Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Black pastors group launches anti-Obama campaign around gay marriage

A group of conservative black pastors are responding to President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage with what they say will be a national campaign aimed at rallying black Americans to rethink their overwhelming support of the President, though the group’s leader is offering few specifics about the effort.

The Rev. Williams Owens, who is president and founder of the Coalition of African-Americans Pastors and the leader of the campaign, has highlighted opposition to same-sex marriage among African-Americans. He calls this campaign “an effort to save the family.”

“The time has come for a broad-based assault against the powers that be that want to change our culture to one of men marrying men and women marrying women,” said Owens, in an interview Tuesday after the launch event at the National Press Club. “I am ashamed that the first black president chose this road, a disgraceful road.”

At the press conference, Owens was joined by five other black regional pastors and said there were 3,742 African-American pastors on board for the anti-Obama campaign.

When asked at the press conference for specifics about the campaign – funding, planned events and goals – Owens said only that the group’s first fundraiser will be on August 16 in Memphis, Tennessee. But Owens insisted that “we are going to go nationwide with our agenda just like the president has gone to Hollywood.”
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The Informed Voter and the Beloved Community

by Reggie White
R3 Contributor

I have very fond memories of my father. From him, I learned the values of hard work and diligence. He taught and continues to teach the treasures found in maximizing the moments, and providing myself the opportunities to achieve and flourish, using my talents and God’s grace. A vivid memory is when he taught me to tie a necktie. Through a series of folds and twists, he transformed a piece of fabric into a masterpiece. “The (Windsor) knot adds style to your suit,” he said, “But YOU provide the substance.” At first, I struggled terribly, twisting when I should’ve turned, or failing to give myself enough material to make the best knot. I tried again and again, watching my father’s example, until I found my problem. I’d been looking at the construction from my father’s point of view, and not my own. I changed my vision, and instantly his instructions made sense to me. I could tie a Windsor knot that would rival any businessperson’s in the world.

So it is with the fast approaching election. An empowered voter is an informed voter. Today’s technology can provide data, ad infinitum and with a few keystrokes one can be well aware of a candidate’s interests, intentions and integrity. However, the data we use must be seen through our point of view. I love my father, but our political views aren’t identical. Our views are born of different experiences, under different circumstances, at different times. We may arrive at similar decisions for our candidates, but we arrive through vastly different processes. There was a time when the African-American vote was overwhelmingly Republican, but one would be hard pressed to find a sizeable Black presence at Tampa Bay’s GOP Convention. We must take the time to research every candidate, both national and local. In fact, all politics is local, given the impact of decisions rendered by elected officials. A decision made today can tremendously impact the quality of our lives for years to come. This year’s elections may yield few straight-ticket voting. The arc of the ballot shall bend toward progress, but not necessarily bear a distinct red or blue shade. Independent candidates and an array of others may pique the interest of voters, but my prayer is we see our votes cast with a sound mind that seeks to build the “Beloved Community." Our politics may not yield the same results, but they can and should seek to preserve the dignity of humanity.

I’m encouraged by the lesson my father taught me as a child. However, I am further inspired by the responsibility to not only look the part of an informed voter, but to elect the candidates that provide the substance necessary to move our communities onward and upward.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Barriers To Racial Reconciliation: Black Evangelicals And Confederate Gray

I guess one could say that there has been a conversation (some may even say a set of monologues with people talking past each other, and that’s fine), about the nature of race relations, Evangelical Protestantism, and the Confederacy. It’s a conversation that needs to start happening in our pulpits and pews. Last week, Anthony Bradley talked about the veneration of the Ole South (not the Pancake house….ummmmmm delicious) as idol worshipAdventures in Missing the Point: The Idolatry of the Old South; Bradley contended, “Defending the cause of the South attracts racists, Kinists, ethnonationalists, and others, even as those who defend the South teach against racism and oppression.”

Indeed, churches that wrap themselves in not the official CSA flag I mind you, but a BATTLE FLAG, a symbol of the white supremacist struggle first brought back by the Ku Klux Klan. Any good historian knows that the “Confederate flag” proposed by several Southern states to be added state flags is not the real Confederate States of America banner in the first place. The reason why this particular symbol is offensive to racial minorities is the fact that it’s a battle flag under which African American men were lynched after Reconstruction. So if we are going to argue over the Confederacy’s history, let us get it right, with the right flag that the CSA waved, and not the battle flag of a small regiment. In Bradley’s other post last week, “This May Be Helpful,” there was a discussion about white Southerners fearing their numbers shrinking. I don’t think that’s the complete picture. In every culture, people have learned to honor and remember their fallen, except here in the United States. Oh, there may be a few persons who can die and leave behind libraries or statues of themselves, but these do not help communities to deal with loss, to remember the good and bad deeds done by past generations. U.S. American culture, North, South, East West, is devoid of such a ritual.
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God Forgives, I Don’t

by Ebony Utley
R3 Contributor and Author of Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God

Well, I do, but Rick Ross doesn’t in the God Forgives, I Don’t album that officially drops on July 31, but leaked on the web as early as July 25. Ross claims that the album balances a grace-giving God and a ruthless gangsta.

MTV asked Ross for a five-word description of the album. He replied,
"Classic, untouchable, boss, success, revenge. If you doubted us being here three years ago, five years ago, you don’t understand hip-hop, you don’t understand the power of rap music."

I like to think I understand hip hop. After all, I’m the author of Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God, but I’ve gotta admit, folks, I did not see Maybach Music Group becoming an industry powerhouse five years ago. Ross started out scratching his beard in his videos, and now I’m scratching my head in this blog trying to figure out how he became a major player.
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The Journal For Hip Hop Studies: Call for Submissions

The Journal for Hip Hop Studies (JHHS) is committed to publishing critically engaged, culturally relevant, and astute analyses of Hip Hop. Submissions should emphasize Hip Hop’s relationship to race, ethnicity, nationalism, class, gender, sexuality, justice and equality, politics, communication, religion, and popular culture. JHHS also explores the intersections of the sacred and profane for a better understanding of spirituality and religious discourses within the Hip Hop community.

JHHS has five broad aims, each of which adds a new and distinctive dimension to the academic analysis and study of Hip Hop:

The religious discourse and rhetoric of Hip Hop and rap
Culture, structure, and space within Hip Hop and rap
Race, ethnicity, identity, class, and gender in a Hip Hop and rap context
The sociology of religion in Hip Hop and rap

Hip Hop’s influence and reach in other culture industries (fashion, sports, television, film); within the political sphere, and within educational spaces

Papers that engage with the above listed points are encouraged. Other questions we are considering, but are not limited to include:

How do we understand mediated presentations of Hip Hop?
What is the relationship among rap music, film, and the Internet?
What theoretical frames are best adapted for the study of proliferation of Hip Hop?
How do members of the Hip Hop generation understand God, religion, and spirituality?
How is Gnosticism interpreted within the Hip Hop community?

JHHS seeks work from a variety of academic fields which examines the manifestations and implications of Hip Hop culture both in the U.S. and globally.

Papers should be between 4000-6000 words. Papers should follow the Chicago style of writing (16th B) and include tables, charts, and graphs as either Word or Excel documents (no chart, graph, or table images).

Papers should be sent to Daniel White Hodge (Editor in Chief) dwhodge@northpark.edu

Politicians, Prophecy, and the Rhetorical Construction of God

by Andre E. Johnson
R3 Editor

The tragedy that hit Aurora, Colorado has brought with it many responses that examine the gruesome shooting from a religious lens. We have collected many of them for the blog here. While many of these responses have been consoling, comforting, asking for pray and to mourn with the victims and their families, there have been others who, by adopting “prophetic personas,” would proclaim for us the real reason behind this massacre. In short, in their version of prophetic rhetoric, they proclaim we have a sin problem and that since we took God out of the public arena (schools, government, etc.), we should not be surprise when "all hell breaks loose."

Proponents of this belief, Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas and former presidential contender, governor and ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, argue that since we (Americans) have kicked God out of the public arena, it is as if we are telling God that God is not wanted and we can do by ourselves. Therefore, they and those of their ilk invoke the traditional jeremiad to get us to repent and call us back to the covenantal agreement that this country has with God. Therefore, the guy with the guns and ammo is really not the problem—the problem is that we have turned from God and if we would just turn from our wicked ways, God will heal the land.

