SBC President J.D. Greear speaks on a panel discussion about racial reconciliation during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 11, 2019 in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill.
At their annual meeting, Southern Baptists re-elected their president, adopted statements on their views about major cultural issues, and discussed how to deal with sexual abuse and racial discrimination in the church.
They also brought to center stage questions about church leadership roles that are appropriate for women in the church.
North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear, who was elected Tuesday (June 11) to a second one-year term as president, had emphasized a “Gospel Above All” theme for the meeting. He said that message was linked to multicultural worship music throughout the meeting and the inclusive approach Baptists took in appointing leaders to the convention’s various committees.
“We’re not where we need to be on those things, but I believe a signal has been sent that we believe that’s where we need to go,” he said at a news conference at the conclusion of the meeting on Wednesday.
“Now it’s on us to take the right steps at the right time and to move in a way that shows that it’s not words or virtue signaling but it’s something that we mean because we believe the Bible teaches it.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said that in the past, issues of diversity were usually discussed mostly in hallways among small groups of church delegates, known as messengers. At this meeting, the conversations were held on the main stage of the gathering, which drew more than 8,000 messengers.
A Wednesday panel discussion on the value of women talked about whether a woman could be pastor (no, since the SBC’s doctrine limits that role to men) and whether a woman could one day become a president of the Southern Baptist Convention (maybe, since nothing in the SBC’s governing documents precludes women from that role).
A messenger speaks to a motion during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 12, 2019 in Birmingham, Ala. (RNS Photo/Butch Dill)
Panelists in a Tuesday discussion on racial reconciliation addressed how the issue affects both local congregations and the larger church. A pastor on the panel mentioned how a church member left his congregation when the congregant disagreed with the minister’s support of Baptists’ vote several years ago to repudiate the Confederate flag. Another mentioned how people of color are not likely to get to executive meeting rooms until they are in the same dining rooms with influential white leaders.
“It was definitely a different convention,” said Mohler. “There were more women’s voices and, by intentionality, more voices from African Americans and others who we very much want to be a part of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“It was clearly a move in that direction, stronger than I’ve ever seen, and I welcomed it and celebrate it,” he said.
Still, McKissic was concerned about a lack of diversity in the leadership of major Southern Baptist entities. He noted that the trustee chairman of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary told messengers the search committee had considered several minority candidates when hiring a new president. But McKissic was disappointed that the board chair of the Executive Committee declined to be as forthcoming about details of its recent hiring process for a new president.
Abuse victim advocates noted the many actions Southern Baptists took on the abuse issue — including the introduction of “Caring Well” handbooks and video resources. But they still urged the convention to set up a database to help track abusers and keep them from moving from church to church.
Messengers hold up an SBC abuse handbook while taking a challenge to stop sexual abuse during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill
“A clergy database must be established, documenting confessed, convicted or credibly accused abusers,” said advocate Cheryl Summers at a rally she organized outside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Tuesday. “We have seen some progress, but there is a lot more work to be done.”
On Wednesday, Baptists also passed resolutions, nonbinding statements that give a sense of the views of those gathered for the annual meeting. They included:
Urging the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion and celebrating “recent bipartisan gains in state legislatures that restrict abortion.”
Calling the U.S. government to make religious liberty “a top priority of American foreign policy in its engagement with North Korea and China.”
Recognizing critical race theory and intersectionality as “analytical tools” but repudiating their misuse.
Urging the president and Congress to not include women in the Selective Service military registration, “which would be to act against the plain testimony of Scripture and nature.”
Affirming their “commitment to Christ comes before commitment to any political party.”
Pope Francis has deemed the first known black Roman Catholic priest in the United States to be “venerable,” positioning the former slave for possible sainthood.
The pontiff’s designation of the Rev. Augustine Tolton as venerable, meaning the church intensely scrutinized his life and recognizes it as one of “heroic virtue,” puts Tolton two steps away from possible canonization, the Diocese of Springfield explained in announcing the designation.
Born to a Missouri slave in 1854, Tolton, his mother and two siblings, with help from Union soldiers, eluded Confederate guns and escaped across the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1862, settling in Quincy, a river city about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis.
Baptized a Catholic, the faith of his family’s Missouri owners, Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome because his race precluded his acceptance to a U.S. seminary.
“Father Tolton’s story, from slave to priest, is an incredible journey that shows how God has a plan for all of us,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese said in a statement. “Father Tolton overcame the odds of slavery, prejudice and racism … (and) carried his crosses in life quietly and heroically.”
Work continues on Tolton’s history. If a miracle can be attributed to his ministry, the pope may declare him “blessed.” A second miracle would make him eligible for sainthood. The Springfield Diocese, which includes Quincy, and the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Tolton ministered to the poor before dying at 43 in 1897, have been working on his canonization since 2003.
