Trump and R. Kelly: Are Christian Values for Sale?

Trump and R. Kelly: Are Christian Values for Sale?

Video Courtesy of E! News

For the past two years, I’ve been troubled by how many white evangelicals love President Trump. I’ve read numerous conservative blogs to better understand how they can turn a blind eye to his questionable character and downright nastiness, focusing entirely on a particular political agenda. When Erick Erickson, a vocal evangelical who has been critical of Trump in the past and didn’t vote for him in 2016, declared that he was now seriously thinking about Trump in 2020, I challenged him on his Twitter feed. He didn’t respond, of course, But one of his followers did and said Trump is the most pro-life president we’ve ever had. Ok, so I get you there, but seriously? That’s the only lens by which you can view him? Fast forward a month and I’m watching Lifetime’s docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” hearing gut-wrenching stories about how R. Kelly has allegedly abused and mistreated many young women over decades. It hit me that the parallels between the lives of the two men and their devoted followers are striking and may offer insight as to why, given all we know, they are still so popular.

R. Kelly and Trump are bad boys and their disrespect of women is well documented — on tape. With Trump, the Access Hollywood video made us all cringe, but Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, gave him a mulligan. Trump knows his base and, although he may not live in a Godly way, he will protect what a number of evangelicals hold dear — fighting for the rights of the unborn, standing up for religious freedom when it feels like the world is turning against them, and resisting gender identity issues. And he tosses in a bit of white-identity politics for good measure. Black evangelicals — African Americans in general, really — are drawn to R. Kelly because, as is mentioned in the docuseries, songs by the self-professed Christian make us relive stepping in the name of love at our weddings and have us believing we can fly listening to stirring renditions of Kelly’s hit by church choirs everywhere. (And, yes, let’s just get it out there, maybe even a little bumping and grinding.) R. Kelly was found “not guilty” after the video that got him charged came to light. Yet, the rumors still persisted. When more recent allegations came to light in 2017 and gospel music singer and songwriter Bishop Marvin Sapp was asked about his new collaboration with the singer, Sapp told Billboard  “the message is bigger than the messenger.”  Yep. That’s how Trump’s white evangelical supporters feel. Are Christian values that blatantly transactional? Things may be changing as #MeToo revelations are finally coming to light in African American and mainstream churches. Times up.

Let’s be clear. Trump has not been convicted of any wrongdoing legally, although morally there’s a whole lotta yuck out there, courtesy of special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s popularity may have dipped slightly because of the government shutdown, but his approval numbers are still steady. R. Kelly was exonerated (sort of), but that doesn’t mean what he is accused of isn’t true — the women in the docuseries were beyond credible. He’s denied the allegations, and clearly, some folks don’t believe them as Spotify streams by R. Kelly have surged since it aired.

Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s why some Christians stand by Trump and others love R. Kelly.  I would even argue that’s why it took so long for so many of us to believe the allegations against Bill Cosby, America’s favorite dad. We don’t want to let go. We’ll barter our emotions and values for a disturbingly imperfect vessel if it makes us feel good and gets us what we want. No matter who it hurts.


Legal decisions and a racist robocall in Georgia gov. race

Legal decisions and a racist robocall in Georgia gov. race

Last-minute legal decisions, a racist robocall and a protester wearing a giant chicken suit holding a sign that reads “too chicken to debate.”

These are the scenes playing out amid the final furious days of the hotly contested and historic race for Georgia governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

A robocall apparently from a white supremacist group is injecting racism directly into the race, which has already been fraught with a race-laden debate over ballot access and voter suppression. Abrams would be the first black female governor in U.S. history. Kemp, who oversees elections as Georgia’s secretary of state, vehemently denies charges that he’s used his office to make it harder for minorities to vote.

Abrams and Kemp are both condemning an automated telephone call filled with racist and anti-Semitic statements. The call, sent to an unknown number of Georgians, impersonates Oprah Winfrey, the billionaire media titan who came to Georgia on Thursday to support Abrams.

The robocall says it was paid for by The Road to Power, a group organized by Scott Rhodes of Idaho. He has been linked to several other racist robocalls, including a recent effort in Florida, where Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum would become the first black governor in his state’s history.

Kemp issued a statement calling the tactic “vile” and “contrary to the highest ideals of our state and country,” and condemning “any person or organization that peddles this type of unbridled hate and unapologetic bigotry.”