Nevertheless, there is a problem with invoking the jeremiad in the Gohmert/Huckabee way. First, they based their premise on a lie—God may be many things, but out of the public arena is not one of them. Matter of fact, I can make a persuasive argument that we have more God in the public arena, more God shaping public policy, more God determining whether we will begin addressing Climate Change, more God shaping and informing our economics, more God shaping other problems that face us, than ever before. One cannot run for any office in this land without invoking how God has shaped, formed, and transform one’s life. Members of Congress stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and invoke God; senators do the same. God is all over the place because we Christians, (the dominant religious group in America) make sure that put God front and center in all that we do. Moreover, the God we tend to talk about and invoke for blessings on our way of life is a profoundly Christian God and any other conception of God for many Christians is an invalid one. Just ask the representatives in Louisiana who equated the word "religious" for "Christian."

Therefore, despite what we have heard from the religious right and those who support their views, that God is gone from the public arena, God is still here informing us and dictating to us from on high and we are bless to have prophets such as Gohmert and Huckabee around to proclaim “what doth saith the Lord.”

However, I would agree with them that there is a problem—a sin problem as they would say. It is not that God is gone from the public arena; the problem is the God that is in the public arena. In short, the problem is how we talk about and construct God. For many of us, the God that many of us serve, regardless of faith tradition, grounds himself (and God is always he here) on power, wealth, oppression, and violence. The fact that we cannot have a real discussion on guns and gun violence, no matter how many are gunned down at public “safe spaces,” is not only the power that the NRA has and the how they strong arm our representatives in voting for things against our own interest. It is also the fact that many feel that having a gun is not only a political right, but also as R3 contributor Giovanni Neal says, "a God given right" and that any infringement on that right is infringing on “sacred rights” guaranteed by a “sacred constitution” and a holy God. The God most of us serve is a God who is concerned with the rich and not the poor, the powerful and not the oppressed, the strong and not the weak, the secured and not the marginalized.

How we see, interpret, talk about, and construct God in the public arena is of utmost importance. If we really see God as loving, peaceful, caring, and concerned about community and the people living in them, we as people of faith can come to the table and have reasonable discussions about guns. However, if the prevailing notion about God prevails, this tragedy will pass like all the others with no meaningful talk about guns or gun violence. Until we see God differently, it's “bless the Lord and pass the ammunition.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: Thy Kingdom Come: Reflections on Pastoral and Prophetic Ministry

Many people upon first meeting me are surprise to find out that I am both a professor and pastor. This surprise comes from the belief many hold that says pastors (read black and for that matter the black church) are somehow lacking in intellectual rigor. Pastors (read black) are behind the times, slow to change, steep in dogmatic tradition. Many take for example the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravishing our community as proof pastors (read black) and churches (read black) are ill equipped to engage problems facing people in a rapidly changing world. What I try to tell anyone who would listen to me that this is not all of the pastors—and certainly not many of the pastors I know. Many pastors are doing great work in their communities because they understanding the times in which we live.

One such young man is Pastor C.J. Rhodes, senior pastor of the oldest historically black church in Mississippi, Mt. Helm Baptist Church located in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of "Thy Kingdom Come: Reflections on Pastoral and Prophetic Ministry." Styled from the writings of his spiritual mentor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the book reflects Rhodes' vision of Christian and pastoral leadership. Believing that the church is God's hope for the world, Rhodes seeks to call forth a prophetic ministry, grounded in a contextual reality, which speaks to and addresses problems facing not only the people of his congregation, but indeed the world. Rhodes, a Duke Divinity School graduate, does this with his unique style of writing; blending both an academic and preaching style that flows nicely throughout the book.

He divides the book into three parts; Christian Leadership, The Beloved Community, and Tongues of Angels. The final part is an appendix in which he shares the collective "strategic vision" of the church. In addition, from his first essay, the “Jesus of Justice” to the last, “Keep Moving to the Promised Land,” Rhodes offers a keen insight and prophetic critique of his own beloved Jackson, Mississippi, the church, the community, humankind and the Holy Spirit. At the start of each section, Rhodes offers a reflection through a question and answer segment that engages the reader and gives us an inside look at what makes this pastor the person he is and called to be. An admitted visionary, Rhodes, throughout the book sees the city of Jackson, Mississippi as a place that could embody King's vision of the Beloved Community.

Rev. C. J. Rhodes sees ministry as a holistic endeavor; engaging body, soul, mind, and spirit. His book, while a reflection of his two years at the helm at Mt. Helm, also will serve as a model of pastoral/theological/reflective writing. Pastors in the 21st century are quickly realizing that they are more than preachers or Bible study teachers. The call is to engage the community, becoming the resident public theologian. One must be open for that call and we are all glad that Rev. Rhodes not only is open, but through his writings, we read of a person who has accepted the call.

Andre E. Johnson is the Senior pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee and the Dr. James L. Netters Professor of Rhetoric and Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary. In addition he is the editor of Rhetoric Race and Religion blog

Separating Religion from Politics: the Future of Egyptian Democracy

One year after the fall of Arab dictators, Islamist political parties have emerged victorious in the first democratic elections in both Tunisia and Egypt. With this success, the question “what is the prospect of democratic change in Muslim countries after the Arab Spring?” is more pertinent than ever. One of the main concerns regarding the future of democracy in these countries is centered on the ambiguous role that religion, particularly the sharia, will play in both national politics and newly enacted laws. In other words, how will these countries and, specifically, Egypt under newly elected President Mohamed Morsi, accept the separation of mosque and state and where will the borders between the two lie?

This article seeks a tentative answer to this question. By undertaking a comparative analysis of public attitudes in five Muslim countries, I seek to identify a model that new Muslim democracies, particularly Egypt, can use to sustain their democratic character.

While the two ends of the political spectrum represented by Turkey and Iran are often at the center of discussions on Islam and the modern nation state, these are not the only options on the table for those Muslim countries in transition to democracy. Selected for discussion here are five countries that each have their own unique cultural traditions, but represent a continuum of political development: Turkey, Indonesia, Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran.

This article will examine the relationship between religion, society, and the state in two relatively new, but established democracies (Indonesia, Turkey), two countries in transition from authoritarian rule (Tunisia, Egypt), and one country still struggling for democracy (Iran). Analyzing and comparing public attitudes and beliefs in these countries may provide a sense of the best and most viable path to democracy for Muslim countries in transition.
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

In Mitt Romney's pro-America rhetoric is subtle message that Barack Obama is not

Mitt Romney loves America.

Not just the land but the word. It dominates his speeches, appearing in some form 50 times in an address to veterans Tuesday in Nevada. Romney's campaign slogan is Believe in America. On the stump, he sings America the Beautiful.

But amid the rallying call to a weary nation, Romney has been drawing a parallel portrait of President Barack Obama as someone who does not share, understand or believe in core American values. In speech after speech, Romney seems to be blowing a dog whistle: He is not one of us.

The subtle effort seeks to define Obama as out of touch and to raise doubts among voters who fear the country is on the decline. If voters believe Obama shares different values, then it's easier to believe he is leading the country to ruin.

In broad ways, it is a classic campaign strategy, and Obama is working his own "I'm more like you" angle along class lines. Romney's strategy, however, must contend with the tripwires of race and religion that still surround Obama nearly four years after he became America's first black president.

Romney is proceeding carefully, but his persistent and effusive patriotism has raised questions about whether he and his allies are playing to — or at least benefiting from — discredited notions about Obama.
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Why Voters Don’t Care About Mitt Romney’s Mormonism

Back in the early spring, polls showed evangelical Christians preferred Rick Santorum in certain states during the Republican presidential primary. There was much hullabaloo about evangelical leaders meeting to try to avoid a Romney nomination, and attention-loving Robert Jeffress, the pastor of Dallas’s gigantic First Baptist Church, made a star turn as the attacker of Romney’s Mormonism. This hostility led to much media discussion of Romney’s “evangelical problem”—the supposed challenge the candidate faced in getting religious members of the GOP base on board.

Now we have proof that was another one of this election year’s cycles of baseless hype. A new Pew survey released Thursday found that eight in 10 voters either are either completely “comfortable” with Romney being a Mormon or simply don’t care. White evangelicals are slightly more skeptical, but the poll found that it made no difference in how ardently they support Romney.