Michael Patrick Murphy, director of Catholic Studies for Loyola University Chicago’s Department of Theology, said for Tolton to move from “Servant of God” in 2011 to “venerable” just eight years later indicates the seriousness of the church’s review. Reaching the “venerable” stage “kicks the machine into gear” as researchers search for miracles, a weighty and fact-reliant process, he said.
“Miracles by definition interrupt the laws of nature,” Murphy said. “But there are such strenuous, intellectual processes that are so normative- and so protocol-driven that there can’t be a retroactive, ‘Let’s make this happen’ type-of-thing.”
Tolton assumed he would work in Africa, but once ordained at age 31, he was sent back to Quincy. A biographer recounted Tolton’s conversation with another cleric shortly before departing in which he wondered whether America deserved being called by many the world’s most enlightened nation. “If America has not yet seen a black priest,” Tolton said, “it must see one now.”
He endured three years of racism in Quincy before “Good Father Gus” moved to Chicago. He is buried in Quincy.
Paprocki said the diocese is exploring establishing a shrine to Tolton, perhaps in a now-closed Quincy church.
“From slave to priest. That’s an amazing American story,” Murphy said. “He went from having lived amid the greatest sin in American culture to being a minister that would address that kind of moral crime, a fully scoped life. Prisoner to liberator.”
Chicago-based curator and Threewalls Executive Director Jeffreen M. Hayes’ exhibition AFRICOBRA: Nation Time has been selected as an official Collateral Event of the historic Biennale Arte 2019 in Venice (May 11 – November 24, 2019). The exhibition, which heralds the eponymous collective of young Black artists working in 1960’s Chicago, debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami in December of 2018, and will be on view in Venice (Ca’ Faccanon, San Marco, 5016 [Poste Centrali]) through the duration of the Biennale Arte 2019 from May 11 – November 24. Hayes’ recent independent curatorial work includes participating in a panel on disrupting systems at the 13th Havana Biennial (April 12 – May 12, 2019), and the curation of Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, an exhibition on view at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida through April 7, 2019.
“The opportunity to bring the work of the AFRICOBRA collective to this historic and global stage is an honor I do not take lightly,” said Hayes. “Bringing forward the histories and cultural significances of artists from the African Diaspora is a personal mission, and recognition of this mission from art institutions worldwide is an incredible step for each artist whose story will finally be told.”
Image of Jeffreen Hayes by Milo Bosh
AFRICOBRA: Nation Time’s exhibition at Biennale Arte 2019, presented by bardoLA, is the first time the work of this vital, definitive and historic Black Arts collective has been celebrated by global audiences on this scale. Hayes features more than 40 works by members of the collective, along with historic documentation and archival photographs in this large-scale exhibition. AFRICOBRA was founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1968 by a collective of young Black artists, whose interest in Transnational Black Aesthetics led them to create one of the most distinctive visual voices in 20th-century American art. The key characteristics to what we now consider the classic AFRICOBRA look—vibrant, “cool-ade” colors, bold text, shine and positive images of Black people —were essential to everyday life in the community from which this movement emerged. The five AFRICOBRA founders—Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams—understood the potential power visual art has to communicate deep meaning on multiple registers. Their collective impact helped establish the visual voice of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition debuted in December of 2018 at Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami. For more information on Biennale Arte 2019 Collateral Events, click here.
In addition to the upcoming inclusion in the Biennale Arte 2019, Hayes’ recent independent curatorial projects include speaking in a panel during the 13th Havana Biennial, which takes place April 12 – May 12, 2019. In the conversation, titled Curating In and Out of the Institutional Frame, Hayes will share her strategies for presenting curatorial work with different types of art institutions while expanding the art historical narrative and dismantling systemic exclusion of artists of the African Diaspora. The panel will be in conversation with Mark Scala, Chief Curator at the Frist Art Museum; Grace Aneiza Ali, Assistant Professor at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University; and independent curator Helga Montalván. The panel will take place on April 16 at 10 am in Matanzas.
Another significant exhibition curated by Hayes, Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, is currently on view at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida through April 7, 2019. The exhibition reassesses artist Augusta Savage’s contributions to art and cultural history through the lens of the artist-activist. Savage (1892-1962) overcame poverty, racism and sexual discrimination to become one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, playing a pivotal role in the development of some of this country’s most celebrated artists, including William Artis, Romare Bearden, Gwendolyn Bennett, Robert Blackburn, Gwendolyn Knight, Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis. Hayes brings together nearly 80 works from 21 national public and private lenders, presenting Savage’s small- and medium-size sculptures in bronze and other media alongside works by artists she mentored. The exhibition will travel nationally to the New-York Historical Society, the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University and the Dixon Gallery & Gardens (Memphis). For more information on the exhibition, click here.
