Stacy D. Dandridge is a student at Memphis Theological Seminary where she serves as a James L. Netters Scholar Graduate Assistant. She is a contributor to The Dialogue Corner and the Young Ministers’ Corner of The African American Lectionary. She also maintains a blog that seeks to Giving Inspiration for Transformation (G.I.F.T.).
She currently serves on the ministerial staff at Christ Missionary Baptist Church, under the direction of Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart. She works diligently in the Department of Discipleship Development at CMBC—giving leadership to classes intended to develop new Disciples and strengthen their journey with God. She is on fire for God and is committed to seeing lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.
Ithaca College Professor Dr. Christopher House is the recipient of the National
Communication Association's African American Communication and Culture
Division 2012 Outstanding Dissertation Award. Dr. House successfully defended his University of Pittsburgh dissertation, titled "Rhetorics of the Black Church: Sex, Religion, and
HIV/AIDS Across the African Diaspora," last year as a predoctoral diversity fellow in the Department of Communication Studies at Ithaca College. He will be recognized for his outstanding work at the annual meeting of NCA in Orlando next month.
In selecting the dissertation, the awards committee noted that Dr. House's dissertation "...made meaningful contributions to communication scholarship regarding African Americans and/or the African Diaspora in insightful ways." One of the reviewers added that "the author's use of multiple methods to engage a topic that is crucial but rarely studied in communication is impressive. His engaging exploration of how personal involvement or personal vulnerability with disease actually causes these theologians to rethink and reframe what they espouse is compelling."
Dr. House served as a Visiting Professor at Memphis Theological Seminary at it Rhetoric Race and Religion Institute.
Having obtained both a Bachelors and Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Memphis, as well as an African American Literature Certification, Gee Joyner has utilized his rhetorical prowess as an empowering tool of social commentary to record the dichotomy and disturbing behaviors indicative of God's wonderful and complex creation; humanity. After surviving an attempted murder in 2002 and using his skills in composition to aid and assist troubled juveniles in their quest to overcome the sociopolitical, economical, and violent pitfalls indicative of U.S. culture, Joyner now embarks on a sojourner to infiltrate the literary world by documenting his take on America and the attributes thereof that define what it truly is to be American. His Masters thesis, White Man's Fame, Black Man's Shame: The American Textual Canon's Negative Depiction of African American's in Mass Media, resides in the Ned McWherter Library at the University of Memphis and is a document of depth that further explains his literary, social, and cultural convictions. He is the author of Kim; The Story of John and several published Literary Criticisms. Joyner is currently a professor of English in the Fine Arts and Humanities Department at the historical LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis. Gee also blogs at Rainbows and Lilacs
Giovanni Neal is a professional blogger, educator and paralegal. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice and holds a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies. Ms. Neal has been a professional blogger for two years and brings her unique perspective on race and religion. Prior to her career as a professional blogger, Ms. Neal served as a paralegal. In addition, Ms. Neal taught social studies and world geography. Ms. Neal incorporated innovative technologies in her lessons and encouraged her students to utilize these tools. From this experience, she developed a passion for professional blogging and uses it as a medium to be part of the political process. Although she was raised in a Christian household, she wasn’t raised in the church, nor did she receive any formal academic training in theology. She is a self-described, deist or agnostic, and offers a different view of religion. Additionally, as a black woman you will find that her ideas on racism will challenge the norm. Follow her on twitter @blamegirls
Last Tuesday, Andrew Sullivan’s post at The Daily Beasthighlighted what he believes to be the double standard the American media has applied to the racially charged sermons delivered by President Obama’s former Pastor Jeremiah Wright—replayed in a constant loop in 2008—and the relatively scant coverage the history of racial exclusion Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has received in 2012.
“It is a fact,” Sullivan writes, “that Mitt Romney belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life … which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978.” With this in mind, Sullivan asks his readers to engage in a thought experiment: “[C]an you imagine the outrage if Obama had actually been a part of a black supremacist church?”
Sullivan intended to provoke. And provoke he did. At Religion Dispatches, Joanna Brooks noted that while he got many details wrong about race and Mormonism, “Sullivan is right to point out that there is a tremendous double standard at play” when it comes to linking Wright to Obama and Mormonism to Romney. Yet in private, other Mormons—even those sympathetic to Sullivan’s analysis of their church’s troubling past—thought the timing of the piece was more provocative than its content. Sullivan’s post was more a manufactured “October surprise,” or even “blatant political demagoguery,” as one Mormon politico told me, than serious media criticism. At The American Conservative,this was more or less Rod Dreher’s assessment. While sharing Sullivan’s “disgust for the legacy of the anti-black theology [of] the Mormon church,” Dreher asserted that Sullivan “raises this because the election is very, very close, and his candidate, Obama, is in trouble.”
I too found Sullivan’s piece to be provocative. But unlike Dreher, and some of my Mormon friends, the lessons I take from the questions that Sullivan raises have less to do with the last two weeks of this presidential campaign, and more to do with the past four years of the Obama era.
In the past few years, we have given a lot of
weight and credence to the campaign season. We have lobbied and stumped for our
favorite candidate(s), held prayer vigils, watched debates, given lectures and
sermonic selections in hopes that “our candidate” would be elected to a
position of power, status, privilege and authority. Many of my individual
efforts recently have been synthesized around a “Souls to the Polls” Campaign
in collaboration with other ministers, ministries, scholars and social
activists attempting to encourage our people to vote. And in light of this, history (especially
2008 Presidential campaign history) suggests in doing so, we have missed or at
least mismanaged the necessary follow-up action on behalf of the electorate to
hold elected officials responsible and accountable for faithfully representing
the best interests of "we the people."