This is exactly what always happens, despite how the media treat the evangelical dance with the GOP as more than the charade it is. To be sure, conservative Christian leaders would always love a more visibly on-fire believer like Rick Santorum. But as a few commentators were sharp enough to realize back in the spring, there was never any doubt that evangelicals, one of the GOP’s most committed demographics, would turn out to support whomever the party nominates. They see it as their duty to vote, and virtually any Republican candidate is better than the socialist Muslim that some of them believe President Obama to be.
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The Art of Jon McNaughton, the Tea Party’s Painter

With his paintings The Forgotten Man (2010), One Nation Under God (2009), and most recently, Wake Up America! (2011), Jon McNaughton aims to leave little room for interpretation. In their remarkable didacticism—an America on the brink of political and moral disaster—McNaughton’s works serve to call the nation to arms, or at least to the polling booths. The impression is one of thorough legibility, of history as a long list of epigraphs. The artist will have nothing of ambivalence or illegibility. “Everything about [One Nation Under God] is symbolic,” McNaughton frankly explains.

As if dusted off from some Smithsonian storage unit, the crowded regimentation of figures, especially the array of hands and arms, recalls the theatricality of fiberglass scenes in a history museum or commemorative engravings of Congressional celebrities that were popular in the nineteenth century.

However, by fully exploiting Internet technology on his website, these paintings are thoroughly twenty-first century creations. By placing the cursor on each figure, the viewer summons a detailed register of the artist’s comments, identifying the person and explaining why he or she is included. The device confirms my initial sense: these are images you read because they bear meaning, a solemn message that was the principal engine of their creation. Nothing in the images escapes the cursor’s errand.

There are precisely fifty stars in the striped heavens radiating from Jesus’ head in One Nation Under God. And the leaden skies above the White House in The Forgotten Man form “an ominous dark cloud hang[ing] over this country in the form of an uncontrollable Federal Deficit with crushing debt obligations.” In Wake Up America!, a heavy chain snakes through a crowd captivated by President Obama, who delivers a stump speech in falling streams of money. Enslaved to government handouts and excessive spending, the people are depicted as having traded national sovereignty for a new Babylonian captivity.

The history of political imagery, even fine art imagery, is mottled with dense portraits of orators, heroes, politicians, villains, and martyrs frozen forever in postures keyed to their deeds and memorable words. The Capitol building in Washington, D.C. enshrines dozens of these marble and bronze figures. There, visitors can find statues of Abraham Lincoln and a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., captured in moments of high oratory or visionary musing. These works of art are meant to convey to the ages the ideas the figures championed in legislation or national crisis.
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Little Voter Discomfort with Romney’s Mormon Religion

Most voters continue to say it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. But voters have limited awareness of the religious faiths of both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. And there is little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates’ respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections.
little-voter-discomfort-1

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60% of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.

The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60%) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21%).

Along religious lines, white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants, on the one hand, and atheists and agnostics on the other, are the most likely to say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith. Yet unease with Romney’s religion has little impact on voting preferences. Republicans and white evangelicals overwhelmingly back Romney irrespective of their views of his faith, and Democrats and seculars overwhelmingly oppose him regardless of their impression.
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Obama is not a Muslim (and Romney is a Mormon)!

Before I comment on a new survey on religion and the presidency, I want to say one thing: Barack Obama is not a Muslim. The U.S. president does not observe the Five Pillars of Islam. He does not worship in a mosque. He does not call himself a Muslim.

Why not? BECAUSE HE IS NOT A MUSLIM!

Also, Mitt Romney is not a Hindu. He does not believe in reincarnation. He does not worship the Hindu god Shiva. He does not self-identify as a Hindu. Why not? BECAUSE HE IS NOT A HINDU!

I say this, and I do so in capital letters with exclamation points, because of a survey released Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life regarding voter perceptions of the religious beliefs of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

The people at Pew wanted to see how the candidates' religions are affecting voters’ views of them. But it is hard to hold Romney’s Mormonism either for or against him if you don’t even know he is a Mormon. And according to Pew, only 60% of Americans do know that.

Meanwhile, one out of every six Americans (17%) continues to believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and of that group, two out of three (65%) are uncomfortable with his faith. Though, of course, they are not actually uncomfortable with his faith, because, as I have said: Barack Obama is not a Muslim.
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Sex, God, Race, and AIDS

It's been 30 years since AIDS came into focus and dominated the Metropolitan Community Churches with funerals, grief, and love. We were a young, growing, international church. Even with gay men dying weekly, our membership held strong across the country, and churches were being born across the world.

Many died hard and bitter deaths separated from their beloved partners and friends. Others died surrounded only by partners and friends as families of origin broke off all contact. Everyone deepened their love of life, companionship, and spirituality.

Today, thousands are living long lives with HIV/AIDS, but we are waking up from the lull of daily pills to realize that the battle is not over. An estimated 34 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS. Families and communities in sub-Saharan Africa continue to be devastated, and people of color in the United States are affected so profoundly that we must bluntly talk about sex, God, race, and AIDS if we are to even slow the epidemic down.

As a white woman who heads one of the largest international networks established to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people into its churches, I am deeply committed to continuing our healing ministries and our justice ministries that look squarely in the face of race, economics, religion, gender, and so many more factors that affect whether or not we get sick and have access to health care.

As a denomination, we treasure the human diversity in our congregations and are in a thriving relationship with the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a network of primarily African-American churches that are open to LGBT people, under the leadership of Bishop Yvette Flunder.

Bishop Flunder and I were among more than 400 faith leaders from all over the world who gathered in Washington, D.C., from July 19 to 23 to reflect on how the faith world can expand their ministries and advocacy around HIV/AIDS. Many of us have now joined the 20,000 people who are attending the International AIDS Conference, currently being held in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years.

As a diverse movement in the United States, we can look back to the 1980s, when primarily white gay men successfully mobilized to demand treatment and public education. An army of lesbians cared for their gay brothers as they lay dying. Today, we must admit honestly that, while many live long and productive lives with HIV, men who have sex with men, whether they identify as gay or bisexual or not, are contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS to women at an alarming rate -- particularly in communities of color.
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The Unreported Political Implications of Pew's Religion Poll

I love Pew. But the problem with religious academics doing political polls and non-religious reporters covering them is that the headlines can get skewed and political implications muddled. The headlines from yesterday's Pew poll on religion and politics should have all read: "Obama and Romney Both Face Serious Faith Problems," with the subheading: "Election could hinge on which candidates fixes them."

To be fair, a lot of the headlines did focus on the fact that less than half of Americans know that President Obama is a Christian. But the stories didn't provide much context for what that means or how it happened. It's clearly not good. Along with most not knowing Obama is Christian, even more troubling is that only 45 percent of voters are comfortable with Obama's religion.

Here's a key point in the poll that didn't get much attention: 82 percent of those who know Obama is Christian say they are comfortable with his religion. So voters are basically twice as comfortable with Obama's faith when they know what it is. This is why faith outreach is so important (but more on that later).

Why does the fact that most voters are not comfortable with Obama's religion matter? More than two-thirds of voters (and seven-in-10 women voters) say they want a president with strong religious beliefs. As one might imagine, these numbers are even higher with religious populations. Eight-in-10 Protestants and three-in-four Catholic voters want a president with strong religious beliefs. And let's be honest, they aren't talking about wanting Obama to have strong Muslim beliefs (so the fact that 17 percent of voters think he's Muslim doesn't add to the plus column)!

These questions are all a proxy for whether voters think the candidate is like them, shares their values and is someone they can trust. For many Christian voters, one of the most important ways they judge that is by the person's faith. That's not because they are prejudiced or trying to impose religion on the country, but because if faith is real, it informs everything about a person and all their values. And we want people representing us who share our values.
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Half of Americans Do Not Know the President’s Religion

Three and a half years into President Obama’s first term as president, half of Americans cannot accurately say what religion he is, according to a poll released this week.

Only 49 percent of respondents said that Obama was Christian while 17 percent inaccurately said he was Muslim. Nearly one-third of respondents said they did not know the president’s religion, according to the poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

More people – 60 percent – knew that Romney, who has not held elected office in a decade, was Mormon than knew which religion the sitting president subscribes to.

