A Call to Black Leaders to Condemn Anti-Semitism

A Call to Black Leaders to Condemn Anti-Semitism

Recently, while watching the news, I was saddened, like many Americans to hear of the Jersey City shooting, an incident of blatant anti-semitism against the orthodox Jewish community, in which two armed assailants stormed a kosher market killing four innocent people and losing their own lives. With the rise of hate crimes in America, I was saddened, but not surprised. But when it later came to my attention that the perpetrators of the violence were Black, I must admit that I was shocked. As the main recipients of America’s bigotry, we ought to know better. To imitate the actions of one’s oppressor is to become the oppressor. That was the brilliance of the American Civil Rights Movement led by a commitment to non-violence, for indeed, as Dr. King taught, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” 

Dr. Clarence B. Jones is the Director of The USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, and the former personal attorney and speechwriter to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Again, I woke up and heard the news: “An intruder with a large knife burst into the home of a Hasidic rabbi in a New York suburb on Saturday night, stabbing and wounding five people just as they were gathering to light candles for Hanukkah, officials and a witness said.”

I thought, “O no, not again! I hope the person who did this was not Black!” My shock turned to dismay when it was revealed that the machete-wielding intruder was indeed a black man. 

The history and ill-effects of racism perpetrated against the African American community require that we know better, and thus do better — that we express our differences and grievances by a more enlightened means, which is the great lesson of the American Civil Rights Movement, of which I was honored to play a part. King is quoted as saying, “Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.” 

When I was 29, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 31, from February 1960 to April 4th, 1968, the date of his assassination, I served first as a political advisor, then personal lawyer and draft speechwriter (excluding his sermons) for Dr. King. No African American leader of his stature worked and spoke so unequivocally against anti-semitism.

Now, 89 in ten days, and Director of the University of San Francisco’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, I thought to myself, “What would Martin Say? What would he expect ME to say and do?”

Dr. King would remind me that in 1936, Martin Niemoeller, a Lutheran Minister and early Nazi supporter, later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime said:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This year, the Anti-Defamation League and others have repeatedly cited the unprecedented incidents of anti-semitic terror occurring in our nation. As Rabbi Joachim Printz memorialized in his speech immediately before Dr. King took the podium at the March on Washington, he said these words, “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence…America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent”. 

Believe that King would call upon the moral leaders of the Black community to lift their voices in support of our Jewish brothers and sisters, a community from out of the trauma of the Holocaust understood persecution and hate and that stood with the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement. I know because I was there. I made the phone calls to Jewish labor leaders and donors, attorneys, educators and rabbis. So today, I call upon the African American community to condemn anti-semitism with the same vigor that we condemn its evil twin of racism. 

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.” The wisdom of King once again. And in this light, I further call upon leaders of the Black and Jewish communities, to rekindle the great alliance that leads our country in the expansion of civility and civil rights for all people. Together, we must continue to be the moral compass that America so desperately needs. 

January 20, 2020, our nation will again commemorate our national weekend, celebrating the legacy of Dr. King. The twin issues of ubiquitous gun violence and resurgent anti-semitism and racism should be the cornerstone of our commemoration of Dr. King’s 91st birthday. Please consider joining me and other leaders across the nation in partnering with the Philos Project’s campaign against anti-semitism and racism as they provide leadership and education on this issue. Visit www.philosproject.org or email [email protected] for more information. 

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

Video Courtesy of Inside Edition

All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.

Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.

There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.

These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:

  1. Umoja or Unity
  2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia or Purpose
  6. Kuumba or Creativity
  7. Imani or Faith.

People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.

Symbolic Decor

Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.

Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.

The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.

Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.

Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.

Pan-African Creativity

You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.

Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”

Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!


Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.

Reflections of Christmas Past and Present

Reflections of Christmas Past and Present

I never left milk and cookies out for Santa Claus… I never stayed up late to hear Rudolph on the roof… and I never begged my parents to put out the fire so Santa wouldn’t burn his buns when he came down my chimney… LOL! But it wasn’t that I didn’t believe in him, because I did (at least for the first five years of my life). Thinking back though, I don’t remember my parents teaching me about Santa Claus. I guess I believed in him because of all the songs I sang in preschool like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and all the cartoons I watched during the Christmas season. I was only 4 or 5 when my older friends and cousins told me he wasn’t real.


