TEXAS FIRE: Governor Rick Perry speaks to God (and the nation) at his recent prayer rally. Rev. C.L. Jackson, a staunch supporter, stands in the background.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry may have only just announced his campaign for the U.S. presidency, but his bid has already captured plenty of attention, as speculation stirs that he could soar to the top of the GOP field. Among Christians, much of the attention stems from Perry’s recent push to distinguish himself as an evangelical candidate. A week before his announcement, Perry held “The Response” prayer rally in Houston. The event called on Christians to fast and pray for a nation in crisis, based on similar gatherings recorded in Joel 2 and the book of Acts. About 30,000 people attended and another 80,000 viewed the live web stream, The Response web site said.
When he announced his bid for the presidency in South Carolina on Saturday, Perry again referred to his Christian faith, taking a moment to thank God for the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers and saying America values “the rights that are endowed to every human being by a loving God.”
Perry’s evangelical push could propel him ahead of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and other candidates who haven’t galvanized the religious right to the same degree. On Saturday, another evangelical Christian, Michele Bachmann, led Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which didn’t include Perry.
Perry’s ultimate success could depend on support from politically conservative African, Hispanic, and Asian American Christians, a group Business Insider called the “Rainbow Right.” Two influential minority evangelical leaders were honorary co-chairs of The Response: Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and host of The Urban Alternative, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Since the minority vote tends to lean left, the growth of the Rainbow Right could mean trouble for President Obama.
“If you were there, you heard a good noise, a good response, ‘Amen,’ and, ‘thank God,’” Jackson said. “I came home feeling good about our nation even in this bad, crippling economy.”
Perry read Scripture and prayed for political and religious leaders, the military, and people struggling with grief, addiction, unemployment and foreclosures. The controversial event came under fire from those who saw it as a violation of the separation of church and state and as an endorsement of Christianity over other religions. However, The Response was billed as an apolitical event, and Perry said during his prayer that God has a “salvation agenda” rather than a political agenda.
“Brother C.L., you and I have had this conversation,” Perry said to Jackson. “He’s a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party, or . . . any man-made institutions. He’s calling all Americans, of all walks of life, to seek him, to return to him, to experience his love and his grace and his acceptance, experience a fulfilled life regardless of the circumstances.”
Jackson campaigned for Perry from pulpits and on the radio when Perry ran for governor. He told Urban Faith that political leaders need to have a relationship with God, and called The Response “a dynamic move” for Perry.“This man put everything that he had on prayer with God,” Jackson said. “In other words, he believed in talking to God. That’s how God deals with us, through conversation, talking to us and guiding us through his words.”
“Other people would try to do it themselves, or follow someone they think knows. Many people are trying to lead this world and God has not turned the world over to them,” he said.
Other Christian leaders argued that it was inappropriate for a politician to organize a religious event. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote a letter to Perry criticizing The Response as “direct government sponsorship of religion.”
“To be blunt, you have overstepped your constitutional bounds,” Lynn wrote. “I am a Christian minister and would like to remind you that it is not the job of government officials to call people to pray, recommend that they fast or prod them to take part in other religious activities. That job belongs to me and my fellow clergy.”
The Response has also come under criticism because of its ties to controversial religious speakers and endorsers, particularly the New Apostolic Reformation, which the Texas Observer reported on in “Rick Perry’s Army of God.” These relationships could prove problematic if Perry ascends to the general election, where far-right religious connections are likely to turn off moderates.
As Perry plows forward, he’s touting his economic experience as governor of Texas, where he said about 40 percent of new American jobs have been created since June 2009—an important success to Americans who have been disappointed with the economy under President Obama. However, Perry’s “Texas miracle” is not exactly what it appears to be. Unemployment in Texas rose to 8.2 percent in June, leaving the state in 26th place.
Jackson believes Rick Perry is the best person to lead America out of a crisis with God’s guidance, but in the end, he said putting one’s hope in any political candidate alone, rather than in God, would be a mistake.
“No man is going to straighten this out,” Jackson said. “He’s too messed up. The hope is in Christ.”
An Internet survey by LifeWay Research found 67 percent of Americans would be open to an invitation to church from a family member, and 63 percent to a friend or neighbor.
The 2008 study was the inspiration for National Back to Church Sunday, a cross-denominational movement encouraging churches and individuals to invite people to church. The third annual Back to Church Sunday will be Sept. 18.
Interestingly enough, the same study found African Americans to be the most receptive ethnic group to church invitations. About 82 percent of African Americans said a relative’s personal invitation would be “somewhat to very effective,” and 79 percent said the same of an invitation from a friend or neighbor.
