Sunday, September 30, 2012

God In the Gray Areas: A Defense of the ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’

By Crystal S. Lewis R3 Contributor I was checking my social media accounts this morning when I noticed that an article by author and businessman Alan Miller was getting a fair amount of attention on Facebook. He has written an opinion piece for CNN titled “My Take: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out”. The title caught my eye because I’ve been privately working through some of my issues with organized/institutionalized religion.

In that process, I’ve been making peace with leaving my church affiliations behind. Miller’s article ruffled my feathers a bit, because while parts of it speak accurately to the growing sentiments experienced by so many disaffected Christians, for the most part, his beautifully-written article misses the point altogether. I took no issue with his opening observations, which read:

Spiritual but not religious people are especially prevalent in the younger population in the United States, although a recent study has argued that it is not so much that people have stopped believing in God, but rather have drifted from formal institutions. It seems that just being a part of a religious institution is nowadays associated negatively, with everything from the Religious Right to child abuse, back to the Crusades and of course with terrorism today. 

Miller rightly notes that those of us who are joining this growing category are doing so because we feel disgruntled with what it means to be a “Christian” these days. In the past year or so, I’ve joked to myself that I’m a “Christian with Caveats” because it seems that as soon as I tell someone I’m a “Christian,” it becomes necessary to explain exactly what I mean by that word. Note: the need for explanation is not because I feel immediately embarrassed by the label. I feel the need to explain because people openly voice their assumptions about what it means to be a “Christian” (and more recently in my life, a “Christian in Seminary”) when they learn of my religious preference. It’s usually assumed that because I say I’m a Christian, I must automatically be anti-this or pro-that.

The notion of coloring outside the lines from within Christianity is not one that is widely understood by people in our generation. This usually makes for some interesting (and at times, frustrating) conversations.

Read the rest here

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition, by Andre E. Johnson, is a study of the prophetic rhetoric of 19th century African Methodist Episcopal Church bishop Henry McNeal Turner. By locating Turner within the African American prophetic tradition, Johnson examines how Bishop Turner adopted a prophetic persona. As one of America’s earliest black activists and social reformers, Bishop Turner made an indelible mark in American history and left behind an enduring social influence through his speeches, writings, and prophetic addresses. This text offers a definition of prophetic rhetoric and examines the existing genres of prophetic discourse, suggesting that there are other types of prophetic rhetorics, especially within the African American prophetic tradition. In examining these modes of discourses from 1866-1895, this study further examines how Turner’s rhetoric shifted over time. It examines how Turner found a voice to article not only his views and positions, but also in the prophetic tradition, the views of people he claimed to represent. The Forgotten Prophet is a significant contribution to the study of Bishop Turner and the African American prophetic tradition.

Reviews for The Forgotten Prophet: Andre Johnson’s study of the speeches of Henry McNeal Turner, from his optimistic Emancipation Day Address in 1866, to sober reflections on the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation in 1913, is an important step in recovering the story of African-Americans in the South during Reconstruction. Framing Turner’s powerful words as examples of prophetic rhetoric, Johnson shows how even Turner’s most pessimistic comments spoke to a wide audience eager for freedom yet demoralized by prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Although Turner’s answer to the nation’s racism—emigration—did not become a major movement in his lifetime, Johnson’s study of Turner’s prophetic voice enlarges our understanding of this neglected, but important figure in American history.-Sandra J. Sarkela, University of Memphis 

Professor Johnson not only offers a new perspective on Reverend Turner by focusing on the rhetorical dimensions of words, but also suggests new and more precise ways for scholars to study the “prophetic” in the United States. Professor Johnson should be congratulated for offering the first and most nuance study of African American prophetic rhetoric of any black leader.-Edward J. Blum, Co-Author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America 

The critical lens that Dr. Johnson employs—of seeing Turner’s work as an evolution through prophetic stages, not only helps the reader understand Turner’s discourse but significantly enhances our understanding the different prophetic voices available to rhetors-Richard Leeman, author of The Teleological Discourse of Barack Obama

Lexington Books
Hardback Special Price: $45.00

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Salim Faraji: Book Reveals the Roots of Nubian Christianity

Salim Faraji has been on a 25-year quest for answers to a transformation that took place more than 1,500 years ago. His findings led him to author the book “The Roots of Nubian Christianity Uncovered: The Triumph of the Last Pharaoh” (African World Press: Trenton and London, 2012). In it, Faraji, associate professor and chair of Africana studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills, explores the influence that a 5th century Nubian pharaoh had on ancient Nubian culture and its conversion to Christianity.

“This king, Silko, is pivotal. He is like Constantine was in the Roman Empire. Constantine is really the emperor who makes Christianity the legitimate religion in the Roman Empire,” Faraji explained. “Silko does the same thing for ancient Nubia. Silko is the founder of medieval Nubia.”

Faraji went on to say that after King Silko, Nubia—in what is now Sudan—became a Christian empire for a thousand years, from the 5th century A.D. to 1,500 A.D. Yet, scholars have disputed whether Silko was pagan or Christian. Faraji points out that epigraphic evidence discovered in 1819 seems to indicate that he was both.

Silko left a victory inscription in Greek on the Temple Kalabsha in southern Egypt declaring that he had defeated other Nubian kingdoms. Faraji recounted the declaration, “God gave me the victory.” “So scholars are wondering, if this was a pagan king worshiping ancient Egyptian and Nubian religion, why did he say, ‘God gave me the victory’?” Faraji asked rhetorically. “It’s been a problem for 200 years, since this inscription has been discovered.”
Read the rest here

Monday, September 24, 2012

The End Of WASP-Dominated Politics

Just looking at Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, you might not think of them as cultural pioneers. But the Republicans make up the first presidential ticket in history not to feature a Protestant. Romney is Mormon, Ryan, Catholic. That might not seem like such a big deal — especially when you consider they are running against the first African-American president. But all of these individuals are emblematic of an enormous shift in both American demographics and political power. Fifty years ago, the military, foreign service and top political offices were all dominated by WASPs — white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Read the rest here

God and Rhetoric at the Convention

One of my friends from my study abroad program in Europe listened to Barack Obama’s speech this weekend. “I was thinking ‘this is beautiful but sounds too religious a speech to be held in France,’” he told me. “Yes, well, we are religious folk,” I replied. Americans are some of the most religious of the developed world, and it is commonly held that their path from the pew to the ballot is a short one. Even the secularized American is inundated with religious ideas and imagery.

This is also true of our two major political parties. Republicans sometimes attack Democrats for not mentioning God and imply a special favor He has for their own party, despite His recent predilection for sending hurricanes to their conventions. Yet the Democrats certainly use religion in their rhetoric from time to time. This week’s convention was telling, as the Democrats ultimately didn’t stray too far from religion—at least in words. They initially voted the word “God” (as well as some references to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel) out of their platform at the convention but scurried to put it back in after the decision generated controversy (“Oops!”). As always, there was prayer and the usual asking God to bless the country. Obama quoted the scripture in his acceptance speech, and most of all he talked about one of his favorite one-word slogans, hope—“…not blind optimism or wishful thinking, but hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, that dogged faith in the future which has pushed this nation forward, even when the odds are great, even when the road is long.” By the end of his speech he was cataloguing the things about America that gave him hope—homeless students excelling, factories making sacrifices for their workers, injured veterans on new artificial legs.
Read the rest here

Democrats Versus Bishop Jackson, Black Bigotry, and the Religious Right

Raised in a Christian household, my political views were deeply influenced by my faith. This was a source of conflict for me as I faced controversial social issues during my transition into adulthood. Be that as it may, I’ve been a longtime supporter of Republican-aligned policies and some, but not all, center-right social, economic, and domestic political positions. This multidimensional identity, if you will, has further shaped my voter preferences over the years.