It is the grassroots efforts that have suffered and become stagnant;
well-adjusted with seemingly victorious "moments" and negligent
relative to the impact of "movements." It is only progressive and
prophetic movements that lead to substantial and impactful change. We have been
In countless faith communities, we too have drunk
from the well of opportunism. Many of us have succumbed to the priestly
pleasures of having back-slapping relationships with political officials. This
is not to suggest that we ought not to forge relationships to keep our politicians
grounded in their theological principles while we ensure that our theology is
politically relevant. However, we have been found guilty of taking back-door-deals,
silencing and extinguishing the prophetic voice and fire that people of
outrageous misfortune have longed to hear and receive from the various faith
communities that claim to represent them (us) in the name of love and justice.
In this past season, I have felt that my prophetic
hands were tied, at least to a degree, in some instances. Many of my Presidents
policies were continuations of his predecessor, a predecessor who I critiqued
vehemently and frequently, publically and privately. And in light of the backlash and
uncooperative, filibustering insensitivity Barack Obama was met with, I
acquiesced in many of my critiques of his lack of progressive fortitude and
fulfillment of his campaign promises relative to issues of race and class. I
have empathized with President Obama, knowing that election cycles are
ever-present and politicians have to "count the cost" in order to be
re-electable. I'm praying that in the next 4 years our President will be more
sensitive to the "least of these" and not pander to a mythical
middle-class that is not only colorblind, but often times colorless.
My response to our election is clear. Going
forward, organizing and mobilizing is non-negotiable. And these efforts must be rooted in something
other than consumerized and commercialized models of “social justice”
masquerading as piety. I will be the prophet to the White House AND
the Trap House, Wall Street AND Main Street, the Academy AND the Church and
beyond. My task is to mobilize and empower my brothers and sisters in the
faith, within the ministries in which I serve, the academic platforms on which
I stand and the street corners that I frequent to make sure "justice rolls
down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." I will keep
before the people and the prophets the penetrating question of "What WILL
the RIGHTEOUS do.... TODAY?" And as I ask it, I’ll be DOING THE WORK!
himinto the wilderness.
And he was therein
the wildernessfortydays,tempted ofSatan;andwas
with the wild beasts;and
unto him… Nowafter that…”
Mark 1:12-14a (KJV)
WHEN African-Americans go to the polls next week, they are likely to support Barack Obama at a level approaching the 95 percent share of the black vote he received in 2008. As well they should, given the symbolic exceptionalism of his presidency and the modern Republican Party’s utter disregard for economic justice, civil rights and the social safety net.
But for those who had seen in President Obama’s election the culmination of four centuries of black hopes and aspirations and the realization of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a “beloved community,” the last four years must be reckoned a disappointment. Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites — from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members — have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House.
These are not easy words to write. Mr. Obama’s expansion of health insurance coverage was the most significant social legislation since the Great Society, his stimulus package blunted much of the devastation of the Great Recession, and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul added major new protections for consumers. His politics would seem to vindicate the position of civil rights-era leaders like Bayard Rustin, who argued that blacks should form coalitions with other Democratic constituencies in support of universal, race-neutral policies — in opposition to activists like Malcolm X, who distrusted party politics and believed that blacks would be better positioned to advance their interests as an independent voting bloc, beholden to neither party.
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When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney traveled through Mississippi earlier this year, he used grits, football and "y'all" to connect with voters, but in the heart of the Bible Belt, many Southerners were more interested in the religious beliefs of the first Mormon candidate for the nation's highest office.
Local missionaries Brandon Urry and Riley Harris, both 20, spend as much as 12 hours a day pounding the pavement, sharing their faith with people who often know little about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Urry said lately, the first question people ask is, "What does Mitt Romney believe?"
It's a difficult question, because the Mormon Church stays out of the political realm as much as possible, taking a neutral stance.
But for the general populace, Romney has become the poster child for his faith.
"A lot of times, people come up and go, 'Oh, you're Romney's boys, but of course, that's a stereotype," Urry said. "We're politically neutral as a church, but we see more people willing to talk to us to learn more about Romney."
Urry, a native of Atlanta, and fellow missionary Riley Harris, of Centerville, Utah, arrived in Columbus six months ago. They cover an average of five to 20 miles per day by foot, bicycle and car. They manage to connect with five to eight people a day.
"One thing I've noticed is the surprise people have at the shared beliefs we have (with them)," Urry said. "We're more similar than people think. We're not that different at all."
What’s wrong–and what’s right–with the role of faith in American politics today? This is a big and complex question, and this post is simply an attempt to offer some thoughts. In it I will address two things that I see wrong with the role of faith in American politics today and two critical areas I believe may help improve the relationship between faith and politics. Feel free to share yours as well or to seek to extend what I’ve written here.
Problem #1: The necessity of paying lip service
Today, it’s almost impossible to have a fair shot at winning political office without acknowledging God. I mean my goodness, think of the hoopla when the Democratic party platform included the word “faith,” but not the word “God”! I’ve even heard Obama criticized for not mentioning God in the first presidential debate. If you don’t mention faith in the public square, if you don’t make sure to give some acknowledgement of God in practically every speech, you are looking for political disaster. (This is ironic given that many in the Christian Right state over and over that faith has been banished from the public square.)
“If you had to choose, would you vote for a conservative atheist or a liberal Christian?” This question went around the atheist blogosphere last week, and for me (and many others) the answer was laughably easy: the liberal Christian. I think that underscores the point that what we should care about when looking at political candidates is not their religious beliefs but rather their political positions. I really don’t care that Nancy Pelosi is Catholic. What I care about is her political platform, which I find essentially identical to my own political positions.
