(RNS) — The devastating COVID-19 health crisis has become an economic crisis for millions of people — but not for everyone. Last year, families across the United States struggled to put food on the table and balance the responsibilities of childcare and work (assuming they still had a job), but the wealthiest people in our country only got wealthier.
That wealth has not trickled down to families who are struggling to pay their rent, feed their children and create an economically secure quality of life.
The American Rescue Plan — the COVID-19 relief bill passed in March — expanded eligibility for two of the most vital anti-poverty programs we have. It made the Child Tax Credit fully refundable, fixing the gap that excluded families in poverty from receiving the same benefits as their higher-earning counterparts.
It also expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children, young workers ages 19-24 and older workers over age 65.
Both adjustments put more money into the pockets of low-income people who were previously ineligible — many of them frontline workers in the pandemic. But these payments will expire on Dec. 31 if Congress does not extend them.
These tax credits work, and, not surprisingly, they are wildly popular. The Child Tax Credit provides a lifeline of economic support to families nationwide who need money to pay for daycare, groceries, utilities, rent, and health care bills that pile up nonstop. This is money being pumped back into local economies coast to coast right now, creating a virtuous economic cycle of helping people in need and local business.
Recently, I spoke with Barbie Izquierdo on the value of programs like these. An advocate and consultant who eloquently gives voice for food justice based on her personal experience, Barbie told me that despite all her work — sometimes full time, sometimes part time, often working more than one job — she “would still come home to an empty fridge.” Her story is shared by hundreds of thousands of families across our country.
To this day, the tax credits are one of the primary barriers keeping Barbie from falling back into poverty as she raises her 14- and 16-year-old children as a single mother. “(They) help you catch up and it alleviates some of the burden of being reminded that you’re poor. They’ve definitely helped me on many occasions,” she explained. “Who knows if I would be here today if I didn’t have that help?”
Since July, millions of families have been receiving Child Tax Credit checks each month. The latest government data indicates that these robust federal programs have put a dent in poverty, which has cascading benefits for children now and in their future — if we can keep these programs in place past the end of the year.
As Congress continues to negotiate additional recovery legislation, we have a historic opportunity to permanently invest in the future of our children. Congress should seize this moment to not only give immediate help to tens of thousands of their constituents but also to strengthen our country’s future.
Specifically, we must adjust the tax code that bends over backward for the extremely wealthy while treating those who struggle every day to afford food and housing as a burden. The more Congress can raise in revenue, the bigger the opportunity we have to address poverty and hunger while investing in our children. It takes real political will to require corporations and the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share. But we expect nothing less.
As a Quaker, my faith and practice encourage me to treat every person as a beloved child of God, which means I am called to do all I can to foster a more equitable, ethical world in which every person can flourish.
I believe Congress wants to help families in need, to ensure a better world for all. This is their opportunity to support the full refundability of the Child Tax Credit. This is the political moment when we can make transformational change in our country.
( Diane Randallis the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a national, nonpartisan Quaker lobby for peace, justice, and the environment. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
(RNS) — Albert J. Raboteau, an American religion historian who helped students and journalists enhance their understanding of African American religion, has died.
The scholar died on Saturday (Sept. 18) in Princeton, New Jersey, years after being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, Princeton University announced. He was 78.
A Princeton faculty member since the 1980s, Raboteau reached emeritus status in 2013. He chaired the university’s religion department from 1987 to 1992 and was dean of its graduate school from 1992-93.
“Professor Raboteau taught me so much: how to move about the archive, how to trust and be comfortable with my questions, and how to write clearly and with sophistication,” Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of Princeton’s African American studies department, said in a Princeton statement. “His brilliance knew no boundaries. His work helped create an entire field, and he could move just as easily in the fields of literature and film.”
When a book editor came to campus seeking to learn about Raboteau’s next book, a Princeton appreciation noted, the author instead arranged a meeting with the editor and Glaude, leading to the publication of the then-graduate student’s first book.
In addition to his years of mentoring students, Raboteau also gave journalists his perspective on the history of the Black church and contemporary religious attempts to address racism.