To put it plainly, I was agitated (but not surprised) when I watched the controversial video of Harvard-pedigreed Pentecostal bishop, Harry Jackson. Earlier this week, Jackson stood before his congregation during the “Pray for America” speech at Christian Broadcasting Network and declared that Black and Latino Christians should stop charging racism and join forces with the GOP. The reason, he declared, is because “Democrats ask Black and [Latino] Christians to violate their Bible.”
Read the rest here

Race and Religion at the Golden Gate

Christ in Alabama (and Tennessee and Georgia)

by Edward Blum
R3 Contributor

Paul and I just finished our tour of the South (thank goodness for nice weather in Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, and Birmingham). Along the way we met up with good old friends, made new ones, and heard so many stories of Jesus and race in America (and the world) that we could almost write another book. The highlights, for me, were meeting several friends of the four little girls who were killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and hearing their tales of dealing with loss, fear, and imagery of Christ. I wanted to draw brief attention to four of our hosts in part to thank them, but also to let blog readers know about their dynamic and fascinating work.

At Morehouse College, Reverend Matthew V. Johnson helped coordinate our discussions with several classes and the chaplaincy program. Dr. Johnson is a graduate of Morehouse College and earned his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Philosophical Theology from the University of Chicago. He has done post-graduate studies in Psychoanalysis and is currently a member in training at the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. In the ministry for thirty years, Dr. Johnson is the Pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd-Baptist and serves as the National Executive Director of Every Church A Peace Church. A novelist and a radio host as well, Professor Johnson’s first scholarly book, The Tragic Vision of African American Religion is a beautiful study of how African Americans experience, deal with, conceive, and interact with tragedy and the tragic. Thanks to Dr. Johnson, little E.Z. now has a “future Morehouse man” which my son will wear with pride (at least I’ll feel pride).
Read the rest here

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Passion of the (Negroes’) Christ: Why America Will Never Elect Another Black President

By Gee Joyner 
R3 Contributor

I thought about introducing this piece by copying and pasting one of the numerous, if not exhausted, references by political media pundits equating Barack Obama to the Messiah (metaphorically speaking of course), or a savior, for the United States of America. Then, I decided that would be too obvious, too contrived, lame, even corny, at best. So, I thought about giving a brief 145 word historical analysis of the African in America since 1619 and the nuances of the subordinating, debilitating, and socioeconomic and political stifling vis-a-vis prescribed attributes and derogatory stereotyping of the Black American which has had catastrophic effects on our psyche and self-esteem. But, I decided against that introduction as well.

By now, my scholars, students, and Intelligentsia are laughing and enjoying the literary trope I’ve used up until this point. I’m literally introducing the piece with all the introductions I claimed I was against. I guess you could say this piece will be a ‘stream of consciousness’ in the vein of philosopher William James, who coined the term in his book ‘The Principles of Philosophy’ (1890).

In my opinion, and subjective reality constructed by the ethnic hierarchy that existed in this country long before my father lay with my mother in the late 70s, there is no scholarly path in which I can intellectually walk in order to definitively compose a rhetorical construct that posits President Barack Obama as America’s Christ, yet that’s what the POTUS has become; A savior. A messiah who’ll cure the ills of the Black ghettos and inspire the Millennial and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring to be great, to challenge the status quo, to break down barriers, to make race, or color, invisible, if not non-existent or a non-factor. So, I will write until I’ve reached my limit—let’s say 1000 words, so that I won’t lose your attention.
Read the rest here

Friday, September 21, 2012

To Vote or Not to Vote: The Ballot, the Burden and the Believers

R3 Contributor

I have labored for months to find a biblical and/or spiritual platform to argue for the necessity of people of faith to participate in the political process.  I deemed this necessary because in a place deeply achieved in my soul I have felt it nothing short of sinful (and borderline blasphemous) for faith leaders to consider encouraging their parishioners not to vote

On one hand, I could argue for a prophetic necessity of engagement with the political process.  In light of the insensitive comments that some candidates have spoken on behalf of the poor, marginalized, non-white, non-male, non-rich and underprivileged we can suggest that it is the role of people of faith to stand up for those who are oppressed.  This means the oppressed need someone who is informed, inspired and involved in the political process in order to empower those who have little to no social or political potency.  In this vein, the prophetic element of faith would thereby require one to research a candidates ENTIRE platform, discern who would best serve the needs of “the least of these” and speak truth to power by verbalizing, strategizing and “ballotizing.”  So in one sense, for people of faith who value the prophetic tradition; we sin by not voting, because by voting we speak God’s will for humanity to the best of our ability politically. 

However, probably the most foundational argument for our faithful involvement in the political process came to me yesterday.  Due to technical difficulties, our weekly internet radio show The Pastor & The Professor was unable to air live at our normal time, Thursday at 7pm (CST).  What Professor Joyner and I decided to do was host a live chat via Facebook on our fan page. While I intended on using the Faith Forum portion of our show to discuss the “black vote” relative to people of faith, I decided to take it on via the chat.  I wanted to introduce a new perspective on the black faith vote because the media has made a projection that implies that because of his comments relative to marriage equality, the POTUS might by-and-large lose a substantial portion of the black faith vote.  However, statistically speaking, the POTUS won 95% of the black vote in 2008.  He will arguably win upwards of 85-90% of the black vote this year (if not higher).  And if 90% of the black community identify themselves as people of faith, then obviously, the black faith vote will collectively be a vote to re-elect the president.  And this is in spite of the fact that some leaders in the black faith community are arguably encouraging their congregants to not participate in the election. 

Therefore, last night I emphatically kicked off the Facebook chat with the statement that “...there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for ANY PASTOR to ask their congregants NOT TO VOTE... It is a violation of one's moral, ministerial, ethical and social responsibility... Therefore, if YOUR pastor has persuaded you not to vote... FIND ANOTHER CHURCH IMMEDIATELY!”  This was an unction I felt in my loins, but I still struggled to ground it in a sacred text (other than the sacred prophetic rhetorical tradition itself, which can be viewed as textual).  I also know that many people of faith practice Biblical Idolatry - worshiping the bible more than we worship the God that inspires sacred writings.  Therefore, some need scriptural appropriation to affirm any ideology no matter how valid.  But I had not found one...... yet.
Then a correspondent rebutted “is there an excuse for a pastor to ask their congregants TO VOTE?”  It was right there that “the Spirit of the LORD spoke to me...” (For those unfamiliar with the black preaching tradition, this clause is often used to substantiate our gravitas towards an interpretive idea which can assist us in overcoming any source criticism - *insert laugh here*).

What came to me were the two greatest commandments.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  These commandments merge the spiritual (love of the Divine) with the social (love of neighbor).  Since we exist in a society that functions within a political framework, our theology thereby has political implications by default.  I am not suggesting that a pastor is a politician (unless, of course, the pastor has run for a political office and been elected).  But if a pastor’s theology is disconnected from the political reality in which we exist, his/her theology becomes irrelevant. Therefore, the only way to truly love your neighbor is to accept and fully engage in the processes that connect “us” with “them.” Anything less constitutes a theology of privilege that is counterproductive to the progress of faith. 