I couldn’t watch more than about fifteen minutes of the second Presidential debate. Unpleasant emotions flooded me as I watched the verbal jousting between Obama and Romney. Hearing Romney gratuitously praise Big Bird while promising to cut National Public Radio funding was bad enough in the first debate. When I heard Obama promising to go after every energy source and praising “clean coal” I’d had enough. Neither mentioned global warming as a primary concern. I read this week in Scientific American, global climate change will very likely be much worse than earlier predictions because of positive feedback loops. Every question during the debate was an opportunity to throw accusations and dirt at each other, selectively distorting the facts. Both candidates used statistics as weapons. Both candidates avoided being specific relying on emotionally provocative arguments.
Politicians and their handlers know, with greater and greater clarity, that neither political philosophy nor self-interest decide elections. How a candidate stands on issues often doesn’t persuade voters, particularly the critical swing voters. Manipulating voter’s feelings about the candidates, on the other hand, does win elections. They decide elections either by stimulating positive regard or, more often, instilling fear, dread and disgust. Slander and character assassination work, and work powerfully. And that makes me angry when I see it happening. It’s one of the reasons I find it very hard to listen to talk radio, one of the primary vectors for that emotional manipulation.
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Imagine for a moment that Barack Obama had never attended Jeremiah Wright's church in Chicago and had decided to attend services, and proselytize for, a black separatist, nationalist church that refused to allow whites to participate in crucial religious services because white people had been condemned by God for their iniquity in the ancient past and had been for ever marked white so black Americans would know instantly to keep their distance. In fact, the definition of white in this black supremacist church was just one drop of white blood in a black person. It was Nazi-like in its racist precision and exclusion. Whites were denied the rites that made a person a full member of the church. Even blacks with a tiny strain of white DNA were kept from full participation.
Imagine further that backing this racist church was not a youthful folly on Obama's part, but a profound commitment - that he went on a mission abroad to convert Christians to a new religion based on black racial supremacy, and has often said that the most important thing in his entire life to this day is a church whose sacred scripture declares white people to be cursed by God for their past sins - and the sign of this curse is their white skin.
A simple question: Do you think this issue would not come up in a general election or a primary? If Obama was subjected to news cycle after news cycle of clips of Obama's actual former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, can you imagine the outrage if Obama had actually been a part of a black supremacist church - that denied whites equal access to the sacraments - for over a decade in his adult life?
I raise this because it is a fact that Mitt Romney belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life, went on a mission to convert Christians and Jews and others to this church, which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978 - decades after Brown vs Board of Education, and a decade after the end of the anti-miscegenation laws.
Once upon a time, when journalists were actually asking politicians tough questions, rather than begging for a get for ratings, this question was actually asked of Mitt Romney by Tim Russert. It's a fascinating exchange for many reasons:
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The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States brought questions about race in America to the forefront of political and social discourse in novel ways. It also gave rise to the claim that America had entered a post-racial era. What people mean when they invoke post-racial is often unclear, however. And is achieving a post-racial nation even possible or desirable? Most often, media figures have deployed the term to indicate that Obama the candidate and president deemphasizes the divisive history of race in America in favor of universal histories and experiences that unite.
Indeed, in his address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, then-Senator Obama himself laid the political and emotional groundwork for this version of the post-racial ideal in asserting that, “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” During the 2008 Democratic primary, when video clips of sermons by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were decontextualized to emphasize black rage and political disloyalty, Obama delivered his landmark speech on race and politics. He condemned Wright’s comments for expressing “a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America.” In that speech, titled “A More Perfect Union,” Obama called on Americans to move past the “racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years” and “asserted a firm conviction—a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people—that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds.” Even though he made clear that he was not so naïve as to imagine that racial divisions could be overcome quickly or easily, he continued to press Americans to focus on what unites them rather than divides. “Mr. Obama now presides over a White House that constantly projects cross-racial unity,” Jodi Kantor wrote in Sunday’s New York Times. “When discussing in interviews what image the Obamas want to project, aides use one word more than any other: ‘inclusive.’”
In this view, post-racial means that American social and political life has become race-neutral and that, except for those on the fringes, Americans have rejected the overt practices of racial discrimination and hierarchy that have marked most of the nation’s history. Significantly, of course, this approach to post-racialism also calls on those peoples who have been subjected to such discrimination to themselves become race-neutral, refrain from appealing to the history of racism, and invest their hopes in the possibility of a “colorblind” nation. Indeed, the negative response by many of the president’s critics to his comments on the killing of African American teenager Trayvon Martin earlier this year highlights the complicated position in which the president finds himself with regard to public discourse about race. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama noted. And although the majority of his remarks focused on Martin’s grieving family and the investigation, political figures like Newt Gingrich and columnists such as Michelle Malkin criticized Obama for invoking race at all, with the former calling his comments “disgraceful” and the latter, “political opportunism.”
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You can call them "unaffiliated," as in a recent Pew poll, or "nones"—or even just "not very religious." A brand new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute divides this group further (and somewhat counterintuitively) into "unattached," "atheists/agnostics," and "seculars." But whatever you call them, this ever-growing cohort of unchurched Americans makes up, at 23 percent, the single largest segment of Barack Obama's "religious coalition" (compared to the 37 percent of white evangelicals who support Mitt Romney).
While we have yet to see a "Seculars for Obama" bumper sticker, the unaffliated are clearly having a moment. Media analysis, however, has not gone very deep—there is a story here that goes beyond names and numbers.
Recent sociological work from Courtney Bender, Christian Smith, and others does help us understand who the current crop of unaffiliated are and what they do and believe. Yet we have precious little historical understanding of this critical and growing demographic. What are their roots? What religious, cultural, economic, demographic, and political processes shaped their sensibilities, habits, and makeup?
