Thursday, May 31, 2012

They Call Her Ms. Hill

By Ebony Utley
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
from: Rap and Religion

Ms. Lauryn Hill’s birthday was on May 25, 2012. It was an opportunity for the blogosphere to resurrect her memory and mourn the absence of one of hip hop’s greatest stars. Only Ms. Hill is alive and well. I imagine she celebrated her 37th birthday with family and friends. It’s her career that has been laid to rest, but she seems to prefer it that way.

When I first heard The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill I thought that CD was about me. I rushed to Best Buy on the Tuesday it dropped and played it over and over. I clearly remember her arms full of Grammy’s saying that it wasn’t a burden to serve Him. Perhaps more than anyone else, Ms. Hill mixed rap and religion as effortlessly as she sang and rapped on a single track. I was proud of her like she was my big sister.

Years later as a graduate student, I still loved the album but one song in particular sat on my ears. “I Used to Love Him” is an empowering break up song until you really study it.

I tracked the song’s metaphors of domination, submission, and stagnation. I published a theory-heavy article about how the oppressive negative metaphors constructed a domineering God who wanted Ms. Hill to suffer. Figuring that no one read it, I gave a talk with a sexy title called “God Hates Lauryn Hill but Loves the Bad Bitches.” It was a tough crowd that night but when I was finished, the audience at least agreed with me that Ms. Hill and her ideas about God were much more patriarchal and punishing that her female rapper peers like Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, Lady of Rage, Missy, or Trina. Then I revised my arguments for the “Doin’ It for Daddy” chapter of Rap and Religion where I argue that both the young man and the Daddy God in the song demand a self-sacrificing submission from Ms. Hill.

After doing this work, Ms. Hill’s disappearance from the public eye was never a surprise to me. I even blogged about how we should leave her alone. The woman needed to recover. She lost a love that she never replaced with anything. Her chorus tells it all. “I used to love him but now I don’t” is incomplete. What if she had sung, “I used to love him and now I love ME.” That’s a whole ‘nother tune. If Ms. Hill could have sung it then, she might still be singing now.

Avoiding Phony Religiosity: The Rhetorical Theology of Obama’s 2012 National Prayer Breakfast Address

by Andre E. Johnson
Editor: Rhetoric Race and Religion
Here is a paper I wrote for the Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric in a special issue of Religion and Politics. Special thanks to editor Brett Lunceford.

While scholarship of presidential rhetoric fill the landscape of rhetorical criticism, only recently has schol-ars given much attention to the use of religious rhetoric in presidential discourse. Moreover, while this scholarship is growing, scholars have not paid much attention to the National Prayer Breakfast. In this essay, I examine President Barack Obama’s 2012 National Prayer Breakfast Address as an example of rhetorical theology. I argue that during this address, Obama does more than fulfill a sacred obligation; he constructs a theology that challenges the prevailing public and political theology. Obama’s theology is not systematic, but profoundly rhetorical as he invites his audience to see and do faith differently. It is Obama’s framing of faith, grounded in religious values, that allows him to offer his policies—not as liberal ideology, but ones grounded in faith.
Read the essay here

My Life Through the Lens of Race

by Laura Todd, MTS Student
Rhetoric of Race Class-Summer 2012 part of the Rhetoric Race and Religion Institute
*Special Rhetoric Race and Religion

My life has been shaped by my race in many ways but this is something I did not realize until I became older. My emotions, feeling, and thoughts about race have been shaped by my family, friends, church, school, and work environments. For example, I grew up in a small area in West Tennessee that was majority White with a small percentage of African Americans, Hispanics, and Indians. My parents were not from this area. My father grew up in Illinois and my mother was from Georgia so they had different views about race than other families in the area. I grew up in a family that was very open and thankful for my parents giving me the opportunity to interact with people of difference races than I was.

My emotions and feelings about race have changed over the years. To be honest from what I remember from when I was younger I do not remember hearing people talk about race, and I don’t remember thinking about it as a child. As I have grown older I have learned that the environment that we live in influences how we think and talk without us ever realizing it or talking about a particular subject in general. Even though we never talked about race specifically as the subject it would be brought subconsciously in our live in other ways. For example, when I was in elementary school I remember having two Hispanic classmates from Mexico. I remember thinking that is great to have friends from another country, but I also remember thinking what if they move and I never see them again. I remember feeling this because that were not from that area or if there skin was of certain color usually moved. As a child I did not understand why until I grew older. Overtime I learned that people in the town that I grow up in used to call people the “N” word and use other derogatory remarks to describe people that were African Americans and Hispanic. When I would hear that word used it would always make me feel uncomfortable but as a kid I did not feel like I could speak up against people using those words.

I also played different sports when I was younger and some of my teammates were of different races and some of them from other countries. My relationships with these friends that I had growing up playing sports taught me to not worry about what other people thought and said. I was taught by those friends that race should not become a barrier when I am trying to get to know someone.

Other feelings and emotions that I remember about race growing up is how I felt after reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I thought of this book because they had a special showing of the movie on television a few weeks ago. To be honest even to this day I still have a hard time thinking about that book. When I was younger for some reason I never could pass a test that was given on this book. Reading this book caused me to question what why people would lie about something someone did because that person was of a difference race than them. I remember feeling mad, frustrated, and scared. I also remember thinking that it was not fair people were considered to be guilty for something they did not do because of their race. Of course, when I first read this book as a kid I did not truly understand what racial issues were going on.

I went to undergraduate college at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee you could see racial separation in the on-campus dorms and where people would hang out between classes. In the cafeteria racial division was very prevalent. The Caucasians would sit in one area, the African Americans and the Hispanics would be setting in another area. It was like people separated themselves in these different areas in their lives without even thinking about it. There was also one African American sorority on campus. I was not a member of a sorority on campus but I did notice that most of the sororities or fraternities did not have African American members or people of other races. Another thing that I remember about the city of Jackson was how the Lambuth University camps was the dividing line in the city where the Caucasians lived on the North side of the campus and the African Americans lived on the South side of the campus.

The Jewish synagogue was also in area not far from the university. This always seemed odd to me that the university location had an unspoken rule of where people lived. This was an example of an unspoken rule that made racial separation occur without people ever really thinking about it or realize what was going on. We were being taught without any words being spoken that people of different races do not live in the same neighborhood.

If you asked people on campus I think we all would have said we are not racially divided but we would not be telling the truth. Some days I would wonder why we were so separated. We had a chapel service once a week and in that service you would also see division among where people set in the service. You would also see a division in where people would set in the class room. When it comes to the general thinking about race for my college classmates I think we knew what was going on but we were not willing to talk about the issues openly and honestly because we were not mature enough to do so.

My junior year in college year I took a class where we studied the life of Martin Luther King Junior. As we were watching one of the videos about him I had a variety of feelings and emotions about race run through me. I remember thinking that we have a bunch of hypocrites out there in the world that call themselves Christians. I remember feeling mad, frustrated, and upset when I saw the pictures of people being kicked, beaten, and arrested because they were African American. The caused me to ask myself many questions. Do we act this way because we are racist? Do we think like this because people are ignorant? How did racism start? Why did people ever think it was right to treat anyone differently because of the color of our skin?

One time a friend of mine that grew up in Birmingham, Alabama said she was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. She said as she walking through the museum she noticed a picture of a white man that was involved in a protest and she thought to herself that man looked familiar. After she examined the picture more closely she realized the man was a member of the church that she grew up in. This man was also an elder in the church for many years. Hearing this story causes me to feel angry and bothered. This made me think that at some point in time all people are guilty of being racist and we do not even realize that we are. In the church we like to say that we are loving and caring and that we do not judge people because of their race and actions but that is not true.

