry controls and regulations. The focal comedic character in Madea’s Family Reunion is “Mabel Simmons,” or “Madea,” played by Tyler Perry; her comic foil is neighbor Deacon Leroy Brown.

Read the rest here

Finding religions' common ground

We already have common ethical ground. Every religion embraces a form of the Golden Rule and the supreme importance of charity, compassion and human improvement. Let's work from there.

When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" he replied, "First, you shall love the Lord your God; and second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

"In everything," he said, "do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

The Talmud says that in Roman times, a nonbeliever approached the famous Rabbi Hillel and challenged him to teach the meaning of the Torah while standing on one leg.
Read the rest here

More See "Too Much" Religious Talk by Politicians

A new survey finds signs of public uneasiness with the mixing of religion and politics. The number of people who say there has been too much religious talk by political leaders stands at an all-time high since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago. And most Americans continue to say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics.

Nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) now say there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders, while 30% say there has been too little. In 2010, more said there was too little than too much religious expression from politicians (37% vs. 29%). The percentage saying there is too much expression of religious faith by politicians has increased across party lines, but this view remains far more widespread among Democrats than Republicans.
Read the rest here

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Religion in Prisons

from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

Research From the perspective of the nation’s professional prison chaplains, America’s state penitentiaries are a bustle of religious activity. More than seven-in-ten (73%) state prison chaplains say that efforts by inmates to proselytize or convert other inmates are either very common (31%) or somewhat common (43%). About three-quarters of the chaplains say that a lot (26%) or some (51%) religious switching occurs among inmates in the prisons where they work. Many chaplains report growth from religious switching in the numbers of Muslims and Protestant Christians, in particular.

Overwhelmingly, state prison chaplains consider religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. Nearly three-quarters of the chaplains (73%), for example, say they consider access to religion-related programs in prison to be “absolutely critical” to successful rehabilitation of inmates. And 78% say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates’ successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Among chaplains working in prisons that have religion-related rehabilitation or re-entry programs, more than half (57%) say the quality of such programs has improved over the last three years and six-in-ten (61%) say participation in such programs has gone up.

At the same time, a sizable minority of chaplains say that religious extremism is either very common (12%) or somewhat common (29%) among inmates. Religious extremism is reported by the chaplains as especially common among Muslim inmates (including followers of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America) and, to a substantial but lesser degree, among followers of pagan or earth-based religions such as Odinism and various forms of Wicca. (See Glossary.) An overwhelming majority of chaplains, however, report that religious extremism seldom poses a threat to the security of the facility in which they work, with only 4% of chaplains saying religious extremism among inmates “almost always” poses a threat to prison security and an additional 19% saying it “sometimes” poses a threat.

These are among the key findings of a survey of prison chaplains in all 50 states by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey was conducted from Sept. 21 to Dec. 23, 2011, using Web and paper questionnaires. The Pew Forum attempted to contact all 1,474 professional chaplains working in state prisons across the country, and 730 chaplains returned completed questionnaires, a response rate of nearly 50%.

Little information is publicly available about the religious lives of the approximately 1.6 million inmates in the U.S. prison system, the vast majority of whom (87%) are under the jurisdiction of state correctional authorities.8 The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics routinely reports on several characteristics of the U.S. prison population, such as age, gender and racial/ethnic composition, but it does not usually report on the religious affiliation of inmates, and independent surveys of inmates rarely are permitted.9 Thus, the Pew Forum survey offers a rare window into the religious lives of inmates through the lens of prison chaplains
Read more here

Faith Without Works?

by Frank Johnson

I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. We hear these “so called” declarations of faith from one end of America life to another. Our political candidates “declare” their belief in God while using it to pass legislation that fits with their beliefs system despite the First Amendment’s ban on congress making laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. However, we see a form of Christianity in this country that has nothing to do with the actual teachings and actions of Jesus, but more of a public display that put the idea of being a Christian in the same league as joining a fraternity, sorority or other social clubs. Then, there is the selling aspect of it all. We have to buy bumper stickers, bracelets and t-shirts to” share our faith” with the lost world that is in desperate need of the gospel.