And while only 9 percent of respondents said Romney was a religion that he is not, more than twice that amount said Obama adheres to a religion other than Christianity. The vast majority of those claiming Obama is not a Christian said he was a Muslim.

Nearly one in three Republicans said Obama was Muslim, twice as many as in 2008, the Pew study shows.

“Unfortunately there has been a development of a bizarre echo chamber within right wing of the political spectrum that truth and reality have failed to penetrate,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. “It’s a self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing delusion.”
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Was Jesus Lily-White? Author Edward Blum Discusses Race and the Mormon Religion

*R3 Contributor Edward Blum is featured in this Daily Beast piece talking about his new book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. Read the article below.

*Note: Make sure you see Edward Blum on September 21, 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee when he comes to talk about the book at the University of Memphis and Caritas Village. 
The Color of Christ will be the R3bookclub Book of the Month in October.

Talk about playing the race card!

Edward Blum, a history professor and religious scholar at San Diego State University and co-author of the forthcoming book The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, isn’t just playing that card, he’s playing with fire with his potentially incendiary thoughts on the current presidential campaign and race—specifically, the race of Jesus Christ.

Yes, you read that right. Who knew that Jesus' skin color was a hot campaign issue this year?

Well, it is, if subconsciously, insists Blum, who says that while neither President Barack Obama nor former governor Mitt Romney has said anything about whether Jesus was white, black, or any other color, there’s a strong if unspoken intersecting narrative of race and religion that greatly defines this election.

In the 2008 presidential race, the words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former preacher, about a black Jesus being killed by white Romans, caused a firestorm of controversy and almost destroyed Obama's campaign.

Those hostilities still linger among many white conservative Christians, says Blum. But, he says, there has been little if any questioning in this campaign of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ approach to what Jesus looked like.

"Why did Wright’s jeremiads and visions of a black Jesus so terrify Americans in 2008, and why does the powerful white, blue-eyed imagery of the Jesus of Romney’s Mormon faith arouse no interest?" asks Blum. “Neither one is accurate, but only one has generated outrage or gotten much media attention.”
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2012 African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus Outstanding Research Awards

The African American Communication & Culture Division (AACCD) and the Black Caucus of NCA seeks nominations from division and caucus members for the 2012 annual research awards. Awards will be granted to the author(s) of theory and/or research on specific issues of concern to African Americans, Black ethnicity, or people of the African Diaspora representing a variety of communication contexts, processes, practices, theory development, or innovative research approaches.

There will be one award for an outstanding book; one for an outstanding refereed article; one for outstanding book chapter; and one award for outstanding dissertation/thesis. Book nominations may include authored books, edited books, and textbooks. To be considered for an award, articles, books, and textbooks must meet the following minimum criteria:

Nominations will be accepted for works published between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012.

At least one author must be an NCA member.

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

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

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

All nominations must be received no later than Friday, August 10, 2012 in order to be considered for the award.

Please note that nominations will not be considered without receipt of the accompanying publication or book packet material.


Please send nominations to Cerise L. Glenn at clglenn@uncg.edu or to the mailing address: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Communication Studies
102 Ferguson Bldg., PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170


Call for 2012 Outstanding Scholarly Book Award Nominations
Deadline: August 10, 2012


The African American Communication and Culture Division and the Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2012 Outstanding Book Award to be given to the author(s) or editor(s) of an outstanding scholarly book. Books published between July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012 will be eligible for consideration. Self-nominations are strongly encouraged. All letters of nomination should clearly explicate how the book makes, or promises to make, a significant contribution to African American communication scholarship. In addition, the nomination letter should note specifically which single chapter is best representative of the nominated book. Finally, the nomination packet should also include four (4) hard copies of the table of contents and the introductory chapter of the nominated book. Please email the awards committee chair (Cerise L. Glenn) that you are applying for the award and/or if an electronic version of the book is available to submit to the awards committee.

All nomination packet materials for the book award should be sent to:

Dr. Cerise L. Glenn, Chair-Awards Committee
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of Communication Studies
102 Ferguson Bldg., PO Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170


Call for 2012 Outstanding Scholarly Article Award Nominations
Deadline: August 10, 2012

The African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2012 Outstanding Article Award to be given to the author(s) of a peer-reviewed journal article. Articles published between July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012 are eligible for consideration. Self-nominations for the article award are strongly encouraged. All letters of nomination should clearly explicate how the article makes, or promises to make, a significant contribution to African American communication scholarship. Please send the nomination letter and electronic copy of the article (preferably as a PDF) to clglenn@uncg.edu.

If an electronic version is not available, please send four (4) copies of the nomination and article to:
Dr. Cerise L. Glenn, Chair-Awards Committee
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of Communication Studies
102 Ferguson Bldg., PO Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170



Call for 2012 Outstanding Book Chapter Award Nominations
Deadline: August 10, 2012

The African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2012 Outstanding Book Chapter Award to be given to the author(s) of a chapter or essay appearing in an edited book. Articles or book chapters published between July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012 are eligible for consideration. Self-nominations for the article award are strongly encouraged. All letters of nomination should clearly explicate how the article or book chapter makes, or promises to make, a significant contribution to African American communication scholarship. Please send the nomination letter and electronic copy of the book chapter (preferably as a PDF) to clglenn@uncg.edu.

If an electronic version is not available, please send four (4) copies of the nomination and chapter to:
Dr. Cerise L. Glenn, Chair-Awards Committee
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of Communication Studies
102 Ferguson Bldg., PO Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170



Call for 2012 Outstanding Dissertation Award Nominations
Deadline: August 10, 2012

The African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus seek nominations for its 2012 Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award. Nominations should be made by the advisor of the dissertation or faculty member from the department in which the dissertation was completed. Eligible dissertations must have been defended between July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012.

The nomination packet must include a cover letter written by the advisor or faculty nominator and the following: 1) a 500-word (maximum) abstract of the dissertation; 2) an article-length report of the dissertation (32 double-spaced pages maximum—includes title page, tables, figures, appendices, and references) OR a selection from the dissertation the applicant thinks is most representative of the study (32 double-spaced pages maximum). Please send the nomination letter and electronic copy of the nomination materials (preferably as a PDF) to clglenn@uncg.edu.

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

Dr. Cerise L. Glenn, Chair-Awards Committee
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of Communication Studies
102 Ferguson Bldg., PO Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Evangelicals In Defense of Romney: A Reader

In an earlier post, our editor Andre E. Johnson, suggested that conservative evangelicals are engaging in theological cognitive dissonance as they struggle to support "Mormon" Mitt Romney over "Christian" Barack Obama. Evangelicals declare that they could not vote for someone who does not share their faith tradition, yet they are lining up behind the Romney candidacy. We thought it would interest our readers to see how some conservative evangelicals handle this theological dissonance and the rhetorical strategies many use to support someone who they believe is antithetical to their faith tradition.

1. Why This Conservative Evangelical Counter-Cult Expert Will Vote for Romney

2. How Can I Vote for a Mormon?

3. If You’re An Evangelical Who Doesn’t Like Mormons, You Should Still Be Outraged At This

4. Why Evangelicals Can Support Mitt Romney

5. A Christian Skeptical of Romney Reviews “Why Evangelicals Should Support Romney – And Feel Good About It!”

6. Why Romney can, and should, win evangelical vote

7. Ralph Reed: Conservatives Excited About Mitt Romney Because He Flip-Flopped On Abortion

8. Has Romney won over evangelicals?

9. Prominent African-American Southern Baptist Condemns Mormonism as Racist

10. Evangelicals and Romney: Politics Trumps Theology?

11. Evangelicals for Mitt (website)

12. When Baptists Voted for a Heretic

13. Can Romney ace the evangelical Christian base?

14. Romney, Republican evangelicals and the Mormon thing

15. Romney Can Win Even By Talking About His Faith

16. Romney’s "Friends:" I’m Mormon, Not Christian; Extreme Wealth Inequality is Good

17. Religious Conservative, Gary Bauer, Calls for All Pro-Lifers to Embrace Pro-Lifer Romney

18. A poll: Romney, Republican evangelicals and the Mormon thing.

19. Romney Campaign Building Relationships With Evangelical Leaders

20. This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult

21. Mitt Romney and Evangelical Voters: An Arranged Marriage

22. What Happened to Romney’s “Evangelical Problem”?

23. Romney's Problem

24. Will ‘Teavangelicals’ turn the Obama/Romney tide?

25. Mitt Romney's Current Focus: The Conservative Evangelical Base

26. Why Mitt Romney Sits Uneasy On A Conservative Saddle

27. Some ‘teavangelicals’ won’t vote for Romney because he’s Mormon

28. Mitt Romney's Disappearing "Evangelical Problem"

29. Fear Factor: The Conservative Christian Crusade Against Mormonism

30. Romney Romances Religious Right

31. “For the Sake of the Gospel” Group Willing to Have “Safe Politics” with Mitt Romney.