For example, the denomination that I am a member of technically has two separate denominations that use the same Confession of Faith for their beliefs. The difference in the two denominations is the Cumberland Presbyterian Church is primarily Caucasian and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America is primarily African American. Last year at there General Assembly discussed how these two denominations could be unified and do organized activities together. I remember people being so excited about this idea and thinking this should have happened years ago. To be honest we should be ashamed of ourselves for waiting this long to talk about uniting together as one.

I moved to the city of Memphis to attend graduate school at The University of Memphis in the summer of 2006. When I moved to Memphis I realized that the tension concerning race was higher here than I was use to. I worked as a Graduate Assistant at the Health Center on campus and my co-worker Andy was from Washington State and attended a local college in that area. When he learned that we did not have school on Labor Day or Martin Luther King Jr day he was surprised. I remember thinking to myself and then saying this is Memphis, Tennessee the city were Dr. King got shot and this city has played some major roles in the Civil Rights Movement. I think we were both shocked and surprised by what we had learned from each other. I did not think twice about being off of work and school and that day and he was surprised that we were off.

I currently have two part-time jobs one of those jobs is at Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church. On Sunday mornings for our education programs and on Wednesday night we have children and youth that attend our programs are from a variety of races. Right now when I teach Sunday school for the youth and a majority of the students are African American. Seeing the youth interact with each other has taught me so much. They are willing to work together when a friend is having a hard time trying to read something.

The youth at church have also showed me how racism is still prevalent in our society and in our churches. One example of this is I have a hard time getting our youth to stay for the worship service. There are a lot of reasons why they do not stay but one of the reasons is because of racism. Members of my church will say that they are not racist but they really are. A few Sundays ago a few of my youth decided that they would stay for the worship service. They are sitting in their seat behaving and I go to talk to them and one of the members in the congregation makes a rude comment. She says, “They better go to the bathroom now before church starts so they do not have leave.” If these youth had been white this person would not have said one word to us but because they were black that person made that statement. I remember thinking I cannot believe that she just said that and God please help me to not respond rudely.

During the week I work at the Church Health Center teaching, health coaching, and talking to people from different places. My work environment teaches me everyday that people of different races can work together and achieve amazing things. Every time that I see people working and learning together it is for me a glimpse of God working through the creation God has created. I have worked with co-workers, interns and patients from Mexico, India, England, etc. From them I have learned that getting to know people that are of another race is a blessing not just to me but to our world. Unfortunately, we have made race an obstacle that prevents us for getting to know one another and ourselves as children of God.

To be honest there are more times than I would like to admit that I have thought and said certain things that are racist and inappropriate. As I honestly think about those things I realize that my environment that I have lived in has played a part in my thoughts and actions about race. When I visit my parents and happen to see an old family friend as soon as they find out that I work and live in the Memphis area they as me if I am scared and if I feel safe living there. I resist the urge to tell them that since I have lived in Memphis parts of my car have been stolen and I have had to respond to a shooting in the parking lot at my work. If I told them that would automatically assume that the people involved in these incidents were African American and make mean racial remarks. I politely respond that someone could break into a house anywhere they wanted and at any time and that I feel safe where I live. I do not even have a security system at my house. It is comments like these and my responses that make me realize that I need to do and say more when it comes to the rhetoric of race in my life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Romney's faith should be no obstacle for Evangelicals

Evangelical Christians cast a large and consistent share of America's vote. Despite the common wisdom among conservatives, white Evangelicals -- the group specifically measured by exit pollsters for the last two presidential elections -- actually turned out in slightly larger numbers in 2008 (26 percent of the electorate) than they did in 2004. In both years, they gave Republicans roughly three-quarters of their votes. So John McCain's loss to Barack Obama four years ago was not due to disaffected Evangelicals staying home on Election Day.

Democrats would lose every presidential election without a robust and lopsided African-American vote. But Republicans are even more dependent for their victories on white Evangelicals.

In that context, it has become a major question in 2012 whether Republican Mitt Romney has an "Evangelical problem." The suspicion among some quarters of the Evangelical community concerning Romney's Mormon religion is well-known. Pastor Robert Jeffress expressed this last fall with his comment that Mormonism is "a cult," and that Evangelical voters "ought to give preference to a Christian instead of someone who doesn't embrace historical Christianity."
Read the rest here

Is 2012 good for the Mormons?

What are we to think, now that a Mormon has clinched the presidential nomination of one of America’s two major parties? The respectable Victorian men who ruled America’s politics during the 1912 election would have been stricken with chills at the thought of a presidential election a century hence pitting a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against an African American. So looked at in one way, the 2012 election – like the 2008 – signals that America does seem to be a melting pot. African Americans and Mormons alike – like Catholics before them – once reviled and suspect minorities, are now capable participants in American public life.

But looked at from another way, perhaps the melting pot is a less than adequate metaphor. The Mormons, particularly, seem to have reached only that level of assimilation absolutely required to avoid complete exclusion from American culture. In part this is because Mormons like it that way. There are things about American culture they find uncomfortable. But it is also in part because depending on the poll you choose, anywhere from ten to thirty percent of the American public are hesitant about voting for a Mormon president. These numbers are the product of a long history of negotiation between Mormonism and American culture writ large.
Read the rest here

Was This Guy Really Resurrected?

by Crystal Lewis
Rhetoric Race and Religion
From: Crystal St. Marie Lewis

I was on Twitter today when someone with whom I have regular interaction sent a link to me along with the following question:

“How would a Christian like you respond to a story like this? [Link Here]“

He was talking about the ten-year-old story of Nigerian Pastor Daniel Ekechuk, a man who is widely reported on the Internet to have been miraculously resurrected three days after being certified dead by a coroner. My Twitter comrade knows that I follow the teachings of Jesus, but with one foot firmly (and healthily) planted in skepticism. He knows that I read the Bible as cultural commentary couched in myth– and that I am often critical of the prosperity gospel’s health and wealth-centered message. I suppose, given those variables, he was curious to know what (if anything) I thought of Ekechuk’s sensational story.

I informed my friend that I found the story utterly fascinating and that I’d prefer to blog my thoughts about it rather than respond in 140 characters. It was my intention to read the story in its entirety and research the claims for myself before offering a firm judgment.

I clicked on the link again this evening, only to make a startling discovery. The person or people who published the story had removed* it from the Web within just a few short hours of my initial visit to their website. Call me cynical, but I found that very suspicious. I launched a fervent Google search with hopes of unearthing a similar story, and eventually located a website with this account:

Some believers gathered around Daniel’s body and prayed while Reinhard Bonnke, who knew nothing of the dead body in the basement, preached and prayed. Eventually, it was noticed that Daniel’s corpse twitched, and then irregular breathing started. (By this time, Reinhard Bonnke had left the premises entirely.) The attendant believers began praying fervently, and because his body was stiff and cold, they began massaging his neck, arms and legs. When those in the sanctuary got word that a dead man below was coming back to life, the basement room was soon jammed with people. Suddenly Daniel sneezed and arose with a jump. It was somewhere between 3:50 and 5:15 PM on Sunday afternoon. Daniel had died Friday night around 10:00 PM. He slowly became fully coherent over the next few hours.

A version of this story is also available in a 700 Club interview of Reinhard Bonnke by Pat Robertson himself. According to both articles, Daniel Ekechuk visited the annals of hell while dead. From the piece on the 700 Club’s website:

BONNKE: An angel took him to show him Paradise. He showed him the mansions that are waiting for the saints. And he showed him hell. He saw the people in hell. He said one shouted to him, ‘I was a pastor and I stole money. Help me to return the money.’ He said it was so frightening to him that the angel turned to him and said, ‘The prayer of the rich man in Luke 16 will now be fulfilled, and you will be sent back to earth as a last warning to this generation.’

