Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Biography Channel MLK Biography

The Power of a Praying King

In his book ‘Never to Leave Us Alone,’ religion scholar Lewis V. Baldwin examines the centrality of prayer in the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.

Faith and Politics at King Dedication

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was described as a mix of worship service and partisan political rally, but there’s scant mention of race, racism or God at the site. What’s going on?

Stranded on MLK Blvd.

Our nation’s political divisions, economic struggles, and violent communities should remind us that symbolism without substance is a dead-end street.

R. Kelly and the Generational Curse of Suffering in Silence

R. Kelly and the Generational Curse of Suffering in Silence

The instinct to protect our own is so ingrained in Black culture that it’s become a haven of toxicity instead of comfort. After the airing of Lifetime’s docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, social media and news outlets roared with condemning thoughts on the matter and, unfortunately, some defended him. This valid reaction does not attack the root of the cultural problem — silence on abuse in the Black home and community. This is not the first time R. (Robert) Kelly has been in the news about his alleged predatory sex escapades and accusations, but now through the brave testimonies of his victims, it seems as if we are ready to stop the cycle. Although sexual abuse hotlines saw a 20% uptick in calls, there are still many who have not spoken up because they were raised to be silent and carry on.

The documentary and an article on Ebony magazine’s website revealed that R. Kelly and his brother, Carey Kelly, were sexually abused (at ages 10 and 6) by their older sister and never spoke about it to their mother. The reason:

“I was afraid to tell my mom, because of the person, who they were. I-I [sic] didn’t know if she was gonna believe me, so I was afraid to tell her,” Carey Kelly explained on episode 1 of Surviving R.Kelly.

Imagine a young woman shuffling home terrified after a brutal sexual encounter with her uncle and while quivering she bravely tells her mother what happened. With a stoic restraint the mother hugs her and forces her daughter to forgive him and deny what happened to save the family name. This type of forced denial is not uncommon because it’s hard to believe that someone who is loved and respected could ever commit a heinous act.

“Robert, him being my big brother, I brought that to him and told-told [sic] him what happened to me. And when I told him what happened to me, um…he didn’t, he didn’t really respond to it like I felt that he should. When-when [sic] I told him, he said, ‘Nah, that didn’t happen, that didn’t happen to you.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it did,’” shared Carey Kelly on episode 1 of Surviving R. Kelly.

Carey continued to describe how he was trying to “test out” whether or not he should tell their mother and since his truth was negated he left it alone. When their sister began to molest R. Kelly, he too kept it quiet and allowed it to continue for years. Not being able to communicate your pain for the sake of your assailant’s reputation is a form of gaslighting and is a common practice in these circumstances.

After he rose to stardom, his trauma turned into a habit of conquering younger women so that he may no longer be a victim. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Candice Norcott, childhood sexual abuse translates into seeking power and control through sex. Kelly did this by embodying his nickname, “The Pied Piper,” and luring teenage girls into the studio with promises of their own fame or fame by association. His trauma and silence transformed him into a version of his assailant, where he had the illusion of power and total control over the situation.

On social media, men weighed in on how this was another attack like Bill Cosby’s allegations. Unfortunately, like Cosby, Kelly, too, is guilty, but that did not stop Rico Love from weighing in and defending Kelly’s legacy. Upon further reflection, Rico Love changed his mind. However, it brings to question, how many times must a harsh truth be told about someone who is admired before it is believed?

The Community of Silence

Kelly is ingrained in our culture and, for many millennials, part of our youth was memorizing the lyrics to “I Believe I Can Fly.”  His dual power of celebrity and nostalgia served as a cloak to his wrongdoing during the first two uproars surrounding marriage to a 15-year-old Aaliyah and the infamous circulating tape that featured intercourse with a 14-year-old girl. Enablers of Kelly, such as his manager and bodyguard (featured in Surviving R. Kelly), turned a blind eye to his pedophilia due to their loyalty to friendship, fame, and legacy.

“The story of sexual predation as an inconvenience in popular music is so old. It’s been going on for decades, for centuries. Nobody wants to give up the music they love. And nobody wants to think badly of the artists they love,” said Ann Powers, music journalist, on Surviving R. Kelly.

Some in the Black community voice the distaste for their friend or relative’s abusive actions, yet do nothing because of their adoration or sympathy for the individual. By carrying on with a “no snitch” and “do you” culture paired with empathy for the root of a predator’s actions, we give passage to an unremorseful and relentless tirade of causing others the same pain they experienced. The loyalty to not destroying a community, family, or legacy is louder than the crime.  And that is worse than the silence itself, contributing to untreated mental health issues, loss of faith, and possibly the secret dying with them.