Commentary: “Advent-ually” Christ will return and make all things new

Commentary: “Advent-ually” Christ will return and make all things new

The Christmas-holiday-season is in full effect and I can nearly feel the cut of the cold breeze outside as I sit inside, fingers cloaked around a hot and freshly brewed chai tea. Looking through an expansive window from a local coffee shop in Greenville, SC, I examine withered trees bearing the battle scars of surrendered leaves due to wrestling with an early Fall.  The common busyness of people walking and people watching on sidewalks, benches, waterways and patches of manicured grass has lulled to a few brave souls executing their mandatory A to B commute. The city looks lonely.

It’s no secret that the presence of the holidays ushers in wanted and at times unwanted anticipation and change. For many, holiday anticipation can bring about loneliness and depression. According to Adam K. Anderson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, “the bombardment of media during the holidays showing images of smiling families and friends often causes people to start questioning the quality of their own relationships.” Studies reveal many people are experiencing what is called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as seasonal depression. This makes sense to me on several levels.

Advent season in Baden - courtesy of Robert Verzo via Flickr

Advent season in Baden – courtesy of Robert Verzo via Flickr

Sadly, I know many people who experienced the bulk of their abuse while family spent the holidays together. The festive decorations and songs combined with the gathering of uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins serves a consistent reminder of the worst days of their lives.

If your mind and heart were visible during this season, what would an onlooker, like me, uncover?

For some, maybe even you, a richly Christian word like Advent may conjure up fear or disappointment. Orthodox Christianity teaches that Advent is a season set apart for anticipating the coming of Christ. Yet for many, Advent means “I’ll be depressed ‘advent-ually.’” If this is you, you’re not alone in this struggle of the mind and spirit.

So often, we are tempted to turn our focus away from Christ in order to earnestly seek the American dream, self-protection, or whatever the online buzz of the day may be. The pressure to be more righteous or at least better than I was a year ago is also ever present, especially during this time of year. Though we may hear plenty of sermons about grace, we find ourselves still battling self-justification projects. The pull of commercial ideals and the pressure of spiritual maintenance or growth has cruelly shifted the season meant for celebratory anticipation into advent-ual anxiety and depression.

In 1922, Helen H. Lemmel wrote a hymn based on Hebrews 12:2, Turn your eyes upon Jesus. He is who Advent anticipates and celebrates. Television, shopping malls and online ads mention Christmas as the bait in order to switch your focus to what “you need” and “others want.” However, in “Advent’s coming,” we are reminded to set apart mental, relational and certainly spiritual time and space to fix their eyes on Jesus… and the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Jesus alone can and does offer what all humanity wants and needs. He is the “Prince of Peace” whose Kingdom is of peace.

Advent is about remembering the incarnational Christ who became one of us in order to live amongst us, love us, and redeem us. Advent is also about anticipating His glorious return when He will eliminate all distractions and devastations. Even death will die.

His return will defeat all anxiety and fear.

If Advent has become advent-ual depression or the loneliest time of the year for you, don’t lose hope. As Christians, we have read how the story ends. We are described as pilgrims, aliens, strangers and sojourners in this life. The Apostle James wrote that our stay in this life is like a mist. This life is so short that unless you are watching intently for those vapor particles, you’ll miss them.

Advent-ually your depression will die in the light of His glory and grace.

Advent-ually your fears will flee in the light of His glory and grace.

Advent-ually your losses will lose their grip in the light of His glory and grace.

Advent-ually your abusers will no longer hold the place in your life in the light of His glory and grace.

My friend, Advent-ually Christ will return and “make all things new”. Until that day, may God help each of us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to embrace these hope-filled words written by the Apostle Paul:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 


Chris Armfield is married to Jerushah and they have three children, Anabelle, Liam, and Alexandria. He is the Lead Pastor of CITYLIGHTS Church in Greenville, South Carolina.  As a sexual abuse survivor himself, Chris has an uniquely tender heart for helping hurting people find healing.

Who’s an evangelical and who gets to decide?

Who’s an evangelical and who gets to decide?

Video Courtesy of CBS 17

The most often repeated story about religion and politics these days is the evangelical love affair with Donald Trump.

Virtually every week we get another story of how evangelicals love President Trump, no matter what he does. Pundits likewise offer much analysis of the reasons for evangelicals’ undying fidelity. New York magazine recently averred, for instance, that evangelicals like Trump because of his “hatefulness.” The Washington Post similarly advised “white evangelicals” that it was time to “panic” because they had sold their birthrights for a mess of Trumpism.