In order to understand these still-believing “nones,” we need to understand that much of the religious dynamism in the United States happens outside the church walls, and has for some time now. The “rise of the nones” is but the latest phase in the long transformation of religion into what we now commonly call “spirituality.” In my class on “Spirituality in America” at the University of Virginia, we use Leigh Schmidt’s pathbreaking Restless Souls to trace this phenomenon over two centuries, from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s break with New England Unitarianism in the 1830s to the multi-billion dollar spirituality industry of today.
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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
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Two weeks ago I criticized the two presidential candidates for their nearly exclusive focus on what is good for the middle class and their lack of similar focus on poverty. I argued that although it is certainly true that a strong middle class can be beneficial to society as a whole, without policies aimed directly at addressing poverty, the poor will be the least likely to benefit from economic growth. Christians must be motivated by a preferential option for the poor, not for the middle class, and I concluded by suggesting the need for a bipartisan consensus among Christians in support of the poor. Here I would like to build on that suggestion by outlining a conceptual framework that can serve as a basis for that consensus and some policy recommendations as a starting point for discussion.
One problem with contemporary discussions of poverty is that they are so focused on income. As the economist Amartya Sen points out, income is only a means to an end. What really matters is human well-being. Sen’s colleague Martha Nussbaum defines human well-being in terms of ten capabilities: life; bodily health; bodily integrity; senses, imagination, and thought; emotions; practical reason; affiliation; other species; play; and control over one’s environment (see here for definitions of each capability). Sen defines poverty primarily as “capabilities deprivation” rather than lack of income. Of course adequate income is necessary to possess most of these capabilities, but the capabilities approach provides a more useful measure of poverty, for the following reasons:
“Ooh, Ohh there’s something going all wrong”, Ma Rainey sang. There is indeed something going all wrong in the black church. This church, which is born out of the commitment to safeguard the life and freedom of all black people, has gained a reputation for repudiating if not demonizing certain black bodies, namely LGBT bodies. While there are certainly significant black church leaders who have vigorously defended LGBTQ person’s struggle for justice and equal treatment under the law, including support of marriage equality, those black church voices against LGBTQ rights have been vociferous and unrelenting. They have garnered and welcomed significant attention as they have suggested that LGBTQ sexualities are sinful and a “violation of the law of God” and same-same sex marriage violates Godly marriage, which is marriage between a man and a woman.
Such a stance is striking when one considers the historical black struggle for social equality and the Black Church’s prominent role within that struggle. It appears inconsistent, if not blatantly hypocritical, for the Black church community to be in the forefront of racial justice concerns yet resistant if not repressive when it comes to the rights of LGBTQ persons. It is equally surprising for a people’s who were once denied the right to marry persons of their free choosing to deny such a right to others. Yet, as contradictory as such views appear, the reasons for them are just as complex. The way in which black people’s own bodies and sexuality have been maligned and manipulated by white racist ideology to justify their oppression, especially during the slavocracy, has shaped black people’s responses to various social issues, especially sexual matters.
Caricatures of black women and men as immoral animals driven by abnormal and uncontrollable sexual desires has caused black people to adopt narratives toward sexuality in order to insure that they are not seen as abhorrent or immoral when it comes to sexual matters. Black church people’s vehement responses to LGBTQ sexualities and same-sex marriage reflects a persistent history of racially sexualized oppression. Nevertheless, even while we may appreciate the complexity of black church attitudes toward LGBTQ concerns, these attitudes must be confronted and challenged for such thinking indeed betrays the black faith tradition—a tradition which is predicated on the belief in a God of freedom and justice. It is for this reason that I have found myself singing the blues.
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President Barack Obama was sharing a pulpit one day with a conservative Christian leader when a revealing exchange took place.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Christian who has taken public stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, had joined Obama for an AIDS summit. They were speaking before a conservative megachurch filled with white evangelicals.
When Brownback rose to speak, he joked that he had joined Obama earlier at an NAACP meeting where Obama was treated like Elvis and he was virtually ignored. Turning to Obama, a smiling Brownback said, “Welcome to my house!”
The audience exploded with laughter and applause. Obama rose, walked before the congregation and then declared:
“There is one thing I have to say, Sam. This is my house, too. This is God’s house.”
Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage.
When Obama invoked Jesus to support same-sex marriage, framed health care as a moral imperative to care for “the least of these,’’ and once urged people to read their Bible but just not literally, he was invoking another Christian tradition that once dominated American public life so much that it gave the nation its first megachurches, historians say.
“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, an evangelical activist group based in Washington that focuses on poverty and social justice issues.
“It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”
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If President Obama’s recent political support of same-sex marriage has done nothing else, it’s ignited discussion about the relationship between church and government.
It annoys me to no end that so many in the Christian community want to equate American freedom with biblical doctrine. It’s so common to hear “America is a Christian Nation,” and “if we don’t go back to following God, we’re going to receive his judgment,” and other such, frankly, frustrating epithets that make for great sound bites, but have little to no real substance.
Do we really think about what we’re saying before we say it? It’s no wonder a generation of free-thinkers and activist reject the “talking loud, saying nothing” nature of the Christian American church.
So let this be a call to all of us Holy-Ghost-having, cross-bearing, Lord’s-Prayer quoting, little-Jesus’es. Politics has asked for a divorce. And we should acquiesce its request. Quickly!