ROBERTSON: For those who are not aware of that, in Luke 16 the rich man lifted up his eyes in torment and said, ‘I have a number of brothers. Let me go back and warn them.’ Father Abraham said, ‘No, they have Moses and the prophets. If they won’t believe them, they will not believe the one who rose from the dead. Now, he says that in this last day, he’s going to be the one? He has come back?

BONNKE: He has come back. People who see this video [Raised from the Dead] are getting saved by the thousands. I hear reports from across the world. It is such a powerful tool of evangelism and we are absolutely delighted. I wish I could have produced Pastor Daniel here today.

ROBERTSON: We tried to get him through customs, but it is so tough in America to get a visa in this country. We couldn’t get him in. You say he saw hell. Were there fires? Torment?

BONNKE: He said he saw no fire but he said he saw these people cannibalizing themselves. Every time they had done it, the flesh seemed to jump back to the same places and then the torment started again. He said it was so horrible. He came back and said, ‘Heaven is real. Hell is real. Become serious with God. You need to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and live a holy life.’

ROBERTSON: I want to stop right now, ladies and gentlemen, and ask, where are you in the Lord? Are you playing games with God? Where are you with God?

For the record, the video to which Bonnke refers (Raised From The Dead) was once sold to the public by his ministry. The video is now available for your viewership on Youtube at no cost.


So what do I think? Well, first, allow me to say this: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES. I believe things happen that defy science and nature and human explanation. I believe there are things that occur in our world which can only be explained metaphysically. I understand God as the Life-Force of the Universe, and I am more than comfortable saying that God is the Root Cause, or Source Energy, of genuine miracles. However, I don’t believe that any one religion has unique access to genuine miracles, and I don’t believe God is particularly interested in coercing the world (either through philosophy or fear) into following one specific religion.

Having said that, I’ll now reveal that it’s difficult for me to simply accept the story as told by the websites’ publishers. First, let’s remember that Pat Robertson is the same guy who said the Haitian earthquake was God’s judgment on Haiti for making a “deal with the devil” in the year 1791. He regularly blames natural disasters on the victims’ failure to please his version of “God,”– words that should cause anyone to question his credibility as a spokesperson for the Divine.

Second, Reinhard Bonnke is a well-known faith healer in the world of televangelism. He (along with Benny Hinn) was the subject of a 2001 HBO investigative report called A Question of Miracles which criticized his ministerial practices in Africa. HBO followed several of Bonnke’s “healed” subjects for one year and revealed that their healings were inauthentic. He had a sole, vested interest in Ekechuk’s resurrection account when it was first popularized as he was selling a video about it. Both his reputation and business ministry were staked on the story’s “truth.” (Frankly, one would think that if Bonnke and Ekechuk really wanted to help people escape hellfire, they’d do it for free. But that’s a totally different blog post altogether.)

Third, the only websites that seem to have any information supporting these claims are sites which promote an Evangelical theological perspective. The articles I read all intersperse scriptural references with Ekechuk’s story as support for the veracity of the story, and their narratives seem to culminate in alter-call-style appeals for the reader to escape what the pastor “witnessed” in the afterlife by seeking salvation. I could not find a single non-religious source to corroborate the resurrection story; not a scientific account, not a medical account, not a journalistic account. Nothing. One would think that if a man were raised from the dead after having been injected with embalming fluid and sealed in a coffin, scientists, journalists and medical examiners would be swarming the scene.

Do I hope this story is true? Yes. At the core of my being, I want it to be true because it makes me sick to imagine that such a hoax could live for a decade without critical examination.

But I don’t believe it’s true. It reeks of televangelistic opportunism, and it makes me sad about the state of Christianity. That is all.

Lecrae's "Church Clothes"

by Ebony Utley
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
From: Rap and Religion

I dig LeCrae. Tall, dark, handsome… but I digress. I mean, I like his flow, his southern accent, his swag. He has an uncanny ability to assume the personas of an array of protagonists. His videos take audiences back to the community. He’s honest, clever, and consistent in his message without being preachy or too judgmental. I appreciate him calling out the church on its hypocrisy in “Church Clothes.” Through his raps, LeCrae reminds audiences that religion should be more about relationships than rules.

My only qualm is his sex talk. Even progressive Christians participate in sex shaming. At least the quip about gay sex and the female freak singing in the choir were accompanied by a condemnation of the heterosexual male pastor exploiting female congregants via sex (read the lyrics for yourself). As a person who advocates for healthy representations of sex, I can’t get with the sex is always a sin argument, but as a person who advocates for healthy representations of sex, I also can’t get with the ever-popular let’s pimp some bitches argument either.

In a interview promoting his “Church Clothes” mixtape LeCrae shrugged off the labels. He says (at 1:00), “I’m a Christian but my music is not Christian. My music doesn’t have a faith. I have a faith.” I respect it. Rap music is a medium. How people use it is up to them. That’s why there are so many manifestations of rap and religion.

What’s your verdict?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Being Made to See Color

By Lisa Williams, MTS Student

Rhetoric of Race Class-Summer 2012 part of the Rhetoric Race and Religion Institute
*Special to Rhetoric Race and Religion


The genesis of the word “race” was predicated upon the procurement of social, economical and political domination in order to render people of color impotent. Throughout history, the marginalization of African Americans has existed on a continuum, providing variant experiences that are often ignored due to an overzealous inclination by White America to relegate all persons of color to a social ethos of crime, poverty and familiar dysfunction. African Americans have been subjugated, demoralized, and stereotyped throughout history, often placing them in the proverbial box of socio-economical complacency and inferiority, well constructed by White America for the preservation of their position, privilege, and power. The propensity to define a human being solely upon the color of their exterior has been the greatest sin perpetrated to date, creating a social structure that has unfortunately left an indelible impression upon the psyche of many men and women who have yet to escape the repercussions.

While numerous of African Americans have adopted the mantra, “Nobody knows the trouble I see”, this anthem is not true for all people of African descent. While many did succumb to master’s whip, the nooses of White supremacy and horror of Jim Crow, some did manage to rise above the canopy of systemic racism in order to secure a better life. There are exceptions, evidence of those narrowly escaping being imprisoned by the labels, limitations and perpetual lies orchestrated to deny equal access to the endless possibilities God intended for all people.

African Americans are indebted to the brave women and men who cleverly concealed the horrific nightmare they faced day by day, fighting tirelessly so their children’s children could envision an American Dream! This essay will explore extensively my formative teachings on race inherited from early childhood highlighting my first experience of being made to see color, navigate through young adulthood and subsequent encounters with racism , concluding with concise theological reflection candidly expressing how I have come to cherish being Black, woman and free.

Early Childhood: No Longer Colorblind

While others can attest to a similar upbringing, I still consider my experience growing up in North Carolina during the late 60’s and 70’s an exception to the rule in circulation about people of color during this time in history. I was raised in a home with two hard-working parents, matter of fact my parents have been married for 59 years. I cannot recall a time in my life growing up when we did not have everything we needed, with parents habitually quick to remind my siblings and I of just how blessed we were. When I was six, my parents bought a split-level home in an exclusive neighborhood in the suburbs where there were only a few Black families, a move over 40 years ago, coming on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, and heighten racial tension resulting from the deaths of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Prior to this move to the suburbs, where I lived, went to school, and attended church was definitely segregated. It was not until we went on vacation during the summer that I encountered people who did not look like me, yet I never felt uncomfortable or mistreated. You see, I was taught at an early age to be proud, stand tall, always look others (white people) in the eye, skin color may vary, but inside we are all the same. However, it was at the age of six when I was first made to see color, leaving a residue on my palate of a taste I would never forget.