At a 2015 Faith Angle Forum discussion, he addressed reporters on the topic ” Forgiveness and the African American Church Experience.” Raboteau said small, face-to-face cross-racial gatherings, such as Bible studies and sharing meals, could be more important than statements of apology about racism by predominantly white denominations.
“What we are as a nation is a collection of disparate stories, an ever exfoliating set of separate stories and what we need to bind us together is to be able to hear the stories of others in face-to-face encounter,” he said. “And that can be sponsored by churches; churches would be a natural place to sponsor that kind of face-to-face contact.”
Raboteau was known for his writings about African American faith, most especially the book “Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South” as well as “Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History” and “Canaan Land: A Religious History of African Americans.”
An “In Memoriam” Princeton tribute described his 2002 book “A Sorrowful Joy” as a volume that reflected “the stakes of the study of African American religious history as a Black man from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi whose father was murdered by a white man before he was born and as a Christian believer whose religious formation took place first in the Roman Catholic Church and in later years in Eastern Orthodoxy.”
Across social media this week, scholars of religion described Raboteau’s personal influence on them.
“For me, Al wasn’t the usual kind of mentor,” tweeted Anthea Butler, professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania. “He was an ideal to me about both scholarship and spirituality.”
She added, in the last tweet of a thread that seemed to give a nod to his conversion to Orthodox Christianity: “Finally (and not sure if he would a. like this or b. chastise me) but I would pay a lot of money if someone painted Al Raboteau as an icon. For me, he is the patron saint of the study of African American Religion. May he rest in eternal peace and bliss.”
Cornel West, a Princeton emeritus professor who now teaches at Union Theological Seminary, tweeted after the death of his colleague of more than four decades that Raboteau “was the Godfather of Afro-American Religious Studies & the North Star of deep Christian political sensibilities! I shall never forget him!”
Raboteau also was the author of “African American Religion,” a 1999 volume in the “Religion in American Life” series published by Oxford University Press.
He wrote in its first chapter of the historical role of slave preachers and other Black pioneers whose sermons reached free Black people as well as the enslaved.
“The growth of Baptist and Methodist churches between 1770 and 1820 changed the religious complexion of the South by bringing large numbers of slaves into membership in the church and by introducing even more to the basics of Christian belief and practice,” he wrote. “The black church had been born.”
In 2016, when the U.S. Postal Service honored African Methodist Episcopal Church founder Richard Allen with a postage stamp, Raboteau told Religion News Service: “The unwillingness of the Methodists to accept the independent leadership of Black preachers like Allen and the institution of segregated seating led Allen and (clergyman Absalom) Jones to found independent Black churches.”
Late in life, Raboteau continued to interpret lessons of religious and racial history in his 2016 book “American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice.” He said the book, which included chapters on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer, was based on his “Religious Radicals” seminar that he taught undergraduate students at Princeton for several years.
Raboteau wrote the book’s introduction as the U.S. marked the 50th anniversary of Alabama’s Selma to Montgomery voting march.
“Memory and mourning combine in prophetic insistence on inner change and outer action to reform systemic structures of racism,” he said.
Raboteau added an anecdote about his own visit to Selma several years before with Princeton alumni and students who visited a museum close to the town’s famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, where activists had once been beaten back by state troopers. On the trip, a Black museum guide who was beaten on the bridge as a young girl encountered a retired white Presbyterian minister who had joined the demonstrations after King requested support from the nation’s clergy.
“It was a moment of shared pathos that transcended time,” he recalled. “For me it was the high point of the trip. I no longer needed to cross the bridge.
Kanye West is an internationally known Grammy award winning artist. His politics, public life, and his self-promotion have stirred up controversy and interest in many circles.
His recent return to Christian themes in his music and beyond leaves his audience inside and outside of the church consistently confused and curious. Kanye West’s tenth album “Donda” honors his late mother Donda West, who was chair of the English Department at Chicago State University. It debuted in late August to mixed reviews, some celebrating the album as a show of Kanye’s continued musical genius and others hearing the 27-track album as an incoherent and exhausting tribute that actually focuses on Kanye himself.
