From black megachurch to big screen: Another team of brothers directs new movie

From black megachurch to big screen: Another team of brothers directs new movie

Video Courtesy of Sinners Wanted


Jimmy Jenkins and his brother, Joshua, stood in front of the crowd at a local AMC movie theater and admitted to being overwhelmed.

After showing their new movie, “Sinners Wanted,” for free the previous weekend at the black megachurch where their father preaches, on Friday (March 22) they were in a nearby theater filled with people who had paid for tickets to watch their first joint film project.

Like at least two other brother filmmaker teams before them, the Jenkins siblings are hoping their independent film will continue to expand the depiction of biblically based stories on the big screen.

They have chosen a particularly provocative storyline: A preacher named Leo Shepherd befriends, dates and marries a prostitute named Ginger “GiGi” Clementine.

“It came from the book of Hosea — Hosea, Chapter 3, verse 1 — when God told Hosea to go love a prostitute to show Israel how much he loves her,” said Jimmy Jenkins, the younger of the two brothers, in an interview.

“I wanted to take it and create it into a modern-day story that people can understand how much God loves humanity.”

Near the start of the movie, Gigi comes into the black Washington, D.C., church, beaten and bruised after a difficult night. An usher asks a scantily clad Gigi: “Why are you disturbing our service?”

Shepherd, the brand-new pastor, responds with a verse about God’s grace.

“She can have a seat. It’s all right,” he says.

The movie, which focuses on the need for forgiveness and on welcoming people frowning church elders considered undesirable, was presented last year at several film festivals, including the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Brothers Joshua, left, and Jimmy Jenkins at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden Film Ministry’s premiere of the “Sinners Wanted” film on March 16, 2019, at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Md. Photo courtesy of First Baptist Church of Glenarden

Jenkins, 28, a filmmaker since age 22, partnered with his older brother, the leader of the young adult and drama ministries at their father’s First Baptist Church of Glenarden, to present the film through their company Jenk Ink LLC. They follow others in the faith-related film business, including brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, creators of “Woodlawn,” and Alex and Stephen Kendrick, whose movie “War Room” had the seventh-highest box office success for a Christian film.

Jimmy Jenkins said he sought out the Kendrick brothers for advice last year and their discussion encouraged him.

“They told me that the God idea works,” he said. “That’s one of the big things I got from it: Follow God’s will before you try to follow your will and when you do that, God can really bless you.”

Some of the Kendricks’ earliest films were supported by volunteers from their Albany, Ga., church who provided most of the cast, crew and catering.

Similarly, the Jenkins brothers have relied on their church for support of their production, with many of the extras coming from their Maryland congregation.

Their independent film, which has a six-figure budget, was shot in 16 days, with some scenes set in two neighboring Baptist churches in Washington, D.C. The directors coordinated around the schedules of their more well-known actors, including Lamman Rucker (of “Greenleaf,” an Oprah Winfrey Network drama about a family that runs a black megachurch) and Clifton Powell (of “Ray,” the 2004 movie about musician Ray Charles).

After selling out at the movie theater, the film is set to screen again the last weekend in March. Jenkins said he’s hoping it will expand to other theaters and churches.

Rucker, who played a church elder who declared that GiGi “doesn’t look like a Christian to me,” said in a panel discussion after the premiere that productions like these are “a labor of love” for actors like him.

“This wasn’t about getting paid,” he said. “This wasn’t about getting famous.”

Powell, a Washington, D.C., native, added in the same discussion that their participation helps dispel a fallacy about African-American actors leaving their hometowns behind when they head to Hollywood.

“When they say DC and it’s young men like this, we’re going to be here,” said Powell, who plays the church’s facilities director. “It’s all about relationships and it’s all about where we keep our minds as entertainers.”

He added that — as has been the case for some Christian films picked up by major companies — movies don’t have to be produced in Hollywood to gain a following.

“The power is right here in this church,” he said. “All y’all got to do is go out and support the movie and Hollywood will come to your house.”