In comparison, 65 percent of white Americans responded likewise to a relative’s invitation, and 61 percent to a friend or neighbor’s invitation. Hispanic, Asian and mixed-race or other Americans had equal or slightly higher responses, with Hispanic Americans the second most receptive group. The study surveyed 15,000 Americans online.
Responses to other questions also found African Americans to consistently be the most receptive ethnic group to receiving church information and invitations, no matter the medium—friends, family members, door-to-door visits, commercials, social media, signs, etc. Details can be viewed in a PowerPoint at the bottom of LifeWay Research’s article.
So far, nearly half of a hoped-for 10,000 churches have registered for National Back to Church Sunday. As Sept. 18 approaches, the event is seeking citywide coordinators to assist and recruit local churches.
See one of the campaign’s promotional videos below.
“We want our citywide coordinators to really be creative about how to help churches work together in their community,” said Philip Nation, LifeWay’s research ministry development director. “We want them to have a vision that Back to Church Sunday is the beginning of relationships to further minister to the community to help spread the gospel. This is an opportunity for them to begin to work together to meet the needs that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise meet as an individual congregation.”
Last year, participating churches saw an average 26 percent attendance increase, according to a press release.
Church leaders can become citywide coordinators by filling out an online form on the National Back to Church Sunday website. There can also be more than one coordinator per city; if multiple people volunteer for the position, they can work together, Nation said. “We’re hoping we’ll see some coordinators really step up to hold regular meetings for pastors to brainstorm how churches can reach out to the community.”
The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a group of thousands of black churches involved in local and global social justice issues, is coming together for Juneteenth to galvanize faith-based action against the new Jim Crow that Alexander writes about in her book.
“The fact that more than half of the young black men in any large American city are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not—as many argue—just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work,” Alexander wrote in her book. She elaborated on her ideas about the new Jim Crow and the movement against it in an exclusive interview with UrbanFaith.
Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, said mass incarceration is a moral and civil rights issue that the black faith community cannot ignore.
“If you walked into a black church on a Sunday morning and asked, ‘How many of you have been affected directly or indirectly by this issue?’, you’d see everyone standing from the pulpit to the pews,” Carruthers said.
Inspired by Alexander’s book, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference coordinated an effort to raise awareness about the new Jim Crow during church services on Juneteenth, this Sunday. They designed a bulletin insert for congregations to use, which includes facts about mass incarceration, quotes from Scripture, and a Juneteenth and Father’s Day litany.
“It’s not an event, but the beginning of transformative ministry resources that can help propel a movement,” Carruthers said.
Among those resources is a New Jim Crow study guide the nonprofit wrote for churches and book clubs. The guide examines connections to Scripture and African American history and culture chapter by chapter, and then lists multiple sets of data on mass incarceration. At the end of each chapter, the guide uses the African concept of Sankofa—defining it as “to go back and fetch knowledge from our past in order to move forward with wisdom”—to encourage people of faith to take action.
This week, the nonprofit has joined other groups for several events, including a youth town hall meeting in Chicago with Judge Greg Mathis in Chicago, a rally at St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago with Father Michael Pfleger, and a Real Men Cook Father’s Day event at Chicago State University (see website for schedule and details).
Alexander teamed up with the nonprofit when she was looking to connect with churches and a colleague directed her to Carruthers. From there, the group invited her to speak on the new Jim Crow at their annual conference in February and used her book to frame their activism.
“Michelle Alexander helped connect the dots in identifying characteristics of the system, in a compelling argument,” Carruthers said. (See a video clip from Alexander’s presentation below.)
Both the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and Alexander have a vision to see churches not only helping individuals, but also organizing to combat systemic issues. Carruthers said the nonprofit started up in 2003 in response to concerns that the black church “had become less vocal and visible in issues of justice” in the post-Civil Rights Era. Since then, the church network has responded to issues such as Hurricane Katrina, hunger in Africa, and the earthquake in Haiti.
“If a faith community doesn’t speak to what’s wrong in a given society, then who will?” Carruthers said.
For more information on how you and your church can get involved in this campaign, read the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference’s ministry alert and complete the New Jim Crow Campaign interest form.
PROBING A BROKEN SYSTEM: Author and legal scholar Michelle Alexander questions the lopsided number of black men in prison.
Forty years ago today, the United States government declared its legendary “War on Drugs,” and our nation has not been the same since—especially if you happen to be an urban male with dark skin.
The Jim Crow laws may have been officially struck down years ago, but author and scholar Michelle Alexander argues that a new racial caste system has grown in its place: the mass incarceration of minorities, particularly African American men.