In the era of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, forgiving and forgetting is slowly fading away. Women are awakening people blind to rape culture and toxicity of keeping “the little secret.” Youth and older women are emboldened to tell their stories in order to prevent future injustices for young women. Unfortunately, both men and women still shudder at coming forward because of the shame of allowing this to happen.

People were asked on the Whisper app if they had ever been sexually assaulted and why they did not speak up, these were some of the responses:

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To err is human, to forgive is divine, but where is the line drawn?

Forgiveness is a staple of Christianity, however it could be to the detriment of someone’s mental state if justice is never served. The Kelly brothers were abused by their sister, but no one would believe them if they spoke up because she was a “good member of the community.” Even if they were believed, would she have been punished for her actions or excused under the law of the faith?

We need to stop allowing ‘the cloth’ to blind us from the reality of a person or situation. Community worship, having a relationship with God, and practicing the word of God are three very different components of Christianity. The assumption that someone is active in all three components because they hold a position in the church is asinine. The false anointing given to people who have a proprietary role within the community or church assist in the damage created when the abused are silenced and forced to forgive; sweeping away the mental and emotional turmoil that morphs the innocent into a person like R. Kelly. Therefore, without support and justice for the crime, the cycle continues.

#UnMuteUs

Is this our fault?

Yes.

We have celebrated R.Kelly for his musical genius and ignored his scandals, reducing them to jokes. Similar things happen in families where traumas are pushed aside or made into comic relief that masks their disappointment. It is not R.Kelly’s fault for the trauma he experienced, but it is not an excuse to torture young women because therapy was not considered.

If we are going to protect our youth, they need to be educated on how to advocate for their mental health and safety. We need them to understand that trauma can happen and there is help available to redefine their lives beyond it. We’ve seen the damage caused by someone who could not advocate for themselves.

To break the cycle let’s do something we’ve never done before… watch and listen.

 

5 Questions Many Christians Forget to Ask While Dating

5 Questions Many Christians Forget to Ask While Dating

Video Courtesy of LookingGod Book


“What do you do for a living?”

“Can you cook?”

“Do you want/have children?”

Yes, these are all great questions to ask anyone while dating. However, there are some key questions Christians often forget to ask. While not everyone desires marriage (Matthew 19:11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:7), marriage is often the ultimate goal for dating Christians (Genesis 2:24). Thus, our questions must be guided by our faith, wisdom and our intentions. So, in an effort to help you along your dating journey, we’ve included five important questions that we as Christians should be asking, but often overlook:

1) Is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior?

This is a question that should be asked early on in the dating process. Believe it or not, many of us date non-believers or presume our potential mate’s salvation status more than we’d like to admit, instead of just asking. Putting this question out there helps us keep Christ at the center of our new friendships and relationships, forces us and our dates to truly examine our faith, and it shows our potential mates that faith is a priority in our life. Besides, asking this question immediately weeds out those with whom we would be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).

2) Are we casually dating or are we “courting”?

Casual dating can be a fun way to meet new people, but it is riddled with ambiguity and emotional frustration.  This can be a waste of time for those who truly desire marriage. Thus, courting is a Christian’s best bet. Courting allows you to focus solely on getting to know your date, pray for one another and to prayerfully seek God’s will for your relationship before marriage.  After about three months of “hanging out,” it’s reasonable and fair to inquire about your potential mate’s long-term intentions. Are you two free to see other people, or are you two seeking God and a long-term relationship—together?

3) What are your physical boundaries?

We (should) know that sex and all related acts before marriage is a no go (Hebrews 13:14). Though it’s natural to desire to be affectionate toward your romantic interest, wisdom precludes any arousing physical contact – this can include kisses and hugs. Understanding your date’s physical boundaries (beyond sex) keeps you both accountable, honors personal convictions and, above all, honors God. Clarify each other’s boundaries up front and respect them. 

4) What is your philosophy on debt and tithing?

Debt and tithing are only part of a larger discussion on money management, and this discussion should occur well before you and your bank accounts become one. Christians actually maintain varying degrees of convictions regarding tithing and debt. In fact, there are more views on tithing than we can count. While there are also Christians who view any form of debt – including mortgages – as a sin, while others believe some debt is warranted as long as it is repaid. However, having varying convictions about finances doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker (Romans 14), but these variances will require lots of conversation, and will greatly impact financial decisions and lifestyle choices in a marriage.