Ginger and Leo, played by Ashley Rios and Kenneth Wayne, in the new film “Sinners Wanted.” Photo courtesy of Jenk Ink

Biblical guide marks 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia

Biblical guide marks 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia

Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60 in New Madrid County, Mo., in January 1939. Photo by Arthur Rothstein/LOC/Creative Commons

 

A Christian anti-hunger group has released a devotional guide to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Va.

“Lament and Hope: A Pan-African Devotional Guide” was produced by Bread for the World and is set to be dedicated at a prayer service at a Washington church on Thursday (Feb. 28), the last day of Black History Month.

The free guide addresses past and current issues of unequal access to land, housing and education. It begins with verses from the Bible’s Book of Lamentations that speak of homelessness and affliction and conclude with a proclamation of the “steadfast love of the Lord.”

The Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith speaks at a Religious Freedom Center class for black theological students on Jan. 8, 2019, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“We are saying that the history of people of African identity has been a legacy of spiritual resistance,” said the Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith, editor of the guide. “There’s been that resistance against the evils of enslavement and all the things that accompanied that.”

The devotional has been released at the start of a year in which many activities commemorating the arrival of the first African captives in Jamestown are planned, including some by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 400 Years of African-American History Commission that was established by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Trump in early January.

Walker-Smith, senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox Church relations at Bread for the World, said a delegation of young adults from across Africa plans to represent her organization in August at events planned in Jamestown, where people from the modern-day southwest African country of Angola were brought 400 years ago.

Bread for the World’s 2019 Pan-African Devotional Guide. Image courtesy of Bread for the World

Bread for the World’s guide was produced to help readers answer questions about how to move from lamentation to hope, drawing on the example of African people who were forced into slavery and protested it, she said.

“That spiritual resistance is actually a source of hope and still is a source of hope,” Walker-Smith said.

The guide will be promoted through partnerships with global, African and American networks of churches. It features monthly entries written by current and former leaders of the Angola Council of Churches, the United Theological College of the West Indies and the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative.

The dedication service and the guide itself will encourage participants to contemplate disparities that remain across the globe and determine ways to advocate to eliminate them, Walker-Smith said.

“At the end of the service, there will be a call to action to say you have a role in this narrative, you have an opportunity to be a part of this legacy,” she said. “What are you doing and how can you further this sense of hope?”

As Southern Baptists mull executive vacancies, will diversity play a role?

As Southern Baptists mull executive vacancies, will diversity play a role?

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, left, discusses racial unity with Atlanta pastor Dhati Lewis, a vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, during Evangelicals for Life on Jan. 17, 2019, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

In recent decades the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded defending slavery, has attempted to come to terms with its record on race.

Now as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination faces a rare leadership vacuum at the top of two of its agencies and two of its seminaries — and installs a new mission board president Wednesday (Feb. 6) — questions have arisen about whether its statements committing to diversity will be reflected in hiring decisions.

SBC President J.D. Greear told Religion News Service he has recommended that search committees seeking new executives keep racial diversity in mind and consider going beyond “following networks that you know” in their search.

“In the ones that have asked me I have strongly encouraged there to be at least consideration given,” he said in an interview in January.

Greear noted that he does not have direct control over the selection of the new leaders. But he said that the search committees are open to diverse candidates.

“I haven’t received resistance from any of the search committees that I’ve talked to,” he said.

James Merritt is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Photo courtesy of James Merritt

Last week, two former SBC presidents, joined by a prominent Las Vegas pastor, took the unusual step of sending a letter to the search committee for the new president of the SBC Executive Committee, inquiring about the breadth of efforts to replace Frank Page. Page retired last year after a “morally inappropriate relationship.”

“In your search for the person to fill this position, have you interviewed any minority candidates?” asked James Merritt, Bryant Wright, and Vance Pitman in an email to the search committee, according to the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist journal in North Carolina. “If not, we respectfully ask why not?”

Merritt confirmed to RNS that he sent the email. In response, he said, the committee “respectfully declined to answer our questions,” saying it could not reveal internal discussions.