Being made to see color is really self-explanatory, but for the slow learners like myself I will offer clarity. The move to the suburbs in 1970 landed me in a predominantly white elementary school, integration was in effect, and for the first time in my life I found myself sitting in classrooms where I was the only little black girl. I was confounded at an early age by the mystery of how little white girls and boys were allowed to do certain things, when I was forbidden, or how they were never punished for doing the same things, while I endured constant reprimand for each offense. When I think about it now, I am amused by how my brother would come home on a daily basis and tell my mother: “Lisa was sitting in the corner again today.”

Finally, one day during our ritual so what happened today routine, I asked: “Momma, I just don’t understand why I am the one always getting into trouble. A white girl or boy can do the same thing, but I am the one sitting in the corner not them.” I remember this conversation over 40 years ago with my mother like it was yesterday, allowing me to understand why she never seemed to be upset once I told her why I had to sit in the corner. On this particular day, she sat me down, looked me in my eyes and said, “Lisa, you were taught that all people are the same, right”, I answered yes. “Well some people are taught differently, feel differently, see and treat others differently.” She then went on to say, “when you look at a bowl full of white marbles with only one black marble, which one are you going to see first”, the black one, I replied. “Baby, you are being made to see color, so you must remember that just like that black marble in the bowl full of white ones, it will be easier for your teacher to see what you are doing.”

It is strange, but somehow at the age of six I was able to process what my mother was saying to me, it made sense which is why even to this day I will say, I don’t see color unless I am made to see color. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood was not what many would assume, life was good, no racial issues, slurs or ill exchanges, just good honest living.

Encountering Racism: Young, Gifted and Black

The days of my youth prepared me for my journey in life; I was never intimidated by others, being the only Black in a room full of Whites never made me uncomfortable. Matter of fact, it was what I was use to, and later being exposed to diversity once I attended college afforded me the opportunity to rediscover and reaffirm my blackness. Please do not misconstrue this statement, I had not forgotten the true essence of my existence, however white suburbia had indoctrinated me into a socio-economical class and ethos that drew me away from the reality most African Americans were experiencing at this time. It was refreshing to be able to relate to those who had similar childhood experiences, dispelling what I had felt for years that I was somehow an anomaly and not Black enough because I was not reared in the ghetto.

My freshman Black Studies course was an eye-opening experience, reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X and learning about other notable persons of color for the very first time was enlightening, but not as life-changing as I had anticipated. In retrospect I truly believe it had everything to do with the perspective of the White middle-aged female professor and context than my willingness to grasp the curriculum. I learned later that one must possess a genuine passion for the subject matter, harboring no inhibitions in order to convey the rawness associated with the complex history of the evolution of persons of African descent in America.

It was not until I began nursing school at the University of North Carolina Greensboro that I was once again made to see color. My encounter with racism in academia inspired me to strive harder for excellence, knowing I had professors who would suggest that A & T State University might serve my academic needs best, sparked a fire within to prove them wrong “by any means necessary”. It is unfortunate that even in the 21st century men and women of color continue to struggle for equity in the hallow halls of academia. The pervasive ideology of White western male dominance remains on life-support, resuscitated by those who like their predecessors; continue to harbor a belief that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are perks of an exclusive alliance, believing in error that they are offering worship to God. Being young, gifted, and Black in America is a double-edged sword; one will endure many hardships, stemming from those who never conceived dreams of their own and by many who have sadly inherited an insatiable appetite to annihilate the dreams of others.

I would be lying if I said; I was never made to see color again after my encounters with it years ago. Racism is a reality, an unrelenting part of life, part of a social system birthed out of fear, and nurtured throughout the years by a lack of knowledge. Knowledge is power, the lack of it breeds ignorance and ignorance is an incubator for hatred, evil in many forms, with a primal intent to kill, steal and destroy.

Black, Woman and Free: A Theological Reflection

It would be inaccurate to suggest that the Black church managed to escape the influence of White male privilege, power and domination unscathed. The propensity to oppress persists in most Black churches, maintaining a spiritual and theological ethos that continues to deny equal rights for all people. It is indeed heart wrenching to observe perpetual misappropriation of the sacred text by those who have been oppressed and called to seek justice, utilizing it errantly in order to oppress others based upon their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Racism has mutated much like a disease, creating subsequent strands bigotry which continues to disenfranchise one group so others may preserve their domination, position and power.

Christ came, loosed the shackles, laying a foundation to counter the “powers that be”, reaffirming that all were made in the image of God, “given the power through our belief to become children of God, born not by blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The challenge for those called to ordain ministry sacredly and secularly rest upon a genuine effort to be the face of Christ, being vessels of justice and channels of love, owning the fact that racism is not an external appendage, luggage we habitually carry. Racism is an internal manifestation, deeply rooted in the historical ramification of oppression endured and perpetrated for the acquisition of privilege; racism is within often projecting itself out of us involuntarily. Racial inequities are not happenstances we can explicate with lofty innuendos, attempting to justify it by accusing others of being oversensitive and incapable of reconciliation.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” by our actions, allowing the stones to fall from our hands that we often throw privately. We are part of one body, one faith, one God in all, working through all, and true reconciliation begins with a clear understanding of this sacred reality that must be lived out for justice and peace to prevail! Amid the hallow halls of academia, inescapable of the pandemic “isms” of yesterday, today and inevitably tomorrow, I thank God for the journey to knowledge, a powerful move of the Spirit shedding light, opening my eyes and revealing truth that sets free indeed.

History has painted an imperfect picture of blackness, one that could have potentially paralyzed me at an early age, but through the teachings of my formative years, wise counsel and tutelage of astute men and women along the way who dared to “speak truth to power”, I have learned otherwise. I cherish daily the blessing of being Black, woman and free, viewing life with clarity through a lens created by the hands of God, unobstructed by the labels, limitations and lies crafted by humans!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Our Contributor: Peter Gathje

Peter Gathje serves as professor of Christian Ethics and Associate Dean at Memphis Theological Seminary. His teaching and research interests include Christian discipleship in relation to poverty, racism, and homelessness, nonviolent social change, and state violence, particularly the death penalty and war. He is a founder and co-director of Manna House, a place of hospitality for homeless persons located in Memphis. Dr. Gathje has written two books, Christ Comes in the Stranger's Guise (1991), Sharing the Bread of Life: Hospitality and Resistance at the Open Door Community (2006) and edited two other works, Doing Right and Being Good: Catholic and Protestant Readings in Christian Ethics (2005), and A Work of Hospitality: The Open Door Reader (2002). He is active with a number of peace and justice organizations including the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, and the Workers Interfaith Network. He also blogs regularly at Radical Hospitality. 

1. Jesus was a Panhandler
2. No More Bologna and No More Baloney
15. Bear One Other's Burdens
16. A Mostly Ordinary Morning
17. Pentecost, Toothaches and Much More
18. From Ferguson, Missouri to Manna House

The First Decoration Day

Americans understand that Memorial Day, or "Decoration Day," as my parents called it, has something to do with honoring the nation's war dead. It is also a day devoted to picnics, road races, commencements, and double-headers. But where did it begin, who created it, and why?

As a nation we are at war now, but for most Americans the scale of death and suffering in this seemingly endless wartime belongs to other people far away, or to people in other neighborhoods. Collectively, we are not even allowed to see our war dead today. That was not the case in 1865.

At the end of the Civil War the dead were everywhere, some in half buried coffins and some visible only as unidentified bones strewn on the killing fields of Virginia or Georgia. Americans, north and south, faced an enormous spiritual and logistical challenge of memorialization. The dead were visible by their massive absence. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the war. American deaths in all other wars combined through the Korean conflict totaled 606,000. If the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, 4 million names would be on the Vietnam Memorial. The most immediate legacy of the Civil War was its slaughter and how remember it.
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Welcome Our Newest Contributor: Laura Polk

Laura Polk holds a masters degree in applied anthropology from University of Maryland, College Park. A child of missionaries, she is interested in the way that culture intersects (clashes?) with Christianity, particularly when it comes to race, gender, and politics. You can follow her on Twitter @lolaelizabeth.