32. The Weakness of Romney’s Right

33. Poll: Romney may see an evangelical 'enthusiasm gap'

Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa

Even as delegates gather in Washington, D.C. for the XIX International Aids conference, Political Research Associates released its latest report, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, documenting the U.S. Christian Right’s attempts to push an ideology hostile to reproductive and LGBT rights on sub-Saharan African countries.

In one notorious example in Tanzania in 2008, billboards depicted a “Faithful Condom User” as a skeleton -– a blatant attempt to discourage condom use as an effective HIV prevention method. Blazoned in clear letters underneath was the billboard’s sponsor: Human Life International (HLI), a group based in the United States.

This timely report, written by religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, explores how HLI--and other U.S. based Christian Right actors—try to position themselves as key moral leaders shaping African political, public health, and social agendas.

A Roman Catholic organization, Human Life International (HLI) is staunchly opposed to contraception, abortion (with zero exceptions), stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, sex education, and homosexuality. HLI’s director of research and training Brian Clowes, one of the organization’s longest-serving staffers, is responsible for much of the overseas work and is known for explicating doctrinal points, such as the opposition to even “hard case” abortions.

But HLI is not the only U.S. Christian Right group peddling corrosive reproductive politics in Africa. Sharon Slater, head of Family Watch International, a small Arizona-based group, wins a platform with mainstream Christian leaders for her message condemning the United Nations’ efforts to support family planning services and reproductive health options for women. In addition to opposing contraception use, Slater and HLI air conspiracy theories that exploit and exacerbate otherwise healthy concerns about the ethics of Western public health interventions. One such theory charges that vaccine distribution is really a secret sterilization program designed to destroy the African family.
Read the rest here

Luke Powery Named New Dean of Duke Chapel

The Reverend Dr. Luke A. Powery of Princeton Theological Seminary will become the new dean of Duke Chapel, Duke University President Richard Brodhead announced Thursday.

Powery, 38, will start his new position on Sept. 1. He succeeds the Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells, who returned to England this summer to become the vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

Powery, who will be the first black dean of Duke Chapel, has taught at Princeton Theological Seminary since 2006, where he is the Perry and Georgia Engle assistant professor of homiletics. He has taught courses and lectured at numerous other educational institutions and has been a frequent guest preacher and singer at various congregations and conferences. A video of his sermon at Duke Chapel this past June 24 is available online.

"Luke Powery is a compelling preacher whose gifts of mind and heart will be evident to all who hear him," Brodhead said. "He will give a powerful presence to the life of the spirit and will connect with every part of our community -- students, faculty, staff and our Durham neighbors."
Read the rest here

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Killer from the Start?

by Ebony Utley
R3 Contributor and author of:
Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta's God


I’ve been wrecked by the Aurora, Colorado shooting. I don’t know anyone who was murdered or maimed. I don’t know anyone who knew anyone who was killed or injured. I don’t know anything about the killer. I don’t want to know him. But I did read the bios of everyone who died. The entire episode is so epically tragic.

I’ve been walking through my life wondering about all the terrible things that could happen when I go to the grocery store, ride my bike to the pier, think about attending a movie. All of this second-guessing from a woman disconnected from the crime, hundreds of miles away defines how terrorism works. The Aurora, Colorado shooter (I would rather acknowledge the locale than his name) effectively used violence to intimidate and create fear among average Americans. I don’t care that our stereotypical image of a terrorist is a brown Muslim man—white folks have been enacting violence to instill fear in people of color since they murdered Native Americans and dragged stolen Africans in chains to a new continent.
Read the rest here

A Buddhist Perspective on Access to Guns

How can we make sense out of the senseless? When a deranged young man opens fire killing innocent people, what lessons can we take away that can give meaning to the lost lives? Learning something new or deepening our understanding seems to be the best way to honor those who've suffered the most. I'd like to offer some thoughts from a Buddhist perspective.

Events unfold largely due to causes and conditions. An event like this does not happen in a vacuum. An unbalanced person with paranoid delusions, with easy access to guns, immersed in a culture of hatred and violence, whipped up by a media hungry for sensational news, given messages that a politician is threatening his well-being and should be targeted, can produce the tragedy we're dealing with now. All of those factors were likely at play. To only blame the young man's mental stability and simply say, "Oh, he was nuts," misses the point. Our country spends 60 percent of its budget on the military and more than the next dozen nations combined. Is it just a coincidence that we have so many civilian gun killings? Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik sarcastically commenting on the easy access to guns said, "What will be next -- Uzis in kids' cribs?" Yet, we were still shocked.
Read the rest here

Guns, A God Given Right?

by Giovanni Neal (aka, Blame Girl)
R3 Contributor

It just sounds silly. Right? As I’ve debated guns over the past few days, I have heard many people evoke the name of the Lord when talking about their gun rights. The thing is, the right to “bear arms” in this country comes from a political, non religious document; The Bill of Rights. Yet, the American people feel more of a sense of entitlement to guns than healthcare or education. So did God really give us this right to cling to guns?

The right to “keep and bear arms” actually comes from a bit of religious history. In the 17th Century, there were religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants/Parliament and the Crown in England. King James II was pushing his Catholic agenda in a newly growing Protestant population. After rebellions, James maintained an army, and sought to confiscate property including weapons from Protestants. In 1688, the British Parliament passed the Bill of Rights to ensure that royalty would never again be able to disarm the public. That right remained with Parliament.

One hundred years later, in 1788 the United States, demanded a Bill of Rights of it’s own, including its own right to arms. This was because the same country’s parliament that demanded the right to bear arms from its own King and Queens imposed an arms embargo on the American colonies. So after the colonist rebelled and gained independence they again made sure they could keep their guns. The Second Amendment states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Though the right to “keep and bear arms” initially came from religious motives, I don’t think it came from God. I believe it comes from politics, which often leads to civil war. Be it over religion or tyranny in general, the people do need a way to resist government authority. For example, take the AR-15 that was among the weapons the shooter in the recent Aurora had. I say the private public doesn’t need military grade weapons, but many claim we must have access to the same equipment as the military. As military technology grows, does that mean so should the arsenal available to a “militia?” That scares me. It’s already disturbing that the military has drones; so should normal Americans have drones too? For safety? My God given instinct says, “NO!”

Why would God grant the right to guns, when we have to fight politically in order to pass laws for human rights, like medicine and education? I am of the school of thought to natural rights come from things we all should have naturally, such as freedom from enslavement, or freedom from tyranny, freedom to love. People evoke God’s name to justify all types of things; guns and politics included.

When I think God, guns aren’t in the picture. I think about the good in the world. I think about nature. I think about life. Guns are neither good nor natural; and they take lives by the masses.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

‘God’s Right Hand’ traces Falwell’s influence

In the fall of 1981, Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti welcomed the university’s new freshman class with a blast at the Moral Majority, a pressure group of religious conservatives founded two years earlier whose most visible spokesman was the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Giamatti told students that Falwell and his ilk were moralistic authoritarians whose injection of religion into politics was responsible for a “new meanness of spirit in our land” and “resurgent bigotry.” Giamatti’s attack on Falwell and the religious right landed on the front page of the New York Times and made headlines around the country. Conservative journalist William F. Buckley, Jr., had the best riposte, as usual, scoffing that “to be lectured against the perils of the Moral Majority on entering Yale is on the order of being lectured on the dangers of bedbugs on entering a brothel.”

Jerry Falwell was one of the most consistently unpopular public figures of his time. He was also, according to Michael Sean Winters’ new biography, God’s Right Hand: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right, one of the most consequential. Indeed, Winters maintains that Falwell reshaped American religion, American politics and the Republican Party – not necessarily in that order – and that his influence has persisted to the present day, even though Falwell died in 2007.