Celebrities and even sports stars “declare” their faith and two particular athletes have really given the Christians base a big push over the last year. Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, whose public confessions of faith have energized our Christian base from the religious right to evangelicals. Jeremy Lin now wears bracelets made by Active Faith, an apparel company started by former basketball player Lanny Smith and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver. Both are members of the Lakewood Church, the mega-church pastored by Joel Osteen, which draws almost 50,000 attendees per week. The website opens with a verse from 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by FAITH, not by sight. A pretty catchy way to lead to their mission statement which says they provide fashionable and functional sportswear the active athlete as well as any person wanting to wear and share their faith. Again, “share” their faith, what does this really mean? I can share my faith by buying a pair of $30 yoga tights or a $45 hoodie? Or, maybe one of those wonderful wristbands that Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin wears during his games now that he starts for the New York Knicks.
Read the rest here

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For the Mother of Trayvon Martin

By Kimberly Peeler-Ringer
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor

Trayvon Martin has now become part of the national discourse on race relations in the 21st century. As more and more facts about the circumstances of his death are slowly unraveled, we are encouraged at every turn not to forget his name. His death is particularly distressing because even in these early stages of investigation, it appears nothing he did warranted deadly force. And there is another name that we should not forget in the midst of this tragedy: Sabrina Fulton. She is Trayvon’s mother. Another Black mother feeling the ache of having her child violently stripped from her. The mother of Emmitt Till. The mother of Yusuf Hawkins. The mother of Michael Griffin. The mother of Willie Turks. And now Sabrina Fulton stands among those mothers of sons who were murdered under unclear circumstances that smack of that volatile mixture of egregious intolerance and violent confrontation.

Although this essay does not intend to take anything away from the grief and anguish of his father, Trayvon’s tragic death got me to thinking about mothers and sons. Trayvon Martin’s death comes during a holy season, a time of personal meditation on the impact of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. And I cannot help but reflect upon another mother’s grief over the loss of her son: Mary.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:26-27, NRSV)

Here we have an account of Jesus’ last words to his mother before he breathed his last. I have often pondered the unspeakable anguish Mary endured that day, watching Jesus take lash after lash, punch after punch, kick after kick, and the awful sound of the hammer as he was nailed to the cross. What kind of horror it must have been to witness that level of brutality heaped upon your own son. Adjectives are inadequate to describe what it must have been like for Mary standing on a hill watching her son being tortured. Was it like the anguish our African foremothers felt, watching their children captured and whipped and taken to places unknown? Was it like the anguish our grandmothers and great grandmothers experienced, when American terrorists burst into their homes, corrupting the very concept of civil liberties, as they kidnapped and lynched their sons? What is it like, to see with your own eyes, your son swinging from a tree? Or being nailed to a tree? Mary knows that pain.

Mary watched her son’s execution, an execution designed not to eliminate suffering but to maximize it. Death does not come quickly in crucifixion. Standing there at the cross, Mary watched as her son’s lifeforce was extinguished in the slowest, cruelest, most horrific way Rome could come up with. Jesus was found guilty of sedition, and execution was carried out by a dominant culture that was ethnically different from him.

As I struggle to imagine what was going through Mary’s mind as she wrestled with the realization that her son will soon be no more, it is just as discomforting to imagine what that “call” was like for Sabrina Fulton. That call that all parents dread. That call that informed her that her son was no more, and that the details surrounding his death were shrouded in mystery. Like Mary, all Sabrina Fulton knew for sure was that her son was given a death sentence, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Mary received a small measure of peace that Sabrina Fulton did not. Sabrina Fulton was not afforded an opportunity to have a final moment with her son right before he breathed his last.

Jesus’ execution shows us that even in the midst of unspeakable pain and anguish, there is hope. I hurt for everyone who knew and loved Trayvon Martin. And I hope to one day live in a world where loving parents do not receive calls informing them that someone projected their own fears and insecurities upon their child…and their son or daughter is no more.