The corner stone of the democratic process is the vote.  We know the importance of the vote based upon the attempts by some to suppress the minority vote with subversive legislation. If people of faith seek to connect the divine with the democratic, not voting is sinful.  Not voting also dishonors many of our ancestors who literally hung, bled and died that we would be able to enjoy such a right.  So again I assert that any pastor who does not see connections between the social, political and spiritual is probably misinforming and miseducating their congregation on the reality of the society in which we exist and is thereby part of the political problem and not the spiritual solution. 

Our dear correspondent asked can I find an “excuse” or theological and psychological platform to encourage our people of faith to vote? HELL YEA! I just did.   So please reread this article. Hopefully you can say “AMEN PREACHER.”  Then go out and get registered, get the proper identification and make plans to get transportation to the polls. 

The Harlem Mormon Voter

GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s “47%” comments don’t sit well with some African American Mormons in Harlem. In fact the comments don’t reflect the candidate’s own practices as a Mormon leader.
On the third Sunday of August with nearly eleven weeks remaining until the presidential election, the women's group of Mormons (official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints) in Harlem received a rare appearance during their meeting: a man. Not just any man, but Bishop Jay Salmon, their congregational leader.
Bishop Salmon, a tall and slender figure, didn't stay for the entire hour-long meeting. His presence lasted barely five minutes, but the topic of his message was noteworthy.
“Bishop came to speak to the sisters about the election,” said Polly Dicky, 68, a member who attended the meeting. “He said that members don't vote like they should, and he encourage us to go out and vote.”
Dicky, an African American Mormon residing in Harlem, reflects that it was the first time in her 23 years with the church that she has heard of any bishop reminding the congregation to vote. She noted that Bishop Salmon never suggested whom his congregation should vote for and suspected he encouraged the men's group as well.
Although the church maintains neutrality in all political races, the current match up in this year's presidential election is particularly exciting for Mormons. For the first time in American history, there is a chance that a Mormon will become the next President of the United States. Facing off against this possibility is the re-election Barack Obama, the first African American president in American history.
Thus, the spotlight shines brightly on African American Mormons, who are forced to navigate between religious identity, race and political values.
Read the rest here

Some black pastors reject Obama on marriage, Romney on Mormonism

Some black clergy see no good presidential choice between a Mormon candidate and one who supports gay marriage, so they are telling their flocks to stay home on Election Day. That’s a worrisome message for the nation’s first African-American president, who can’t afford to lose any voters from his base during a tight race.
The pastors say their congregants are asking how a true Christian could back same-sex marriage, as President Barack Obama did in May. As for Republican Mitt Romney, the first Mormon nominee from a major party, congregants are questioning the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its former ban on men of African descent in the priesthood.
In 2008, Obama won 95 percent of black voters and is likely to get an overwhelming majority again. But any loss of votes would sting.
“When President Obama made the public statement on gay marriage, I think it put a question in our minds as to what direction he’s taking the nation,” said the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder of the predominantly African-American Christian Cultural Center in New York. Bernard, whose endorsement is much sought after in New York and beyond, voted for Obama in 2008. He said he’s unsure how he’ll vote this year.
It’s unclear just how widespread the sentiment is that African-American Christians would be better off not voting at all. Many pastors have said that, despite their misgivings about the candidates, blacks have fought too hard for the vote to ever stay away from the polls.
Black church leaders have begun get-out-the-vote efforts on a wide range of issues, including the proliferation of state laws requiring photo identification cards to vote, which critics say discriminate against minorities. Last Easter Sunday, a month before Obama’s gay marriage announcement, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore formed the Empowerment Network, a national coalition of about 30 denominations working to register congregants and provide them with background on health care, the economy, education and other policy issues.
Read the rest here

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romney’s Truth and Those People: The Dependent Victims of Government Assistance

by Andre E. Johnson
R3 Editor

As expected, there has been much talk about Mitt Romney’s inelegant but candid remarks about “those people.” Those people he referred to were the 47% of people he claimed did not pay any income tax. As Mother Jones reported, Romney went on to say that, “those people” were “dependent on government; believe “that they are victims” and who also believe that government “has a responsibility to care for them.” He suggested that these people were going to vote for the president “no matter what,” because he would never be able to “convince them they should take personal responsibility over their lives.”

Some believed that Romney would have to take back his statement or at least back off it a little because it seemed so damaging. Political pundits suggested that Romney could not win by writing off 47% of the electorate. Many said that he criticized many of his voters and by calling them "dependent" and "victims," he assured that many would not vote for him. However, when I first heard Romney’s “truth,” not only was I not surprised, but more importantly, in discussing the matter with a friend, I said that Romney would not back down from these comments. Matter of fact, I suggested that he would double down on the attacks and it will became a theme of the campaign.

I figured Romney would continue this line of thought because frankly, we do not talk about the poor well in this country because we have a racialized view of the poor. While Romney did not mention “the poor” or “race,” in his comments, words such as “dependent,” “victim,” and anyone lacking “personal responsibility” are always associated with the poor black and brown folks who somehow get over on the government. Even Saturday Night Live recently parodied this sentiment. 

Moreover, since poverty and “those people” are associated with this problem of dependency, it allows people who do not want to be associated with “those people” to disregard Romney’s critique—one that he aimed squarely at them. There are many in the 47% who celebrate Romney’s “truth” and argue that he is correct in his beliefs. They will say that government is too big and too many people are victims and dependent on the government but will not stop long enough to consider that Romney is talking about them as well. While many try to get away and not associate with those “dependent” “victims” of government assistance, many of those same 47% do not realize that Romney lumps them in together.

It would be nice if the 47% could stand together and proudly claim their solidarity with each other; the gainfully employed and the unemployed, the students, and the elderly, the veteran and the businessperson, the rich and the poor, and say with one voice, “we reject your labels.” It would be nice if all faith traditions, who have a mandate to treat the poor and the least of these with honor and respect would stand together and claim solidarity with the 47%. However, that probably will not happen as people try to disassociate themselves from those dependent victims, claiming that Romney is not “speaking about me.” It is exactly what Romney wants and that is why we will continue to see this on the campaign trail.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Theology of Privilege

By Rashad Grove
R3 Contributor

On one particular occasion I heard Dr. Marvin McMickle give an intriguing illustration that left an indelible mark upon me. He was eloquently speaking on a certain Garfield comic strip that he once read. In the first panel, Garfield is seated at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day with a feast that was fit for a king. Anything and everything you could imagine was at Garfield’s disposal for consumption. The second panel features Odie the dog chained to a fence, in the midst of a snowstorm, with an empty dog dish. In the third panel, Garfield gets up from the table, with his dinner behind him to view the existential dilemma of Odie by looking through the safety and comfort of his window. In the fourth and final panel, Garfield closes the curtains that allow him to see Odie through the window and says to himself, “That’s better.”

A profound truth emerges out of this Gospel according to Garfield. When you are privileged enough to have a feast behind you, there is a greater possibility for you to disregard the needs of others who happen to be right in front of you. At its core, privilege is so self-consuming, so self-absorbing, and so self-hypnotizing that it isolates one into a specific reality and that reality becomes the sole rubric, the only point of reference that has any validity, and the dominating matrix which you see the world. It reminds me of the poignant words of Ralph Ellison when he declared, “They were very much the same, each attempting to force his picture of reality upon me and neither giving a hoot in hell for how things looked to me”.