In Winters’ view, Falwell was the figure principally responsible for galvanizing fundamentalist and evangelical Christians to political engagement after their long self-imposed exile from the cultural mainstream following the Scopes trial – though, ironically, Falwell had delivered a famous 1965 sermon criticizing Martin Luther King, Jr., and other pro-civil rights ministers for participating in politics. Falwell and the Moral Majority mobilized social conservatives around support for laissez-faire capitalism, low taxes, American exceptionalism, anti-communism and pro-Israel foreign policy, and opposition to abortion, secularism, liberalism and homosexuality.
Read the rest here

Romney Campaign's Race-Baiting Strategy Could Have Dire Consequences for America

The Romney campaign got the memo: Race-baiting and xenophobia work -- at least among the segment of the electorate former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney hopes to capture in his quest for the presidency.

Over the course of the last two weeks, Romney's strategy has incorporated racial and cultural cues, both subtle and blatant, as a means of deflection from the Obama campaign's relentless offensive based on questions about Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, from which Romney claims to have been retired during a period of time, 1999-2002, in which his name is listed on documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission as the sole owner and chief executive officer of the firm.

Add those questions -- what was Bain doing at that time, and why does Romney want deniability for those actions? -- to Romney's refusal to release more than his last two years of tax returns, and you've got a pretty shady-looking candidate.

Furthermore, Romney, an elite member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has suffered difficulties from the start among elements of the Republican base, especially right-wing Christian evangelicals, who view Mormonism as a cult and doubt Romney's conservative bona fides, especially on abortion, given the fact that he was, at one time, pro-choice.
Read the rest here

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jesus and the Pernicious Roots of Private Property

The scathing criticisms of private property that we find in the mouth of Jesus are well-known. “Go, sell what you have,” he tells the rich man who asks for the secret of eternal life (Mark 10:21; Matthew 19:21; see also Luke 12:33). Again and again, we encounter the polemic against property, the possession of which is regarded as an evil and as a massive hindrance to joining the kingdom of God. Jesus valorises simplicity over luxury and forgoes the influence and power that comes with wealth. In short, everything about him stands against the deep values of the Hellenistic propertied classes. In the words of G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, “I am tempted to say that in this respect the opinions of Jesus were nearer to those of Bertholt Brecht than to those held by some of the Fathers of the Church and by some Christians today” (Ste. Croix 1981: 433).

I am less interested here in the twisting and turning by later exegetes to ameliorate these embarrassing texts, and my concern for now is not the Christian communist tradition that finds inspiration in these and other texts (Acts 2:44-5; 4:32-5). Instead, I suggest that this implacable opposition to property has a far deeper reason. Simply put, the very definition of private property, invented by the Romans a little over a century before the time of Jesus, is based upon slavery. That is, private property relies on the reduction of one human being to the status of thing (res) that is “owned” by another human being. Let me explain.
Read the rest here

Teavangelicals are latest incarnation of religious right and Moral Majority cultural movements

If you follow faith and politics, you have no doubt heard of cultural movements like the “religious right” and the “Moral Majority.” Well, let me introduce you to the latest incarnation of those movements. “The teavangelicals” are poised to pack a wallop in the 2012 general election.

I coined the phrase after the midterm elections in 2010 when I realized that the tea party movement was chock-full of conservative Christians. Indeed, surveys show a strong majority of them comprise the tea party. If you “raptured” them from the ranks, you wouldn’t have a serious and full-fledged tea party movement in the first place. Many of them are evangelicals (hence the new term) who believe our debt calamity is immoral and our federal government is obnoxiously unconstrained. They want a return to constitutionally limited government just like tea party Libertarians. They just happen to call it something different. They see it as a return to Judeo-Christian principles based on the belief that our Founding Fathers envisioned a country with limited federal power and the belief that an Almighty God was central to it all.

Read the rest here

Obama, Romney, and Rick Warren’s Religious Test

Saddleback Church’s evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren has announced that he’ll be holding another presidential forum, just as he famously did in 2008 with Barack Obama and John McCain. While nothing is confirmed yet, it is tentatively scheduled for the end of August and will supposedly work “to promote social civility so that people with major disagreements (can) talk without beating each other up.” However, neither President Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney should be fooled, this is an exercise in conservative Christian power, a religious litmus test in all but name.

Pastor Rick Warren has an entirely undeserved reputation as a “moderate” evangelical Christian because has no trouble being courted by Democrats, or signing toothless global warming documents. In truth, the man who has sold countless “Purpose Driven Life” books is lock-step with the evangelical mainstream on almost all social and theological issues. He’s for banning same-sex marriage, doesn’t believe in evolution, and only spoke out against draconian anti-gay legislation in Uganda (he had ties to one of the bill’s supporters) after immense public pressure. The only real difference between Warren and many other figures within the realm of conservative Christianity is his genial self-help-book-writer tone. In short, this is not a man I’d trust to explore alone the serious moral and ethical questions inherent to the world’s more powerful job, because there’s only one moral and ethical standard he’s truly capable of understanding.
Read the rest here

R3 Contributor: Edward Blum

Edward J. Blum (University of Kentucky, 2003) is a historian of race and religion in the United States. He is the author (with Paul Harvey) of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (2012), W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet (2007), and Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005). He is also the co-editor (with Paul Harvey) of The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History (2012), (with Jason R. Young) The Souls of W. E. B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (2009), and (with W. Scott Poole) Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction (2005). Blum has been awarded the Gustave O. Arlt Award in the Humanities by the Council of Graduate Schools for the best first book by a historian published between 2002 and 2009 (2009), the Peter Seaborg Award for the best book in Civil War Studies (2006), and the C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize for the best dissertation in southern history (2004). Twice he has been recognized by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights and in 2007 was named by the History News Network a “top young historian.” He has been a fellow with the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University and with the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the classroom, Blum engages the past in a variety of ways, whether through music and images or debates and historical simulations. His courses include Antebellum America, the Civil War and Reconstruction, American religious history, and history through biography. He is a co-editor of the teaching blog and with Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman and Jon Gjerde of Major Problems in American History.

Ed's Contributions:

1.Racial Violence and Presidential Rhetoric 
2. The Shooting Of Children And 'God's Plan' 
3. What all those Jesus jokes tell us 
4. Christ in Alabama (and Tennessee and Georgia) 
5. Racial and Sacred Imagery in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and Other Works by Seth Grahame-Smith 
6. What's at Stake? Race and Evangelical Naming 
7. Obama and Jeremiah Wright: Why a Pulled Ad Does Not Mean a Dead Issue 
8. Faces and Places of Christ: An Introduction 

Hustling Religion: Rap and the Religious Flava of T.I. and Jay-Z

by Sharon Lauricella and Samuel Kyereme
R3 Contributors
*A extended version of this post is in press with the Journal of Religion and Society.

“God give new beginnings, you can start right now” -- T.I., A Better Day, 2008



Like those who listen to it, rap music, together with Motown, blues, and music brought to North America from West Africa, embodies both the sacred and the secular in surprising and meaningful ways. In rap music, and also in other traditionally Black music genres, the “profane” - that is, the secular - can and does coexist with the “holy” - references to God or the Divine (Reed, 2003). For example, rap music fuses religious, spiritual, or sacred messages together with references to drugs and crime, objectification of women, or aggression. As our fellow contributor Ebony Utley (2012) eloquently suggests, the “gangsta’s God” is a “socially constructed deity whose purpose is to provide meaning and power in a world of chaos and disenfranchisement” (p. 9).

The coexistence of the holy and profane in rap music is at first blush as surprising as the lion lying down with the lamb. However, references to the holy and profane in hip hop can be found in analyses of Lil’ Wayne (Lauricella & Alexander, 2011), Tupac Shakur (Reed, 203, 148-160), and even M. C. Hammer (Sorett, 2010). Then the holy profane in hip hop music works; while the religious and secular appear paradoxical, the two work together in ways that resonate with both the performer and the audience.