It’s not a conclusion she reached lightly. As Alexander discusses in her critically acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, it took years as a racial justice project director for the ACLU for Alexander to see the eerie similarities between the present U.S. criminal justice system and Jim Crow.
Namely, having a criminal or felony record means you face legal discrimination for the rest of your life. Depending on the type of crime, you can lose some of your rights—including the right to vote—and can be barred from housing, employment, financial aid and public benefits (see this report for details). These consequences have come down the hardest on low-income minority communities. As Alexander points out, law enforcement has unfairly targeted those neighborhoods for drug arrests, despite the fact that minorities do not use or sell drugs more than whites.
As a result, more African American men are in prisons, in jails, on probation or on parole today than were enslaved in 1850, 10 years before the Civil War. And an African-American child has less of a chance of being raised by both parents today than in the age of slavery, both according to Alexander’s book.
In an exclusive interview with UrbanFaith, Alexander called for people to create a major social movement against the new Jim Crow spurred by love for the imprisoned. She drew on Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Strength to Love to discuss the kind of love needed for this movement: a love that is, as King wrote, “not to be confused with sentimental outpouring” or “emotional bosh,” but rather a force that loves in spite of flaws or wrongdoings.
As a person of faith, Alexander said she believes every person is a “precious child of God, deserving of our care, compassion and concern, and to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s term, unsentimental love.” Part of our conversation with her is below.
URBAN FAITH: You say in your book that so few people realize that mass incarceration is a racial caste system. Why do you think that is?
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: The system of mass incarceration and how it operates much like racial caste system has lived invisibly in our society in large part because prisons themselves are out of sight, out of mind. In the days when there were whites-only signs, people of all races could not help but notice that a caste system was alive and well. Today, people who are sent to prison are shipped off and no longer a part of our consciousness, unless of course they’re a family member or a friend, someone we know well. The communities which are hardest hit are themselves segregated from mainstream society.
If you’re not directly touched by this system of control, it’s very easy to be seduced by the myths we are fed in mainstream media, propagated by shows like “Law and Order” and CNN and MSNBC shows that focus on the most heinous crimes. These media images and narratives reinforce the idea that most people doing time in prison are heinous people who we should be fearful of and have no care, compassion or concern for.
The colorblind rhetoric that has enveloped this system seems quite rational on the surface. The system is officially colorblind and we have been told by politicians, media pundits, even by some scholars, that the reason so many poor folks of color are cycling in and out of the criminal justice system is their own fault, due to their culture and their poor choices. And because it’s due to their individual choices, we need not care about the suffering that they may be experiencing.
Why do you think people should care?
I think the fundamental question posed by this system of mass incarceration is whether we as a nation are willing to see every human being as worthy of our collective care, compassion, and concern. And I believe the fate of poor people of color in this country depends on our willingness to answer that question, ‘Yes.’
Even if their behavior we find objectionable or reprehensible, we will not stop caring. We are capable of the kind of love—what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as unsentimental love—reflected in our policies, practices, our rules of law, our ways of being, structures and institutions. Unsentimental love that keeps on loving, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.
If we continue to look the other way and believe that some people are not worthy of our moral concern, caste-like systems will be a permanent feature of American life. It’s always possible to demonize or criminalize people along racial or ethnic lines to make certain groups of people be viewed in the public eye as bad and wrong. If we allow those kinds of tactics to cut us off from our own capacity for compassion, then we are conceding to a system that is dehumanizing millions.
And we have got to rethink our drug laws, which criminalize and stigmatize people who may well be suffering from drug abuse or addiction. We put them in a cage, brand them as criminals and felons and then subject them to a lifetime of discrimination, scorn and social exclusion. Is that how we would want someone we cared about to be treated? I think the answer is no. It is possible for us to do things differently. In fact, we haven’t always incarcerated such an astonishing percentage of our people.
You say in your book that we need a major social movement in order to truly transform the criminal justice system. From what you’ve seen since you’ve written this book, do you have hope such a movement will start?
I do. I believe that a major movement is possible to end mass incarceration. There are many people who think otherwise. In fact, there were many people who believed in the mid-1950s that Jim Crow segregation in the South would never die, and that civil rights advocates committed to end the Jim Crow system were foolish.
One of the reasons I believe it will take nothing less than a large social movement to end mass incarceration is because, if we were to return to the rates of mass incarceration we had in the 1970s—before the War on Drugs and the ‘get tough’ movement kicked off—we’d have to release 4 out of 5 people in prison today. More than a million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs. Private prison companies would be forced to watch their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our political, social and economic structure that it’s not going to just fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.