The recent rhetoric of Willard “Mitt” Romney reveals a foreboding narrative of privilege. Romney in a fundraising dinner rather cavalierly said, ““There are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” That’s the authentic Romney on full display. In the same space he also said, “My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico ... and had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino." Romney’s remarks bequeath to us what the construction of the duality of privilege really looks like. First he has a blatant disdain for those who believes are the wretched of society. Romney has no cultural or sociological connectivity to how government programs are crucial to the survival of those who need them. His cultural or sociological relationship to the government has been mainly for the purposes of wealth creation and wealth preservation. He can’t understand how the role of government can be a prominent one to those who have suffered from legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, educational inequality, gender oppression, sexual injustice, and economic exploitation.

Secondly, his privileged allows him to desire the “advantages” of being a minority (i.e. his comments on if he was a Mexican he would have a better chance at winning the presidency) without ontologically indentifying with the experiences of minorities. Only someone born in and molded by privilege can articulate this kind of ideology. This pathology is brilliantly explained in another context, on the Dave Chappelle show, Paul Mooney says, “Everybody wanna be a nigga but nobody wants to be a nigga.” What Mooney is saying is that some want the benefits of being black without embodying the struggles that authentically make up the "isness" of blackness. Privilege realizes the apparent “benefits” of the disadvantaged while simultaneously denying the perpetual struggle of the disadvantaged.

The physician Luke writes in the eighteenth chapter of book that bears his name about a Pharisee that prayed a pietistic prayer. Draped in his religious regalia he says, “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” A striking ethical fallacy is presented. The Pharisee’s error is that he is judging himself based on what he’s not doing instead of properly monitoring what he should be doing. There must be a transformation of this kind of narrative in our religious and political discourse. Romney is teaching all of us about the dangers and pitfalls of privilege. We must all fight the subtle temptation to exercise our own reasonable portion of privilege. Whether it is economic, religious, racial, gender, or sexual privilege. Katie Cannon speaks to this realization candidly be saying, “ As long as the White-male experience continues as the ethical norm, Black women, Black men, and others will suffer unequivocal oppression.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Did Jesus have a wife?

A newly discovered fragment of Coptic writing suggests some contemporaries of Jesus argued about his marital status and some believed he was married, according to a Harvard scholar of early Christianity.
Karen L. King, a historian at Harvard Divinity School, presented her finding Tuesday at a meeting of Coptic scholars.
In her paper, King notes the papyrus is the “only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife.  It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century. 
At the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies Tuesday, King spoke about her finding based on a piece of papyrus fragment provided by anonymous private collector who contacted her to analyze it.
“King and colleague AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, believe that the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel,” according to a press release from Harvard.
Read the rest here

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Mormon, 2 Catholics and a Protestant go into a homeless shelter

Religiously speaking, this presidential election is a fascinating moment in our national life, and for multiple reasons.

First, one party nominated a Mormon and a Roman Catholic as president and vice president respectively, the first time in American history that a major party ticket has excluded a Protestant! This is not the first time a Mormon has sought the presidency. The father of the present Republican nominee unsuccessfully pursued that party’s nomination in 1968. Mormon patriarch Joseph Smith ran for president in 1844, the same year he was assassinated by a “gentile” mob in Nauvoo, Ill.

Second, the ideological orientation of the two Roman Catholic vice presidential candidates could not be more disparate. Yet, both the Republican and the Democrat have been reprimanded by American bishops for their views on economics and sexuality, respectively. (Ironically, the bishops have found themselves chastened over similar issues.)

Third, the Democratic nominee (the country’s first African-American President) is a Christian, long schooled in that faith by the African-American church. Yet many question his Christian profession in surveys indicating some 40 percent of the public still believes him to be a Muslim.

These electoral events bring together four individuals with diverse religious identities, many reflecting contradictory approaches to personal and communal faith. As election-day looms, what in their traditions might unite them, with long-term implications for the party that captures the presidency?

What if these candidates made a concerted response to poverty, a major imperative of each of their respective faiths? Yet each campaign seems strangely silent regarding poverty and the poor. As one commentator recently noted, talking about poverty in this election year is “not a political winner.”
Read the rest here

Mormons and Evangelicals

Watch Mormons and Evangelicals on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The God Card

Even as we watch the violent collision of politics and religion at American embassies around the world, here at home Presidential politics took a decidedly religious turn. Mitt Romney, trailing in several decisive purple states, has resorted to the “God Card.” Capitalizing on the omission (and later reinsertion) of God into the Democratic Party platform, Romney has recently added God into his stump speech, “I will not take God out of my heart, I will not take God out of the public square, and I will not take it out of the platform of my party.” [Insert Amen! here].

Here in Virginia, Romney raised the specter of a “godless” Obama removing “In God We Trust” from the currency and from the Pledge of Allegiance. Standing before the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach amid throngs of veterans and their families (mostly all white and very conservative), Romney remarked, “Our pledge says ‘under God. I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins. And I will not take God out of my heart.” Never you mind that Obama wears his religion like a ribbon or that the President never suggested removing “God” from the Pledge or off of US currency, God is good politics.
Read the rest here

The Bible in the Public Square

“Experts say Bible has role in American life,” ran the dog-bites-man headline in the Duke Chronicle. “Contrary to popular belief,” the article begins, “the Bible affects people’s everyday lives because of its influence on the political and social realm, experts said.” The experts were on hand for a day-and-a-half conference on “The Bible in the Public Square” sponsored by Duke’s Center for Jewish Studies (with help from the Religion Department and Southern Methodist University).

Panels ranged from The Bible and Popular Culture to the Bible and Middle East Policy. (All sessions were videotaped and can be viewed in their entirety on the conference website--eventually.) Jacques Berlinerblau, a wisecracking former jazz vibraphonist from Brooklyn who now teaches at Georgetown, opened the conference with a paper on the Bible and presidential politics, reminding us that how scholars read the Bible and assess Biblical literacy is very different from how politicians (and ordinary Bible-believers) read and deploy the Good Book. He also plumbed the mystery of why no one has succeeded in organizing a voting coalition made up of all the religious folk left out of the Religious Right—most Catholics, mainline Protestants, non-Orthodox Jews, Unitarians, Quakers, Pagans, seekers, and so on. These modernists would number some 90-100 million and be electorally decisive.

Politics was a concern throughout, from a session on the Bible and America’s Founding Era, which included a stem-winding talk from John Fea (Has this man ever considered running for office? He’s got the stature and vocal chops to make a fine congressman at the very least), who took on the work of David Barton, explaining that though the American Revolution was surely drenched in Biblical language the literalists were actually on the Loyalist side. Shalom Goldman delivered a paper on “God’s American Israel,” which detailed the centuries-long American fascination with the Hebrew language and tropes (not so much actual Jews), evidenced most strikingly in Mormonism. “If Israel hadn’t been created,” Goldman asserted, “the U.S. would have had to invent it.”
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Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Journey Toward the “New Evangelicalism”

If you’ve never changed your mind about something, you may be dead. Spiritually, intellectually, and even politically, if new facts and realities don’t ever prompt you to alter your way of thinking, you might as well be dead. To not learn and change, especially spiritually, is a form of death.

But change is hard. It’s also risky.

I know about the consequences of changing one’s thinking. I was fired from my position as vice-president for governmental relations at the National Association of Evangelicals. That’s right, I was asked to resign for comments made on a nationally syndicated radio show called “Fresh Air.” I provided too much “fresh air” for my bosses to handle. Officially, I was asked to resign. But the reality is that I was fired.
This event devastated me and my family. We were shocked that such a drastic action had been taken. “Please have your office cleared out within a few days”—these were my instructions. That wasn’t an easy thing to do. I had worked for the Association since 1980, and this was 2008. So, for twenty-eight years I had faithfully represented the organization, the last ten as vice president. I loved it and the people I had worked with.