Two hip hop artists in particular are meaningful examples of the coexistence and cooperation of the holy and profane in hip hop, though their approaches to the juxtaposition of the holy and profane are markedly different. T.I. (or, T.I.P.), a former drug dealer and prison inmate, openly embraces spirituality and Christianity, especially in his recent recordings. He embraces the notion of a theistic figure more powerful than himself to whom he prays and worships. Jay-Z, widely recognized as a forerunner in the rap scene (so recognized, in fact, that he appeared on Oprah), considers himself holy, or the embodiment of both the holy and profane in one entity -- the rapper. Utley suggests that Jay-Z combines both secular and sacred legends to portray himself as both a rebel (the secular) and a selfless Jesus-like figure (the sacred). Utley takes Reed’s holy/profane dichotomy a step further by describing God in rap as either “out there” or “down here” – this sophisticated analysis lends further depth to our understanding of religion amongst the disenfranchised as a whole.

In the context of the holy and profane in rap music, we consider T.I. and Jay-Z’s music and personal circumstances as concurrent narratives (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). It is suggested – not surprisingly - that personal experiences of each hip hop artist directly informed their lyrics. To our knowledge, no academic work on rap music and religion/ spirituality makes note of the religious/spiritual contributions of T.I., and though several studies give mention to Jay-Z (Dimitriadis, 2009; Rose, 2008), particularly with mention to his seemingly effortless rhymes (Bradley, 2009), none takes particular note of the important distinction that he makes of himself: the Deity, or God, of rap.

T.I., T.I.P., or Clifford Joseph Harris

Clifford Joseph Harris, more popularly recognized by the monikers T.I. or T.I.P., was raised in poverty in Atlanta, Georgia. The young Harris took to selling drugs on the streets at age 14 to make do while pursuing a high school education. Similar to many of his colleagues in hip hop (including 50 Cent, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z), T. I. possessed a combination of the “hustler” lifestyle of selling drugs and other crime, as well as a gift for charismatic musical delivery in the form of rap rhymes.

Harris was signed to Laface Records in 1999, after gaining prominence through the mixtape circuit. His gift of articulation through the spoken word was not readily accepted in the popular rap scene, which led to his subsequent separation from the label. Over a five year period, however, various projects such as Trap Muzik (2003), Urban Legend (2004) and King (2006) were released through Grand Hustle Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. The rapper’s chronicling of victories with women, drug deals, creating wealth and raising a family led to praise from both industry heavyweights and fans. King was so well received that T.I. was honoured with a Grammy in (2006) for the street anthem, “What You Know” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAVKMFnPPcA).

Lyrics in T.I.’s tracks in the early 2000’s indicate his emotional and economic place at the time; “I’m Serious” (2001) showed a vain, arrogant personality that referenced growing up in a disadvantaged, single parent home. "Still Ain't Forgave myself" offers a glimpse into the rapper's childhood as he states, " My daddy sends me clothes and always tell me come and see him" following with, "Then I started rebellin' began crack sellin... Now my momma findin’ rocks [crack] in my socks, glocks [guns] in my socks." The album to follow, Trap Muzik (2003), echoed the same sentiments with the use of catchy hooks to captivate audiences, such as "Rubber band man/ wild as the Taliban” (Rubber Band Man, 2003).

It is notable that the “trap” is a reference to all aspects of the drug trade - the purchase, sale, and subsequent attempt(s) to stop using drugs - thus the nomenclature of this album references T.I.’s criminal activity. The upcoming arrival of a son along with a reality check from producers motivated T.I.'s change in occupation from drug dealer to full-time rapper. Despite obvious bitterness about his criminal past, glimmers of positivity are found in this album. For example, in “Be better than me” (2003), T.I. encourages his listeners to seek paths that are different from his own: “Don’t be lookin at me listenin to dope boys and trap n**gas thinkin it’s just like that...don’t be like me be better than me.” Urban Legend, released a year later in 2004, featured tracks pointing toward a more spiritually oriented approach to T.I.’s life struggles. After numerous mentions of personal attributes that separate him from the rest, T.I. states, “But back to reality G.O. D. Still carryin’ me, n**ga I run this...if God with me who could be against me sucka? Can’t make me suffer just make me tougher.”

The most poignant of T.I.’s tracks which demonstrate the coexistence of the holy and profane is “Prayin for help” (2004). The track begins with an emotional plea by reciting the Christian prayer “Our Father” amidst an ongoing fight in the background. The first 31 seconds of this track (visible via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cO-_VS79r0) are not only a lyrical representation of the manifestation of the holy and profane, but also visual evidence of the holy and profane at once. The “Prayin for help” track includes lyrics and chorus lines which are charged with references to Jesus Christ ("That Ima change my life, get right, start livin like Christ, to tha end of my fight"), the desire to live right ("If it take till I'm a hundred years old/Bet I'm reaching every one of my goals") and for the artist’s desire to help his community ("The ones that don even pray they got me"). Similar to keeping a diary of one’s thoughts and activities, T.I's lyrics act as a narrative gateway to the narrative of his personal experiences.

T.I’s sixth studio album, Paper Trail (2008), was made with intention. By this time, T.I. was sentenced to prison for an undefined time period (ultimately about seven months) on U.S federal weapons charges. As a keepsake for fans and well wishers as he prepared to enter prison, the album expresses regret and remorse at his prison sentence. In this new direction, T.I. became a mentor of sorts, providing wisdom to his fans on how to approach adversity. The album recounts how the death of his bodyguard and lifelong friend Philant Johnson, along with the oncoming loss of personal freedom, instilled significant changes.

Religious and spiritual references are observable in nearly every track on Paper Trail. For example, the hit single “Live your life” featuring pop sensation Rihanna echoes the role of the divine in T.I.’s daily experience (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koVHN6eO4Xg). When speaking of those in his neighbourhood he says, “I pray for patience but they make me wanna melt they face away.” By this the rapper means the pressures of dealing with those from his immediate surroundings who are not supportive of his success prompts the search for patience from the Divine. Additional spiritual references in this highly successful track - it reached #1 on the Billboard Charts - include T.I.’s comparison of himself to other mainstream rappers by observing, “Your values is a disarray, prioritizin’ horribly, unhappy with the riches ‘cause you piss poor morally.”

Scholarship on religion/spirituality clearly shows that the religious/spiritual element in one's life is heightened in times of personal crisis or challenge. Religious/spiritual practices such as prayer are reported to be helpful in coping with a life challenge (Bade & Cook, 2008; Carver et al., 1989; Pargament, 2007) such as a health crisis (Baesler et al, 2003) or economic hardship (Clark & Lelkes, 2005). Imprisonment on drug charges is quite clearly a life crisis, therefore T.I.’s lyrical narrative shows a clear identification with religion and spirituality. For this rapper, religion and spirituality brought strength and courage, while also offering inspiration to fans.

Jay-Z, or Shawn Corey Carter

Shawn Carter, more widely recognized as Jay-Z, currently boasts 11 albums having sold over 50 million copies worldwide (Greenburg, 2011). Carter, however, had his humble beginning as the youngest of three children in a single parent home in the Brooklyn projects. Carter began rapping in the 1980’s as a teenager, writing rhymes and battling other rappers from his area and surrounding high schools. After appearing in his first video with local artist Jaz, Carter’s desire for recognition went into overdrive. When he failed to get signed with a major record label, the hopeful rapper turned to drug dealing as a means of income, foregoing both school and rap. After continual pressure from friends and family members (Carter, 2010), he decided to give rap one more try, at which point he became associated with Damon Dash, a well known figure in Harlem Rap. He and Dash pioneered Rocafella Records in 1996 in which Jay-Z’s first major release, Reasonable Doubt, was produced. The album was a chronicle of the hustler lifestyle (selling drugs, attracting women, and buying expensive items). This work established Jay-Z’s audience whose support catapulted him to widespread acclaim and popularity with hits including “Hard Knock Life” (1999) and “Money Ain’t a Thang (1998). At this point, spirituality or references to any sort of Divinity were not present in Carter's work.

However, in 1999, Jay-Z dropped Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter. There was a sense of finality and pride on this album, particularly in the opening track, “Hova Song.” “Hova,” a shortened form of “Jehovah,” is an alternative rendering of the word “God” in Abrahamic traditions. Jay-Z’s new moniker was a bold declaration of his belief that he had risen to the level of “Rap God” in just three years as a signed act. The tracks on this collection revealed Jay-Z’s entrenchment in the streets, his reputation as a ladies’ man and ultimately being dubbed the best artist in rap. The track “S. Carter” features a glimpse into this new image where Jay-Z says of himself, “Hustler, n**ga move weight like Oprah/ Drive wide body, twenty-inch big motor/ No tints, make no mistake y'all it's Hova/ I stay sportin' played Jordan's before Jordan.” The album ends with a “Hova Song” outro where Jay-Z proclaims, “I'm the illest n**ga doin it til y'all prove me wrong/Do you believe?/It's Hova the God, uhh, uhh, uhh.” Utley shows that each of Jay-Z’s iterations of his new monikers (“Hov,” “King Hov,” and “Hovito”) reiterates his self-identification with God (p. 141).