Book Club Gathering: April 9, 2012

The Rhetoric Race and Religion book club will convene on April 9, 2012 at 6:00pm at the Caritas Village located at 2509 Harvard in Memphis, Tennessee. For those not able to make it in person, we will conduct a live tweet chat starting at 7:15pm (CST) using #R3bookclub #thenewjimcrow. Lani Guinier, professor of Law at Harvard Law School says that “Michelle Alexander’s brave and bold new book paints a haunting picture in which dreary felon garb, post-prison joblessness, and loss of voting rights now do the stigmatizing work once done by colored-only water fountains and legally segregated schools. With dazzling candor, Alexander argues that we all pay the cost of the new Jim Crow."
The book club is free and open to the public. To join or get more information, please call 901-327-5246 or contact us on our Facebook page or Twitter

Speaking in a Prophet’s Stead: Rhetoric, Power and HIV/AIDS

By Christopher House
Christopher House will serve as a visiting professor at Memphis Theological Seminary this summer in he Rhetoric Race and Religion Institute teaching a course on the Black Church and HIV/AIDS

**This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of the Memphis Theological Seminary Journal


Over the past three years, I travelled to and conducted research ---including ethnographic participant observation and oral history interviewing through in-depth questioning---in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Washington, D.C., area. I sought to understand how religious leaders of African descent have used religious rhetoric as a means by which to help people of African descent lead their lives, reconfigure at-risk behaviors and practices, and to counteract the disproportionate epidemiological presence of HIV/AIDS in their communities. I have interviewed over thirty-five Protestant pastors, bishops, and religious leaders of African descent from these respective regions.

Religious leaders of African descent across the world are addressing HIV/AIDS from the pulpit. While some have approached the issues through narrow rhetorics focused primarily on individual “sin,” others have adopted a more robust approach that recognizes the larger structural/social “sins” that create situations in which HIV/AIDS thrives. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of education, gender inequalities, and sexual discrimination, which disproportionally affect people of African descent, are being met with strong prophetic responses converging at the intersection of Christian ethics, pastoral care, biblical studies, and theology (Bongmba 2). Functioning more than just a women or man of God, the preacher of African descent functions within religious communities as “a teacher, preacher, politician and more recently, a change agent for health” (Francis et al. 165).

Elias Bongmba explains that Christian theology is grounded in the idea that humankind is the imago dei, and thus Christian leaders have the obligation to address any entity that threatens the image of God (3). With such a biblical mandate, black churches and leadership have fought for and played a significant role in the political, social, and spiritual life of not only people of color, but also the oppressed around the world, including more recently people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).

At the heart of prophetic rhetoric is the notion of representation. As prophets or through employing what Andre E. Johnson calls the rhetorical strategy of “prophetic personas,” religious leaders, on the one hand, speak on the behalf of the sacred and on the side of justice, while on the other hand, speak on behalf of the voiceless, oppressed and marginalized PLWHA (268). For the purpose of this paper, I raise questions concerning the inherent rhetorical challenges that religious speakers now face against a historic backdrop of religious discourses of moral judgment against PLWHA.

Prophetic Rhetoric and HIV/AIDS

Many religious rhetorics on HIV/AIDS have been informed by Judeo-Christian religious rhetoric, specifically that of the Hebrew prophets. What Sacvan Bercovitch called the “jeremiad” is a major strand of Hebrew prophetic discourse that is the antithesis of most theories and praxis of rhetoric found in the ancient Near East (Bercovitch xi). In their rhetoric, Hebrew prophets never resorted to flattering governing authorities or kings. The prophets felt so empowered by God in their callings that they often pronounced judgment while standing in the very presence of the said one who is to be the recipient of such judgment. Hebrew prophets were called to speak on behalf of God to hold individual, groups and whole nations accountable for their actions. Thus, Hebrew prophetic rhetoric in a jeremiad sense essentially is a “rhetoric of confrontation.” (House 70). William VanGemeren’s summary of the impact of the prophetic word is instructive, as being that which “afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted” (62).