5) Who Comes First? Wife, Parent or Kids?

They say that how a man treats his mother is how he’ll treat his wife. This is a great adage to consider while dating. But God said – and Jesus Christ reiterated – that a marrying man must “leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5). Yet, some husbands not only put heir mothers ahead of their wives, they expect their wives to understand this arrangement. Meanwhile, some wives are guilty of putting their children before their husband, and they expect their husbands to just roll with it. These mindsets are clearly out of sync with scripture, as they can deal deathblows to the “one flesh” mandate. While dating, we often think of our needs or judge how our dates might fit into our world. But we must also assess our willingness to make them number one and our ability to be one with them – above all others.

Christian dating can be fun, but it shouldn’t be done haphazardly. Asking the right questions saves time, guards hearts and preserves godly intentions.

 

Langston Hughes’ hidden influence on MLK

Langston Hughes’ hidden influence on MLK

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Martin Luther King Jr.‘s dream – which alternated between shattered and hopeful – can be traced back to Hughes’ poetry.
AP Photo

For years, Martin Luther King Jr. and poet Langston Hughes maintained a friendship, exchanging letters and favors and even traveling to Nigeria together in 1960.

In 1956, King recited Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” from the pulpit to honor his wife Coretta, who was celebrating her first Mother’s Day. That same year, Hughes wrote a poem about Dr. King and the bus boycott titled “Brotherly Love.” At the time, Hughes was much more famous than King, who was honored to have become a subject for the poet.



Video Courtesy of Giovanni O’Neil


But during the most turbulent years of the civil rights movement, Dr. King never publicly uttered the poet’s name. Nor did the reverend overtly invoke the poet’s words.

You would think that King would be eager to do so; Hughes was one of the Harlem Renaissance’s leading poets, a master with words whose verses inspired millions of readers across the globe.

However, Hughes was also suspected of being a communist sympathizer. In March of 1953, he was even called to testify before Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.

Meanwhile, King’s opponents were starting to make similar charges of communism against him and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, accusing the group of being a communist front. The red-baiting ended up serving as some of the most effective attacks against King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

It forced King to distance his organization from men with similar reputations – Bayard Rustin, Jack O’Dell and even his closest adviser, Stanley Levison.

It also meant he needed to sever any overt ties to Hughes.

But my research has found traces of Hughes’ poetry in King’s speeches and sermons. While King might not have been able to invoke Hughes’ name, he was nonetheless able to ensure that Hughes’ words would be broadcast to millions of Americans.

Beating back the red-baiters

In the 1930s, Hughes earned a subversive reputation by writing several radical poems. In them, he criticized capitalism, called for worker’s to rise up in revolution and claimed racism was virtually absent in communist countries such as the U.S.S.R.

By 1940, he had attracted the attention of the FBI. Agents would sneak into his readings, and J. Edgar Hoover derided Hughes’ poem “Goodbye Christ” in circulars he sent out in 1947.

Red-baiting also fractured black political and social organizations. For example, Bayard Rustin was forced to resign from the SCLC after African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell threatened to expose Rustin’s homosexuality and his past association with the Communist Party USA.

Langston Hughes.
Library of Congress

As the leading figure in the civil rights movement, King had to toe a delicate line. Because he needed to retain popular support – as well as be able to work with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – there could be no question about where he stood on the issue of communism.

So King needed to be shrewd about invoking Hughes’ poetry. Nonetheless, I’ve identified traces of no fewer than seven of Langston Hughes’ poems in King’s speeches and sermons.

In 1959, the play “A Raisin in the Sun” premiered to rave reviews and huge audiences. Its title was inspired by Hughes’ poem “Harlem.”

“What happens to a dream deferred?” Hughes writes. “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? … Or does it explode?”

Just three weeks after the premiere of “A Raisin in the Sun,” King delivered one of his most personal sermons, giving it a title – “Shattered Dreams” – that echoed Hughes’ imagery.

“Is there any one of us,” King booms in the sermon, “who has not faced the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams?” He’d more directly evoke Hughes in a later speech, in which he would say, “I am personally the victim of deferred dreams.”

Hughes’ words would also become a rallying cry during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

During the grind of the year-long boycott, King spurred activists on by pulling from “Mother to Son.”

“Life for none of us has been a crystal stair,” King proclaimed at the Holt Street Baptist Church, “but we must keep moving.” (“Well, son, I’ll tell you / Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” Hughes wrote. “But all the time / I’se been a-climbin’ on.”)