The Abrams camp likewise blasted the move but took a shot at Kemp and his highest profile supporter, President Donald Trump, who is coming to Georgia to campaign Sunday. A top Abrams aide said both Kemp and Trump have contributed to a poisonous atmosphere, and that Kemp has been silent on previous racially loaded attacks on Abrams.

“These automated calls are being sent into homes just days before President Trump arrives, reminding voters exactly who is promoting a political climate that celebrates this kind of vile, poisonous thinking,” said Abrams’ spokeswoman Abigail Collazo.

Abrams sidestepped the issue Saturday in brief public remarks as she greeted voters at an Atlanta shopping complex along with her local congressman, civil rights icon John Lewis.

“Georgia has long been on a path of change and evolution,” Abrams said. But she also said the election is about issues like expanding Medicaid insurance and focusing state spending on public education, job training and small business startups.

“I’m the only candidate with a plan to get that done and to do that without vitriol, without vilifying people,” she added.

Lewis, the 78-year-old congressman who as a young man was severely beaten by police as he fought for voting rights in the Jim Crow South, put Georgia’s choice in the broadest context: “This young lady is playing a major role in helping liberate all of us, liberate the state of Georgia, liberate the South, liberate America.”

Kemp did not address the robocalls at his only scheduled campaign stop Saturday at a Cuban restaurant in a diverse north-Atlanta suburb.

Kemp told the packed crowd of supporters that the race for governor was a simple choice: one between continued economic prosperity under Republican leadership, or a turn to “socialism” under Democrats.

Kemp said the election was about “this generation and generations to come and the kind of state that we leave them.” He then blasted Abrams’ policy pitches on health care and education.

The Kemp event was also hit by a number of protesters. Two men protesting Kemp’s immigration policy while Kemp was onstage were forcibly removed from the restaurant.

As a TV crew from MSNBC tried to film the hecklers being removed, a Kemp supporter physically blocked their path and the view of their lens.

And someone out front was wearing a giant chicken suit holding a sign that reads “too chicken to debate,” alluding to Kemp withdrawing from a debate scheduled Sunday in favor of appearing in Macon with President Donald Trump.

Much of the final stretch of the race was consumed by a bitter battle over race and access to the polls.

Tensions grew after an Associated Press report in early October that more than 53,000 voter applications — nearly 70 percent of them from black applicants — were on hold with Kemp’s office ahead of the election.

Many of the applications were flagged for failing to pass the state’s “exact match” verification process, which requires that identification information on voter registration applications precisely match information already on file.

Kemp’s office says that eligible voters on the “pending” list can still vote if they bring a proper ID that substantially matches their registration information. He called the controversy “manufactured.”

But critics say county officials aren’t always trained to make the proper determination and the system can be particularly hard to navigate for recently naturalized citizens.

In response to a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups, a judge on Friday ruled the state unfairly burdens about 3,100 possible voters whose registration was flagged for citizenship issues.

She ruled that Georgia must immediately start allowing poll managers — not just deputy registrars — to clear flagged voters who show proof of citizenship.

In a statement, Kemp said the lawsuit forced the state “to waste time and taxpayer dollars for the judge to tell us to do something that we already do.”

Reduced sentencing for nonviolent criminals: What does the public think?

Reduced sentencing for nonviolent criminals: What does the public think?

Los Angeles County women’s jail in Lynwood, California. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Partisan politics in Washington has found a new victim: criminal justice reform.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is trying to pass a bipartisan bill that would reduce punishments for less serious, nonviolent crimes. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a few Republican senators are fighting the bill because they believe prosecutors need the threat of long prison sentences to deter crime. Their belief is not shared by many criminologists.

Grassley’s bill reflects reforms that have already happened at the state level: More than two dozen red and blue states, including states as politically different as Texas and Massachusetts, have joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative over the last 15 years. Under the initiative, sponsored by the Council of State Governments, states have changed their laws to sentence nonviolent offenders to community-based sanctions, like probation or ankle bracelet monitoring, instead of prison.

Spending less money on locking people in prison means states have more to spend on other forms of crime prevention. Investing this money in communities was the original vision of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. However, most legislatures have reinvested money back into the criminal justice system instead.

What does the public think about sentencing reform and investing in communities now?

As a scholar who studies public opinion and the politics of criminal justice, I conducted a public opinion survey to answer this question.

I surveyed white and black respondents to see whether opinions differed across racial groups. Criminal justice is an issue that has long divided Americans by race.

Support for sentencing reform

I asked about 2,000 people to state whether they support or oppose sentencing nonviolent property and drug offenders to community-based punishments instead of prison. Property offenders commit crimes like burglary or theft. Drug offenders commit crimes like drug possession or selling.