Entitlement and The Church
It doesn’t matter the subject: prayer in schools, legalizing abortion, same-sex marriage, capital punishment… the Christian church, in large part, has come to expect that its rules for life should also be America’s rules for life. Maybe not down to every detail (after all, we haven’t made fornication illegal yet, and we certainly don’t expect American government to take care of the poor the way Jesus asks his followers to). But for the most part, we expect the Bible to carry some weight in American legislation. For some unsubstantiated reason, we feel we deserve it. We don’t.
Well, here’s the unfortunate newsflash: America did not accept Jesus as its personal Lord and Savior.
America’s view on Jesus matches its view for Allah, Buddha, even Satan. As long as your religion is peaceful, who “God” is referring to on our money is up to you. Jesus’ name is nowhere to be found in our Constitution. It is not America’s job to go out to the ends of the world preaching and baptizing in the name of Jesus. It is not the job of the American Congress to teach, or even exemplify, a life of “loving our neighbor as we do ourselves.” We are not entitled to have our religion trump the others just because a few of the values in the Constitution happen to be in the Bible. It’s time we got over it.
America’s job is to nurture freewill and freedom, to protect the innocent from the powerful, and to create an environment of opportunity for all its members in a fair, equal way. If freedom is America’s currency, then the government is merely an employer dolling out freedom checks. As recipients, the church has to cash their own checks and pay their own bills. America’s not going to pay our bills for us.
“We’re electing him to be our Commander-in-Chief, not Pastor-in-Chief.” That’s how one Christian woman recently defended her support of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a Facebook comment.
It has been curious to observe the about-face that many formerly doctrinaire evangelicals have taken when it comes to the subject of Governor Romney’s religion.
For most evangelical Christians, the Mormon faith has commonly been viewed as an unorthodox, non-Christian religion. Even the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which once characterized the Mormon religion as cultic, recently deleted that wording from its website. This has got me to thinking more about the relationship between politics and faith.
In The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Carl F.H. Henry, one of the principal architects of the modern evangelical movement, called conservative Protestant Christians to abandon their otherworldly stance encouraged by the liberal-fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s and to actively engage society from an orthodox Christian worldview in order to redeem our culture from the chaos of the times. Though his message initially was met with stiff resistance from older evangelicals, Henry’s message was warmly received by the younger ones who went on to positively impact society from a distinctively Christian worldview.
Since 1947, when Henry’s influential book was first published, until now, evangelicals have increased their sophistication in articulating the gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ and in their analysis of social problems and corresponding solutions. Evangelicals subscribe to a high view of Scripture and have always maintained that all true knowledge is divine in origin and is complementary to the Word of God. As a result of this conviction, they have boldly and confidently entered into all the realms of social engagement that previous generations affected by the impact of fundamentalism were reticent to enter. One of these areas has been the political arena.
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Once upon a time there was a good king named Théoden of Rohan. King Théoden was one of the great rulers of Middle Earth, greater than Denethor of Gondor, and braver than Galadriel the Elf Queen. King Théoden’s chief advisor, Wormtongue, was wise and faithful until he was seduced by Saruman, who was driven by the pursuit of power. Under Saruman’s wicked influence, Wormtongue caused a thick delusion to fall upon King Théoden, making him betray the truth and justice of the kingdom.
Graham Meets with Mitt Romney, then Endorses the Values Candidate
After Billy Graham’s half-hour meeting with Mitt Romney, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association placed full-page political ads in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other newspapers, in the name of Billy Graham and with his blessing. According to the BGEA, “the new ads were paid for by ‘friends who support the ministry’ and that no general ministry funds were used,” as reported in the CNN Belief Blog. The political implications of the ads were unmistakable.
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Latinos are divided by religion in their preferences in the upcoming presidential election, according to the latest survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, both projects of the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of Latino Catholics and eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latinos support President Barack Obama’s re-election. However, among Latino evangelical Protestants, who account for 16% of all Latino registered voters, just 50% prefer Obama, while 39% support his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
These same patterns are reflected in Latinos’ partisan affiliations. Eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latino voters (who make up 15% of the Latino electorate) and seven-in-ten Latino Catholics (57% of the Latino electorate) are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. Among Latino evangelical voters, identification with the Democratic Party is lower; about half are Democrats or lean Democratic, while about a third are Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party.
As the presidential election approaches, many Hispanic churchgoers say they are hearing from their clergy about various political issues and, to a lesser extent, about candidates and elections. Roughly half of Latinos (54%) who attend religious services at least once a month say they have heard their clergy speak out about abortion, while 43% have heard from the pulpit about immigration, and 38% say their clergy have spoken out about homosexuality. A smaller proportion, roughly three-in-ten, report hearing from their clergy about candidates and elections.
The new survey also finds rapidly growing support for same-sex marriage among Latinos, mirroring growing support among the general public. Half of Latinos now favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while one-third are opposed. As recently as 2006, these figures were reversed (56% of Latinos opposed same-sex marriage, while 31% supported it). Latino evangelicals, however, remain strongly opposed to same-sex marriage (66% opposed vs. 25% in favor).
If you are reading this post, we are glad to announce that this is our 1,000th blog post. When we launched our blog last year, we wanted to highlight some of the best work that examined the nexus between Rhetoric Race and Religion. When we officially launched our independent blog on October 15, 2011, we did not know we would reach over 60,000 views and publish 1,000 posts.
We also published numerous book reviews, call for papers, upcoming events and interviews. In addition, we also live tweeted the (vice) presidential debates. Finally, along with linking and sharing other articles via our blog, we celebrated and highlighted the work of our own contributors. Through this blog, the world met our eclectic group of scholars, community activists, pastors, preachers, and teachers. We again thank them for their contributions and support of the blog.