Did Hughes inspire the dream?

King’s best-known speech is “I Have a Dream,” which he delivered during the 1963 March on Washington.

Nine months before the famous march, King gave the earliest known delivery of the “I Have a Dream” speech in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. (We can also now finally hear this connection after the reel-to-reel tape of King’s First Dream was recently discovered.)

But the roots of “I Have a Dream” go back even further. On Aug. 11, 1956, King delivered a speech titled “The Birth of a New Age.” Many King scholars consider this address – which talked about King’s vision for a new world – the thematic precursor to his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In this speech, I recognized what others had missed: King had subtly ended his speech by rewriting Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World.”

 A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be, 
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free.

It is impossible not to notice the parallels in what would become “I Have a Dream”: I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

The ConversationKing spoke truth to power, and part of that strategy involved riffing or sampling Hughes’ words. By channeling Hughes’ voice, he was able to elevate the subversive words of a poet that the powerful thought they had silenced.

Jason Miller, Professor of English, North Carolina State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Reframing or Gaslighting: Perceptions of Christian Faith in Today’s Chaotic World

Reframing or Gaslighting: Perceptions of Christian Faith in Today’s Chaotic World

Let’s begin with some debatable thoughts. With an abundance of chaos and corruption in our world today, trust in almost anything is at an all-time low. We’re witnessing events and situations not experienced before in our lifetime. Things have changed. As a result, the reality is that with each generation, the general perception of faith has somehow been redefined in many ways.

We have more choices concerning how we decide to frame our reality of faith. Perhaps it’s just simply a response to the natural process of evolution of personal life experiences or just that our environmental situations contribute to defining what faith today really means to each individual. However, there is at least one simple truth that all believers have in common: God exists and the Bible still offers keys to a message of hope that appeals to our sense of decency, concepts about love, and forgiveness. It seems that most of humanity believes in the faithfulness of positive words and deeds that keeps us peaceful and centered during constant change and adversity. So, as mankind takes a critical look at the world, can we as Christians adhere to a core promise that faith today can be reframed as simply a way of living with peace of mind? After all, living in peace is a choice and, of course, having faith in God is a choice, also.

What is Faith?

The Oxford Dictionary defines Faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” With the intent to add more clarity to the subject, combine an academic perspective and some synonyms for faith, such as belief, conviction, credence, reliance, dependence, optimism, hopefulness, and expectation. As for church affiliation and the faith community, we are guided by “the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Bible presents ideologies that make common sense to all, regardless of faith affiliation. It reflects the ‘worldview’ for living that many cannot dispute. On the other hand, Christianity within the faith community remains steadfast in agreement with the biblical definition.

Christian believers generally refer to the “world” as a term describing individuals who do not believe in God or participate in Christian values. While analyzing these definitions as a member of humanity and society, can we see more of an interesting intersection of commonalities that cannot easily be debated with absolute merit? It seems that both Christians and non-Christians believe the following worldviews, for example:

  • Humanity should be respected and human needs should be valued by all.
  • Issues with poverty, civil disobedience, murder, famine, hypocrisy from all sources, transparency related to all issues, greed on all levels and other societal ills can be resolved with a joint effort.
  • Judgment of anyone or anything without a genuine effort of resolution to the problem is not a virtue.
  • A church building is not essential to the spiritual growth of human development; and more importantly, God, or whatever an individual chooses to call their creator, exists and impacts lives.

Simply put in today’s world, almost everyone desires some assurance to trust and hope for things that they cannot see, even those things that they cannot explicitly prove.

Gaslighting Defined

Gaslighting is simple to understand in today’s society. Merriam-Webster defines it as an “attempt to make (someone) believe that he or she is going insane (as by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation).”
This is not a new concept. We’ve seen it in the Christian community. Let’s drop the mike at this point! Do Christians gaslight other human beings as they may perceive themselves godlier? Furthermore, do Christians gaslight those who are perceived to be non-believers because of their differences of thought about faith and values based on a litany of alternative realities? The answer lies in John 8:7(NLT), “All right, but let those who have never sinned throw the first stone!” Be honest, there are a number of valid reasons why most pews are empty.