A Rare Haven for Gay Men and Lesbians in Harlem


In a church nestled among a row of residential brownstones, parishioners clapped and danced as a woman began to testify. “Aren’t you glad Jesus got up?” the woman, Twanna Gause, asked the predominantly black congregation, which responded with enthusiastic shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”

“He got up so I can come out,” Ms. Gause said, as worshipers hopped out of their seats and cheered in agreement. “He got up so you can come out.”

For black Christians who are gay and lesbian, church can be a daunting experience, where on any given Sunday they are taught that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a one-way ticket to hell. That alienation has been a benefit for the Rivers at Rehoboth congregation, in Harlem, which has made ministry to gay men and lesbians, combined with the worship traditions of black churches, its mission.
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sharing Outsider Status and a Style of Coping

by Jodi Kantor

The United States quietly passed a milestone this spring, mostly lost amid the clamor of the presidential race: for the first time, neither party’s candidate is a white Protestant. The contenders are both from outsider groups that were once persecuted, and despite Harvard degrees and notable successes, both men have felt the sting of being treated as somehow strange or different.

The campaigns have mostly been in a state of détente on identity politics, trying to avoid mutually assured destruction. But the outsider backgrounds of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have marked the race in subtler ways, shaping the candidates and campaigns, causing them to mirror each other in many ways.

Both sides face the specter of longstanding prejudices that no ad, slogan or speech may be able to dispel. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey conducted last week, 27 percent of those polled said that having a Mormon president raised concerns for them or someone they know, and 12 percent said the same for a black president. Some voters say outright that they will not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black; others make jokes about Mr. Romney belonging to a cult.
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African-American Women Pastors

This is a story from the PBS program Religion and Ethics Weekly that examined the lack of African American women pastors in Black Churches. Has much changed since then?

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Few Words on Top-Down Theology

by Crystal Lewis
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
From: Crystal St Marie Lewis

By now, you’ve probably heard about Pastor (and I’m using that title loosely) Charles Worley’s “Kill-All-The-Gays” rant. It took several days for me to actually watch the utterly vile video for myself because I couldn’t bring myself to press the “play” button. I didn’t see a clip of his hate speech until I stumbled upon this CNN article which records the minister saying:

“I want to read it out of the Bible, and then we’ll go from there.”

“Listen, all of the Sodomites, the lesbians, and all of the … what’s that word? Gays – I didn’t wanna say ‘queers’ – that say we don’t love you, I love you more than you love yourself,” Worley said, according to WBTV. “I’m praying for you to be saved.”

When I first read this article, the words “I want to read it out of the Bible, and we’ll go from there” jumped out at me like the boogeyman. While I have not personally experienced the kind of Bible-based oppression that many of my LGBT friends are enduring, I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh Bible-thumpery.
For instance, I was once told that my chronic illness (which I’ve had from birth) could not be healed by God because I was involved in some kind of secret “sin”. According to that person, once I rid my life of that “sin,” God would oblige my request for healing. While I now understand that this is actually a ridiculous, spiritually abusive teaching, I was too far under the influence of that Bible interpretation to reason my way out at the time. I didn’t realize that it would not have made sense for God to “punish” a newborn baby with an illness throughout her entire life, all the while demanding that she discover the mysterious reason why. Instead of immediately freeing myself from the leaders who propagated that awful teaching, I embarked on on several severe periods of asceticism to atone for my unknown “transgression,” earn more of God’s approval, and–as I once hoped–score a supernatural “healing”.

There were other not-so-great experiences during my former life as a devotee of extreme Bible teachings. I was once told to “line up with God’s word,” which is a politer brand of Fundamentalese for “Shut up and do what we tell you to do”– and I complied until I couldn’t anymore. I walked away from that life with a sense of tremendous dismay. I was spiritually drained and emotionally exhausted.

I understand the disillusionment that comes from irresponsible “Bible instruction” at the hands of ministers, so when I see remnants of those negative behaviors (like the behaviors displayed by Charles Worley) I’m instantly turned off.

One of my biggest issues with such an interpretation is that it requires us to use scripture in a way that is so different from the way Jesus used scripture. For example, have you ever noticed that when those in power used their influence to entrap people with doctrine, Jesus used compassion to release them from it? Yes– when the powerful sentenced an adulterous woman to death by stoning, Jesus protected her. When those with religious power ostracized the “infirm,” (the lepers, the “unclean”) Jesus reached beyond the “Law” and touched them. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ time sought to esteem precepts over people–like refusing to allow hungry men to harvest grain on the Sabbath–Jesus broke the rules. He seemed to be saying that their “old way” of using scripture wasn’t working anymore, and that it was time to use it in a new way.

It’s obvious to me that the powerful religious elite preferred to read scripture from the Top-Down, meaning that they interpreted scripture in ways that would protect their societal and religious privilege. Jesus, however, employed a Bottom-Up method of scripture interpretation. He read scripture in ways that empowered those on the edges of society… the oppressed… the “unclean”… the forgotten. I’ve come to see this as the challenge of today’s theologians and ministers. I think there should be more of an effort to help people use scripture as a tool for empowering those who are being pushed to the Bottom. We need to start imitating The Master, even if it’s unpopular. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even when we’re afraid.

Christianity has a reputation among the non-religious for being a hatred-producing propaganda machine because we have yet to master the art of using scripture in the way that Jesus used it. I hope this changes in my lifetime.

The challenge for religion journalism today

by Rachael Kohn

H.L. Menken, America's most legendary journalist, covered the Scopes "Monkey trial" of 1925 with bluster, verve and flourish. In this watershed case of religious journalism, Menken's prose leapt off the page with not the least concern for unbiased reportage and with a broad wink to the peanut gallery. "Morons," "buffoons" and "hillbillies" pepper his daily accounts from the courtroom, while "palpable imbecilities" were frequently identified as the bugbear of a fair trial.

Menken's unconcealed contempt for religion was what remained of a Methodist upbringing and an ardent interest in Nietzsche. His turn-of-the-century youth would have implanted great expectations of the modern world about to unfold. Religion seemed to be hopelessly out of step with it.

To Menken, the trial of John Scopes, the schoolteacher who taught Darwinian evolution from the Tennessee state school textbook, in defiance of the newly passed Butler Act, seemed like a desperate attempt to halt progress.

Today, many journalists would agree with Menken - even if they avoid such open displays of bias when covering religion stories - and would pride themselves on being "balanced."

In reality, however, studies of their coverage of key stories reveal that they frequently fall short of their purported objectivity. Not only have they misjudged what actually is a religion story, but also when religion was a fairly obvious factor they traded in some predictable tropes.
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Newest Contributor: Celucien L. Joseph

Dr. Celucien L. Joseph is an intellectual, scholar, and cultural critic. He is an adjunct professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (South Florida Extension Center). He is the host and founder of Center for Reason, Dialogue, and Faith.
He received an M.A. (French language and literature) from the University of Louisville; a Master of Divinity (Biblical and Theological Studies) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; a Th. M. (New Testament) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a Ph.D. (Literary Studies) from the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Joseph is an interdisciplinary scholar. He is interested in the intersections of race, religion, culture, history, literature, and postcolonialism.

