Malone’s is one of more than 500 signatures on a Faith in Public Life petition delivered to Governor Brian Kemp that condemns proposed changes in voting policies they say will particularly harm people of color.
The Georgia House bill, which passed the Republican-majority body by a vote of 97-72 on Monday, would permit at least one Saturday for voting near the time of a future Election Day but would allow registrars to choose whether to offer voters an additional Saturday or Sunday to vote.
In recent elections in the state, Black church leaders have spearheaded “Souls to the Polls” campaigns that led worshippers directly from their pews to their polling places.
The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice reported this month that Georgia’s Black voters accounted for 36.5% percent of Sunday voters but only 26.8% of people who voted early on other days of the week.
Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said this week there are more than 250 bills related to voting restrictions being considered by state legislators across the country.
Georgia’s House and Senate proposals, which Abrams said would particularly harm people of color, relate not only to Sunday voting but also would eliminate automatic voter registration and no-excuses absentee balloting and would require a copy of a driver’s license with mailed-in ballots.
“Black people, people of color have always been the target of voter suppression because it is when we lift our voices, it is when we participate in elections, it is when we have the right to full citizenship that the trajectory of this nation changes,” Abrams, who has a United Methodist background, said Tuesday on a Facebook Live program hosted by the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder.
In January, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, her state’s first Black and Jewish senators, respectively, were sworn in, giving the U.S. Senate a Democratic majority. Two months before on Election Day, a record Black voter turnout helped flip the Peach State from red to blue for the first time since 1992.
The Georgia state legislators are also proposing limitations that would criminalize volunteers — who are often connected to faith groups — if they provide food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places.
“The lines were so incredibly long that we had multiple reports of people fainting in lines for having to stand up for too long,” said Fair Fight Action organizing director Hillary Holley of the 2020 election, speaking during the news conference. “We saw ambulances have to get called because our elders were passing out while trying to vote.”
The Rev. Cassandra Gould, an AME minister who is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said in an interview that her group has been fighting laws restricting voting, including as a co-plaintiff in a suit against the secretary of state that was dismissed on Tuesday.
Though Missouri doesn’t have early voting as Georgia does, Gould said her organization continues to oppose other kinds of voting restrictions that she says disproportionately affect African Americans. In February, the Missouri House passed a bill that requires voters to provide a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot.
“For me it’s really egregious when there are concentrated efforts to minimize democracy, to actually shrink the electorate,” said Gould, who is also the religious affairs director for the state’s NAACP chapter.
The developments in Georgia came during the anniversary week of Bloody Sunday, when church leaders and other civil rights activists were attacked by state troopers as they fought and bled for voting rights in Alabama in 1965.
Min. Shavonne Williams, an Augusta-based organizing ambassador for Faith in Public Life, recalled that historic time and said voting has long been a unified front for Black church members.
But, in addition to concerns about Black voters, the legislators’ actions have prompted questions about constitutionality and religious freedom, according to Graham Younger, Georgia director for Faith in Public Life.
Early weekend voting opportunities are vital to many residents who are unable for various reasons to vote on a weekday. Limiting which weekend day polls may be open, however, can affect worshippers of a variety of faiths and racial/ethnic groups, including Jewish congregants and members of Seventh-day Adventist churches who cannot vote on Saturdays, due to Sabbath restrictions.
“The choice that counties will now be making is between different groups’ holy days,” Younger said. “Not everyone’s holy day is Sunday.”
Conservative religious groups, including Family Research Council, support “ election integrity ” state-level provisions such as ones that require voter identification and limit no-excuses mail-in voting.
Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister based in California who was involved in 2020 Black church voter mobilization initiatives, said organizers are pushing back against legislators seeking to reduce “Souls to the Polls” and other activities.
As they work on signing letters and raising awareness about state proposals, they also will urge passage of the For the People Act, which he hopes will “take the teeth out of a lot of these very wicked Republican schemes.”
“I believe this is tantamount to the church bombings the Ku Klux Klan did to terrorize Black people from engaging in voter registration and engagement,” said McBride, a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, in an interview. “Rather than using church bombs, they’re trying to use these kinds of state policies.”
Four years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the novelist James Baldwin would write on the pages of Esquire magazine, “Since Martin’s death, in Memphis, and that tremendous day in Atlanta, something has altered in me, something has gone away.”
