Some parishioners will now carry weapons into a historically black Kentucky church visited by a white gunman before police said he killed two black people at a grocery store.
The First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown has asked church members with law enforcement or security backgrounds to carry guns to services and Bible studies. So far, seven parishioners have been identified to take on this responsibility.
WKYT-TV reports the Rev. Kevin Nelson tells WDRB-TV the church also has increased security in other ways.
Gregory Bush is charged with first-degree murder in the slayings at a Louisville-area Kroger last month. Police say he was seen on surveillance video trying to enter the church minutes before the attack. Police Chief Sam Rogers told the congregation that he believes the shooting was racially motivated.
Fannie Lou Hamer, of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party supporters outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 1965, after the House of Representatives rejected a challenge to the 1964 election of five Mississippi representatives. Hamer and two other African-American women were seated on the floor of the House while the challenge was being considered. She said, “We’ll come back year after year until we are allowed our rights as citizens.” The challengers claimed that African-Americans were excluded from the election process in Mississippi. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)
The American church has a problem with racism.
The issue is not new.
It includes support in the past for appalling acts such as lynching and racial terrorism and ongoing, inexcusable apathy. Although much has changed, the path toward deep diversity, authentic inclusion and radical repair remains long. Much of my time is spent telling Christians about the past and present concerning racism in the nation and the congregation.
Christians engaged in anti-racism work risk becoming bitter toward the church. In my speaking and travels, people often ask me, “How do you talk about racism without becoming bitter?”
Or they ask a similar question from a different angle: “How do you maintain hope in the midst of so much evil?”
There’s no easy answer.
At times, I’ve been tempted to give up on church people in frustration. Especially white evangelicals.
The 2018 midterm elections, for instance, revealed that yet again, white evangelicals chose to support a brand of politics that is inimical to people of color. In spite of the fear-mongering and overtly racist appeals of some candidates, 75 percent of white evangelicals voted for Republicans in the midterms.
Two years into his administration, white evangelicals remain the only religious group in which a majority view Trump favorably. More than 70 percent of self-identified white evangelical or born-again Christians have a favorable view of the president. Seventy-five percent of black Protestants have an unfavorable view.
It appears to me, as a person of color, that white evangelicals have little regard for my voice or those of people like me. Attempting to voice the concerns of black Christians among white churchgoers and receiving so much opposition makes it difficult sometimes for me to read the Bible and go to church.
I am still healing from wounds I’ve accrued over years of writing, speaking and teaching about racism and injustice. But no matter how discouraging the racial conditions in the church become, bitterness is not a healthy option.
To be clear, voting for Republicans is not the issue. The issue is Christians saying they support racial reconciliation on the one hand while simultaneously supporting politicians — in this case, Republicans — who traffic in racism and xenophobia on the other.
At moments like this, I think of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, speaks before the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., on Aug. 22, 1964, in an effort to win accreditation for the group as Mississippi’s delegation to the convention. The Freedom group, composed almost entirely of African-Americans, was opposed by the regular all-white Mississippi delegation. (AP Photo)
Born in 1917 in rural Mississippi, Hamer was the last of 20 children immersed in a life of poverty as a sharecropper. In her 40s, she got involved in the civil rights movement after she heard young activists give a presentation about voting rights.
She then dedicated her life to fighting for equal rights for black people and more humane treatment of the poor.
One night in 1963, Hamer and some fellow civil rights activists, all of whom were black, were taken into custody on spurious charges by white police officers. The law enforcement officials took them to a jail and proceeded to beat each one, including Hamer. The harrowing experience left her with permanent health problems and emotional wounds such as depression. But that didn’t stop her from loving people, even her enemies.
“I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up,” she said. “Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.”
When I think of saints like Fannie Lou Hamer and how they endured far more than I ever have in the fight for racial equality, I cannot engage in the self-indulgence of bitterness.
I have to keep striding toward freedom because I am part of a legacy of freedom fighters who have struggled under far more adverse conditions and yet maintained hope in God and the church.
Another way I find hope is through community. Through my work, I’ve met true allies across the color line. These women and men are quick to listen and slow to speak, which makes them more informed and more effective collaborators for change.
I have also been deeply enriched by friendships with people of color. Black Christians, who often make up a minority whether in church or school or the workplace, need regular contact with others who share similar experiences and backgrounds. We need a group where we can vent, laugh and recharge — folks around whom we don’t have to explain our existence. We need relationships with people who “get it.”
Finally, I try to keep the racial situation in the church in perspective by distinguishing between the universal church and particular people and congregations. I have often felt betrayed by specific Christians and churches. Individual Christians have berated me to my face — telling me how I get race wrong. Churches and denominations have rescinded speaking invitations, and many, many others have been bold in asserting that race is a social or a political issue, but not a gospel one.