Within African American culture the jeremiad had its beginning with the abolitionist crusade against slavery in the antebellum North and later became a prime black rhetorical device and “ideological force in the twenty-first century” (Howard-Pitney 13,14). From Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King Jr., the African American jeremiad was salient in Civil war, post-civil war, civil rights rhetoric, and the black church. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya suggest that the black church’s jeremiad’s “prophetic function” refers to its “involvement in political concerns and activities in the wider community” in addressing the historical and contextual issues of the day, be it barriers of injustice, inequality, discrimination, sexism, and/or racism (12). It is within this larger space of discourse where we locate leaders of African descent addressing HIV/AIDS. Take, for example, this statement from an oral history interview given me in 2010 by Reverend Al Miller, Senior pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle, Kingston Jamaica, who pointedly speaks to the appropriateness of prophetic rhetoric within the context of HIV/AIDS:

We must deal not just with the thing [HIV/AIDS] but the systems and structures that facilitate it. . .the poverty, the lack of education, the corruption in the nation all of those things are things that we tackle head-on and literally fight for, for the process of change. Because ultimately that this the only way change is going to come. Change is not going to come simply in the prayer meeting, although the prayer meeting is very important and we ought to pray, like I have been telling my people... having prayed, get up off your knees and get out there and see what are we going to do to create the real change to those systems and structures that maintain an evil way.

Power, Representation and Religious Rhetoric

To speak on behalf of another is to speak from a privileged position of power. As a speaker, one is given the power to decide what information is of relevance for discussion and thereby rhetorically serving certain interests, while rendering invisible the interests of others. Thus the speaker has the ability to validate what is heuristic — the subjective invention of ideas, concepts, or beliefs to be communicated and given a voice.

Linda Alcoff posits that the practice of speaking for others is problematic in that “there is … a privileging of oneself, as the one who more correctly understands the truth of another’s situation,” in our case PLWHA (35). Historically, the pulpit has been and remains in many religious circles a gendered space. Early responses of religious rhetorics on HIV/AIDS were heard from heterosexual male clergy members who spoke with “prophetic” authority concerning the epidemic declaring it divine judgment. While such ‘judgment’ rhetorics scapegoated members of the gay community as the cause of HIV/AIDS, religious leaders failed to examine the ways in which their privilege as male, heterosexual Christians informed and shaped their rhetorics about HIV/AIDS. These rhetorics were replete with a lack of a nuanced understanding of HIV/AIDS across markers of race, gender, sexual orientation and class. Consequently, religious “othering” of PLWHA was experienced first by the gay community followed by heterosexual men and women who committed sexual acts the church deemed ‘immoral,’ and who were thus reaping what they sow in contracting HIV/AIDS.

Today in speaking on behalf of PLWHA, religious leaders must tread carefully so as not to misrepresent or co-opt their experiences. Alcoff notes that in speaking for another misrepresentation is not always the case nor are those who are spoken for always “worse off” as a result (35). Nevertheless, early findings indicate that PLWHA, who have been placed at the lowest levels of the religious and societal orders, have been objectified as politically correct sermon material on World AIDS Day, as their leaders who occupy the apex of the ecclesiastical hierarchal order unreflexively articulate their experiences of being infected.

In such cases PLWHA were discursively positioned as examples in sermons and in biblical texts that speak about the “person who suffers, rather than on texts in which suffering is focalized by a speaking subject who, him/herself is a suffering subject” (Stone 20). Often through their rhetorical practice of speaking for PLWHA is arguably, “though not always, an erasure and a reinscription of sexual, national, and other kinds of hierarchies” that invariably further afflict the afflicted (Alcoff 26).

In my interviews and in some religious services, testimonies from PLWHA created agency that brought about subject formation as they vocalized their suffering as opposed to being mere objects of the preacher’s rhetoric (Stone 20). My argument is not grounded in the idea of a rhetorical biological determinism in that only religious leaders who are living with HIV/AIDS should speak on behalf of PLWHA because at some point in our journey through life we all have needed someone to speak for us. On the contrary, I am suggesting that religious leaders must be reflexive of the privilege they embody as they prophetically articulate the experiences of others, others once marginalized by their very rhetorics.


Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” Cultural Critique, Vol 20 (Winter 1991-

92): 5-32.

Bercovitch, Sacvan. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Bongmba, Elias K. Facing a Pandemic: The African Church and the Crisis of Aids. Waco:
Baylor University Press., 2007.

Francis, Shelly A., Lam, Wendy K., Cance, Jessica D., and Vijaya K. Hogan. “What’s the 411?

Assessing the Feasibility of Providing African American Adolescents with HIV/AIDS

Prevention Education in a Faith-Based Setting.” Journal of Religion and Health. 48, no.2(2009): 164-167.