His areas of research and expertise are race, culture, and religion in American history; interdisciplinary approaches to the academic study of religious beliefs; pragmatic religious naturalism; the varieties of African American and diasporic religious experience; African American biblical hermeneutics; liberation and constructive theologies; American Literature, Transnational Literature, Black Internationalism, Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean Literatures, African-American Literature, Postcolonial Literature and Theory, African and Haitian Studies. His forthcoming books include the following: Religious Métissage: The Religious Imagination and ideas of Jean Price-Mars (under contract with Wipf & Stock/Cascade 2013), and “The Haitian Turn”: Haiti, the Black Atlantic, and Black Transnational Consciousness (under editorial review with Temple University Press). He formerly served as an adjunct Professor of French at Tarrant County College (TX) in the Department of World Languages and Literature. You can follow him on twitter @Docteur_Lou

Anti-Gay Marriage Legislation is an Example of An Overextended Church in Decline

No longer content to govern itself, the church has spread out to rule the culture through legislative force, attempting to use the tools of government to order the lives of consenting adults. Like an empire, the church finds itself on patrol beyond its rightful territory, which is shocking when one considers how much space the church has been given, by God first and this country second.

The church already possesses the freedom to engage the culture through dialogue, art, the marketplace of ideas, hospitality, care, and robust teaching. We have the right to share and live the good news of Christ resurrected. We have the reach to notice, defend, and love the orphans, the widows, the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the falsely condemned, the unjustly treated, and victims of violence and coercion. We have the liberty to love our neighbors and our enemies. We have Micah 6:8:

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Why is it not enough?

The state of discontent in our faith is not the fault of the GLBT community. Perhaps we have become discontented with the humility and quietness of actual faith and ministry. If so, this is tragic. In a culture embracing unhinged consumerism, it is not surprising that the church would grow bored of the feast of ministry, moving on to snack on private affairs within the broader culture.

In a quest for church strength and national longevity, our cultural conquests are making the church and the nation weaker and more divided. In a crusade for a more wholesome culture, we have injected pride, arrogance, hostility, and vitriol. Even those who respectfully stand against an issue that is at most a symbolic victory have contributed to the creation of unnecessary foes.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Earth Is the Lord's: Our Responsibility for God's Creation

Here we go again. Another election cycle in which climate science is being debated by high ranking elected officials, party activists and interest groups with the power to sway what our candidates say they believe and how they act in office. It seems inconceivable that at a moment when there is virtual scientific consensus that climate change is happening, and is significantly affected by human behavior, that there are those who persist in denying the single greatest threat to life as we know it.

Of the eight major Republican Party Presidential candidates this past year, five (Perry, Paul, Bachmann, Cain, Santorum) expressed outright climate change denial. Jon Huntsman was the only candidate who unequivocally affirmed the scientific consensus on climate change. And after previously holding positions that climate change was real and pressing, both Newt Gingrich and candidate-elect Mitt Romney have retreated to expressing varying degrees of skepticism on the subject.

Of the various constituencies and interest groupsworking to eat away at environmental legislation and to fuel the denial of climate change, those doing it in the name of religion are the ones I find most disturbing. As someone whose faith as a religious Jew deeply informs my concern for, and sense of obligation to, the biosphere, I am profoundly troubled by those who point to Scripture as justification for an anti-environmental agenda.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Black Mormons and the Politics of Identity

When Marguerite Driessen, a professor here, entered Brigham Young University in the early 1980s, she was the first black person many Mormon students had ever met, and she spent a good bit of her college time debunking stereotypes about African-Americans. Then she converted to Mormonism herself, and went on to spend a good deal of her adult life correcting assumptions about Mormons.
So the matchup in this year’s presidential election comes as a watershed moment for her, symbolizing the hard-won acceptance of racial and religious minorities.

“A Mormon candidate and a black candidate? Who would have thunk?” Ms. Driessen said. “I think 30 years ago, we would not have had this choice.”
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Don't Ask and Don't Tell God: The Quandary of Homosexuality in America

by Gee Joyner
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
From: Rainbows and Lilacs

It has been a couple of weeks since President Barack Obama openly admitted that he supports Gay Marriage and all the rights and privileges thereof. All forms of media have been inundated with opinions and viewpoints either in support of the President’s proclamation or demonizing his attempt at creating a discourse in this nation, which was allegedly founded on the ideological concept of “liberty and justice for all.” Yet, somehow, the United States’ separation of Church and State has been reconfigured by the religious, particularly Christian, zealots in an attempt to discriminate and further disenfranchise those citizens who identify themselves as gay or homosexual. It has always been my belief that every person, regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs or socioeconomic status should be treated fairly and I believe this civil right should be extended to our homosexual brethren as well. It would be unjust for the laws of the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” to disallow same sex marriages on the pretense of the Judeo-Christian biblical texts’ stance on homosexuality. Do we not exist in a realm of national governing that separates the Church and the State? I, for one, am no expert on the origins or the causes or even the totality of comprehension of homosexuality, but with the aforementioned stated, how can any of us vilify one’s sexual preference if we do not know if it is due to nurture or nature?

There has been a major outcry from Christian pastors, preachers, ministers, and parishioners concerning the President’s decision to publicly support same-sex marriages and, particularly, in the black Church and its respective ‘community’, a divisive demon of epic proportions has ensconced itself around the psyche of the African American Christian. This demon has warped the psyche of the black Christian and reconstructed their understanding of the major tenant of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ, which transmitted by John, states, “As I have loved you, so must you love one another” (John 13:34 NIV). Or one can also reference another book of the Gospel which states, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NIV). How are discriminatory practices against our fellow man an exhibition of Love? In my most humble opinion, I believe that it is the exact opposite—Hate.

Now, I am almost positive that many readers will think my use of the word ‘hate’ is going too far, but if you are intolerant of a particular thing or individual or behavior, the detesting of these things or individuals or behaviors manifest themselves in the form of intolerance which is the next-door neighbor to Hate. Many Christians, theologians, and pious hypocrites, particularly those of Facebook residency, have been selectively cherry-picking the biblical scriptures to support their anti-Gay marriage and homophobic diatribes. Ironically, most of the cherry-picking comes from the Old Testament’s book of Leviticus. I have seen Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind” and Leviticus 20:13 (KJV), “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,” and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor landerers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” All of this seems contradictory.

Most Christians adhere to the New Testament and utilize the Gospels as the definitive words, teachings, and accounts of the life and travels of Jesus the Christ and this becomes rhetorically problematic because if readers use juxtapositioning in the analysis of these texts they will find that contradictions abound and what we deem as immoral can be applicable to any and almost every facet of human existence and interaction with one another. Are there not believers of the Christ that are drunkards, sexually promiscuous, and adulterers? Are there not Christians who worship God and Jesus yet have created a false God/idol out of money and material possessions? I won’t answer. I will let you, the reader, pray for discernment and derive at a conclusion. What is it that Christians and the religious zealots of this nation want? Do they want to ‘play God’ or do they want to ‘be’ God? If an individual is a homosexual, wouldn’t the omnipresent and omnipotent Creator know this? How, if the aforementioned is true, would the homosexual hide his or her sexual orientation or preference? Should they not tell God and should he or she not ask their sexual orientation or preference?

Some opponents of same-sex marriage believe gay marriage is an attempt by homosexuals to taint the ‘sacred’ institution of marriage with perverse intentions. This is a laughable idea, I understand, but so is the idea that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry one another under the auspices of Love. Better yet, how is demonizing a culture of individuals illustrating the unconditional Love that God has for his creations. Did God not love us so much that, “He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life”? (John 3:16 KJV) Are we to think that LGBT believers won’t be accepted by the Lord? Should John have inserted an asterisk behind this piece of scripture? If we as a people allow the castigation of the homosexual in America, what will be the next discriminatory technique used to further cement xenophobic behavior? Will the Church disallow homosexuals to worship in the houses of the Lord that are almost on every corner of every street in the United States of America? Will we revisit the miscegenation laws of the past that banned interracial intimacy and marriage? (Loving v. Virginia was the last anti-Miscegenation law to be defunct in 1967) Surely not—I hope.