Being axed in such a fashion proved hard. As if to dramatize their dissatisfaction, my “going away” severance was three months of salary. It was a clear message: please, just go away. Or as one editor wrote: “Evangelicals, one surmises, aren’t always against divorce.”
I was heartbroken. The nation’s newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, as well as small dailies such as my hometown Free Lance-Star, ran stories with these headlines: “Evangelical Leader Quits Over Gay Union Remark,” and “Truth Breaks a Fall.”
In a broad-ranging conversation about my work to educate my fellow evangelicals about the impacts of climate change, I told Terry Gross, the host of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” that I could support “civil unions” for gays and lesbians and that government funding of contraception was morally acceptable as a way to avoid abortion.

Perhaps most offensive to the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, which had given speaking platforms for Republican candidates for the presidency going back to Ronald Reagan, and whose officials I had joined for election campaigns for these Republican candidates, was that I said I had voted for candidate Barack Obama in the Virginia primary (against Hillary Clinton) for the presidency. Implied, of course, was that I had voted for Obama in the general election of 2008. And Barack Obama is a Democrat.
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Resurrection Power: Remembering Tupac Shukur

by Ebony A, Utley
R3 Contributor

September 13, 2012, is the sixteenth death anniversary of Tupac Amaru Shakur. While riding in the passenger seat of Suge Knight’s BMW Tupac was shot four times while waiting for a light at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road in Las Vegas. He succumbed to his injuries on Friday, September 13, 1996. He was 25 years old.

Questions remain. Was it a revenge shooting because of an earlier altercation? Was he shot over East Coast/West Coast beef? Did Bad Boy Records chairman Puff Daddy (now Diddy) order a hit on a rival to increase publicity and profits? Did Death Row Records chairman Suge Knight order a hit on a friend to increase publicity and profits? Was Tupac assassinated because of a government conspiracy? Although I am not entirely sure who killed Tupac or why he was killed, I can say with absolute certainty that Tupac has been resurrected.

In my book, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God, I surveyed 175 undergraduates about their thoughts on rap and religion. They identified Tupac as their second most religious rapper after Kanye West. The respondents’ average age was 22-years-old, which meant they never sat in front of the TV to watch Tupac’s newest video premier on Yo! MTV Raps or waited in line at a record store for his new album to drop. They have no memories of him except what has been resurrected in popular culture.

With at least 10 authorized posthumous album releases, the 2003 documentary Resurrection, talks about a Tupac biopic and a stage musical, as well as the revolving door of retired police officers who suddenly have new information about his cold case, Tupac persists in our collective consciousness in part because of his fabulous life after death. Perhaps, the most striking resurrection was Tupac’s 2012 Cochella performance.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Politics of Language

My attention was riveted by a story in The Jerusalem Report of September 10, 2012, because it dealt with a topic that has fascinated me since my childhood (for a reason I will briefly mention momentarily). The story reports on a move to revive the Aramaic language in a Christian Arab village in Israel. Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, has a very long history, during which it was for a while the official language of the Persian empire and then the spoken vernacular throughout much of the Middle East, also by most Jews after Hebrew had become a “dead language” used only for religious purposes. It was of course the language of Jesus. Aramaic itself became mainly a “dead language” after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East, spoken by a few scattered minorities but, like Hebrew for Jews, continuing as the language of worship for Orthodox Christian churches in the region.

The Jerusalem Report story occurred in the village of Jish in the Galilee, sixty-five percent of whose inhabitants are Maronites (Orthodox in communion with Rome), the rest mostly Melkites (Orthodox in communion with Constantinople), with a sprinkling of Muslims. Both Maronites and Melkites speak Arabic in their daily lives, but use Syriac, a version of Aramaic, in worship. The leader of the Aramaic movement in the village is a young man, Shadi Khalloul, who has been pushing for the teaching of spoken Aramaic in the village school. His advocacy finally succeeded after it was supported by a new principal, who is himself a Muslim. The Aramaic instruction has now been approved by the Israeli ministry of education. The story in an Israeli publication naturally emphasized the similarity with the rebirth of Biblical Hebrew by modern Zionism. Khalloul only speaks Aramaic with his two-year old son—just as Eliezer Ben Yehudah, who led the Hebrew revival in the late 1800s, only spoke Hebrew with his son. There is a story about an elderly Hebraist who came from Europe to the then brand-new town of Tel Aviv. He was jostled and obscenely insulted by a young boy, and afterward turned to his companion with sheer delight—“how wonderful – he can swear in Hebrew!”

Khalloul has an openly stated political purpose in mind: to unite all the Christians in the Middle East as “one strong nation”. A nation, it is supposed, needs a unifying language. Aramaic is a plausible candidate. This is understandable in the contemporary context—Christians threatened by militant Islam in all the Middle East, and as a double minority in Israel, Christians among the Muslims and non-Jews in the Jewish state. But the politics of language has a very old history all over the world, though it flared up virulently with the emergence of modern nationalism. Very often conflicts over language have had a religious dimension.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Grace of God in Reflective Thoughts of Racism

by Brian Foulks
R3 Contributor
For all intense purposes, I should be a bitter black man. I have trained for a position that I can’t secure a job within; I am without a full-time job; and I continue to read and see the injustices heaped upon black males with a myriad of other things as well. I have seen how the city of Philadelphia bombed the MOVE headquarters where black children were living. I have seen the blatant injustice around the Trayvon Martin case. I have seen countless video of young black males being killed by cops. I have read numerous articles, books and personal conversations with those who experienced Jim Crow, segregation and parts of slavery. Last but not least, I saw how the poor (a disproportionate amount of them were poor blacks)were subjugated to treatment as if they were criminals, exiled on the Isle of Patmos, known as the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.

As I reflect on those things, I almost want to say what the f— is going on as reconcile this is my mind. I am amazed that we have made it this far with such obvious resentment placed upon us-and when I say us I mean black folks. Yes, whites go through things at an alarming rate but they do not have to deal with that silent killer known as racism. Racism is an ingrained retardant that if not restructured mentally will cripple you. Everyday, I have to wrestle with the notion that my neighbors are calling me a nigger. (all of my neighbors are white) Everyday I have to wrestle with do I leave off certain schools on my resume because it will show that I am black. See, I am a proud graduate of Benedict College which would denote my blackness because it is a historical black College. These are by products of racism that as a black male ,I deal with on a daily basis.

Most read my blogs, tweets, posts would think that I am a racist because I appear to deal with black issues and racism on a consistent basis. Well, I am not a racist or spit racist taunts but I am a realest and there is no such thing as post-blackness. I grew up in a white city, went to a white high school but I am a black man that loves black people. That is not to say I hate others but I put such emphasis on that because of the way black people are treated via the media. It is almost a crime to love black people.
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God, #DNC2012 #RNC2012, and Nationalism

I just wanted to make a few comments about having God in a political party’s platforms. I do not wish to ask the question why, because, we already know that mentioning g-d/God/Godde is either privileging or trying to make a space for religious persons (usually the former). In many circles, there are Christians who pride themselves on insulting people who are atheist/agnostic, and these postures are horribly arrogant and self-righteous. It has more to do with those people’s/person’s (the self-righteous Christian apologists) individual hang-ups in being challenged and questioned by others, rather than anything atheists/agnostics have done (as a group).