I found that a majority of black respondents expressed support for sentencing both property and drug offenders to community-based punishments.

Only between 42 percent to 48 percent of white respondents expressed similar support for community-based punishments. The remaining white respondents expressed opposition or no preference.

Support for community investment

Next, I wanted to know how people think money saved from reducing the prison population should be reinvested.

I asked participants to imagine they are a governor and could distribute money for hiring police officers, hiring probation officers, funding community health care clinics, increasing funding to community public schools, funding community job creation programs, or giving citizens a tax break as part of a hypothetical crime prevention budget.

I found that white respondents, on average, gave each category a similar percentage of the overall budget.

Black respondents also put some money into each category, on average. However, they allocated less money toward hiring police and more money toward community institutions and services than white respondents.

In research that will be published in Justice Quarterly, I also tested whether people’s allocation of money would change depending on the community that would receive the funds. I found that respondents were relatively consistent regardless of whether they were told that the communities were high in crime, poverty or welfare usage.

Only one variable changed the allocations: White respondents who were told that African-American communities would receive money allocated more money toward hiring police and probation officers and less money into clinics, schools or job creation programs.

This result is consistent with the political science theory of “racial priming.” The theory holds that images or words that are negatively associated with black people, like “welfare queen” or “inner-city,” trigger racial stereotypes. These stereotypes make whites more likely to feel that black people’s requests for anti-poverty policies in their communities are requests for “special treatment” that whites consider to be unfair.

My findings suggest that politicians could encourage both white and black Americans to support community investment if they talk about fixing social problems, like poverty or crime, instead of talking about giving money to one particular group of people.

Disconnect between politicians and citizens

I found no evidence that black and white Americans hold substantially different opinions about criminal justice reform.

Though politicians may have political reasons to shy away from sentencing reform and community investment, a lack of public support does not appear to be one of them. The public is less divided on this issue than our leaders in Washington.The Conversation

Kevin Wozniak, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Massachusetts Boston

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Booker fuels 2020 talk with South Carolina Dem fundraiser

Booker fuels 2020 talk with South Carolina Dem fundraiser

NEW JERSEY STAR: Newark Mayor Cory Booker is often compared to President Barack Obama because of his youthful charisma, Ivy League pedigree, and post-racial persona. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Newscom)

Fueling speculation about his White House ambitions, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will headline a Democratic fundraiser in South Carolina, which hosts the South’s first presidential primary.

The Orangeburg County Democratic Party told The Associated Press that Booker is scheduled to attend its annual fundraising gala Oct. 18. That will put him in front of more than 1,000 South Carolina Democrats, including many of the state’s most prominent black leaders and activists.

The event will mark Booker’s first trip to South Carolina since President Donald Trump took office. South Carolina is the first early voting state with a significant black population.

Booker, one of three African-American senators, sought to frame his South Carolina trip in the context of the November midterm election, and a Booker aide said the South Carolina trip would involve additional appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates running this year.

“As I’ve traveled across the country campaigning, I’ve seen unprecedented enthusiasm for a new generation of Democratic candidates,” Booker said in a statement. “Now, we must turn that energy into action.”

Indeed, Booker and other speculative presidential hopefuls like fellow Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have confined their travel itineraries mostly to midterm battlegrounds, and Warren has her own re-election campaign this year.

But South Carolina Democrats face an uphill battle this November, with gubernatorial nominee James Smith being a decided underdog against incumbent Republican and Trump ally Henry McMaster.

The Orangeburg event coincides with fall homecoming festivities of South Carolina State University, the local historically black campus.

Orangeburg Democratic Chairman Kenny Glover, who issues the invitation, said he simply wanted “a national figure” for the event, but he stopped short of declaring Booker a 2020 favorite. “Oh, we do not endorse,” he said.

Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 swept South Carolina and other Southern primaries, with their support in the black community fueling early delegate leads that propelled them to the Democratic nomination. In fact, both Obama and Clinton lost the national cumulative white vote, according to primary exit polls, but captured the nomination anyway because of margins among non-whites.

Certainly, the expected crowded field in 2020 isn’t likely to play out exactly as those previous nomination fights that settled quickly into two-candidate races, and leading black Democrats say African-Americans may not coalesce clearly behind a single candidate at all.