The issue at hand is not whether you agree with the homosexual lifestyle or endorse same-sex relationships and marriage but that equality for all is under attack—by the Church of all institutions. We must stand up for the equality for all and resist the subjugation of our fellow man by the efforts of some to reconfigure a social hierarchical structure by creating yet another subclass of people. The problem with inequality and discrimination is that it reinforces the social hierarchical structure that posits some people, in this case heterosexuals, as ‘better’ than others and that is not only problematic but also troubling and destructive in a ‘civilized’ society. It is unjust to ban same-sex marriage on the pretense that some people do not have the same type of sexual intercourse as others do, and as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Black Church Barrios: African American Churches Adapt to Latino Neighbors

Every week as he delivers the sermon at the oldest black church in Los Angeles, pastor William Eps stands where history was written. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Second Baptist Church throughout the 1950s and '60s. Today social justice remains just as important to the 127-year-old church—but the faces of the community it serves have changed dramatically.

Decades ago, members of the predominantly black congregation lived nearby and walked to services. Today the church is a commuter congregation—its black members no longer live in the neighborhood, which, like the rest of once-black South Los Angeles, is now Latino.
Richard Flory, director of research at the University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture, said that while the city's ethnic makeup has been changing since the 1990s, the newest manifestation is the identity shift of South Los Angeles churches from community churches to commuter churches.

Paul Felix, president of the Los Angeles Bible Training School, does not see black churches relocating in the same way that white churches relocated to the suburbs in the 1950s and '60s.
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Monday, May 21, 2012

Lost in a Familiar Place

by Brian Foulks
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor

I once read an article that suggested that the best thing that ever happened to Christianity was Philosophy. Philosophy caused Christianity to explain it vagueness and affirm its foundational truths. It caused Christians to answer the question of Why?-a definite question with a mass of rhetorical responses.

In the past couple of months, questions have been brought to the table that has once again cause Christianity to explain itself. These questions have produced a climate of estrangement within a context that supposedly exemplifies community. It has called Christianity to either take action or to continue being cheerleaders. Many have aligned themselves with the latter taken refuge in a misappropriation of scripture. The Trayvon Martin case and the President‘s stance of same gender marriages have called Christianity to the floor.

Regardless of the position you take, the questions leads to what Paul Tillich terms “existential doubt.” This is a place that brings one to rigorous reflection, as he/she wrestles with a decision. This decision has the potential to many times fly in the face of a particular truth that you have been taught. Therein lays the impasse for many Christians- do we forgo what we have been taught or allow this revelation to change our position.

The aforementioned issues have been highlighted in the black church, as we wrestle with ourselves to provide answers. Action is minimized when dialogue is unorganized which appears to fall heavily on many black churches. Disagreement does not always warrant stoppage but it solicits clarification. But in many cases disagreement becomes the exact opposite-it becomes a place to hinder a movement or action.

The black church has fallen victim to tradition and alienated itself from responsibility. That is not a slight on the work it has done and is doing but an observation from one indigenous of that context. The window of opportunity will close and if we have not aligned ourselves properly to “all”, we will miss the chance to speak on any type of level or topic. Yes, we will disagree but that does not mean that we have to be in competition with each other. That does not mean that we have to prove our legitimacy; it only means that we need to improve our understanding of each other.

Issues of this magnitude give us opportunity to reassess our positions while in relationship. It is easy to stand behind a pulpit, make profound statements via Facebook and Twitter versus looking someone in the face as you denigrate them with your words. Our theological perspectives are worthless if we refuse to live them out before men. Our churches are useless if we make proclamations that are traditional but lack a sense of contextualization of the moment. Our Christianity becomes a familiar place that we ultimately find ourselves lost within because we have forgetting the vision and call for the sake of being connected with the norm. We start to preach to others things that we ourselves totally disagree with in order to carry-out the preacher motif. We try so hard to fit in that we actually forget to change the environment but we allow the environment to change us.

Familiar places become unfamiliar when you fail to pay attention…Michael Patton in his piece “Drowning Man” identifies this when he says,
“I used to have green eyes. My green eyes used to be an endearing and attractive means by which I lured many young ladies to my side. I don’t know what color they are now.”

Though he looks in the mirror everyday he fails to comprehend the very color of his eyes. He has lost sight of t he very thing that gives him sight-vision. The black church has slowly inched itself into the drowning man complex to where it is becoming a lost space for those who are familiar with its culture. The once convening space has now become a place for the performative rather than a hub for change. Can we reengage and re-familiarize ourselves, where we fight for the least of these?-whoever that may be.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Evangelicals and the Wrong Side of History

President Obama's affirmation of same sex marriage has raised evangelical ire. While polls indicate that Americans are evenly split over the issue, a multi-racial chorus of evangelicals has sang a sad song of dismay with the refrain "pro-gay marriage is anti-Christian".

What is really at stake in this recent dust up is the age old tension between religion and democracy in the United States. One way to read the history of the United States is to comprehend the way in which religion has been used to either expand or restict democracy.

There were conservative religious leaders that used the story of Ham and the Apostle Paul's admonishment for slaves to be obedient to their masters to justify chattel slavery. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and a host of other Christians used the Bible to justify the inclusion of African Americans in the promise of American democracy.

While evangelicals used Bible verses to deny women the right to vote, a very religious Fredrick Douglass and the suffrage movement used the Bible to support the full enfranchisement of women. In solitary confinement on an Easter Weekend, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr responded to the criticism from conservative clergy who thought his voting rights campaign was ill-timed. Today, King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is considered one of the greatest religious letters of the 20th century. Even though the evangelicals cast Roe v. Wade as Christian vs. anti-Christian, it has its origins in a pro-choice gathering of United Methodist Women in a Texas church basement.
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Obama could have a prayer among Ohio's white evangelicals

The Rev. Chris Beard is a theological conservative, make no mistake about it. He believes the Bible is the word of God. He believes the Holy Spirit speaks to him directly. He believes, as an article of faith, that abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong.

Still, when a group of religious leaders in Ohio held two days of meetings in Cincinnati recently to talk about economic and racial justice, issues usually associated with the political left, there was Beard, a fourth-generation Pentecostal preacher with a disarming smile, a shaved head and a set of convictions that knock holes in the stereotypes about white evangelical Protestants.

"Conservative biblical interpretation requires embracing the text," Beard said during a break in a daylong symposium on racial equity, a special concern of his. That, he said, "might push us to what society calls progressive engagement."
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Seminary offers leaders chance to deepen faith

Memphis is the denominational home of the Church of God in Christ, Cumberland Presbyterian and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches. It is said there is a church on every corner, and in some faith traditions, future pastors start preaching as mere youngsters, honing their spirit-led gifts in the years to come.

A trend led by church leaders such as Dr. James L. Netters is for those pastors, particularly in the churches where seminary degrees are not required, to obtain an education to go along with those gifts. At Memphis Theological Seminary, the faculty has answered the desire for educated clergy by establishing the Netters Certificate in Ministry.
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Why Should Jeremiah Wright Be Off-Limits for Political Attacks?

The reaction was swift to news that a conservative super PAC was considering ads that attacked President Obama by tying him to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor whose church Obama attended in Chicago. A consensus was reached quickly: Such attacks are out of bounds. Mitt Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, said in a statement, "It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so." That wasn't enough for the Obama campaign. Campaign manager Jim Messina fumed in a statement, "Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party." By early afternoon, even Joe Ricketts, the billionaire who was funding the yet-to-be-approved campaign, had disavowed it.

But why?