Perceptions About Faith Today

For the last 30 years, The Barna Group, a research firm has focused on the intersection of faith and culture by studying and tracking the role of faith in America. According to one insightful study entitled “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church,” they found that among those who say church is not important, most millennials were split between multiple reasons:

  • Two in five say church is not important because they can find God or strengthen their personal faith elsewhere (39%).
  • One-third say it’s because church is not personally relevant to them (35%).
  • One in three simply find church boring (31%).
  • One in five say it feels like God is missing from church (20%)
  • 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date.”

Interesting enough, another published report “Making Space for Millennials,” virtually mirrors similar sentiments in that a significant number of young adults expressed deeper complaints about church and their perceptions about faith today.

“More than one-third says their negative perceptions are a result of moral failures in church leadership (35%). And a substantial number of millennials view Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-homosexual (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).”

These beliefs, of course, are not exclusive or experienced in all areas of the faith community as a whole, yet it seems quite revealing today that there is a large majority of people who lack interest in participating in any organized religious group and this appears to be a regular occurrence, especially within the Black church. The church’s decline in attendees corroborate this fact.

David Kinnaman, researcher and author of the book “You Lost Me,” shares some intriguing and perhaps valid perceptions about the Christian population of individuals ages 18-25 years old. Approximately, “38% have confessed to doubt their faith. Over 57% are less interested in the mundane messages preached based on traditional values of the old church that do not meet their concerns or provide the answers they seek in the troubled world in which they’re trying to survive. Even more puzzling, 59% do not regard church as a priority.” The author’s findings do not condemn the church, nor does it advocate that anyone change their views about their Christian beliefs. But the community of faith needs to make quality efforts to better understand that the realities of the world’s perception of love, faithfulness, values, and personal struggles have created a climate in which we all feel a need to be selective in our problem-solving and, in some cases, our very existence. Maybe this will cause a more positive change in perception of faith and promote the meaning of a true discipleship.

Today’s Faith In Action

Building faith and learning to consistently maintain it are two different constructs today. In a multi-diverse community of faith, there is a need to reframe how we can reach and teach God’s people with truth that matters. “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Roman 10:17 NLT). Our world is complex, our government is distrustful, our rights have diminished in many ways, discrimination is real, Black lives matter and, of course, all lives matter. What good news do Christians today have for all?

Christians today are indeed aware of their own missteps. We also realize that even non-believers sense that true forgiveness comes from God and portions of faith exists in all of us. We all understand that we judge others with our biases based on the degree of their circumstances while minimizing our own vices. Honestly, some non-believers often become disappointed and frustrated with Christians. Those who desire to gain a better perception of our faith in God see some Christians who also demonstrate worldly actions as well. They can see that Christians are too busy reacting and interacting with “worldly” issues and struggle to maintain balance in their own lives. They understand shade when they ask Christians to help them understand better or help with their doubts and often told “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll be praying for you,” “God is good,” or they are judged because their tithes records are not up to par. The outcome is that some Christians fail to personally help or end up gaslighting within the faith community. In today’s world, this can easily become a detriment to anyone who seeks God and desires to learn about our faith.

Isn’t it high time to reframe our own evangelism? We need to consciously and actively commit to spreading the gospel and continue to strengthen our personal witness and advocacy of our faith, even in a world of chaos.

Remembering Lamin Sanneh, Yale expert on world Christianity

Remembering Lamin Sanneh, Yale expert on world Christianity

Video Courtesy of Yale Divinity School


Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, died unexpectedly from a stroke on Sunday (Jan. 6). He was 76.

In the words of Simeon llesanmi, “An African Academic Elephant has indeed fallen”— meaning that a great individual has died.

Sanneh’s scholarly contributions spanned more than 20 books as author and editor, and over 200 scholarly articles through the course of 40-plus years of academic scholarship on four continents. He represents a particular kind of scholar that is hard to come by in today’s academy: a rigorous polymath who cared about not only the theoretical work of theology and history but the everyday lives of those who believe.

Born in Gambia to a royal lineage, Sanneh grew up as a Muslim but later converted to Christianity. Earning his graduate degrees from the University of Birmingham (M.A.) and the University of London (Ph.D.), Sanneh would go on to teach at the University of Ghana, the University of Aberdeen, Harvard Divinity School and, since 1989, at Yale Divinity School. He worked with Andrew Walls setting up World Christianity Conferences and was a member of the board at the Overseas Ministries Study Center at Yale Divinity School. He has served with extraordinary distinction in many areas, including holding a lifetime appointment at the University of Cambridge’s Clare Hall and holding the John Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at the Library of Congress.

