Photo by National Cancer Institute/Unsplash/Creative Commons
The presidents of two historically Black universities — one Catholic, the other Protestant — have announced that they are participating in a COVID-19 vaccine study.
President C. Reynold Verret of Xavier University of Louisiana and President Walter M. Kimbrough of Dillard University said Wednesday (Sept. 2) they are taking part in the Phase 3 trial of the Ochsner Health System. They said they have received injections and are reporting and monitoring any side effects or symptoms.
Ochsner Health said in July that it is one of 120 sites across the world that plan to enroll as many as 30,000 trial participants, with half receiving the vaccine and half receiving a placebo. Neither the investigators nor the patients will know which they have received.
“Overcoming the virus will require the availability of vaccines effective for all peoples in our communities, especially our black and brown neighbors,” the two men wrote in a letter to the faculty, staff and students at their institutions. “It is of the utmost importance that a significant number of black and brown subjects participate so that the effectiveness of these vaccines be understood across the many diverse populations that comprise these United States.”
President C. Reynold Verret of Xavier University of Louisiana, left, and President Walter M. Kimbrough of Dillard University. Courtesy photo
Xavier is a Roman Catholic school and Dillard is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.
The two presidents, whose schools are located in New Orleans, encouraged members of their academic communities and other institutions to take part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.
“Upon our enrollment, we were fully informed, and any possible risks that would exclude us from the study were disclosed,” they said in the letter. “We are both well.”
“As presidents of HBCUs, we do recall unethical examples of medical research,” they said. “We remember the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which misused and caused harm to African Americans and other people of color, undermining trust in health providers and caretakers.”
A Washington, D.C., religious leader has also announced his participation in a trial related to finding a vaccine to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the leader of Ohev Shalom, an Orthodox synagogue, has tweeted about his role in the trial and been featured in a Washington Post video explaining what happens during the study. Writing in Hebrew, he tweeted his thanks to God for his participation in the trial.
“Boruch Hashem I received my second dose of the vaccine for the covid-19 clinical trial,” he said in an Aug. 27 tweet. “Thank you to Hashem and to all those who are working day and night to bring relief from this pandemic.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the first name of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.
Preachers, politicians and family members of Black people who had been killed or shot by police gathered on the National Mall on the anniversary of the March on Washington.
They called for new legislation to address racial inequities in the country.
And they urged people to vote.
Among the speakers Friday (Aug. 28) was a son of Martin Luther King Jr.
He urged participants — who watched on television, online and in-person — to continue the work of the 1960s with what his father called the “coalition of conscience” by seeking a country that seeks love and health and dispels fear and hate.
“To achieve that America, we need to raise our voices and cast our votes,” King said. “There’s a knee upon the neck of democracy and our nation can only live so long without the oxygen of freedom.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, and other speakers echoed some of the same themes enunciated by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech at the first march in 1963.
“We come in the same spiritual lineage,” said Sharpton, organizer of the Commitment March, after members of King’s family addressed the crowd. “’cause I want this country to know that even with your brutality you can’t rob us of our dreams.”
Sharpton announced the event — also called the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march — as he preached at the funeral for George Floyd, a Black man who died in May under the knee of a white police officer.
Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial before thousands, Sharpton said that Black people have long fought bigotry. But he noted that members of the interracial crowd that gathered in the same spot where others marched in 1963 have the power to move beyond their circumstances.
“We are the dream keepers, which is why we come today — black and white and all races and religions and sexual orientations — to say that this dream is still alive. You might have killed the dreamer but you can’t kill the dream.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, left center, makes his way to the podium to speak during the March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Before the throngs of people started marching to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the granddaughter and a son of the famous civil rights leader took turns at the microphone to speak where their predecessor had appeared 57 years before.
“Americans are marching together — many for the first time — and we’re demanding real, lasting structural change,” said Martin Luther King III. “We are socially distanced but spiritually united. We are masking our faces but not our faith in freedom.”
The crowd was addressed by speakers mostly in person and some, including Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, by video. Gospel singer BeBe Winans sang an original composition that he wrote to his then-15-year-old son after Freddie Gray died in the custody of Baltimore police in 2015.
“In one moment, dreams are scattered,” he sang. “Our sons and daughters matter. Black lives matter.”
Winans performed in between brief remarks by family members and lawyers of Black people who had been killed. They recalled their loved ones, thanked the crowd for their support and urged the marchers to vote. Many wore masks or T-shirts with names or images of their relatives.