But I believe it’s possible. Just as racial justice advocates were able to bring Jim Crow to its knees in a relatively short period of time, it is possible to bring this system to an end as well. Once genuine care and concern are awakened for a population that has been so demonized and stigmatized for so long, the injustice of the legal system that has operated to keep them in their place will become readily apparent to all.
Do you see people having that personal awakening?
Yes, I do. In fact, there are a growing number of African-American churches that are answering the call to engage in movement building work to end mass incarceration. I’m working right now with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, which is a network of progressive black churches across the country that has committed themselves to making ending mass incarceration a number one priority.
My own view is that the faith community has got to play a lead role in this movement, because what it’s going to take to end this system is a real awakening to care, compassion and concern for all of us, opportunities for redemption and pathways home. And people of faith have got to find their voices in this movement. I’m just delighted to see a growing number of people of faith and faith leaders answering the call and the challenge that this moment in history presents.
CLOUD OF SPECULATION: Bishop Eddie Long addresses his congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta. (Newscom photo)
After Bishop Eddie Long’s decision to settle lawsuits against him out of court, questions have emerged about his motivations, namely: did he settle because the allegations of sexual misconduct with four young male parishioners of his church were true?
But rather than offering answers to his congregation, Long has announced plans to expand his ministry. The Christian Post reported that Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is starting a new church in Birmingham, Ala., in addition to other locations in Lithonia, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Oakland, Calif. and soon Denver. Long asked congregants for $500 to $1,000 donations.
Since the settlement, many Christians around the web have shared their thoughts and feelings. While refraining from calling him guilty or innocent, most denounced Long’s failure to be transparent. Some of the commentators used to attend New Birth. Here’s a sampling of the discussion.
Roland S. Martin, a journalist who used to attend New Birth, wrote an editorial for CNN on Saturday declaring that Long could not be let off so easily.
In it, Martin said he was “one of the committed Christians who poured a seed into [Long’s] ministry.” Martin attended New Birth Missionary Baptist Church for three months in 2000 and continued to support Long’s ministry afterward. He said he has quoted Long’s sermons, donated to his church, bought and read his books and sermon tapes, and written about his outreach to black men in his book.
Martin argued that people who supported Long’s ministry over the years deserve an explanation.
“After his refusal to address the issue publicly, openly and truthfully, I don’t see how any pastor could participate in a conference with Long on the rostrum,” Martin wrote. “I don’t see how any gospel musician could go to his church and stand in the pulpit with him to sell their CDs. As a churchgoing man, there is no way I could sit under the spiritual leadership of any pastor who was unwilling to stand before his congregation and address the issue head on.”
Richards said he went to New Birth in college more than 10 years ago, writing that the ministry and people there “were very instrumental in my formative years as a young man who had re-dedicated himself to Christ.” Although Richards wrote that he appreciated his experience at New Birth, he said the recent controversy had saddened him.
In his legal analysis, Richards discussed the different reasons why Long might choose to settle out of court, from avoiding negative media attention to protecting the other defendants (New Birth and LongFellows Youth Academy) from liability.
In his spiritual analysis, Richards offered a more personal take.
“I believe there were some very bad decisions made and, to some degree, there was a lack of accountability,” Richards wrote. “This is a sad, sad situation. I’m continuing to pray for all parties involved. In the end, this may have been a blessings (sic), because the trial would have been quite ugly and may have done more harm than good.”
Religion writer the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds told the AFRO the settlement looks like a cover-up to her, although she said there’s no way to know the truth.
“It looks like he did what the Catholic Church has been doing for decades,” she told the AFRO. “I thought that [Long’s initial statements] meant he would go to court and fight in court.”
“Let’s be clear: Settling a case does not imply guilt,” Watkins wrote. “But Bishop Long’s promise to his congregation that the truth would eventually be exposed is contradicted heavily by the fact that he has shared almost nothing.”
In the Florida Courier, guest columnist Morris W. O’Kelly cited Scripture while asking Long a series of questions.
“How will I know when to stop mentally subtitling all of your sermons as ‘Do as God Says … Not as I Do and Have Done?’ ” Mo’Kelly wrote.
Mo’Kelly had previously warned of the consequences a private settlement would have in March: “Being able to ask your spiritual leader about the mysteries of the Bible but not about the realities of the allegations can and will prove problematic for some members.”
Will Long’s lack of transparency hurt his congregation? Can his new churches in Birmingham and Denver succeed in spite of the recent controversy? Share your comments and opinions below.