The argument that Wright can't be discussed seems to rest on three premises. First is the Obama campaign's version, which seems to commit the logical fallacy of begging the question: It's immoral because it's immoral. Second, the Obamans and others contend that because John McCain refused to make Wright an issue, it must inherently be wrong to do so. Third, old-school political gentlemen's agreements frown on attacks on religion (as well as families). And underlying all of this is a suggestion that Wright can't be discussed because any conversation about him is inherently racist.
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Race and Religion Rear Their Heads

Perhaps the uglier side of politics is always close to the surface. President Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, have said for months that the 2012 election will be about the economy. But on Thursday, it became — at least for a brief moment — about the always touchy issues of race and religion.

The continuing economic struggles in the country will almost certainly dominate the debate in the next six months. The unemployment rate remains above 8 percent, the housing slump continues, debt is rising rapidly and overseas economies are flailing.

But the events Thursday suggest that it does not take much to divert the presidential campaign conversation back into the sensitive and politically dangerous questions of Mr. Obama’s race, his religion and the place of his birth.
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(Re)reading the Bible....Again

I wrote yesterday about religion-based bigotry versus the world of facts and I’m going to touch on that subject again today. It is important that we question the GOP closely on this issue since it’s one so important to them that they insist we all abide by it as well, regardless of our own religions beliefs (or lack thereof). Look at this headline from Right Wing Watch as an example of the recent rhetoric:

James Dobson takes to WorldNetDaily to blast Obama over his support for marriage equality: “I hope you live to regret ripping into the institution of marriage, which has been foundational to the social order of all nations.”
Leaving us some questions about this “institution of marriage” thing. asked the other day, “What defines a real marriage?” The Republican Party spouts the fundamentalist Christian line that there is something called “traditional” marriage and they like to point at the Old Testament for proof. They like to claim that the “institution” of marriage is between one man and one woman. But their claim and the Old Testament do not line up – there is no “traditional marriage” in the Old Testament as the above graphic (from Upworthy and Unicorn Booty) demonstrates. As points out, “they should probably stop relying on the Old Testament as backup.”
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Clergy Can Fight HIV On Faith-Friendly Terms

In the United States, where blacks bear a disproportionate burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, black religious institutions could help turn the tide. In a new study in PLoS ONE based on dozens of interviews and focus groups with 38 of Philadelphia's most influential black clergy, physicians and public health researchers find that traditional barriers to preaching about HIV prevention could give way to faith-friendly messages about getting tested and staying on treatment.

The public health community has long struggled with how best to reduce HIV infection rates among black Americans, which is seven times that of whites. In a new paper in the journal PLoS ONE, a team of physicians and public health researchers report that African-American clergy say they are ready to join the fight against the disease by focusing on HIV testing, treatment, and social justice, a strategy that is compatible with religious teaching.
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jeremiah Wright and the GOP

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The Gospel of Fear

by Rashad Grove
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor

Carter G. Woodson in his seminal text The Mis-Education of the Negro saggiously describes the inability of educational models to properly educate Black Americans by saying, “They can’t accept the old ideas, and they don’t understand the new.” Written almost eighty years ago, this phraseology can also be seen as a prognostication that accurately depicts the Republican political strategy. The New York Times has reported the proposed “Super-Pac” strategy by Republican strategist Fred Davis that links President Obama to the prophetic oratory of his former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. At its core, the GOP would rather resuscitate old ideas because they fail to understand the new. The proposed attack ads seek to show the linkage between President Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright is an overly racist, inflammatory, no-holds barred attempt to smear President Obama as the “Other” and further polarize the country by reformulating this failed political narrative. The proposal is a 54 page document (the ads were to be bank rolled by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Pickets who later backed out of the idea) with the sole intention of destroying, discrediting, and ending the presidency of Barack Obama. With evangelical zeal, the Gospel of fear is on the brink of being disclosed, materialized, and spread throughout the nation.

To authentically engage the idea of the Gospel of Fear one must first understand “whiteness” as an ideological and philosophical construct. The creation of race as it has manifested itself in these “yet to be United States of America” (as Maya Angelou would say), is built foundationally upon the premise of the unequivocal supremacy of whiteness and the inadequacy of everyone and anybody else. Eurocentric motifs and therefore “whiteness” became the standard, the benchmark, the point of reference and the measurement for everything deemed as legitimate and authentic. Shedding light on this, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante once said,”Eurocnetricty, which is being advanced in the U.S. as if the particular experiences of Europeans are universal.” As the doctrine of White Supremacy accelerated with jet-like velocity, the extermination of Native Americans from their own land and the enslavement of Africans became the necessary fuel for the journey of Manifest Destiny. All of this was accomplished under the guise of a triumphalistic adaptation of Christianity. Another feature of the theory of “whiteness” is that in the presence of non-whites, whiteness still has to maintain its comfortability, safety, and complete control over everyone else. Black liberation theology is a challenge to the status quo of whiteness and Jeremiah Wright embodies this. Even though he is retired, the Gospel of Fear has the anointed audacity to project Dr. Wright’s into the modern political discourse because it galvanizes the base and paints President Obama as anti-American and anti-Christian. The Gospel of fear is in motion.

Black theology in the words of James Cone, “theologically sees God on the side of the oppressed.” This is the theological modality and pedagogy that was central to ministry of Jeremiah Wright when he pastored Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and also to its current pastor Dr. Otis Moss III. (Oddly enough, the United Church of Christ is a mostly white protestant denomination. The UCC has been historically more progressive in the areas of social justice and equality then most historically Black denominations).The “scarlet thread” of the Biblical narrative is that the sacred scriptures were composed in midst of some form of imperialistic, state sponsored oppression. There is Egyptian oppression, Babylonian oppression, Assyrian oppression, Medo-Persian oppression, Grecian oppression, and Roman oppression. And no one understands American oppression quite like African-Americans. Black liberation theology draws connectivity with historically oppressed people in the Biblical narrative and sees Jesus Christ as Lord and Liberator in the midst of dehumanizing and systemic oppression. Liberation is always a threat to the enslaver and to the power structure that perpetuates this inequity.

Innate in the formation of the Gospel of Fear is that anyone who is not white or does not have a Eurocentric, fundamentalist, theological perspective cannot possible be American or Christian. Black theology falls into this category. The hermeneutic of the Gospel of Fear allows the public discourse to paint President Obama as Muslim, anti-Christian, and extreme liberal and according to the Gospel of Fear, this makes you an illegitimate American. This political and religious juxtaposition is flawed to say the least. If Sen. John McCain didn’t travel down this dead end road to win the election four years ago, Willard Romney candidacy just might self-destruct before his very eyes even if the proposal never sees the light of day. Just because it was considered makes Romney look desperate and will cause the public to question him on his Mormon faith. I stand in sacred solidarity with Jeremiah Wright, Otis Moss, Trinity UCC, and every Black and Womanist theologian, preacher, prophet, scholar, pastor, and laymen who engage in the rigorous process to ultimately set the captive free.

Our Newest Contributor: Rashad Grove

Rev. Rashad D. Grove is licensed and ordained minister. He currently serves as an associate Pastor at New Life in Christ Fellowship in Coatesville, PA which is right outside of Philadelphia. He is a graduate of Geneva College and is currently a graduate student the State University of New York at Empire State College at Empire State College. He plans to enroll at Union Theological Seminary of New York City this fall to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree. You can follow him on Twitter @thegroveness

Rashad's Articles:
1. Seeing Through Invisibility
2, The Gospel of Fear
3. We Are Penn State!: A Failure of Leadership
4. Theology of Privilege
5. First Black President: The Fred Luter Era
6. "Somebody Has to Do the Thinking for Women": Susan Rice and White Male Privilege
7.  We Like Kool-Aid Too": Examining the Rhetoric of Sergio Garcia