Besides Booker, the potential African-American candidates include Harris, former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Former Vice President Joe Biden also has deep ties in the black community and the appeal of having served as top lieutenant to Obama, the nation’s first black president.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond said in a recent interview that the allure of history and kinship won’t be the same as it was for black voters during Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Richmond praised Booker’s life story, “growing up in a working-class family and going on to the Ivy League. He also extolled Harris and Warren for their work on Capitol Hill, while noting Biden’s “long track record.”

Are You Afraid to Raise Your Voice?

Are You Afraid to Raise Your Voice?

For some people speaking up when they know they’re right, or when they see an injustice, is just part of who they are. They feel compelled to take action. Not me. I spent a big part of my younger years screaming inside about things that frustrated me at work, church, and even in my personal life, but the outrage never escaped the audience in my head. In real-time, I was just sitting there…silent…paralyzed with fear over whether I would be hurt professionally or personally if I faced the conflict head-on and said something out loud. I was well into my thirties before I realized how liberating it can be to use your voice while fighting for a cause bigger than yourself.

Raise Your Voice by Kathy Khang.

That’s why Kathy Khang’s latest book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up, resonates with me. Khang offers practical advice and forward-thinking leadership from a Christian perspective on how to find your own personal voice for the good of the community and sharing God’s Word — particularly when race, ethnicity, and gender are at play. But even for her, it took time to get to the place where she is now.

“As a Korean American woman, I really wrestled with whether or not it was appropriate to raise my voice, whether I had anything worth saying,” Khang says. “Maybe if I had something worth saying, would anyone listen? Would anyone care?”

Khang, a columnist for Sojourners magazine and a writer for Duke University’s Faith & Leadership, the online magazine of leadership education at Duke Divinity, talked with Urban Faith about her new book, the politics of race and evangelism, being a woman of color with something to say, and why many people don’t speak up.

You mentioned that finding your voice has been part of a 10-year process. Can you tell me more about what you were struggling with and how your faith helped you push through it to complete the book?

 This wasn’t, you know, a 10-year process in my twenties. This is my late thirties, early forties, where I’ve already been a professional journalist. There aren’t a ton of examples of Korean-American, Asian-American women, women of color in safe circles writing books. There are more now, but definitely not when I was in my formative years. And those were not the authors I read to shape my faith, to shape my Christian worldview. Those books were all written by white men, by and large, and a lot of white women. And so, I just had to really work through why is it that I feel like I have nothing worth saying when clearly there are tons of people who have no problem figuring out that they have something to say. Having to walk through that with myself and with God. Spending time listening to God with the help of a spiritual director and some great Christian mentors, and supervisors who were encouraging me and saying, “You know, you do have something to say.”

If you could go back in time and talk to the 24-year-old you, what would you tell her about race?

I would say to her, “Keep doing what you are doing and learning vocationally.” So in my twenties, I was a newspaper reporter and I’d say ‘Don’t be afraid of talking with your editors and fighting for the story or fighting for the wording because it matters.’ I think there were a lot of times where I thought, ‘Well, this isn’t the fight I wanna fight.’ And there’s wisdom to that. But I think that there were other times where I was just so worried I would get fired. I would also tell that 20-something self that it’s important to care for yourself in order to care for your community. I learned that later — the idea of being a self-sacrificing Godly woman is communicated in various ways in different cultures and in different churches. I certainly felt it. I wish I had heard that more consistently in my twenties to encourage me, you know?

What is it that is holding people back from speaking up and being who God called them to be?

Fear. And some of that fear is rooted in a fear of a failure. For me, I’m a bit of a recovering perfectionist. I would encourage people to not only think about the cost of speaking up and raising your voice, but also the cost of continually remaining silent. What does that do? What does that say about what you say you believe in? What does that do to your soul and who God is encouraging you to become?

You’ve been outspoken about racism in the church, especially on social media. How we can come together when we see the world so differently?

You raise your voice mindful of the backlash. I don’t wanna be overly dramatic, but I also don’t want to ignore the fact that I know many, many people of color, myself included, and particularly women of color, who speak out against racism in the church and we get the most horrifying and disgusting responses. You get an email. You get a direct message. You get a tweet back at you. I will be very honest, I’m not sure on this side of heaven we will see a time where that gap is fully bridged. However, I think it is very important that the work is not left up to people of color to raise their voices. We need teachers, preachers, authors, artists to continue to speak into those spaces, to call that out and to present the various alternatives. What would this world look like? What would the church look like if we were able to bridge that divide? What will the world and the church look like if we do not? Because it can’t be left to people of color. We need our white allies and we need them not to be afraid of making mistakes and offending and screwing up.