Lamin Sanneh meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Feb. 9, 2017. Photo courtesy of Yale Divinity School

In September 2018, the University of Ghana established the Lamin Sanneh Institute, which will promote scholarly research on religion and society in Africa, emphasizing the areas of Sanneh’s expertise, Islam and Christianity.

Many of us know Sanneh’s work as a pioneer in the field of world Christianity. His writings on African Christianity and Islam in Africa are important works for theologians and religious studies scholars alike. Among his many writings and books, two particularly stand out for their impact on the field of study: “Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture” and “Whose Religion Is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West.”

In “Translating the Message,” Sanneh upends the argument that Christianity — as a missionary religion — wipes out the cultures it enters. Rather, Sanneh asserts that Christianity is unique as a missionary religion because it is translated without the language of the founder (Jesus) and invests itself in every language by forsaking the language of Jesus (Aramaic). Christianity is, according to Sanneh, a preserver rather than a destroyer of indigenous languages and cultures. In “Whose Religion Is Christianity,” Sanneh answers questions about Christianity not from a Western perspective, but from the perspective of, as he puts it, “the movement of Christianity in societies that were previously not Christian and societies that had no bureaucratic tradition in which to domesticate the gospel.”

Here lies the crux of Sanneh’s scholarship.

About 15 years ago, several of us were working on a project about the history of world Christianity. At that time, there was an academic debate over what term to use: world Christianities, global Christianity or Christianity in the non-Western/majority world.

None of those fit, Sanneh told Dale Irvin, president of New York Theological Seminary, in an email. Christians outside the West had an equal claim to the word “Christianity.” They are not from a different faith.

“(T)he fight about what name to give to the subject is really a fight of the west and its surrogates to contest the right of Christians elsewhere to consider themselves as equals in the religion,” he wrote. “The countermove with the inclusive title ‘World Christianity’ is intended to force a reckoning with ‘tribal’ view of the west.”

For myself and many other students and scholars, this emphasis on world Christianity opened the doors to scholarship that was not simply focused on Western ideas and theologies. It opened the doors to new ways of thinking about the historical and present-day impact of Christianity in cultures around the world, as well as Islam and other indigenous religions.

I remember when, as a graduate student, I stumbled onto Sanneh’s book “West African Christianity.” Years later, I was delighted to meet Sanneh while I was a junior professor on a project working with world Christianity for Orbis Press. He was cordial, distinguished and welcoming to me, as well as many others.

Lamin Sanneh. Photo courtesy of Yale Divinity School

Sanneh’s loss is deeply felt among his colleagues.

“Africa has lost a great scholar and a public intellectual, whose foundational works on Islam and Christianity vividly capture the religious identities of millions of Africans,” wrote Jacob K. Olupona, professor of African religious traditions at Harvard Divinity School. “Sanneh’s scholarship transverses the two dominant religious traditions on the continent, Islam and Christianity, and has provided significant insight into how they define contemporary politics, identities and civil society.”

Olupona, writing from Nigeria, also expressed his own grief at Sanneh’s passing.

“I have lost a dear friend, a senior colleague and a fellow sojourner in the common quest for African religious space in the global religious community,” he said.

Irvin, who also serves as professor of world Christianity at New York Theological Seminary and as editor of the Journal of World Christianity, called Sanneh “one of the most effective and insightful interpreters of world Christianity in the past century.”

“He was a persistent critic of the entrenched territorial Christendom of the West and the accompanying tendency to reduce Christianity to its Western tribal forms,” Irvin said. “He never tired of asking why should he as an African be considered accountable for the failures of Western colonial Christianity. His brilliance was to see beyond the arrogance of the West to uncover a deeper spiritual truth about the faith he so deeply embodied. We have lost a major prophetic figure.”

Dana Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity and History of Mission at Boston University, spoke of Sanneh as a “giant in the field of world Christianity.”

“His loss sends a tidal wave across multiple fields, institutions and continents,” Robert said. “He will be sorely missed by those of us who worked with him and called him a friend, as well as by people who knew him only from his powerful writings.”

Greg Sterling, dean of Yale Divinity School, said he recently gave Sanneh’s autobiography, “Summoned From the Margin,” as a gift to the school’s major donors.

“He had no idea that the gift would become the final testament of his life,” wrote Sterling.

In his autobiography, Sanneh wrote: “When someone dies, people say he or she has run out of rains. Life ends when we run dry.”

Anthea Butler. Courtesy photo

The rains may have run out for Sanneh, but his memory and scholarship will continue to refresh us for many years to come.

May he rest in peace.

(Anthea Butler is associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)