We are excited about our second year and we want to build on this momentum. While we look to continue the R3 book club tweet chats, the Readers, and more critical commentary from our contributors, we seek to do much more. As we dream and discern what is next for us, we ask that you support us by sharing our blog and posts with your friends and contacts via Twitter and Facebook. If you blog with us, we ask that you share your posts and the posts of other R3 bloggers. Finally, we ask you to comment on posts as well.
As editor, this blog has taken up more time that I originally thought, but I am not complaining. I enjoy the work, the dialogue, and the feedback. Serving as editor has allowed me to meet wonderful people, read good articles and make new friends. I invite you to join us on Facebook and/or Twitter. You can follow me personally on Twitter at @aejohnsonphd. Again, we thank you for your support and please keep reading and sharing.
Three times more Protestant pastors plan to vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election. Romney's Mormon beliefs are a factor for only a small number of pastors who plan to cast their ballot for another candidate.
A survey conducted by LifeWay Research Sept. 26-Oct. 3 found that 57 percent of Protestant pastors plan to vote for Romney compared with 17 percent for Obama. Twenty-two percent are still undecided.
The breakdown is similar to what it was in 2008 when John McCain challenged Obama for the presidency. A survey conducted by LifeWay Research in October 2008 found that 55 percent of Protestant pastors planned to vote for McCain compared with 20 percent for Obama and 22 percent undecided.
The survey also found that Romney's Mormon background has had little to no influence on pastors' voting intentions. A majority of pastors (82 percent) who plan to vote for someone other than Romney say their decision was not at all related to his Mormon faith. And 60 percent of undecided pastors say their hesitation has not at all been influenced by Romney's faith.
"The historical significance of the first Mormon candidate nominated for president does not appear to alter pastors' political positions," says Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.
A 2011 LifeWay Research survey revealed most pastors, some 75 percent, do not consider Mormons to be Christians. "If agreement on matters of faith was a necessity for pastors' voting decisions, Romney would have little support from pastors," McConnell concludes. "In fact, Romney's Mormon faith has led very few pastors to select a different candidate or remain undecided."
Read the rest here
Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that banned so-called “reparative therapy” for gay children. The law prohibits state-licensed therapists from conducting “reorientation therapy” or other attempts to change the sexual orientation of children under the age of 18. While the value of this form of therapy has long been questioned both inside and outside the therapeutic establishment, it was only in April of this year that psychologist Robert Spitzer repudiated his 2001 psychological study of 200 men and women who had been treated by “reparative” therapies for homosexuality. That study had been used as part of an increasingly tattered foundation for therapy in such organizations as Exodus International, the most famous “ex-gay” organization. The story of Spitzer’s renunciation was poignant, but the cultural tide had turned against such research and any argument in favor of reparative therapy long before.
On the surface then, it seems like an odd moment for Lynne Gerber’s Seeking the Straight and Narrow, a remarkable book that examines Exodus International alongside a Christian evangelical dieting organization called First Place. Gerber pairs these two apparently disparate organizations in order to examine the logic of personal change. The belief that people can re-make themselves is deeply rooted in American culture in ways religious and non-religious. Cultural forms as diverse as beer commercials, Oprah’s empire, self-help books, commercial magazines, as well as evangelicalism and more New Age forms of religion, all rely on the idea that we can bring about desired changes in ourselves through proper belief and hard work. Gerber wants to challenge how we understand “change” in both moral and physical forms, and in doing so, she is taking aim at one of our society’s most deeply held convictions. She uses Exodus International as a foil for Christian weight loss organizations and ultimately as a foil for her readers’ own likely belief in self-propelled transformations in the name of health.
Both of the programs that Gerber studies seek to make fundamental changes in their adherents. For First Place, the desired change is primarily physical: participants want to lose weight. For Exodus International, the change is aimed at desire itself, or if that proves impossible, at the more superficial level of lifestyle and practice. One kind of change (weight loss) is almost universally acknowledged as good and necessary; the other (changing one’s sexual orientation) is almost universally disparaged, except in very specific evangelical Christian communities. But Gerber claims that the two are tied together by a logic of personal transformation that doesn’t belong to evangelicals alone.
Last week I received another expression of a very common sentiment in the comments box at Philosophical Fragments – and the commenter wished it known that she was “not a libertine” but a 50-year-old former-Christian woman with a long marriage and three children, two in the military. She wrote:
George Bush and his supporters were a large reason that I left Christianity and have become quite hostile to the evangelical agenda. I vote against it at every opportunity and make sure none of my money goes to organizations who support the evangelical desire to control everyone else and shove their views down the throats of people who aren’t interested.
She went on to write that “the large majority of my friends and colleagues agree with me.” Later that day, I read a piece at The Washington Post in which Sally Quinn lamented that Republicans have “hijacked” God for political purposes. ”I do not believe religion should play any role in politics,” she said. It’s “depressing and unAmerican” that faith “continues to make a big difference in how people view candidates,” but Republicans in particular “use the dog-whistle of God every chance they get.”
Quinn fails to see that the Obama campaign has done just as much as, if not more than, the Romney campaign to leverage religious belief. Since she thinks that Romney is using religious language in the service of selfish (non-religious) ends, she views his words as “pandering” and deception and manipulation. But since she believes that Obama is using religious language in the service of the true and good and beautiful, then he is merely explaining his heart to the American people, merely doing what is necessary.
Anthea Butler, a noted scholar on religion and politics who is a regular contributor to national media programs, will deliver the 2012 Cole Lectures at Vanderbilt University Divinity School’s Benton Chapel.
This year’s Cole lecturer is an associate professor of religious studies and graduate chair of religion at the University of Pennsylvania.
Butler will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 on “Whitewashing the Past: The Religious Right and the Quest to Reframe American History.” Her second talk at Vanderbilt will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 26 on “Race, Religion and the American Project.”