In the face of such barbs, I have grown cautious.
I do my best to carefully choose speaking engagements and writing platforms that will let me communicate my views freely while not exposing me to malicious criticism. Unfortunately, many predominantly white Christian outlets and organizations prove extremely hostile to any anti-racist messages. But those particular places do not represent the church as a whole.
Christ is building his church. And as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
The church is a beautiful bulwark against bitterness. It is a church that spans across time, nations, races and ethnicities. It is an undefeated community. It is this church, imperfect though it is, that persuades me to persist. It is Christ’s church, universal and precious, that Christians who hate racism should fight to improve.
While the bigotry of individual Christians and institutions may bend us toward bitterness, the beauty of Christ’s bride hearkens us back to hope.
Every holiday season, Americans find themselves showered with mailed appeals, beseeching phone calls and emotional pleas from Facebook friends seeking support for pet causes.
How should they sift through all these calls to give?
The conventional guidance, parroted as if it were gospel, goes something like: Be generous, follow your passions and do enough research to verify that a chosen charity won’t squander your money.
As a political philosopher who studies the ethics of philanthropy, I know it’s not that simple. In fact, there are at least five leading theories regarding the ethics of giving.
Scholars who study philanthropy and ponder why people should give to charity disagree on which is best. But they all agree that some critical reflection on how to give well is essential for making responsible decisions.
It urges donors to give from the heart and posits that no one can tell you what makes one cause better than another.
Compassionate philanthropists see choosing a cause as a two-step process. First, ask yourself what you are most passionate about – be it your religious faith, hunger, the arts, your alma mater or cancer research.
While simple and flexible, this philosophy of giving ignores considerations like a cause’s moral urgency and suggests that the only thing that matters when being charitable is what’s on the giver’s mind. It also implies that a charity’s effectiveness is measured only by management or finances, which is arguably untrue.
There are at least four other schools of thought worth considering in light of the conventional approach’s shortcomings: traditional charity, effective altruism, reparative philanthropy and giving for social change.
Rather than telling donors to simply follow their own passions, traditional charity stresses that suffering people demand urgent attention. It treats relieving that pain and meeting those needs as the highest charitable priority.
People who think this way, for example, might have trouble seeing how donors can justify supporting their local community theaters when so many Americans are experiencing hunger or homelessness and could use a free meal from a charity like the Salvation Army.
This school of thought instructs donors to do the most good they can in terms of global well-being based on verifiable cost effectiveness.
These givers argue that it’s better to give $40,000 to a carefully vetted charity in sub-Saharan Africa that can cure as many as 2,000 people of blindness than to give that same sum to a group that will spend it training a single guide dog for a blind person in the U.S.
Effective altruists reject the advice of transparency groups like Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits according to the percentage of funds they spend conducting their work versus running their organizations. Instead, they heed organizations like GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators, which draw from scientific evidence and use statistical reasoning to select charities they believe will achieve the maximum impact per donated dollar.
Giving to heal and address injustices
Another way to think about making charitable donations more responsible is to see them as a form of reparations.
With economic inequality growing, government spending on public education declining and cutbacks taking a toll on social services, social injustices are proliferating.
The political philosopher Chiara Cordelli developed this perspective. She reasons that under current conditions, the rich are not entitled to all of their wealth.
After all, under more just circumstances, they would likely be earning less and taxed more. Therefore, the rich should not think of what they spend on charity as a matter of personal discretion, nor simply as something to make lives better, Cordelli argues.
Instead, she sees excessive wealth as a debt to be repaid unconditionally to repair crumbling public services. One way that donors can engage in reparative philanthropy is by supplementing the budgets of cash-strapped public schools, as Chancelor Bennett – the Grammy-winning Chance the Rapper – is doing in Chicago.
Giving to overcome unjust policies
A fifth major school of thought advises donors to support groups challenging unjust institutions.
Its adherents acknowledge that dismantling the structural causes of poverty and discrimination is hard and can take decades or longer. But they observe that even small policy changes can do more for large numbers of people than even the biggest charitable initiatives.
Contemporary advocates of this view like Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka suggest giving money to political parties, advocacy groups and community organizers.
Gifts to political parties and lobbyists may not sound like a conventional way to be charitable and are not currently tax-deductible. But many advocacy nonprofits, voter education initiatives and community empowerment groups are considered charities by U.S. law and eligible for tax-deductible donations.
Mixing and matching
Perhaps no single school of thought offers a perfect guide to responsible giving.
But the scholars who espouse these different positions all agree on one key point: Donors should reflect more on their giving decisions.
Whether you settle on one school of thought or draw from several of them, thinking more about what it means to be charitable will help you give more responsibly.