There is no doubt that certain Republican evangelical insiders, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham and First Baptist Dallas’ Robert Jeffress, have gone “all in” on Trumpism.

It’s true too that millions of practicing white evangelicals have seemingly gone with them. These white Christian traditionalists voted for Trump either as the “lesser of two evils” over Hillary Clinton, or out of genuine enthusiasm for the president. The 81% of self-identified evangelical white voters who supported Trump in 2016 are not a mirage. They reflect a reality about white evangelicals’ allegiance to Trump’s GOP.

Nevertheless, the vitriol of recent months has created misunderstandings about evangelicals themselves. To outsiders, it may seem as if Falwell, Graham and Jeffress define the evangelical movement. But the idea that Fox News-watching religious Republican voters are a stand-in for all evangelicals is ludicrous. The mere impression that they might encompass what it means to be an evangelical shows the paucity of our religious understanding and global insight.

Even within white traditionalist evangelicalism, an outspoken group of leaders registered opposition to or grave concern about Trump in 2016. These included Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, John Piper of Desiring God Ministries and Beth Moore of Living Proof Ministries, all of them far more visible on the evangelical conference circuit than the Republican insiders.

More importantly, those evangelicals represented in the media are hardly representative. Nonwhite evangelicals, especially African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos, were less enthusiastic about Trump. Polls often exclude such nonwhite evangelicals by design, as stories about “evangelicals and politics” typically only look at “self-identifying evangelical white Republicans and politics.”

This leads not only to misconceptions but curious absences in news about evangelicals. Probably the most fascinating topic about evangelicals and politics is one rarely discussed: the allegiances of Hispanic evangelicals, who are up for grabs between the Republicans and Democrats. We don’t hear about them, in part, because polls often have no category for Latino Protestants (almost all of whom are evangelicals).

Another group of missing evangelicals are the millions who do not vote, even in presidential elections. Though evangelicals have been more likely to vote than other Americans since 1980, a strong minority of evangelicals in America don’t vote at all, in spite of decades of brow-beating by Republican insiders who say that not voting is sinful.

Is a nonvoting evangelical still an evangelical? One would get the impression from coverage of evangelicals that the nonvoters are aberrant or nonexistent. This shows just how politicized our definition of “evangelical” has become.

The absence of these evangelicals in the political debate points up a wider problem with polls: The internet and cellphones have gutted the efficacy of traditional polling. Landlines, and people willing to answer them, were essential to the heyday of American polling a half-century ago. Now they are vanishingly rare. Response rates of 80% to 90% used to be common for pollsters; 5% or less is now routine. Pollsters try to account for this deficit, but the people polled are rarely a representative sample in a traditional sense.

Even when a pollster gets someone on the line, the category “evangelical” itself is rather vague. Political polling about evangelicals, which began in 1976 with the candidacy of the born-again Jimmy Carter, has almost always depended on self-identification. Pollsters ask respondents if they are evangelical or born again (two terms that can get strikingly different results, depending on one’s ethnicity). If a person says “yes” to either, especially if they are white, then the pollster asks about the person’s political behavior.

It is uncommon for the pollster to ask what a respondent means by saying they’re evangelical or born again. Do they go to church? Which one? How did they become an evangelical? We usually don’t know.

When pollsters do match evangelical self-identification with denomination and attendance, oddities appear. For example, it has become standard for pollsters who do ask more probing religious questions to allow a category for “nonchurchgoing evangelicals.” And in spite of evangelicalism’s historic relationship with Protestant churches, you find small but notable populations of Catholics, Mormons and even Eastern Orthodox believers who say they are evangelicals.

The absurd outcome of these factors together is that a tiny slice of the global evangelical community — white, GOP-centered self-identified evangelicals — is now the image we have of the whole.

That slice, it must be said, looks nothing like what most of the world knows as an evangelical. On the global stage, evangelicals are thriving in Latin America, Africa and east Asia. (Even in America, the growth areas for evangelical and Pentecostal denominations are among Hispanic Americans and recent immigrants from Central America, the Caribbean and Africa.)

The political concerns of a Chinese house church attendee are far different from those of a white voter in Robert Jeffress’ congregation. Yet if we understand evangelicals as a spiritual category — as Christians who believe in being born again, the authority of the Bible and a believer’s daily walk with God — that Chinese believer is absolutely an evangelical. Such Chinese believers (and others like them around the world) represent the demographic future of global evangelical faith, a future that is not centered on Donald Trump’s GOP.

(Thomas S. Kidd is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and the author of “Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)