The story that the Democratic Nationalist Convention had dropped the word “god” out of its platform was broken by none other than Tea Party Evangelical David Brody of the 700 Club– Democrats Drop God From Party Platform. Of course, sensationalizing all of this, and being fair and balanced, Brody mentions the fact that the DNc did have a section on faith, so it’s not like the Democrats were excluding religionists all together. No one however has questioned where the RNC has mentioned God, especially the term “God-given.”
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Healing Toxic Faith: Did Jesus die to save us from God?

Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God’s demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called “Good News”? It’s questions like these that make so many people want to have nothing to do with Christianity.

Countless people filling our pews have adopted this hurtful view of God and themselves. It has led many to internalize feelings of shame and self-loathing, thinking this is what God desires. Others have lost their faith entirely because of it, unable to worship a God who seems to them to be a moral monster. Faith motivated by fear, threat, and feelings of worthlessness. How could things have gone so wrong? When did the good news become bad news?

Behind all of this lies an understanding of the cross rooted in retributive justice known as penal substitution. Simply put: in this theory of the atonement Jesus is punished (penal) instead of us (substitution). Penal substitution is, without question, the most widespread theory of the atonement today. So much so, that many people do not think of it as a theory at all, but simply as “what the Bible says.”

Consequently, in an effort to be true to the teachings of the Bible, many Christians struggle to believe in penal substitution, even though it seems wrong and hurtful to them. We hate it, but think this is what God wants us to believe.

In my new book Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross I propose an alternative: The book takes a deep look at Scripture and makes the case that the above view is neither representative of Jesus and his teachings, nor is it reflective of the New Testament. Rather, it is the result of people projecting their worldly understanding of punitive justice onto the biblical text.
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September 11th, 2001. The Day My Hatred was Born

We will read many perspectives over the next few days about how to honor the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on US soil, and we would do well to read them. Some will call us to unity. Others might promote our nation's inherent pluralism. However September 11th, 2001 marks a very different anniversary for me. For me, it is a solemn day, a dark day.

September 11th, 2001 marks the day my hatred toward religion was born, and it all began with Islam.

Eleven years ago today, I was a Christian in my Evangelical prime. I witnessed to those I perceived as "lost" (for me, everyone was lost), I read my Bible daily, and I was convinced that Jesus was indeed the "way, the truth, and the life" (Gospel of John 14: 6). My world was contained in a Bible-sized box, and if one found others outside that box, they qualified as prodigal sons, squandering their lives on vain idols of pleasure among Epicurean hogs.

Then, as those towers collapsed in a pillar of dust, smoke, and fire, something happened. My passion for Christ mutated into a crusade for vengeance. Vengeance against whom?


I knew nothing about Islam or any other religion prior to September 11th, yet from my point of view, the perpetrators of the attacks had delivered all the information required. Two weeks later, I joined the United States Marine Corps with one goal: slaughter as many Muslims as possible.

Fortunately, my plans for "holy" slaughter never came to fruition; however, the slope that led to my abandonment of faith and eventual abhorrence of religion began soon after my discharge from the Marine Corps.
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Meet Derrick Harkins, the Pastor Behind the Democratic Party’s Faith Outreach

“Faith is an integral part of the Democratic Party,” the Reverend Derrick Harkins proclaimed Wednesday as he kicked off a panel on religion at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. “Don’t put any credence to the lie that somehow faith is not an integral part of who we are as Democrats—somebody ought to say, ‘Amen!’” Applause filled the forum. The event, the second that Harkins helped organize this week in addition to a daily morning prayer series, is the most recent attempt by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to rally the faith vote for President Obama in November. And Harkins is the man behind the mission.

The first time Harkins met the president was six years ago, when then-Senator Obama gave his Call to Renewal speech—perhaps his most openly Christian public address—at Washington’s National City Christian Church. “If we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at, to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own,” Obama said, “then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.” At the time, Harkins was on the board of the progressive evangelical organization Sojourners, which was hosting the conference. From the pews, he listened carefully as the young congressman outlined how his Christian commitments informed his progressive agenda. “Even then, when people were just beginning to buzz about his possibly running for president, I was struck by the depth and authenticity of his own understanding of his personal faith,” Harkins recalls.

Now it is up to Harkins to convey that message to America’s faithful. Last October, the DNC tapped Harkins, a full-time pastor at one of Washington’s oldest historically African American churches, Nineteenth Street Baptist, to lead its rekindled faith outreach effort. He has one goal until election day: to get America’s faithful as fired up—and more—for Democrats and Obama as they were in 2008. The party made great strides four years ago in conveying themselves as values voters. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Obama picked up 26 percent of the white evangelical vote, up from John Kerry’s 21 percent in 2004. He made even stronger gains among religious voters under age 40: he received 33 percent of their vote versus Kerry’s 12 percent.
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Monday, September 10, 2012

Religion and the Race for the White House

Republicans plan to “Take Back America.” While Democrats lead a charge “Forward.” In less than sixty days, voters will determine the one path for a divided country. President Barack Obama and Willard “Mitt” Romney reveal in their personal stories and party platforms America’s great diversity and divisions. Religion is part of that diversity and division.

Religion is meant to influence the decision-making of its followers. During the political conventions, every speech ended with “God Bless America.” Interfaith clergy prayed for America. Gospel singer BeBe Winans sang for the Republicans. Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave the Democratic benediction. Yet, the candidates’ religious practices have played only a minor role in this campaign.

That may all change. Willard “Mitt” Romney is now the Republican candidate for President of the United States. Voters, in trying to better understand Romney, the man, may need to know more about his religion. In May of 2010, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) revealed a 45.5 percent increase in the number of Mormons in America. That growth rate is second only to the 66.7 percent increase in Muslim adherents. The number of Protestants decreased by 12.8 percent while Catholics decreased by 1.7 percent.

The modern presidency offers little religious diversity for a country with thousands of religious practices. President John F. Kennedy was Catholic. Richard Nixon was a Quaker. There has been no known Jewish, atheist, or non-Protestant presidents. Romney is a Mormon. Every religion has elements which would strike a non-follower as puzzling. LDS is no exception.
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Lecrae’s Balancing Act: Religion, Race, and Holy Hip-Hop

With the release of his new album, Gravity, earlier this month, Lecrae is growing in popularity as a hip-hop artist among audiences Christian and non-Christian, black and white. The Associated Press, among others, praised the album, saying, “Lecrae delivers a strong piece of work. He’s not afraid to rap about his past mistakes, supplying inspirational rhymes filled with Christian values backed by well-produced secular hip-hop beats.”

Lecrae (his full name is Lecrae Moore) stands at the intersection of two contrasting cultures: the urban vibe of historically black hip-hop and the theological leanings of the historically white Reformed tradition with its roots in Calvinism.

It’s a cultural mix common in Holy Hip-Hop, says author and “hip-hop theologian” Efrem Smith. Holy Hip-Hop artists often appear in front of white evangelical audiences and receive support from white Reformed pastors like John Piper and Mark Driscoll (who have both interviewed Lecrae). But the artists themselves tend to be young black men from inner-city backgrounds who ironically struggle to find an audience among urban youth.