House, Christopher. “Hebrew Prophetic Oratory: A Rhetoric of Confrontation.” MA thesis.

Syracuse University, 2007.

Howard-Pitney, David. The African American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005.

Johnson, Andre. “The Prophetic Persona of James Cone and The Rhetorical Theology of Black

Theology.” Black Theology: An International Journal, No 3, (2010): 265-285.

Miller, Al. personal interview. 21 June 2010.

Stone, Ken “Safer Text: Reading Biblical Laments in the Age of AIDS.” Theology Sexuality, 5:

16, (1999): 16-27.

Van Gemeren, William. Interpreting the Prophetic. Michigan: Zondervan

Publishing House, 1990.

[1] Christopher A. House is currently a PhD candidate in Communications at the University of Pittsburg where he also serves as the K. Leroy Irvis Fellow. His dissertation project, “Rhetoric(s) of the Black Church: Race, Religion & HIV/AIDS Across the African Diaspora,” examines the religious rhetoric of pastors of African descent regarding HIV/AIDS.

The Lamb That Was Slain: The Killing of Trayvon Martin

by Gee Joyner
Rhetoric Race Religion Contributor

In ancient Jewish tradition, an animal sacrifice-- most often a lamb-- was used as an offering, a tithe if you will, for God to illustrate humankind’s appreciation for the blessings they received from the omnipotent and beneficent Creator, or even a ‘Forgive Me’ card for immoral behavior, sins, and human transgressions. (Hosea 14:3 is referential evidence that Ancient Jews eventually ceased killing innocent beasts for sacrificial offerings—“ Take with you words, and turn to the Lord. Say to him, forgive all iniquity and receive us graciously, so we will offer the words of our lips instead of calves.”)

Though other animals were used for sacrifices, such as goats and calves, the lamb has become a metaphorical symbol in popular culture and modern History more than likely because of its attributes of docility and timidity that evoke emotions of sympathy and empathy when one identifies another as being a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ Some cultures, such as the Mayans and Aztecs, even went as far as to not only sacrifice beasts, but also humans to their ‘Gods’ as a means of offering recompense for sins or gifts that would satisfy the Gods and keep them safe from impending danger. On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a ‘Captain’ of a neighborhood watch program in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community twenty minutes north of Orlando, Florida, located in Sanford, Florida, murdered, or sacrificed, a 17-year-old Black American teen at the altar of U.S. prejudice and racism.

From Numbers 7:57 to Revelation 5:13, one can find numerous references of a ‘lamb’ and the slaughter thereof, yet Revelations Chapter 5, verse 13, really symbolizes the death of young Trayvon. The text states, “In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” And this is what Black Americans, and even non-Black Americans, will exclaim when remembering the legacy of the young Trayvon Martin. We will exalt him because his bravery in the face of a murderer with premeditated intentions. We will uphold him and place him in the clouds with Emmett Till, who was also killed by racist monsters with malevolent intentions. We will contrast his willingness verbally to question the paranoia of Mr. Zimmerman by rebelling against authority just as the Christ rebelled against the Roman Empire and the tradition of Jewish exclusionary practices that exhibited prejudice towards Gentiles.

Now, by no means am I positing Trayvon Martin as a Christ-Like figure who has died for the sins of humankind in order to save them from the fiery lakes of Hell, but we can juxtapose his significance in the continual struggle for African American equality in the United States to the efforts of Jesus Christ to free man from his sinful ways and lead him down the path of human, if not Godly, righteousness. Jesus Christ was tried and convicted for claiming to be the Son of God, while Trayvon was murdered, gunned down in the cloak of night by a vigilante night watchman for essentially claiming his innocence of being a criminal; “Why are you following me?” which an anonymous girl who was on the phone with Travyon at the time, to me, is similar to Christ’s assertion that he was the ‘Son of God’ and had done nothing to deserve being accosted by Pontious Pilate’s Court just as Martin had done nothing to be relegated to the status of ‘criminal’ by Mr. Zimmerman.