Baldwin wrote about how “the act of faith” – that is, his belief that the movement would change white Americans and ultimately America – maintained him through the years of the black freedom movement, through marches and petitions and torturous setbacks.
After King’s death, Baldwin found it hard to keep that faith.
Nearly two weeks after King’s funeral, in April of 1968, King’s confidant and former strategist Wyatt Tee Walker tried to renew this faith. Drawing on a tradition of black faith, Walker encouraged a grieving community to embrace hope even in the face of despair.
Black public faith has a storied place in American life.
The black church has been a place of fellowship and affirmation from colonial America to modern day, empowering individuals to undertake public acts to transform politics and society.
The 19th-century National Negro Convention movement, which ran from 1831 to 1864, demonstrated this black faith in action. Its leaders advocated for the abolition of slavery and full citizenship for African Americans. One activist reflected years later that the “colored conventions” were “almost as frequent as church meetings.”
These practices on Sunday morning, he noted served to “recharge the worshipers’ energy” so they could deal with the “rigors and racism of ‘a cruel, cruel world’ from Monday though Saturday.”
It was this faith that empowered many African Americans to maintain their faith in the possibilities of democracy while facing entrenched white opposition to their civil rights. Marches, sit-ins, demonstrations and mass meetings were all public displays of black faith.
Deftly navigating the tension between hope and despair, Walker based his message on the response of the Hebrew prophet Elisha in the Book of Kings who faced crisis and despair with an invading Syrian army, widespread famine and people ready to give up.
Drawing inspiration from the faith of the community, Elisha encouraged the community to keep faith in their nation.
Horizon of hope
Elisha’s example powered Walker’s message. At Princeton, Walker encouraged the black seminarians not to countenance a nostalgia for the past. In moments of deep discouragement, Walker said, distressed people tend to retreat into a romanticized past.
“In the jargon of the street,” Walker said, “it sounds like this: ‘Child, don’t you wish it was like it was back in the good old days… .”
“And yet,” he declared, “not by any wishing or hoping or praying or anything else can we find any day when things were better. There was no such day!”
Walker proceeded to caution his audience against maintaining the status quo. Walker proclaimed, “Whatever dream of life it is we envision for our children, ourselves, our community, our church, we will never bring it to our fingertips unless it begins first with some initial risk.”
For Walker, challenging the status quo was a fundamental aspect of existence.
“The elemental character of life is one that is moving and dynamic,” he said.
Walker closed his sermon by urging the audience to embrace hope-filled struggle. But he did not deny the desperate reality.
Instead, in the face of despair, he urged the young seminarians to take a risk of faith and build a future that has not been. For Walker, that meant “doing, trying, moving toward things which have never been tried before.”
Hope in democracy
The lasting testament of black public faith is its affirmation of new possibilities during moments of deep doubt. Rather than relying on a myth of the past or upholding the status quo, Walker offered the seminarians at Princeton a new vision of a political community.
“What I’m saying to you,” Walker declared, “is that I have the ultimate faith that we are going to find a tranquility with justice in this nation, in this world. We must! And it is conceivable it could happen in our time.”
Music is composed of sounds and silences. The sounds are indicated by notes, the silences by rests. Sometimes when we most want the Lord to speak, He is silent, and when we most want Him to be silent, He speaks!
The desperate Syrophoenician mother made a fervent plea for her daughter, but Jesus answered her “not a word” (Matthew 15:23). David knew that the Lord was aware of his sins, but I think he was hoping the Lord wouldn’t tell anybody especially the outspoken prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 11-12).
The Syrophoenician mother was hoping the Lord would change the melody of her life from minor to major. And David was hoping he wouldn’t have to face the music of his messed up life. In music, the silences are often welcome intervals that enhance the rest of the composition. In life, silences are sometimes frustrating interruptions.
Both in music and in life, rests are pauses, not endings. The mother received her request for her daughter’s healing; David confessed his sins and received forgiveness. The pauses in our lives are temporary.
Are you having a “rest experience?” Be encouraged. After a rest, the music continues.
Thank You, dear Lord, that You are always with us. Help us to remember that Your silences are not absences. Amen.
Faith leaders are ramping up their support for an Oklahoma death row inmate as his clemency hearing nears.