The reason for that, Smith argues, is because the African American church has too often rejected hip-hop culture and because urban youth sometimes dismiss Holy Hip-Hop as inferior to secular hip-hop music.
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Dr. Keri Day-Video Chat in November

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Religion and the Democratic National Convention

Watch Religion and the Democratic National Convention on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The evolving politics of faith

What role will religion play in the 2012 elections? According to voters, not a big one. A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that most Americans are comfortable with what they know about the candidates' faith and that their votes will have little to do with the nominees' religion. In fact, a majority of the electorate is significantly more interested in Mitt Romney's tax returns and gubernatorial record than in his beliefs.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said religion's influence on the way they vote is declining, which may explain how the Republican Party, whose platform in recent years has reflected white evangelical priorities, could have nominated a Mormon and a Roman Catholic to run for the White House. But is the Romney/Ryan ticket a sign that religion no longer matters or that religious identity — even on the right — is evolving along post-denominational lines? Not really.

Galvanized by a born-again Southern Baptist, a peanut farmer from rural Georgia, the white evangelical voting bloc emerged as a key factor in the 1976 election of Democrat Jimmy Carter. But when Carter proved too liberal for their tastes, many switched parties to support Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Reagan, unlike Carter, did not use the term "born again," but Christians understood that he was raised in a pious home and had a come-to-Jesus experience in the late 1960s. More important, and as his advisors made sure they knew, his social, economic and political positions squared with theirs and were justified along the same religious lines.
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DNC and God: Religion Present at Both Conventions, But in Very Different Ways

Amid the high and low minded rhetoric and the “slamming” of the other party and its policies at this year’s Republican and Democratic national conventions there has been a backdrop of faith on display. Representatives of many faiths were on hand to offer up official and unofficial prayers throughout each of the conventions. Christians of all stripes, Muslims, and Jews were all represented to some degree either on the platform or in nearby venues. In an interesting twist, the same man, Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, will have deliveredthe benediction both conventions. With the notable exception of a prayer offered by a man of the Sikh faith at the RNC the prayers were a relatively quiet and mostly overlooked part of each night, but a close listen to those prayers reveals the values that each party holds as they each seek to send their nominee (back) to the White House.

The prayers offered at the RNC, starting with the one given by retired police chief and Mormon Ken Hutchins, were largely vague. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of those delivering the invocations, there seems to have been little effort to really know anything about whom they were praying for. There were prayers for those who suffer from war, famine, drought and fire – largely natural disasters, but short shrift was given to those who suffer from manmade disasters, financial and otherwise. These kinds of prayers, while important and needed, can seem empty and impersonal. It’s relatively easy to pray for these uncontrollable things, to ask God to help those who have been devastated in ways beyond our control. But to pray for specific people who are suffering specific ills is a much more difficult task. That kind of prayer requires an empathy with the plight of the individual that seems to evade most public policymaking whether Republican or Democratic.
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Friday, September 7, 2012

Heaven And Hell: Hip Hop's Difficulty With Christianity

Just a little over eight years ago, after leaving the game to pursue a higher calling, Mase released his third studio album, Welcome Back. Since then, the Harlem emcee, noticeably unable to decide between pulpits and popping collars, has resurfaced a few times on your favorite urban radio station. First alongside 50 Cent and his G-Unit constituents, then on a few remixes by Drake and Wale to name a few. And now, after a performance at Hot 97’s Summer Jam concert this spring, it appears the former Bad Boy may be down with M-M-Maybach Music (in my sexiest voice). While I don't doubt Mason Betha’s love for Jesus Christ or even his road to Damascus conversion, he does appear to struggle with balancing Hip Hop and holiness.

Whether “M.A. dollar sign. E” continues to keep one Gucci loafer in the game and one out, the bigger question remains: Why are Hip Hop and Christianity mutually exclusive? What is so inherently bad about the genre that once rappers find God they must make their way to the nearest fluorescent exit sign? Fellow reformed Bad Boys Loon and Shyne also ran for the hills (literally) once they found salvation. It seems rappers aren’t able or given permission to continue making dope music with a different message. Admittedly, that might be a tall order given the climate of the culture. Hip Hop often, but not always, promotes living in the “Y.O.L.O.” moment with quick money, arrogance, promiscuity and dishonesty. While Christianity represents principles like self-control, love, patience, joy, honesty, humility and self-denial. It’s tough to reconcile the two.
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The Pastor and the Professor-Episode 1

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Live Video Chat: Benjamin Elijah Mays

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Politics and religion

Like John F. Kennedy before him, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested to the American people Thursday night his particular brand of faith is not a threat.

President Kennedy, a Catholic, famously said he would not take directions from the church on matters of public policy, and that the Constitution guaranteed the separation of church and state. For his part, Mr. Romney shrugged off his Mormon faith, saying the fact it made him different than most Americans was no big deal.

He also made a point of saying he would guarantee freedom of religion, even though there was no obvious reason for him to make such an assurance other than polls that show some American Christians don't like the Mormon religion.
There was a certain irony about a U.S. leader feeling compelled to trumpet freedom of religion in order to appeal to the better instincts of those who might vote against him because of his religion.

American presidential candidates may not talk about their particular brand of faith, but they all establish their credentials as men of God and faith. And as if to advertise those core beliefs, every president since the Second World War, including Barack Obama, has invited evangelist Billy Graham to the White House for an audience.
Prayer breakfasts and spiritual gatherings are routine.
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The Mythical Catholic Vote: The Harmful Consequences of Political Assimilation

Are Catholics now so “successfully” assimilated into American political life that they are without political impact—that there really is no such thing as a “Catholic vote”? Unfortunately enough, Catholics are largely indistinguishable from non-Catholics and, despite a few pundits, no, there really is no “Catholic vote.” This obvious conclusion—clear enough from the fact that the vote for the winning candidates in the last national election was approximately the same for Catholics and non-Catholics—has serious current implications as the anti-Catholic posturing of the Obama Administration escalates.

Various studies have tried to detect a voting pattern in order to justify the term “Catholic vote.” One attempt distinguishes Catholics in general from “practicing” Catholics. Another sorts Catholics into three categories: practicing, nominal (or “cafeteria Catholics”), and Hispanics. A third variant, sees as many as five categories of Catholic voter: ethnic blue collar types; suburban Catholics; Midwestern German and Polish Catholics; Hispanics; and the cafeteria Catholics.

These efforts ultimately misfire because they assume a vote based on a “Catholic issue” or that “priest-ridden Catholics” (to use an historic term) vote pursuant to direction from the hierarchy. The term “Catholic vote” implies the existence of a certain cohesiveness, a unity—even a “bloc” of votes—held together by 1) a shared view on particular key issues and/or 2) a coalescence under respected Church leadership. American Catholics today have neither. Apart from national voting statistics, indicating that Catholic millions in 2008 supported the pro-abortion presidential candidate, a glance at some state statistics with respect to the presumed “Catholic” states, and their lack of successful political effort to limit abortion, is revealing. Compare two lists:
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Everybody Has a Story: The Joy of Teaching

R3 Contributor Sharon Lauricella is featured here

Inspiration comes in different forms. It can be in the form of a movie, a show, a song, or a dance. It can also come from a desire to simply make a difference. But often times, inspiration comes from the people closest to us, the people we surround ourselves with: our families, friends, and mentors. I met one of my biggest inspirations about four years ago. I was in my first year, in my first writing class in university. I was in a class called Fundamentals of Professional Writing. Contrary to my expectations of simply learning about grammar rules and communicating with businesses and organizations, the course taught me a lot more than just learning how to write. By the end of it, I discovered a lot about myself and what I wanted to do and achieve. Sharon Lauricella changed my mind not only about the course, but about life in general.