“We felt like it was a legitimate question to ask out of a deep concern that we do indeed fulfill both the spirit and the letter of what we resolved to do,” said Merritt, a Georgia pastor. “And that is to reach far and wide and include minorities in the process.”

Almost a quarter century ago, Southern Baptists passed a historic resolution repudiating slavery. In 2012, they elected New Orleans pastor Fred Luter as the SBC’s first black president to a one-year term and re-elected him the next year. In 2015, they passed another statement that urged “Southern Baptist entities and Convention committees to make leadership appointments that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the body of Christ and of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic, who has called for the SBC to place minorities in appointed executive positions — beyond the elections of denominational officers to one-year terms — tweeted his appreciation of the email sent by the three Baptist leaders.

“It would be a travesty to appt a Prez, without … interviewing a minority,” he tweeted Saturday. “It would be a huge statement of disrespect to the 20% + minority churches who comprise the SBC.”

Roger “Sing” Oldham, spokesman for the Executive Committee, responding to a request for additional information, said the search committee is “diverse in its composition” — including a white woman and two black male pastors. He expects it will update the full committee about its search by its Feb. 18 meeting.

Oldham noted that the nominees elected to the SBC’s boards and committees in June, and chosen by its Committee on Nominations, were 12.6 percent non-Anglo. Of those nominees who were not serving as pastors, 43 percent were women.

Recently, at least two milestones also have been reached among the six SBC seminaries. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Kentucky-based flagship of those seminaries, appointed its first African-American board officer in 2018. Also last year, a woman was elected chair of the trustee board of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

Merritt said he hoped that all the current search committees would consider and interview diverse candidates.

“I think too often that Southern Baptists, we kind of come to the party a little bit late and too often we’ve been the caboose and not the locomotive,” he said. “And I think that we have an opportunity here to kind of start changing that narrative.”

After Wednesday’s installation of Paul Chitwood as president of the International Mission Board, four major SBC institutions will need to find new leaders: the Executive Committee, two seminaries and LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC’s publishing division.

Paige Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas in May after allegedly dismissing women’s concerns about rape and domestic abuse. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley announced in October that he would retire at the end of this academic year. Thom Rainer announced in August that he plans to retire from LifeWay this year.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, speaks with reporters at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on June 14, 2017, in Phoenix. Photo by Van Payne/Baptist Press

McKissic said in an interview that he has seen progress in blacks being hired as Baptist association and state convention staff. He said he also is aware of minority candidates who have applied for past open executive positions and were not chosen.

“It’s not because they are not interested or they don’t apply,” said the black pastor, who has proposed SBC statements condemning the Confederate flag and “alt-white supremacy.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention has not demonstrated a willingness to place a black — a minority, period — to those high-level positions,” he said.

Dhati Lewis, the sole African-American vice president at the convention’s North American Mission Board, said he is not optimistic about diversity being accomplished soon in the top ranks, though he believes it should occur.

“They’re going to choose people that they trust,” he said of selection committees. “And when your relationships aren’t diverse, it’s hard to find people that you can trust that don’t look like you, talk like you and act like you.”

Appointing more diverse executive leadership beyond the traditional choices, he said, would be an opportunity for the convention “to show that we genuinely want to reach North America and we can get beyond our Southern roots and we can become more global.”

Asked about whether a woman could assume any of these positions, some leaders said that there’s nothing in the denomination’s constitution that precludes a female executive. The SBC’s faith statement declares that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Greear said his North Carolina megachurch has reviewed its staff directory and determined that many roles that traditionally had been held by men could be held by women. Now, the captain of its domestic and overseas missions program is a woman.

“I think the SBC as a whole – that’s in front of us – is asking the same questions,” Greear said.

5 religious facts you might not know about Frederick Douglass

5 religious facts you might not know about Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, known as the father of the civil rights movement, an abolitionist, and a former slave was also a licensed preacher.

Here are five religious facts about Douglass:

1. He was a licensed lay preacher.

Douglass was licensed to preach by a congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in New Bedford, Mass., and had many roles in the denomination. The AME Zion Church was where he honed his famous oratorical skills.