“Donda” is now one of the highest-grossing albums of all time in the gospel/Christian category, and the most-streamed album ever in both categories, according to Billboard. In response to its success, some Christian public figures gave kudos acknowledging their work with or appreciation for West. Others expressed disdain at his dominance in Christian art spaces when his music is still deeply secular. The album features some very popular secular artists, accused criminals, gang members, and even a known atheist alongside choirs and Christian artist writers. But many believers are still asking: is Kanye West’s “Donda” album a gospel album? To answer, we have to consider several other factors.
Is it a commercial genre question?
If what makes music “gospel” is what the most established and profitable record labels, music hosting sites, and awards say, then “Donda” is gospel music and Kanye West is now a gospel artist. In one sense, this would be brilliant and expected on Kanye’s part. He has claimed that he is the greatest artist of all time, period, and he has been breaking and bending genres throughout his musical career. He has sampled, collaborated, and made music that fits comfortably in multiple genres, gaining fans from pop, electronic, dance, hip hop, R&B, rock, and now gospel circles. Kanye West now has won Grammys in the rap, contemporary Christian, R&B, and “Song of the Year” categories, which means he is recognized as one of the best artists and producers in several genres. But many Christians don’t take the music industry’s word as gospel on the subject.
Is it a format question?
Kanye West did not use curse words or explicit content in “Donda.” He even censored his guest artists. The album is “clean” for that reason–it doesn’t have any content that has solicited a parental advisory warning as his past albums have. But is the lack of explicit content what makes an album “gospel?” Most people would answer this question with a resounding no.
Is it a thematic content question?
This is where the rubber meets the road. What makes an album “gospel” should have something to do with its content. And Kanye surely titles tracks with references to God, the Lord, and Jesus on the album. He uses Christian language of forgiveness, mercy, grace, Holy Spirit, miracle, Lord, pray, sin, angels, demons, heaven, and hell. He talks about Christian themes such as redemption, grace, love, and judgment. But he also talks a lot about himself: his struggles, his success, his opponents, his view of the world, and his life in general. These themes could be labeled “inspirational” and not Christian if it weren’t for the mentions of Jesus. It could be said that not much has changed in that regard. He always talked about those same themes, but his previous albums were labeled rap or hip-hop. Music fans remember “Jesus Walks” from his first album “The College Dropout,” which won him a Grammy and stirred the secular/gospel conversation then. Was Kanye always a gospel artist? Was he a gospel artist when he did wrote “Jesus Walks” but not when he did wrote “Yeezus” or “Father I Stretch My Hands?” Is he on a long faith journey, or did he just have a recent conversion experience? If theology matters, a gospel album should share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
A Gospel album should lead people to Jesus. “Donda” is not focused on that. Jesus is clearly present, but as a savior from Kanye’s problems, not necessarily as the Lord trying to reach all people.
So why is Donda not categorized with Hip-Hop or Rap albums as all his previous albums were? The question is hard to answer. Christian Hip-Hop artists from Lecrae to Andy Mineo, Verbal Kwest to Cross Movement, KB to Da’Truth, Canton Jones to others have also found themselves categorized with Gospel and Contemporary Christian instead of Hip Hop. But their music is usually Biblically grounded or an effort to talk about Christian life. Is Kanye West in the same category? If we compare what Kanye has done on Donda with late 1990s or early 2000s Christian Rap we could easily say no. Many Christian Rap albums during that period were explicitly quoting scripture, referencing theology, and focused on sharing faith in Christ through Hip-Hop. But in recent years, Christian rappers have had more songs about life that pivot back to faith than songs about their faith, and Kanye is doing something closer to that with Donda.
Is it a theological question?
“Donda” has no clear biblical narratives shared, even though the Bible is referenced multiple times and tracks are named after biblical figures. In almost every instance where God is mentioned on the album, it is a prayer for saving Kanye, or an affirmation that God helps Kanye beat sin and the devil. But Kanye also spends much of the time talking about his own greatness. It is hard to tell what is irony, what is genuine, and what is an artistic tool. That is what gives me pause on whether this is a gospel album. But as a modern complex personal narrative of redemption by God, I think Kanye’s album works.