About Jeffreen Hayes
Curator Jeffreen M. Hayes earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Art History from Howard University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Florida International University. She is currently the Executive Director of Threewalls in Chicago and has previously worked at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Hampton University Art Museum, the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. Her curatorial projects include “Intimate Interiors” (2012), “Etched in Collective History” (2013), “SILOS” (2016), “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman” (2018), and “Process” (2019). She was a guest curator for Artpace San Antonio’s International Artist in Residence Program from May–August 2018. She is also a TEDx speaker and spoke about “Arts Activism in Simple Steps” in Fall 2018.
Threewalls was founded in 2003 to provide support and visibility for the visual arts community in Chicago. The founders wanted to encourage a greater awareness of Chicago’s art scene by inviting emerging professional artists to share in the city’s rich histories, resources and creative communities. Over the past fifteen years, Threewalls has been a center for artist-focused programming, critical writing, and direct support for artist projects. Threewalls hosts artists interested in working in and with diverse Chicago communities through their RaD Lab program; supports interactive work by local and regional artists in Outside the Walls; and programs salons to generate open dialogue, the presentation of new ideas and the publication of new writing. Threewalls partners with other organizations on exhibitions, publications, and education programs in an effort to broaden and contribute to the contemporary visual arts. For more information about Threewalls, visit three-walls.org/.
From left, Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Leola Robinson Simpson, Annie McDaniel, Chandra Dillard, Rosalyn Henderson Myers, Patricia Henegan, Krystle Simmons and Wendy Brawley pose for a photo outside the House chamber at the Statehouse Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in Columbia, S.C. This is the first time in the state’s history that nine African American women are serving in the House of Representatives simultaneously. Not pictured is Rep. J. Anne Parks. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)
During the last week of this year’s legislative session in South Carolina, eight of the state’s nine African American women serving in the House gathered to record a historic moment.
This is the first time in the state’s history that nine African American women have served simultaneously in the House of Representatives, a moment shared among a sisterhood of women who say their primary mission is to serve and create positive change.
“I think we are uniquely situated to do that,” Rep. Wendy Brawley of Hopkins said of her eight African American female colleagues. “It’s the most that has ever served In the House at one time, and I think we can be and have been a formidable force.”
They wanted to take a photo near a portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, the famous educator and stateswoman born a daughter of former slaves in Mayesville, South Carolina as a nod to how African American women have always had a significant impact on South Carolina’s history. And they also strive to have their own impact in the legislature.
Joining Brawley are Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, Chandra Dillard of Greenville, Rosalyn D. Henderson-Myers of Spartanburg, Patricia Henegan of Bennettsville, Annie E. McDaniel of Winnsboro, J. Anne Parks of Greenwood, Leola Robinson Simpson of Greenville, and Krystle Simmons of Ladson. They are women who serve all parts of the state, representing almost every industry including a magazine CEO, social worker, higher education administrators, attorney, retired educator and consultant, funeral director and engineer planner.
African American women have been serving in the South Carolina House for just 44 years. Juanita C.W. Goggins of York County was elected in 1975, serving for five years. Her achievements in improving education and public health paved the way for African American women to pick up the torch and serve behind her.
From left, Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Wendy Brawley and Krystle Simmons meet during recess inside the House chamber of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)
“I don’t know if I digested how big this is,” Rep. Krystle Simmons said. “I just hope that little brown boys and girls, young girls, college age, I hope they look at me and say because of her, we can.”
Simmons just completed her first year in the legislature and the Ladson Democrat said she is not concerned about re-election but is instead focusing on inspiring young women and minorities to be civically engaged.
The mother of five has already left an impact on some lawmakers. When the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood came up, Simmons spoke of how she benefited from services other than abortion that the organization offers – such as parenting classes, which she attended after becoming a new mother.
After her remarks, some lawmakers approached her and expressed their support behind the scenes.
“There were so many that came up to me after that talk that said they wanted to be with me, but couldn’t,” Simmons said. “My problem is that you’re making an uneducated decision because you’re basing your decision off of hearsay.”
Simmons flipped her district, beating a Republican who has long held the seat.
One of the lawmakers made history of her own. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter was given the honor in January of gaveling in the 123rd session of the South Carolina House as the longest serving member of the chamber. She is also the longest serving African American in the state’s history, elected in 1992 having spent years behind the scenes encouraging other women to run for office. The Orangeburg lawmaker said the House is not the same place it was when she started.
“I would like to see a return of actual debate of issues. I want to return to when we were more focused on substance than symbol,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I know that my value, my message is not for the 123 people sitting in that room.”
Recognizing the contributions of African Americans is important for the Orangeburg lawmaker who said she helped spearhead efforts to construct and dedicate the African American monument on the Statehouse grounds. That and the removal of the Confederate flag are vivid memories, both representing some progress in the state.