Julius Jones, 40, was sentenced to death in 2002, but his advocates say a different person committed the crime in which a prominent Edmond, Oklahoma, businessman was killed during a carjacking. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is expected to consider Jones’ case at a March 8 commutation hearing.
On Monday (March 1), Jones’ lawyers released a video in which a man imprisoned in Arkansas said that a former fellow inmate told him he was responsible for the killing instead of Jones. His comments follow the signing of sworn affidavits by two other people who support Jones’ claim of innocence.
Jones’ family has said he was home with them when the killing occurred.
In an online event held the day after the video was released, Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas megachurch The Potter’s House urged that the new information about Jones’ case be considered.
“We’re not even asking for mercy; we’re just asking for justice,” Jakes said in the video conference call hosted by Values Partnerships that also included reality TV star Kim Kardashian West speaking in support of Jones. “We as people of faith have a responsibility to make sure that we have done everything we could. If Jesus acquitted the guilty, then surely he would advocate for the innocent.”
The Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, founder of the Justice for Julius Coalition in Oklahoma, helped lead a Feb. 25 march and prayer rally in which a crowd of more than 100 gathered outside a United Methodist church in Oklahoma City to sing, advocate and deliver boxes containing more than 6.2 million signatures on a petition to the parole board’s office in support of Jones.
At the prayer rally, a friend of Jones played a taped message from the inmate expressing gratitude for his supporters, The Oklahoman reported. “God has not forgotten me,” he said.
Jones-Davis said in a statement she believes Jones’ innocence is clear.
“Julius Jones did not murder Paul Howell,” she said. “It is unthinkable to proceed with this execution knowing that the real killer is out there and has confessed, on multiple occasions, to his crime.”
During the summer, Jakes wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and members of the state’s parole board expressing his concern “that the perpetrator of the crime is still at large.”
Sojourners founder Jim Wallis expressed his concern that “the risk of false testimony, the evidence of racism, and the finality of a death sentence” are reasons for a commutation for Jones, a Black man convicted in the death of a white man.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater urged the board to deny Jones’ application for commutation and said the prisoner is “fueling a media circus with outright lies,” The Associated Press reported.
In his 2019 commutation application, Jones declared his innocence.
“(A)s God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Paul Howell being shot and killed on July 28, 1999,” he wrote. “I have spent the past twenty years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness, and was not at.”
Depending on the outcome of the first commutation hearing, Jones’ case could advance to another stage that could lead to his sentence being commuted. If his application for commutation is denied, he is expected to receive a date of execution.
In the hospital with covid-19 in December, Lavina Wafer tired of the tubes in her nose and wondered impatiently why she couldn’t be discharged. A phone call with her pastor helped her understand that the tube was piping in lifesaving oxygen, which had to be slowly tapered to protect her.
Now that Wafer, 70, is well and back home in Richmond, California, she’s looking to her pastor for advice about the covid vaccines. Though she doubts they’re as wonderful as the government claims, she plans to get vaccinated anyway — because of his example.
“He said he’s not going to push us to take it. It’s our choice,” Wafer said, referring to a recent online sermon that praised the vaccines as God-given science with the power to save. “But he wanted us to know he’s going to take it as soon as he can.”
Helping people accept the covid vaccines is a public health goal, but it’s also a spiritual one, said Henry Washington, the 53-year-old pastor of The Garden of Peace Ministries, which Wafer attends.
Clergy must ensure that people “understand they have an active part in their own salvation, and the salvation of others,” said Washington. “I have tried to suggest that taking the vaccine, social distancing and protecting themselves in their household is something that God requires us to do as good stewards.”
Many Black Americans look to their religious leaders for guidance on a wide range of issues — not just spiritual ones. Their credibility is especially crucial on matters of health, as the medical establishment works to overcome a legacy of experimentation and bias that makes some Black people distrustful of public health messages.
Now that the vaccines are being distributed, public health advocates say churches are key to reaching Black citizens, especially older generations more vulnerable to severe covid disease. They have been hospitalized for covid and died at a disproportionate rate throughout the pandemic, and initial data on who is getting covid shots shows that Black people lag far behind other racial groups.