It is as hard to tell if Kanye West’s “Donda ” is gospel album as it is to determine if Kanye West’s desire to share his Christian faith is genuine. But he has been authentic although conflicted while sharing his thoughts throughout his career. When he spoke at Lakewood Church in Houston in 2019 alongside the pastor Joel Osteen, he said “I know that God’s been calling me for a long time and the devil has been distracting me for a long time. When I was at my lowest points, God was there with me. Inspiring me and sending me visions.” He followed that with, “Following the Bible can free us all. Jesus can set you free.” This seems to be a fair encapsulation of his theology at this point in his Christian walk. Kanye knows Jesus as a Savior but seems to be unsure or unaware of what it means to follow Him, even though he knows it’s in the Bible.
What makes sharing the Gospel authentic?
So what makes sharing the Gospel authentic? Those questions have plagued Christians for centuries. We read the leaders of the early Church warning against false preachers, prophets, and teachers in the scriptures. We hear them clarifying doctrine that defines authentic Christianity. Were the false teachers in the early church Christians or just self-promoters? We get clear answers in scripture for that.
But after biblical times, things get fuzzier. What about Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor? Were the people who were subjected to Christianity by their rulers really Christians? What about the slave owners? Traders who colonized Africa and Asia? What about people who are racist or bigoted? People who have theologies built on fear? People who commit crimes? Are people who say they are Christian but don’t engage in Christian behavior actually Christians? Does anyone get to decide the truth of someone else’s faith? Is sharing a personal testimony of redemption by Jesus the same as sharing the Gospel?
Kanye West offers a message of redemption from sin answer in the song “Jail,” one of the most compelling on the album. He says:
In conclusion, is “Donda” a true “gospel” album? Although the commercial genre labels say yes, from a theological standpoint, I have to say no. It is not an album about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, nor His ministry.
But that doesn’t keep it from being a “Christian” album. Kanye West certainly presents himself as a Christian struggling with life and faith throughout the album. He tells the story of his redemption and even His ongoing dependence on God’s help. Can we call Kanye West a Christian artist? We may have to answer for ourselves individually, but in reality, only the Lord may know.
We have been privileged to live in a generation that has mastered the art of multitasking, being able to do multiple things at the same time and excelling. You really have to, otherwise, life will pass you by.
Sometimes the news changes so fast that if you wait too long, you are outdated. Have you ever been in a situation where you did not check your phone all day, and by the time you turned it on, it seemed as though you were on a different planet because so much had happened? That is the gift of living in a world of possibilities. Everything is possible and anything can happen. The sky is the limit.
Limitation presents itself in a very cunning way in our lives. For some, it begins at a young age through criticism from a parent or guardian, a teacher or peers that begin to conform your mind to think a certain way.
Or, it could be the environment that you are first exposed to. Unfortunately, depending on the zip code that you reside in, it can determine the kind of privileges that are afforded to you.
Limitation can enter your life through rejection, a lack of acceptance, where you never fit in and regardless of how kind you try to be, or all the things you try to do, you just never measure up. Therefore, you feel limited, constrained, suffocated and blocked.
Limitation could be geographical. The opportunities that could bring a breakthrough in your life may not be at the proximity of where you are currently located. Moving out of that geographical region would be coming out of that box of limitation and pursuing something that could change your life.
The mistakes that we make are stepping into these boxes of limitation that are presented to us daily in our lives and getting comfortable. We take our pity party pillow, and our “poor old me” throws, find a nice corner to hibernate, and hope that Jesus will come down and rescue us from our misery.
I love the Bible because it is a wonderful and precious book filled with verbs. God is all about movement, action, and purpose.
In the book of Genesis, our first encounter with God, is His interaction with an earth that was void and filled with darkness. That did not intimidate Him or make Him cower back. Instead, His Spirit “moved” upon the face of the waters.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Your life may be filled with void and darkness, but guess what God wants you to do? MOVE!
I created an acronym for the word MOVE to push me during those times that I sense limitation is looming over me, trying to push me down a dungeon of hopelessness.
Sometimes you have to look at life as a classroom that you show up to master and excel in every lesson presented. By the time we get to verse 31 in Genesis 1, God had taken the earth that was void and made it to be very good. You have to take your void situation, be motivated by purpose and create the environment that makes it very good.
31 And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Instead of throwing a glamorous pity party and sending out beautiful invitations to host limitation in your life, I suggest:
1. Returning the limitation box back to the sender
Just the way you return mail that is not yours, you do not have to receive projections of limitations that are said to you, thrown at you, or even perceived by you from others. You have the power to control what you receive. Learn how to reject that which will limit your progress. Let it “talk to the hand!”