“He was what we call an exhorter first and then secondly, he was a licensed preacher but he was never ordained,” said the Rev. James David Armstrong, retired historian of the AME Zion Church. “He held other offices in the AME Zion Church, like steward, Sunday school superintendent, sexton.”

2. He published The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, from the basement of an AME Zion church.

The Rev. Kenneth James, pastor of Memorial AME Zion Church in Rochester, N.Y., said the church building still exists but the congregation, now with 300 members, is in a new location. “It makes all of us proud,” James said of the statue dedication. “Especially being pastor of the church that he once was a member of, it heightens it for me.”

3. Douglass’ Washington home featured religious artifacts.

Cedar Hill, the home where Douglass lived in southeast Washington, D.C., for the last 17 years of his life, includes books, sculptures and photos that reflect his interest in religion. Ka’mal McClarin, curator of the National Park Service historic site, said the home includes images of angels and Jesus and photos of the interior and exterior of Washington’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. A fireplace mantle features busts of two of his favorite philosophers, David Friedrich Strauss, author of “The Life of Jesus,” and Ludwig Feuerbach, author of “The Essence of Christianity.” The library included several Bibles and books such as “History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church” and “Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race.”

“He pretty much embraced all religions,” said McClarin. “He studied all of them.”

frederick douglass

Frederick Douglass daguerreotype portrait c. 1850. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Institute

4. He attended several churches in Washington.

After he moved to the capital city in 1872, he had a favorite pew in Metropolitan AME Church, which now bears his name. When the church dedicated a new building in 1886, he gave it two standing candelabras. The congregation presented him with a Bible before he departed for Haiti as a U.S. diplomat. Church historian Thelma Dean Jacobs said he gave many lectures at the church, including his last major speech, “The Lesson of the Hour.” His funeral was held there in 1895.

5. A church in Elmira, N.Y., was named for him.

Frederick Douglass AME Zion Church in Elmira, N.Y., was named for the abolitionist. Its website notes that the church was inspired by an 1840 anti-slavery lecture by Douglass. It was founded by a group of slaves in the town that was a station along the Underground Railroad, which aided fugitive slaves. After its building cornerstone was laid in 1896, the church continued to grow and “was the largest Black church in the region during the late 1940’s.”

Southern Baptist seminary report ties founders to slaveholding, white supremacy

Southern Baptist seminary report ties founders to slaveholding, white supremacy

Video Courtesy of stevie lundyjr


Founders of one of the nation’s largest seminaries owned more than 50 slaves and said that slavery was morally correct.

But an internal investigation found no evidence the school was directly involved in the slave trade, according to the seminary’s president.

A 71-page report released Wednesday (Dec. 12) from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship seminary, says its early trustees and faculty “defended the righteousness of slaveholding.”

“They argued first that slaveholding was righteous because the inferiority of blacks indicated God’s providential will for their enslavement, corroborated by Noah’s prophetic cursing of Ham,” the report reads. “They argued second that slaveholding was righteous because southern slaves accrued such remarkable material and spiritual benefits from it.”

The seminary was founded in 1859 in Greenville, S.C., but suspended operations in 1862 during the Civil War and reopened in Louisville in 1877.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 when its members defended the right of missionaries to own slaves. Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told Religion News Service the investigation expanded the knowledge and truth of what that defense meant.

“What we did not know and should have known was the degree to which open expressions of white racial supremacy were a part of the defense of slavery even on the part of some of the founding faculty of this school,” he said.

The report demonstrates how interwoven Southern Seminary’s history has been with the wider racial and political history of the denomination and the nation. It follows a 1995 resolution passed by Southern Baptists on the 150th anniversary of the denomination in which they said “we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery” and “we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty.”

Brantley Gasaway, chair of Bucknell University’s religious studies department, said the report, like the earlier resolution, is “symbolically significant.” It shows that some Southern Baptist leaders have grown in their sensitivity to diversity and racial reconciliation, he said.