Black churches have also suffered during the pandemic. African American pastors were most likely to say they had had to delete positions or cut staff pay or benefits to survive, and 60% said their congregations hadn’t gathered in person the previous month, as opposed to 9% of white pastors, according to a survey published in October by Lifeway Research, which specializes in data on Christian groups.
Washington’s 75-member church is in Richmond, which has the highest number of covid deaths in Contra Costa County, outside of deaths in long-term care facilities. The very diverse city, across the bay from San Francisco, also has one of the lowest rates of vaccination.
Offerings to Washington’s church plunged 50% in 2020 due to job loss among congregants, but he’s weathered the pandemic with a small-business loan and a second job as a general contractor remodeling bathrooms and kitchens.
To combat misinformation, he’s been meeting virtually with about 30 other Black pastors once a month in calls organized by the One Accord Project, a nonprofit that organizes Black churches in the San Francisco Bay Area around nonpartisan issues like voter registration and low-income housing. Throughout the pandemic, the calls have focused on connecting pastors with public health officials and epidemiologists to make sure they have the most up-to-date information to pass on to their members, said founder Sabrina Saunders.
The African American church is an anchor for the community, Saunders said. “People get a lot of emotional support, people get resources, and their pastor isn’t just looked upon as a spiritual leader, but something more.”
And guidance is needed.
The share of Black people who say they have been vaccinated or want to be vaccinated as soon as possible is 35%, while 43% say they want to “wait and see” the shots’ effects on others, according to a KFF survey. Eight percent say they’ll get the shot only if required, while 14% say they definitely won’t be vaccinated. Among whites, the first two figures are 53% and 26%, respectively; for Hispanics, 42% and 37%. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)
Among the “wait and see” group, 35% say they would seek information about the shots from a religious leader, compared with 28% of Hispanics and 14% of white people.
Grassroots outreach to Black churches happens in every public health emergency, but the pandemic has hastened the pace of collaboration with public health officials, said Dr. Leon McDougle, assistant dean for diversity and cultural affairs at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. The last time he saw such a broad coalition across Black churches, medical associations, schools and political groups was during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
“This is at an entirely different level, though, because we’ve had almost half a million die in a year,” McDougle said of the covid pandemic.
Historically, no other institution in African American communities has rivaled the church in terms of its reach and the trust it enjoys, said Dr. Paris Butler, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Last month, he and a colleague spoke to leaders from 21 churches in Philadelphia to answer basic questions about how the vaccine was produced and tested.
“Being an African American myself, and growing up in a Baptist church, I understand the value of that trusted voice,” Butler said. “If we don’t reach out to them, we’re making a mistake.”
Leaders with massive social media followings, like Bishop T.D. Jakes, are also weighing in, publishing video conversations with experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci to inform followers about the vaccines.
Church attendance is waning among young Black adults, as it is for other races. But elders can set examples for younger people undecided about the vaccine, said Dr. Judith Green McKenzie, chief of the division of occupational medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
“When they see their grandma go, they may say, ‘I’m going,’” she said. “Grandma got this two months ago and she’s fine.”
Encouraging vaccine trust is delicate work. The Black community has reason to be skeptical of the health system, said Eddie Anderson, the 31-year-old leader of McCarty Memorial Christian Church in Los Angeles. In one-on-one conversations, congregants tell him they fear being guinea pigs. The low vaccine supply also makes Anderson hesitate to recommend, from the pulpit, that members get the shot as soon as they’re able. He fears frustration with difficult online sign-ups would further sap motivation.
“I want to do that when it’s readily available,” he said. “I want to preach it, and then within a weekend a family can actually go get the vaccine.”
Despite the doubts and fears, Anderson said the majority of his 125-member congregation, about half of whom are senior citizens, want the vaccine, in order to be with loved ones again. One older member is desperately seeking a vaccine appointment so he can help his daughter, who is going through cancer treatments. But the online sign-up process is confusing and nearly impossible for his followers, Anderson said.
For now, he’s focused on asking several vaccinated members to write down everything about their experience and share it on social media. He also plans to record them talking about their shots — and to show that many people of different races were in the same vaccine line — and will broadcast the videos during church announcements.
While he can’t tell people what to do, Anderson hopes he can remove any potential spiritual barriers to the vaccine.