2. Follow God’s role model
The first thing that God did was move. He was not concerned about how things looked, He got busy creating. He got busy with purpose. Instead of complaining about what is wrong and how unfair life may be (which may be true), get busy moving into purpose and finding out why you are here. Passivity is a hobby that many take up, waiting for a change that may never come. You are the agent that triggers the change you are praying for.
3. Believe in yourself
There comes a point of decision and reckoning that you are unique. You have to begin investing in self-affirmation ministry to yourself and build up the confidence muscles that may be feeble in you. You may have to cry sometimes and that is okay, but after crying let there be purpose in your tears. The greatest gift that you can give yourself is to refuse to be limited and live a life that is open to receive all that God has for you.
Help me with the daily struggle of limitation that overwhelms me. If I have limited myself and allowed sabotage in my life, or refuse to step on the platforms that You bring to me, forgive me. I give myself permission to succeed. I look to You for confidence, and I receive the boldness to walk into purpose and the liberty of being myself. That is a gift, a precious gift that I ask You to help me guard. The gift of being me. Thank You God for making me, me.
Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons
NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Some churches in Kenya have barred politicians from addressing their congregations, saying campaigning during services disrespects the sanctity of worship.
The national Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches have all issued bans, as many of the politicians begin early stumping for next year’s general elections. The Methodist Church, however, is keeping the church doors open for all.
The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, has said his church is not dissenting from the effort but is taking a different approach. The bishop said shutting the doors to politicians would mean discriminating against some of its members.
“The church is for all people,” Ntombura told Religion News Service in a telephone interview. “Human beings are political, so there is nothing wrong with inviting the politicians in church.”
According to the bishop, congregations need to hear the views of politicians on issues of national interest, such as the sharing of resources. In the past, Ntombura said, the church has invited other experts to speak to congregations on important matters, and politicians are no different.
“Some of the politicians are our pastors,” said Ntombura.
The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, with microphone, presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, prays over former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, left, in Nov. 2015. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili
Kenya is about 85% Christian. About 33% of that group are Protestants and 20.6% are Catholic. The rest belong to evangelical, Pentecostal and African denominations. Muslims make up 11% of the population.
In issuing the bans on politicking in church, denominations have said they feared that church services would become campaign rallies and that candidates would use language bordering on hate speech in an attempt to win votes or sway the views of congregations. In the past, politicians hijacked church services to sell their agendas or criticize their opponents. Some have appeared in the churches with huge sums of money as offerings or as funds for church projects.
The no-politicking effort gained momentum this month when Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the Anglican primate of Kenya, announced his church’s ban.
“Everyone is welcome in the churches, but we have the pews and the pulpit,” said Ole Sapit on Sept. 12, during the ordination of Kenya’s first Anglican woman bishop. “The pulpit is for the clergy and the pews for everyone who comes to worship.”
On Sept. 15, the Roman Catholic bishops said their places of worship and liturgy were sacred and were not political arenas. They urged politicians to attend Mass just like any other worshippers.
Analysts say the churches are seeking to reclaim their position as “honest arbitrators” in a country where elections often generate violent conflicts.
The most deadly came in December 2007 and January 2008, when two months of ethnic fighting left at least 1,000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes. Among them, 30 people, mainly ethnic Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe, were burnt alive in an Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa Village in Eldoret.
Henry Njagi, program and information manager at the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said resistance to church guidelines on political speech risks a repeat of the events of 2008.
“When things went wrong, they turned around and accused the church of being silent and abandoning Kenyans,” said Njagi. “So right now is a call on political actors, aspirants and other stakeholders to listen to the church … and stop toxic politicking.”
Though the politicians have not been as present at mosques, Muslim leaders say they are supporting the ban on toxic politicking in the churches.
“I support the Christian leaders. Such a ban is long overdue,” said Sheikh Hassan Ole Naado, national chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.
He added that Muslims were not facing the issue at the moment.
“When you go to a place of worship, you know what you are supposed to do. They are taking advantage of people who are gathered for worship. It should not happen in the first place,” said Ole Naado.