“Just the symbolism of that is just great,” Cobb-Hunter said of seeing an image of an empty pole laying on the Statehouse grounds in 2015. “That’s a vivid memory when we took the flag off the front lawn.”
Though some progress is evident in the position and power African Americans now hold in the Legislature, Brawley acknowledges there is still more work that needs to be done. The Hopkins lawmaker said the biggest challenge some of her colleagues face is navigating a system designed to help the people in power ignore legislation they don’t like with little accountability.
“Good ideas that can help advance the cause of South Carolina sit in a languishing committee because we are not willing to be nonpartisan enough to push good legislation,” Brawley said. “None of us are afraid to speak up and give voice to issues that will make a difference.”
And whether it was their first year or their 28th year in the Legislature, they are passionate about their service and the difference they can make.
“We have to fight. We’ve had to fight for everything we’ve got,” Brawley said. “I don’t see going to the General Assembly as lightening the load. It means the responsibility is probably going to be a little harder.”
Some Democrats in Congress who now make the rules in the House of Representatives have proposed dropping “so help me God” from the oath recited before someone testifies before a legislative committee.
Those arguing in favor of dropping “so help me God” assert that it is improperly imposing religious beliefs and practices on atheists.
“I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress,” said Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, according to The New York Times. Cohen is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Or as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler put it, “We do not have religious tests.”
It doesn’t seem to be a high priority, and even those like Nadler who have spoken out about the oath don’t seem to have firm views. At a February hearing, Nadler dropped the phrase when swearing in witnesses, but when Republican Rep. Mike Johnson made a point of order, Nadler apologized and redid the oath including the phrase.
Ridding our courts and legislatures of this so-called religious test may be harder in some places than others. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary proposed removing God from the oath of office for state officials. This will not be easy because it is in the state’s constitution.
Politically, the Democrats are also laying themselves open to charges that they are a godless party.
“They really have become the party of Karl Marx,” Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney told Fox News.
Those who rose to defend Nadler and Cohen’s notion pointed out that the phrase doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Catholic who supports keeping the phrase, merely complained that Republicans are using the issue to divert attention from issues like health care.
But there’s some sense to allowing people to drop the phrase. When our country was founded, it was made up mostly of Christians and other believers. There were some deists but few atheists.
Today we live in a pluralistic country with a wide variety of beliefs and numerous unbelievers. Christians still make up the vast majority of the population (70 percent), but non-Christians are now 6 percent. Another 7 percent are atheists or agnostics, according to the Pew Research Center.
Believers need to respect and make accommodations for those citizens who are not believers. We have an obligation to respect their freedom not to believe just as they must respect our freedom to believe. This is what religious freedom is all about.
This can be easily done.
For example, why not let the person pronouncing the oath decide whether he or she wants to include “so help me God”? Let the state be neutral and respect the beliefs of its citizens. The believer can say “so help me God,” and the nonbeliever can drop it. Both oaths are legally binding.
Likewise, the person taking an oath should be able to replace the Bible with the U.S. Constitution or his or her sacred text. A Muslim taking an oath on a Koran has more credibility than one taking an oath on a Christian Bible.
Let’s avoid adding more fuel to the culture wars. God should not be a political football.
A Bible on display at a memorial at New Hampshire’s veterans hospital should be removed because it is a violation of the First Amendment, a U.S. Air Force veteran said in a federal lawsuit Tuesday.
The Bible was carried by a prisoner of war in World War II and became part of the Missing Man Table honoring missing veterans and POWs at the entranceway of the Manchester VA Medical Center. The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday the table was sponsored by a veterans group called the Northeast POW/MIA Network.
The lawsuit filed in Concord by James Chamberlain against the center’s director, Alfred Montoya, says the Bible’s inclusion is in violation of the Constitution. The First Amendment stipulates “that the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others,” according to the suit.
Chamberlain, a devout Christian, said in the lawsuit the table should be a memorial to all who have served, regardless of their beliefs. The suit said the original POW/MIA table tradition was started by a group of Vietnam combat pilots and didn’t include a Bible as one of the items.
The medical center initially removed the Bible in January after another group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, objected, saying it got complaints from 14 patients who felt it violated the First Amendment. A variety of religions were represented among the 14.
But the Bible reappeared on the table in February. It had been removed “out of an abundance of caution,” Curt Cashour, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. Afterward, the medical center received an outpouring of complaints from veterans and others, “many of whom dropped off Bibles at the facility” in protest, Cashour said.
After consulting with lawyers, the medical center put the Bible back on the table indefinitely, Cashour said. He called the table “a secular tribute to America’s POW/MIA community.”
He apologized to those were offended by the Bible’s “incorrect” removal.
But Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it is the presence of the Bible that is offensive.
“It’s incredibly disrespectful, dishonorable, and most importantly, it’s illegal,” he said.