“My biggest fear is for someone to say, ‘I didn’t get vaccinated’ or ‘I didn’t get a test’ because it’s against [their] faith, or because ‘I don’t see that in the Bible,’” he said. “Any of those arguments, I want to get those off the table.”
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” But …. what if it’s not?
When I first got the idea for this article, I was in a place where I felt like everything in my life was being called into question. Where I belonged in the world, what I should do with my time, and how my future would pan out all felt like amateur self-exploration, lacking definitive, almost-thirty-year-old confidence. The voice of societal pressure to do more, work harder and be better is loud, but the little voice in my head that won’t let me deny my insecurities is even louder.
Being Christian doesn’t equate to having it all together and being happy all the time — the scriptures forewarned that in this world I would face trouble and that long-suffering is a virtue.
It never ceases to amaze me how it can feel like I’m on a long “winning streak” with God, then one or two things fall out of my desired order and my heart is immediately inclined to pull away from Him. Who do I think I am?
I certainly couldn’t answer any of the questions God asked Job when Job felt prime enough in his suffering to question God. I do it anyway. We all do. We want our way. We have enough common sense to understand that God is not a genie in a bottle here to fulfill our every wish, yet we find ourselves shook when every prayer isn’t answered the way we want or as quickly as we’d like. We lift our hands and sing WE SURRENDER ALL to a sovereign God with the final say, yet we still keep a plan B in mind ever so discreetly.
This walk of faith is exactly that–a walk. Along that walk, we might find some of the greatest joys and successes of our entire lives and have the opportunity to walk alongside gems of people. Some parts of the walk might be dark and cold, and we find ourselves dressed inappropriately for the weather. Some parts we’ll walk alone, and the soles of our shoes might give way to blistered toes scaling the earth.
It’s in those times that I find myself in a funk. Here’s what I do to surrender the weight of what I’m carrying and genuinely leave it at His feet.
Adopt a perspective of gratefulness. It is a privilege to work and earn a steady income. I GET to have a challenging job to practice diligence as unto God. I GET to juggle multiple responsibilities because I’m entrusted with those things. I have many freedoms in my life for which others still pray. This shift in perspective alone was enough in most cases to quiet my unrest.
Affirm and encourage myself. At times, the root of our unrest is in what we believe about ourselves. Do my circumstances define me and my capabilities? Is my identity, worth, and value rooted in my 9-5? No to both. I am valuable because He says I am, and that settles it. There is so much love around me, and it has been a blessing to be molded and shaped by the beauty around me into who I am. I am more than capable, and in Christ, I am more than a conqueror.
Be transparent with those I love and trust. Pride has a way of bulking up our chests while causing us to fall apart on the inside quietly. Sharing my experiences with trusted friends and family is a tremendously helpful way in knowing I do not carry my burdens alone, and making room for the listener’s advice, wisdom, and perspective on the situation.
Make room for things I genuinely enjoy. Finding a healthy outlet is very helpful in renewing the mind. For me, that is writing and spending unfettered time with loved ones. For you, that might be playing an instrument, exercising, visiting a new place, etc.
Keep praising. When I feel down, it sometimes feels like the last thing I want to do is muster up the energy to praise, but that’s often exactly what I need to do. Led by Hebrew 13:15, I offer unto God a sacrifice of praise. I might not have it all together, but He does, and He continually calls me to Himself, so I might find rest.
When it is not well with my soul, my task is not to throw in the towel on my faith. It is to dust myself off and take hold of the Mighty Hand that will walk with me, wade through the waters with me, and carry (or pull) me along as necessary.
That Mighty Hand promised He would never leave me nor forsake me, so I’m standing on that.
He said He is faithful to complete the work He has started in me. I’ll believe it.
He tells me suffering produces character, so I’ll write that on the tablet of my heart.
I might kick and scream at times, but I will remain confident that my God will not withhold any good thing from me, and that He ultimately knows what is best. I’ll stay confident that I’ll continue to see His goodness while here on earth, and even after this earth is history. The fact that my home, where I truly belong, is an eternal place is evidence enough to proclaim that it is well with my soul, regardless of any earthly circumstance.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say…. It is well, and it is well with my soul.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Chriska is a twenty-something Haitian-American attorney with a passion for Jesus, traveling, writing, fashion, and spending quality time with loved ones. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from William Jewell College, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri (Kansas City) School of Law.