But he said it did not point to substantive policy or structural changes.

“The leaders of Southern Seminary confess and lament their racist heritage, but they pledge only to continue to welcome and celebrate racial diversity at their institution,” said Gasaway, whose research focuses on evangelicals. “Such an approach reflects most evangelicals’ view that racial reconciliation does not necessarily include any reparations or recompense for the injustices suffered by minorities.”

Mohler said his decision to call for a one-year investigation by a team of six faculty — three African-American and three white — was prompted by actions of other institutions of higher education, specifically Princeton University, which released a report last year on its ties to slavery, including the sale of slaves on its campus.

Mohler said Southern was not found to be involved in the slave trade as an institution.

Asked if the seminary will apologize for its founders’ stances, Mohler said he could offer “a very clear statement of institutional sorrow,” but it is not possible to apologize for the dead.

“We certainly want to make very clear that we are a very different institution than we were then,” he said, noting its more recent history of inviting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the school in 1961. That visit prompted white Southern opponents in the Baptist denomination to withhold money from the school and the seminary’s president at the time to issue an apology.

Asked if the seminary is repenting for its ties to slavery, Mohler said “to the extent that repentance rightly applies, we surely repent.”

“The problem is theologically repenting for the dead,” he said.  “We cannot repent for the dead.”

A portrait of James Boyce, the first president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, hangs in the president’s office in Louisville, Ky. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

In his written introduction, Mohler said he rejoices in the “new humanity” now demonstrated on his campus. He expressed appreciation for the school’s black students, alumni, trustees and faculty. In its 2017-18 academic year, the seminary had 228 blacks enrolled, comprising 4.26 percent of the total student body of 5,354.

“Right here, right now, we see students and faculty representing many races and nations and ethnicities,” he wrote. “Our commitment is to see this school, founded in a legacy of slavery, look every day more like the people born anew by the gospel of Jesus Christ, showing Christ’s glory in redeemed sinners drawn from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.”

Among other findings: 

  • Seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery after the election of President Lincoln. James Boyce, the seminary’s first president, “believed that sudden secession would be disastrous, and that negotiation with the Republicans would produce guarantees of protection for slavery.” Boyce was the only one of the four founding professors who served in the Confederate Army, where he was a chaplain.
  • John A. Broadus, another founding faculty member, presented resolutions at the 1863 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention that pledged Southern Baptist support for the Confederacy. They were adopted unanimously. He later supported a possible move to a new location for the seminary that was “in a white man’s country.”
  • Joseph E. Brown, whom the report described as “the seminary’s most important donor” and its trustee board chairman from 1883 to 1894, earned a substantial part of his fortune from the exploitation of mostly black convict-lease laborers. His iron furnaces and coal mines, once described as a possible “hell on earth,” used torture and other harsh punishments that were similar to those exercised by slave drivers. Brown gave a gift of $50,000 to the seminary that helped saved it from financial collapse.
  • In some instances, seminary faculty urged humane treatment of blacks. But before the 1940s, faculty members “construed the Old South as an idyllic place for both slaves and masters” and “claimed that the South went to war to uphold their honor rather than slavery.” They also supported black theological education as long as it was segregated.
  • The support of white superiority, which was taught by seminary faculty, was exemplified in the writings of Edgar Y. Mullins, president of the seminary from 1899 to 1928: “It is immoral and wrong to demand that negro civilization should be placed on par with white. This is fundamentally the issue.”
  • The seminary refused requests by blacks for admission for decades. When the seminary had its first black graduate, Garland Offutt, who earned a master’s of theology in 1944 (and later a doctorate in 1948), it did not permit him to participate in the regular commencement festivities. He instead was awarded his degree during the term’s final chapel service. Blacks first participated in graduation services in 1952.

The reports concludes with a statement about the seminary’s eventual rejection of white supremacy.

“This report documents the contradictions and complexities of the experience of Southern Baptists and race in America,” it reads. “We have not overcome all the contradictions, but we are committed to doing so.”