“There are two systems of justice in the United States,” said the father and namesake of Jacob Blake, the man who was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. “There’s a white system and there’s a Black system. The Black system ain’t doing so well. But we’re going to stand up.”
While the elder Blake cited Allah, the Muslim name for God, in his remarks, other parents mentioned Bible verses as they urged continuing advocacy.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, whose killing in 2012 led to the Black Lives Matter movement, said her favorite passage is Proverbs 3:5-6, which begins: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not unto your own understanding.”
“Even though it looks dark, I want to tell you to be encouraged,” she said. “Don’t stop saying Black Lives Matter. Don’t stop peaceful protesting. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop unifying. Stand together.”
In the pause between speeches, many of which called for legislation to improve voting rights and reform police agencies, the crowds and speakers often engaged in a call-and-response recitation of the names of people who had been killed over the years.
Event co-host Mark Thompson, a radio show host who was helping introduce the various speakers, acknowledged that many of the people representing those names didn’t have a chance to come to the microphone before it was time to march.
“Sisters and brothers,” he said, “the problem is the police have killed so many of us there’s not even enough time for us to hear from every family.”
Grammy-winning gospel performer Kirk Franklin can’t be onstage these days but he’s featured virtually in an upcoming benefit to draw attention to poor children across the globe who are affected by COVID-19.
Franklin is joining World Vision, Food for the Hungry and Compassion International in the “Unite to Fight Poverty” virtual concert set to be televised and streamed online on Friday (Aug. 28) at 8:30 p.m. EDT on Daystar Television Network, Facebook, YouTube and PureFlix. It is also scheduled to air at 3 p.m. EDT Saturday on Fox Business.
Franklin, who won six Stellar Gospel Music Award trophies on Sunday, joins 20 other Christian artists for the two-hour fundraiser to aid the three Christian humanitarian organizations. Those groups are working to help families experiencing extreme poverty in the wake of the pandemic and natural disasters by providing hygiene supplies and clean water.
Franklin, who has traveled across the world, also recorded a new video of his song “Strong God” for Compassion to raise awareness about the crisis. Even as he’s drawing attention to the pandemic, he acknowledged it’s hard for him to not know when he’ll be able to perform in person again.
“I miss people,” said the host of the “Sunday Best” televised singing competition. “And I’m looking forward to getting back in front of people.”
Musician Kirk Franklin in 2019. Courtesy photo
Franklin, 50, talked to Religion News Service about the global effects of the coronavirus and his calls for the church to respond to racial inequities, but he declined to comment on whether his related boycott of Trinity Broadcasting Network and the Dove Awards continues.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Oh, no, no, not at all. Not at all. Not at all. And I’m really appreciative and grateful for everything I get. ’Cause I know nothing is owed to me.
This is the first time that World Vision, Compassion International and Food for the Hungry have worked together on an effort like this benefit. Why did you decide to join this joint effort?
It’s because I believe in the ideals of what they stand for. And I know that even though there are many disparities and deficiencies in America, we are still a blessed country. I’ve been blessed to travel the globe and I can totally understand how, even in the middle of this global pandemic, there are many countries and many individuals that are not able to just pivot and to diversify to survive. I can totally see why this would be such a great moment to come together because we’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime. And it makes me so proud of them to see them unify for the same cause.
What song or songs did you perform and why did you choose those selections?
Well, my song selection was not really based on the mood or the cause of the event. I just wanted to do music I thought would make people feel good. I performed “Love Theory” and “Just for Me.” I’ve been blessed by God’s guidance to have a whole bunch of songs and at this stage of my career, whatever I pick is going to be something that just feels good. But sometimes it’s hard to pick. And so you just deal with what you’re feeling at the moment.
You went to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International. How recently did you go and how long were you there?
Believe it or not, it was right before the world shut down. It was in January. And I was there almost a week.
What is it that struck you particularly about the trip?
How many people in the world still live marginalized lives, that still live under the poverty line, and how many people are forgotten by the 1%. That is just a mystery to me. And it can make me even, at times, question God’s bigger divine plan, even though I have to choose to believe, when it’s hard to believe. But that is something that has always fascinated me.
A recording set for the “Unite to Fight Poverty” virtual concert. Courtesy photo
How has COVID-19 affected you personally?
We’ve had people we know, family members have died, people in the churches we’ve been members of have died or people have been hospitalized. So we’ve seen it firsthand, we’ve seen it up close. And then also I’m in the people business. And so many artists and churches and ministers and pastors, we’re in the job of touching people and there’s something very healing and therapeutic for the soul when we do. And we have not had the opportunity to do that for almost six months.