Both lectures are free and open to the public. Video of the talks can be viewed later at news.vanderbilt.edu.
Butler earned her doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt in 2001. Her books include Women in the Church of God in Christ, Making a Sanctified World (2007, University of North Carolina Press) and the forthcoming The Gospel According to Sarah: How Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Angels Are Galvanizing the Religious Right (The New Press).
CNN Belief named Butler among the “Five Women to Watch in Religion in 2012.” She is a prolific blogger and contributing editor for Religion Dispatches. In addition, Butler is a frequent guest on the “Melissa Harris-Perry Show” on MSNBC.
Read the rest here
In my last post, I offered a brief biographical sketch of
Turner. In this post, I want to discuss Turner’s rhetorical education. In my
book, The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition, I argue that Turner was one of the finest orators
in America during his lifetime. Early in his career, his preaching
took center stage. While preaching on the revival circuits, Turner
could move a crowd—having folks caught up with the Spirit and falling out
around the altar. Many regarded him as a true champion of the pulpit.
His contemporaries also knew Turner as a great debater.
Turner helped institute a debate club at his church and frequently joined in
the debates. Anticipating his progressive thinking with regard to gender during
his lifetime, Turner argued the affirmative position on the question “has not a
lady equally a right to court a gentleman, as a gentleman has to court a lady?”
After more than three hours of arguments and counterarguments, the judges
declared Turner the winner.
Many also knew Turner as a first rate political speaker
within the epideictic genre of rhetoric. After hearing Turner speak at the
Emancipation Day Celebration in Augusta in 1866, one contemporary wrote, “Such
lofty, eloquent language from a colored man, they had not expected to hear.
Even the whites could not conceal their admiration, nor restrain the applause
due to him, as the best orator of the day." (2).
In the book, I suggested that it was Turner’s rhetoric that
helped propel him to heights that he never dreamed possible. Turner’s
powerful use of rhetoric led him to preach integrated revivals, command audiences
with Senators, congressional leaders, and presidents, and to become a popular
correspondent for the Christian Recorder
newspaper. His rhetoric helped him become the first African American
chaplain in the Armed Forces, an agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau, a State
Constitutional delegate, and a State Representative. His oratorical powers had
a lot to do with him becoming the Presiding Elder of Georgia for his church and
Along with these accomplishments, Turner was the first
African American Postmaster General (Georgia), and offered bills in the Georgia
House of Representatives giving all women the right to vote and creating an
eight-hour workday. In addition, he was the publication manager (1876-1880) of
the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME),
ordained the first women as elder in the AME
church—an ordination that the other bishops rescinded, and led hundreds if not
thousands of African Americans to Africa. While we credit Marcus Garvey with being the leader of
the “Back to Africa” movement, Garvey never traveled to Africa and
only “talked” about going to Africa—Turner actually had some success at persuading people to
since contemporaries considered Turner’s rhetorical ability legendary, I was
interested in discovering Turner’s “training” in the rhetorical arts. Again, in my
previous post, I mentioned that Turner did not receive a formal education, so
he did not learn it in school. Moreover, Turner did not benefit from reading a book on rhetoric, unlike Frederick Douglass, who read a copy of Columbian Orator as a way to understand rhetoric. So where and how did Turner develop
his speaking ability?
on the work of Shirley Wilson Logan, I suggested that Turner’s rhetorical
education started at the feet of his grandmother Hannah Greer. She shared
stories with Turner and taught him early on the value and power of
storytelling—a skill Turner found valuable throughout
his public speaking career. Several contemporaries commented on Turner’s
storytelling abilities and he could “call up” stories whenever the occasion
While Turner learned much that would help him as an orator
by listening to his grandmother and other elders in the community share
stories, he also benefited from the spirituals sung by enslaved people. As with
storytelling, singing was an integral part of the African traditions that
Africans maintained when forced into slavery. These songs were not just for
entertainment—enslaved people filled them with heavy uses of metaphor,
indirection and innuendo. Enslaved people used spirituals to “reveal themselves
to each other” while at the same time to provide an alternative definition of
self. Spirituals acted as a form of rhetorical resistance
that enable enslaved Africans to refute definitions that ran counter to who
they believe they were.
While Turner benefited from both the storytelling and
singing to help shape his oratory, it was primarily the oratorical style of
black preaching that gave his rhetoric its power. Sermons that Turner heard as
a youth probably were experiential—one that did not ground itself into a “literal”
interpretative position on the text, but one which searches for a deeper embedded
meaning beneath the text. This would lead Turner to “imitate” preachers and to “baptize”
his friends. Some of Turner earliest “sermons” were to cows in the pasture.
When Turner became pastor of IsraelAMEChurch, he started attending the debates on the floors of the Senate
and watching members of the House of Representatives. It was here that Turner
began to understand the difference between a speech and an oration.