Since Jay-Z self-appointed himself “Hova” in the 1999, his sonic creations contain the refrain of the rapper’s belief that beyond being the best in rap, he had ascended into the realm of being revered. The ode “Izzo (H.O.V.A)” (2001), from The Blueprint is saturated with the moniker “Hova,” in which the chorus spells out the remarkably catchy, “H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWPYBmN3TUk). The reference to Jay-Z as the Jehovah (“Hova”) or God of rap is highly identifiable throughout subsequent material. 2003`s “What More Can I Say” from The Black Album is a discussion of Jay-Z’s greatness from the first person point of view. After continual discussion of his various attributes and contributions to the rap game Jay-Z exclaims, “Young Hova the God blast for me.” This line is significant seeing as the rapper calls on the listener to celebrate his presence. Jay-Z continues his proclamations of his status as rap’s God in 2006`s “Kingdom Come” with the chorus, “Without the boy H.O.V. (I will be, I will be)/ Not only N.Y.C. / I'm hip hop's savior (Yeah).” Jay-Z therefore declares himself not only the God of hip hop but also its saviour. Jay-Z continues the parade of his place as rap deity in 2009’s “Run This Town” featuring Kanye West and Rihanna on The Blueprint 3. “Run This Town” features Jay-Z`s declaration of his takeover, “It's the return of the God Peace God.” While this may not be an explicit reference to the name Jehovah, the implications are just as meaningful; Jay-Z announces his place as “the God,” prompting listeners to dismiss any other potential rappers challenging his Divine status.

T.I. and Jay-Z in the context of rap and religion

Given its recognized place in popular culture, rap provides a framework of realism that allows the uninhibited expression of references to life experiences, including religiosity and spirituality. Hip hop allows religious and spiritual utterances in a framework of authenticity and candor, for there is no singular or right way to be religious spiritual in hip hop. While some scholarship on hip hop and religion/spirituality is Christian in nature (Gooch, 1996; Hatch, 2002), Pinn and Miller (2009) suggest that spiritual analyses of hip hop need not be doctrine specific, and Pinn further suggests that rap music is more about being understood as a “terrain for the articulation of religious struggle and redemption” (Pinn, 2009, 106). This narrative analysis of two hip hop artists clearly demonstrates markedly different manifestations of the religious and spiritual in hip hop, and shows how two different artists, when faced with personal struggle, manifest religion and spirituality in different ways.

Struggle and redemption, as suggested by Pinn (2009), is a defining element in hip hop, as in other traditions of black music from the post-Civil war period to Motown (Reed, 2003). The notion of struggle is clearly identified in historical (Chang, 2005) and political (Kelley, 1994) analyses of rap music. In this narrative analysis of two highly successful - and markedly different - rap artists, both T.I. and Jay-Z identify with personal struggle. Such struggle is the “profanity” in hip hop -- criminal activity, selling drugs, womanizing and weapons charges all offer a clear representation of the “hustle,” or the secular struggle so often referenced in rap lyrics.

In response to a prison sentence on weapons charges, a realization of personal responsibility, and the desire to make a turn for the positive, T.I. openly embraces Divinity and makes explicit mentions of God in his work. His references to God are identifiably Christian, and the aforementioned audio overlay of The Lord’s Prayer and a street fight is a poignant representation of T.I.’s spiritual (holy) response to the street life (the profane). This response is a clear articulation of what Reed (2003) describes in her suggestion that the holy and profane are inextricably combined in rap music.

By contrast, Jay-Z responded to his hustler past by both quickly and unabashedly dubbing himself, “Hova,” an abbreviated form of “Jehovah,” or the Judeo-Christian “God.” This, too, is a “holy” response to his profane, personal struggle. Jay-Z’s own “divinity” puts a new perspective to religion and spirituality in hip hop, for Jay-Z does not embrace a dualistic God. Rather, he considers himself to be the embodiment or representative of God in the hip hop arena – this is what Utley refers to as the God “down here.” While other rappers such as Tupac Shakur and Lauryn Hill (Kirk-Duggan, 2009) and Lil’ Wayne (Lauricella & Alexander, 2012) embrace a Christian representation of Divinity, Jay-Z considers himself the manifestation of the Divine. While both rappers identify with the concept of Divinity, their approach to the coexistence of the holy and profane is different; T.I. promotes worship of a Christian God, while Jay-Z wants to be worshipped as a human incarnation of the holy in rap.

Conclusion

To date, the notion of the holy and profane in hip hop has focused primarily on the coexistence of profane lyrics and sentiments (such as crime, drugs, misogyny) while in the same context, insinuating religious/spiritual concepts such as Biblical verses, prayer, and the culture of struggle and redemption. Thus, scholarship on rap and religion/spirituality has focused primarily on finding a spiritual solution (regardless of orthodoxy or denomination) to personal challenge. We considered the personal history of each rapper, together with lyrics in tracks relative to spirituality, as concurrent narratives illustrating both the holy and the profane in hip hop. The addition of T.I. (Clifford Harris) is a new contribution to the literature on hip hop and religion, and the deeper analysis of Jay-Z as a self-appointed deity adds a fuller dimension to scholarly literature considering religion/spirituality in hip hop.

We identify T.I.’s spirituality as a Christian response to a series of personal struggles. His “profane” experiences in dealing drugs, using weapons and materialism made way for a subsequent “holy” response in embodying Christian values such as honesty, surrender to God, and prayer, particularly in his work from 2003 onward. The embrace of a Christian response to adversity, as T.I.’s work reveals, is not a surprising response to struggle; scholarly literature on coping shows that people often turn to religion during times of personal crisis.

By contrast, Jay-Z’s response to the “profane” struggle in his life of drug dealing and hustling revealed a concept of the “holy” in hip hop which focused on himself as a God. The rapper's proactive self reliance in overcoming the ills of childhood led to the creation of an inner idol, "Hova," to whom Jay-Z is subject. This proclamation of divinity can be considered part of rap’s “braggadocio” - the bragging and boasting about physical prowess, brawn or bling. Or, this not-so-humble profession could be considered by some as blasphemous in itself; the self-appointment of the moniker “Hova,” and thus dubbing oneself “God” could be considered an articulation of profanity in hip hop (Utley (2011) eloquently – and we think correctly - disagrees with this sentiment). Jay-Z is, we propose, an embodiment of both the holy and profane in one character, whether considered blasphemous or not. As Reed (2003) shows, the holy and profane in hip hop work together to speak to both the artist and the community. Jay-Z, then, is one such artist who simply by means of his self-appointed moniker and rap success is the personal, earthly embodiment of the holy and profane.


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Discography

T.I.

(2001) "Still Ain't Forgave Myself." I'm Serious[CD]. Arista.

(2003) "Rubber Band Man." Trap Muzik [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2003) "Be Better Than Me." Trap Muzik [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2004) "Motivation." Urban Legend [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2004) "Prayin for Help." Urban Legend [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2008) "Ready for Whatever." Paper Trail [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2008) "On Top of The World." Paper Trail [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2008) "No Matter What." Paper Trail [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2008) "Live Your Life." Paper Trail [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2008) "Dead and Gone." Paper Trail [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

(2008) "Slideshow." Paper Trail [CD]. Grand Hustle Records.

Jay-Z

(1999) "Hova Song." Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter [CD]. Roc-A-Fella Records.

(1999) "S. Carter." Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter [CD]. Roc-A-Fella Records.

(1999) "Hova Song Outro." Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter [CD]. Roc-A-Fella Records.

(2001) “Izzo (H.O.V.A).” The Blueprint. [CD]. Roc-A-Fella Records.

(2003) "What More Can I Say." The Black Album [CD]. Roc-A-Fella Records.

(2006) "Kingdom Come." Kingdom Come [CD]. Roc-A-Fella Records.

(2009) "Run This Town." The Blueprint 3 [CD] Roc-A-Fella Records.