Has the death of George Floyd and other people, Black people in particular, in police-related incidents affected you personally?
Yes, yes, of course. I’ve been very outspoken. I’ve been very engaged. I’ve been very consistent in my conversations about the disparity of how these actions are in the legal system, in the systems there to protect people, but they don’t protect all people. And also been very vocal about the lack of the church’s voice in social issues that affect people that go to these churches, that sit in these pews. And the lack of information or the lack of conversation has been really deafening.
You appeared in March on Trinity Broadcasting Network, and you discussed these very issues you just spoke of. Has anything new come of that time with TBN or any new steps since then?
I can just say that my heart and my passion won’t stop in any conversation I have that has to do with social injustice or the injustices of any group of people the Bible calls Christians to be engaged in. And, until we are more visible, more visual, more outspoken and more committed to these causes, I will continue to have conversations.
So did that appearance in some way mark an end of your boycott of TBN and the Dove Awards, or is that continuing?
Musician Kirk Franklin in 2019. Courtesy photo
I will just say I will continue to have conversations until the conversations are not needed.
I’m just going to ask one more time: In October, do you expect to be on the Dove Awards?
In October, I continue to keep the narrative of God’s heart and social injustice, and the church’s lack of engagement. We should be the ones leading the narrative and until we do, I will continue to speak up and speak loud and humble and with love until there’s tangible change.
But it sounds like you’re not ready to answer the question about whether you’re going to be there or not.
I will be where I’m supposed to be with this message. I will be at whatever platform I’m called to be able to talk about how God’s love should include everybody. And, until that happens, I will continue to preach love, truth, justice and grace.
Since you are an artist of faith who performs about faith, how do you have faith as you go through this time of the coronavirus pandemic and not being able to perform the way you’d like?
I started going back to therapy and that’s been very, very good for me. I’m a Black man that goes to therapy. I talk, I pray, and they are synonymous. It has been really, really good to be able to have somebody to be able to help you as you help other people. That’s something that can be very, very encouraging. For the first time in history, we had so many pandemics that were contemporaneous: You have racial pandemics, you have political pandemics, you have economic pandemics. So those things can be very daunting for someone that is looked at to be able to try to have all the answers.
A network of more than a dozen Christian groups is launching an initiative to address police reform.
The Prayer & Action Justice Initiative — bringing together Black, Hispanic and Asian organizations along with groups focused on prisoners, prayer and public justice — will advocate for greater equality, accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system.
“The church as a whole, especially certain parts of the church, have not been very clear where they stand on racialized violence and on racial justice in general,” said Justin Giboney, president of The AND Campaign, a group focused on applying biblical values to pressing contemporary issues, which is spearheading the formation of the network.
Justin Giboney speaks during a racial justice demonstration in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of the Prayer & Action Justice Initiative
“We don’t want any ambiguity where we stand on justice. And so our thought is that it is time for the church to unite and, through uniting, we’ll have the credibility to lead on the issue of racial justice.”
The coalition, launched Wednesday (Aug. 19), includes the National Association of Evangelicals, National Day of Prayer Task Force, Asian American Christian Collaborative, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, OneRace and the Church of God in Christ, a historically Black Pentecostal denomination.
The coalition also includes Prison Fellowship, a Christian organization founded by the late Chuck Colson, and the Center for Public Justice, a Christian think tank. Both will lead the initiative’s nonpartisan government advocacy work.
In a “Biblical Justice and Race Statement,” the groups said they mourned the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery “and all others who have lost their lives due to racialized violence. The Church must take these injustices personally, and take initiative to expel racial hatred and partiality from our society.”
Citing a dual commitment to the gospel and justice, the statement tied the groups’ efforts to the New Testament Book of James’ proclamation that faith should be accompanied with action.
“Right doctrine without righteous conduct is unfaithfulness,” they said. “Accordingly, to be silent or inactive on racism is immoral.”
The groups’ document calls for “policies designed to level the playing field so that outcomes are driven more by justice than wealth or race.” The policies advocated for in the document include laws for public disclosure of deaths in custody and use-of-force reports, fairer sentences and restorative opportunities for former prisoners to be reintegrated into society.
“We know this country has to do better, especially when it comes to African Americans in our criminal justice system,” said Giboney. “We think we can do that without necessarily a completely adversarial relationship with the police.”