While there may never be any concrete answers as to why this happened to Trayvon, I do believe the masses of Black Americans who have been unjustly profiled as delinquents, thieves, thugs, criminals, and ne’er- do- wells know why Zimmerman did this to Travyon— it was the direct correlation to the creation and perpetuation of the derogatory stereotype of the African American in America. For centuries, this has been the root cause of instances of mistreatment, and, in this case, unjustified killing of individuals of the darker hue. Many people only see the stereotype of the Negro, rather than the character of the human being, thus the stereotypes that have permeated the psyche of Americans, both Black and White, Asian and Hispanic, cause individuals to prejudge the Black American and label them as the aforementioned culprits of skullduggery and mischief that I mentioned in the lines above.

Hopefully, and from the attention this tragedy is receiving from national media outlets, both visual and print, as well as social networking sites, Trayvon’s death will serve as another turning point, just as the ghastly lynching of Emmett Till provided a launching pad for the success of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and prove to be an intricate piece of evidence that proves that the Black American still has miles to go before we sleep in the bed of equality, societal acceptance, and civil rights. We must remember that Trayvon Martin, and all of the unnamed Blacks who have died behind racist intentions, did not die in vain. He died, involuntarily, for the ‘cause.’ His blood will scream out from that Floridian soil and protest against the demonic spirit of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. Though I am saddened at the death of this young man, who could be my son in 14 years, I have peace within my soul because I know that there is “wondrous working power…in the precious blood of the Lamb.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Professor to Teach New Class at Seminary and University

Dr. Andre E. Johnson, the Dr. James L. Netters Assistant Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary will teach a class in the Fall 2012 semester on use of religious language in political campaigns. Titled "Theologian in Chief: the president as Pastor, Priest, and Prophet," the class will focus on the 2012 presidential campaign and examine the religious rhetoric of President Obama. He will teach the class in conjunction with the African and African American Studies program at the University of Memphis. Dr. Johnson will offer the class on Monday evenings, 5:30pm-8:30pm on the campus on the University of Memphis. Click here for the syllabus.

Renown Theologian and Activist will serve as a Visiting Scholar at Memphis Theological Seminary

Memphis Theological Seminary  is pleased to announce that Dr. Allan Boesak, South African clergyman, and one of South Africa’s leading spokesmen against the country’s policy of apartheid, will serve as a Visiting Professor for the fall 2012 semester.

He will teach two courses at the seminary this coming fall:

Tuesdays, 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.: Politics, Faith and Prophetic Witness - A South African Case Study
This course will explore different periods of South African History.

Wednesdays, 8:00 - 11:00 a.m.: “No Future Without Forgiveness:” South Africa's Reconciliation Project
This course examines South Africa's attempt to avoid civil war and deliberately choose political negotiations with the apartheid oppressors, even though apartheid had been declared a "Crime against Humanity."

Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica

Boesak was born to Christian parents who were classified as Coloured (of mixed European and African ancestry) by the South African government. From an early age he had been interested in preaching, and at age 17 he entered the University of the Western Cape to begin his theological studies. Frustrated by the attitudes of his white teachers at the all-Coloured university, Boesak was eventually persuaded to remain in the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sendingkerk, the Coloured branch of the Dutch Reformed Church) by Beyers Naudé, a white minister who had been cast out for his antiapartheid position. Boesak was ordained in the Dutch Reformed Church in 1968. From 1970 to 1976 he studied in the Netherlands and in the United States. After he returned to South Africa, he became politically active, teaching and preaching while organizing opposition to South African government policies. He also joined the African National Congress (ANC).

In 1982 Boesak persuaded members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to declare apartheid a heresy and to suspend membership of the white South African churches; he served as president of the alliance from 1982 to 1991. In 1983 he helped organize the United Democratic Front (UDF), a multiracial association of all manner of groups opposed to apartheid, and in 1984 he and others organized a massive boycott of the national elections. Boesak was arrested a number of times for his participation in demonstrations, and his movements and speech were restricted.

After the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s, Boesak remained active in the ANC, which came to dominate South African politics. Boesak’s doctoral dissertation, Farewell to Innocence: A Socio-Ethical Study on Black Theology and Black Power, was published in 1977. His other books include The Finger of God: Sermons on Faith and Socio-Political Responsibility (1982) and Black and Reformed: Apartheid, Liberation, and the Calvinist Tradition (1984).