Drawing from Kenneth Greenberg, one notices an ethos-driven function
of the oration. In other words, what orations tend to do is to create an air of
credibility and respect for the speaker. In addition, the oration depends even
more on delivery. What the speaker wants to do with an oration is to
create a persona through performance that would create a “superior
personality.” Turner’s elocution and delivery established him as a leader not
only within the confines of the AMEChurch, but also as a leader of
There’s been much angst on the right over the Republican Party’s growing demographic problems, most memorably by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said the party was running out of “angry white guys.” But conservatives may be facing another demographic threat as well: declining religiosity, especially among the young. The latest sign came in a Pew study released last week that found that one in five American adults now claims no religion, and that 34 percent of those younger than 30 consider themselves irreligious. The GOP’s own base may be partly to blame. The data echoes a landmark 2010 study, American Grace, by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, which linked the new chilliness toward organized religion to the rise of the religious right. Other recent studies bear out their hypothesis: in March, Pew found that a majority of the electorate, including nearly half of Republicans, is uncomfortable with the amount of religious talk in political campaigns. (As recently as 2006, the majority tipped the other direction.) Mitt Romney has avoided talking about his Mormonism, and voters like it that way: in July, eight in 10 Americans who knew about Romney’s Mormonism said they didn’t care, and only 16 percent of the entire electorate was interested in hearing more about Romney’s faith. Read the rest here
D.J. Moberley, a 30-year-old evangelical Christian, seems an unlikely cog in the effort to elect Mitt Romney as president. He has no ties to the campaign, has been skeptical of the candidate’s Mormon faith, and says, “Mitt Romney is not someone I would have picked, that’s for sure.”
Nonetheless, the real estate appraiser spends hours chatting with his 900 Facebook friends and talking with fellow church members about Romney, all part of his effort to convince evangelicals who have qualms about Mormonism that they should support the former Massachusetts governor. Many other evangelicals are making similar efforts across the country.
Therein lies one of the more unlikely stories of this year’s presidential campaign: evangelicals, some of whom played a role in Romney’s defeat in 2008, and nearly upset his effort in 2012, are now a vital part of Romney’s hope to win in Virginia and several other swing states where evangelicals are a major constituency.
“Romney is counting on evangelicals. The irony is that this is a shotgun marriage between two very different religions but they are completely dependent upon one another for victory,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Romney’s increasing reliance on evangelicals is on display across Virginia. Earlier this year, Romney spoke before 32,000 people in the evangelical heart of the state, Liberty University in Lynchburg. That appearance reverberated at evangelical churches across Virginia, including the one that Moberley attends. Moberley’s decision to promote Romney is a telling slice of the story about efforts to win over evangelicals.
The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America
by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey
University of North Carolina Press , 2012
Four years ago, America was on the verge of electing the country's first African American president—a stunning marker, for many, of the promises of progress fulfilled. This year, Barack Obama faces a Mormon challenger, and religion, not race, fuels at least some of the suspense of this close presidential contest.
But religion and race in the US share a profound and tangled history—one that Ed Blum and Paul Harvey bring forth vividly in their new book, The Color of Christ.
What did a white Jesus mean to a population of enslaved Africans, or to Native Americans? Why were Mormons in particular so committed to a lily-white god? What can we read into the shattered image of the stained-glass savior in a Birmingham church? The book—an illuminating and powerful read—dives deeply into these and other questions.
Anthea Butler, Professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, hosts this conversation with the book's authors, along with RD's own Joanna Brooks and Memphis Theological Seminary's Andre E. Johnson.
Read the rest here
Recently, I read about a new poll whose headline caught my eye immediately: Protestants no longer a majority of Americans, study finds. It turns out that a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Protestants have fallen to only 48% of the American public while people without a religious affiliation or do not have a faith have risen from 15% to 20% since 2007. The percentage of people who are unaffiliated rises to 32 in the 18-29-years-old bracket and it is growing every day.
To me this is good news (for reasons which should become clear in due course) but apparently it's (at least) a little disturbing to the author of the article in the LA Times, Teresa Watanabe (and possibly her editor) who wrote: "Protestants, whose ideals of hard work, individualism and democratic governance have fundamentally shaped the national character, no longer make up a majority of Americans for the first time in history…"
In this polarized world where news media outlets seem to be incapable of reporting the news without telling people what they should think about it, it's hardly surprising to find rhetoric of this kind seeping its way into our discourse. That being said, ignorance is still ignorance and I feel that an ignorant statement should be pointed out; especially when it's slipped into the discourse in such an insulting and either underhanded or willfully ignorant way.
While Protestants have made up a majority of this country's population for most of its history, to say that hard work and individualism are exclusively Protestant ideals would be a travesty of the truth. Ideals of hard work and individualism are ideals shared by all people regardless of their faith or lack thereof. All you need to do is ask a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu or an agnostic/atheist to tell you where the ideals of hard work and individualism come from and you'll find that they are universal human ideals and very far from being unique to Protestantism. Because these ideals are enshrined in our laws in the USA, it makes us an attractive destination for the worlds oppressed and a beacon of emulation for other nations.
The unmistakable boom of an indie bass can be heard coming from the Rock n Roll Hotel. The scent of seasoned mussels and fresh-baked sour cherry pie emanates from either side of the street. Cursing the long-awaited street car, residents artfully dodge taxicabs and speeding bikers to get around the plaid-clad, bespectacled foodies waiting patiently outside of Taylor Gourmet and H & Pizza, eager to devour their fried risotto balls or custom-made soy cheese slices.
Walking along H St. NE in Washington, D.C. is a therapeutic exercise in cognitive function and repair. Every few weeks, previously boarded-up storefronts transform into freshly painted establishments aimed at a new generation. What was a relic of the infamous "Dodge City" is the fast becoming the District's foremost hipster haven. But as the neighborhood changes, once-cherished institutions are left hanging in the balance -- the most prominent being the black church.
Today, the black church is in crisis, with scholars claiming that it has lost its prophetic and progressive influence. But the black church has also been confronted with a more visceral change: the shifting demographics around the urban black "space," caused in part by people like me.
In cities across America, a new population is moving to neighborhoods formerly occupied by working-class African Americans.
Property developers, eager to take advantage of the modest rent, are tearing down buildings to make way for trendy eateries and luxury condominiums to fit the needs of millennials: young, educated individuals, most of whom reside briefly in a given urban area before choosing to settle elsewhere.
Read the rest here