He said there are times when there is unnecessary police contact. The network seeks both national and local consideration of how and whether police should be involved in some kinds of situations that have previously escalated with their presence.
“We know that that’s not an easy job,” Giboney said. “Whereas they do need to be held accountable and do a better job in many instances, they’re a part of our community as well.”
Individual supporters include the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, a leader of African American church coalitions; the Rev. John Jenkins, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland; and Super Bowl champion Benjamin Watson.
Many of the initiative’s members previously worked together on the Churches Helping Churches Challenge, which has raised more than $1 million since April to provide grants to mostly minority and immigrant churches that were in danger of closing during the coronavirus pandemic.
People raise their fists during a rally, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Las Vegas, against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/John Locher)
For decades, “racial reconciliation” has been the language many white evangelical Christians used when they talked about cultivating improved race relations. “Racial justice” — the term often heard in recent months in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people in police custody, was avoided.
When it comes to multiracial evangelical churches, a recent study finds, the use of the two approaches has been particularly evident of a divide between catering to the comfort of white congregants and answering the calls of Black people and others to remedy racial injustices.
Michelle Oyakawa, a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Kenyon College in Ohio, studied the responses of dozens of evangelical leaders of racially and ethnically diverse congregations in the U.S. to the two “racial frames” and found that using racial reconciliation is a “middle route.” It does not favor segregation but also does not advocate for civil rights, thus downplaying religious divisions that many people of color in multiracial congregations want to see confronted, she said.
Oyakawa wrote a paper based on findings from 121 in-depth interviews with pastors of multiracial churches for the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, led by sociologist Korie Edwards at Ohio State University. Of those, Oyakawa said, 54 were evangelical, and “the overwhelming majority” chose the frame of “racial reconciliation” instead of “racial justice.”
As an example of how talking of reconciliation can frustrate progress on racial issues, Oyakawa, who is Japanese American, cited a white clergyman who visited Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, a young Black man shot by a white police officer in 2014. In an interview, the clergyman said the gospel is “bigger than politics” but he spoke of the struggles of leaders of multiracial churches when they strive to be neutral.
“So we have to address (Brown’s killing) with the humility of Gospel and lead the way without picking one side or the other, but holding both sides together for conversation and movement beyond where we’re at,” he said. “And it’s a very difficult thing.”
Oyakawa, a former research assistant with the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, said, “It might be hard for people to truly come together across race when these racial inequalities exist and aren’t being addressed.”
Mark DeYmaz. Courtesy photo
Stewart said he remains dissatisfied with the growing discussions since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under a white officer’s knee.
“The conversations are centered simply on conversations,” said Stewart, now a graduate student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and a minister at an Augusta, Georgia, congregation affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a historically Black denomination. “The conversations don’t deal with the given system of injustice that we’re trying to live in, and not simply try to live in, but also trying to be Christian in.”
The official statements from white evangelical churches or multiracial churches and Twitter hashtags in recent months, he said, only go so far. “Public proclamations without public change is public performance,” said Stewart. “So people can say, ‘Black lives matter’ but then in the same breath they can say one of these fundamental organizations that are fighting for Black lives to matter in society — they say that ‘I don’t agree with the organization.’”
After the recent deaths of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and others, DeYmaz said that more predominantly white churches and some multiracial churches are looking to foster cross-cultural relationships within their congregations that go beyond talk.
“They want to move beyond the racial reconciliation; they want to begin to think about structural shift,” he said. “They’re coming to recognize justice is not peripheral, but intrinsic to the gospel.”
Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation.
Mark DeYmaz, co-founder and president of Mosaix Global Network, said part of the problem is that many evangelical multiracial churches may look diverse in the pews, but are dominated by white staff and a white viewpoint.
“If you’re in a church of 2,000 people and it’s evangelical and you looked out on the crowd and 30% of people are nonwhite, but your whole staff is essentially white, the way you lead worship is white,” said DeYmaz, whose organization offers support and training for multiracial churches. “The structures and the systems of your church are what we might call a white church.”
Since 1998, recent data shows, evangelical multiracial congregations rose from 7% to 23%.
In the years after the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin and the start of the Black Lives Movement, Danté Stewart, a Black writer and speaker, often acted as a volunteer consultant to the predominantly white evangelical churches where he attended. Pastors and other leaders sought his advice on racial issues, or how to become more multicultural. He eventually grew tired, Stewart said, of their emphasis on “unity talk” about racial reconciliation instead of “seeing black people as full citizens.”