Sharon’s teaching philosophy is simple: set the framework for students but give them the freedom to play and be creative. “I believe that students thrive with a variety of pedagogical approaches and a large degree of freedom,” explains Sharon. Throughout her teaching career, the projects she proposed to students have both been challenging and enjoyable. She has asked students to introduce one another using their Facebook profiles, create blogs about any topic that comes to mind, and write fictional press releases about fantasy accomplishments. Some students wrote about being married to a celebrity, while others wrote about their actual dreams and the steps they took to achieve them. She has also asked students to participate in a “Peace Project,” in which they were asked to explore their own meaning of peace and nonviolent communication. The resulting projects varied from scrapbooks, to interactive PowerPoint, to EP albums, and even to a fundraiser event. Everyone has a creative spirit and Sharon definitely cultivates it through her teaching.
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On Jerusalem, God and the Democratic Convention

I left politics for a reason: I was tired, down trodden and disenchanted with the whole process.

Having the opportunity to return to journalism is a blessing. Being able to speak my mind and write only what I believe for the first time in three years is freeing. More importantly, as a former editor of mine recently said, “I’m glad you’re back. You always belonged in newspapers.” Indeed, it’s like coming home.

After what happened Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention, I would find it impossible to stand as a member of the Democratic Party if I were still in politics today. Not including God and Israel in the party platform in the first place was a tremendously stupid omission. However, when likely half the delegates voted not to put the language back in the platform, that would have been the line for me.

I’ve never met a single political operative on either side of the aisle who agrees with everything for which their party stands. A number of gay Republicans despise the anti-gay message of many Republican leaders. A number of pro-life Democrats despise the vigor of pro-choice Democratic leaders. But in every case, most political operatives believe in the core message of their party. They believe in the soul of their party and that, all things considered, their party has the best chance for providing prosperity and strength to the people they serve.

Were I still a political operative, I would have serious trouble saying that about the core of the Democratic Party today after witnessing what happened Wednesday.
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The Democratic Convention and The Illusion of Democracy

While Democracy and the Democratic Party may sound similar, the party leaders again showed yesterday that one has little to do with the other. President Obama and party leaders wanted the party’s platform changed to include a reference to both Jerusalem being the capital of Israel and God. The omissions however were not accidental and a high number of delegates opposed the change, which had to be agreed to by two-thirds of the delegates. As shown in the video below, in calling for a voice vote, the leadership was shocked when it appeared that more people voted no than yes — certainly well short of two-thirds in support of the changes. That did not matter. The leadership just declared the vote as having passed by two-thirds acclamation.

Many wanted to be neutral on the divisive issue of Jerusalem but Obama was worried about the political backlash among Jewish voters. Many others wanted a secular platform and to stand apart from faith-based politics. Obama himself has relied on faith-based politics and policies, as discussed in earlier columns. Obama objected to the removal of the word God and seemed to miss the secular purpose of the move, asking him “Why on earth would that have been taken out?” It appears that no one had the courage to answer that question by explaining to Obama that it is not necessarily that delegates do not believe in God but were standing against the use of God for political advantage. Instead, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted that “the platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008.”
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President Obama’s faith challenge at the Democratic convention

For the casual viewer of the major party political conventions, the ritual presence of religious leaders (who open and close each night’s events with prayer) may be lost. But the candidates and leadership of both parties are aware of the importance of invoking religion at political conventions: two-thirds (67 percent) of voters – including 66 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents, and 78 percent of Republicans – say that it’s important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs.

Last week, former Mass. governor Mitt Romney and the Republican National Convention largely embraced Romney’s Mormon faith, following a well-worn civil religion approach that made general references to God and faith while avoiding the potentially controversial specifics of Mormon theology that clash with his evangelical voter base. This week, as President Obama takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention, he faces a different, but also serious, challenge about how to address his faith while he makes his case for another four years as president.

Like Romney, Obama has faced some challenges on the faith front. As Daniel Cox and I noted in a recent chapter on Obama’s faith in “Religion and the American Presidency,” Obama made his entrance to the national stage with a speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention that was full of religious language, such as traditional biblical allusions (“It is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper -- that makes this country work”) and references to contemporary Christian music (“we worship an awesome God in the blue states”). This speech was also remarkable because it broke through at a time when the “values voters” movement was on the rise and Democrats were being lambasted for being perceived as unfriendly to religion.
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Loving Men: Jesus, Homophobia and Male Spirituality

In preparation for winter camping our Boy Scout Troop would do cold weather first aid training. This included the treatment for hypothermia, the condition that occurs when core body temperature becomes dangerously low due to exposure to cold. For Scouts on winter encampment, treatment meant warming the afflicted scout by stripping down naked with the victim in his sleeping bag. In the late 70s, when I was a Scout, boys reacted to this proposal with exaggerated horror, loud protestations of disgust and outbreaks of gay-baiting and homophobic slurs directed at the most vulnerable male in the group.

The mere mention of male to male physical intimacy ignited intense anxiety. The reaction said everything you needed to know about deeply socialized notions of "normal" intimacy and the coincident impulse to force "abnormal" or "uncomfortable" forms of relationship to the margins. As a Scout who did not share the dominant reaction, the message to me was clear; bury those feelings or risk physical and emotional violence.

Homophobia is basic training for many American men. My best friends -- brothers who lived next door -- could think of no more cutting insult than to refer to each other as "my sister." I was raised next door in an explicitly feminist household so I found this "insult" odd and confusing. I did not yet realize that it is common for heterosexual boys to conflate gender identity and sexual orientation, but I did wonder whether it was bad for a man to be like a woman? In retrospect, I realized, male identity depends on clear differentiation from anything feminine. To be a "sissy" is to blur culturally defined roles by being a receptive, sensitive or vulnerable male. Such blurring causes anxiety and forceful attempts to return to the assumed status quo.

So let's examine the following propositions: I love Jesus. Jesus is a man. I am a man who loves a man named Jesus.
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Monday, September 3, 2012

Reconciling with James Baldwin: My Discontent with the “System” of the Church

by Brian Foulks
R3 Contributor

I have grown discontent with the “system” of church. This is not to cast dispersion upon the biblical understanding of church but to identify the mis-education that have befalling the church. It has embraced a prideful stance of bigotry, hatred, racism and sexism disguised in Christian jargon and labeled as religious zeal and piety. It has managed to produce a hate based upon personal dislikes that are not comparable to the hatred that is described by God. Ambiguous theological concepts of the reformers became standard epitaphs that are centered upon inhuman practices of its founders. Though the concepts may be biblically correct the perspectives are humanly divisive. So what it produces is a sacred white boy club that other ethnicities and women have no real chance to ever find solace without conforming to those tenets-at least in those spaces, if at all.

This is not a safe haven speech for egalitarianism but a stark view of the theological perspectives that supposedly galvanized the Christian church when in actuality it was the impetus for the system of church. A high level of importance was placed upon transference of information-evangelism, but little was placed upon building community. (This is why John Calvin and Martin Luther can be embraced though they had pure hatred for one another but James Cone is viewed as a hater because he admonishes the need for the oppress community to strive. Also why Jonathan Edwards can own slaves and still be deemed the greatest pastor /preacher ever in America but Jeremiah Wright, a Marine veteran and pastor, is demonized by the media regardless of the fact that he established many major programs in a poverty stricken community.) It is important to understand that building community or a kingdom is only possible if there is shared information. The information cannot become a substitute for community. So sharing just for the sake of sharing becomes an aimless tool used to build the system for growth instead of building a people for community. The system of church has become just that- shared information. The power of the church is slowly dying and people are finding discontent with the institutionalized, systematized, programmatic process that disconnects with those who ask the church to defend itself in the name of truth.
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