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2018 was a whirlwind year for Tarana Burke, the founder of the “Me Too” movement. During the latter part of 2017, the long-time activist skyrocketed to fame as the phrase “Me Too” became a uniting force for victims of sexual violence. On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano sent a tweet in response to initial reports of allegations that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted numerous women. The tweet asked women who had been sexually assaulted to reply ” me too.”
That tweet made waves. Days later, millions of people used the hashtag #MeToo across social media, many of whom initially credited Milano with starting the “Me Too” movement. But Burke’s work on behalf of sexual assault survivors had been known long before Milano’s viral tweet, and it was black women who collectively spoke up to tell the actress that Burke had founded a “Me Too” movement over a decade before, during a time when there were no hashtags. Milano, who was unaware of the activist’s work, tweeted an apology. She also publicly credited Burke, and reached out to ask Burke how she could help amplify her work.
The two women traveled the media circuit together, appearing on “Meet the Press.”
Soon, organizations began to celebrate Burke in her own right. In March, she was honored at the 2018 Academy Awards. She appeared on magazine covers, including one of the six covers of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue, where actress Gabrielle Union, also a survivor of sexual assault, penned an essay calling Burke a “kindred spirit.”
The Bronx-born activist was the guest editor for ESSENCE magazine’s November issue, where she spoke about the future of the movement. She oversaw an edition filled with essays dedicated to black women’s right to heal after sexual violence and articles about the culture of silence around the sexual assault of black women and girls.
In an interview, the mother of “Me Too” said she never imagined she’d be in such a position of visibility. But, she didn’t feel like a hero. Instead, she told the magazine, she felt “dutiful,” and much of that duty was to ensure that black women weren’t shut out of the “Me Too” movement. While Milano’s intent wasn’t to steal Burke’s work, her celebrity status did catapult the conversation around sexual assault into the media, particularly in a way that resonated with white women. And it pained Burke to see black women erased from the narrative.
“The world responds to the vulnerability of white women,” she told ESSENCE. “Our narrative has never been centered in mainstream media. Our stories don’t get told and, as a result, it makes us feel not as valuable.”
In November, she also spoke about her duty to re-center the mission of “Me Too.” During her first TED talk, a speech dedicated to survivors and activists, she described how the past year had been an emotional roller coaster.
“This movement is constantly being called a watershed moment. Even a reckoning. But I wake up some days feeling that all evidence points to the contrary,” Burke told the audience.
A year later, “Me Too” was described as a “culture shock.” Harvey Weinstein was indicted. Bill Cosby was finally sentenced to prison in September for allegations of rape which were reignited after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked Cosby during a stand-up routine in 2014.
Despite the success of “Me Too,” Burke said the movement had become unrecognizable at times, as people, including the media, presented and interpreted “Me Too” as a vindictive plot against men, instead of as a voice of support for survivors. Her speech was a call to refocus the energy of the movement on survivors of sexual assault.
She also called to dismantle the building blocks of sexual violence: power and privilege.
Now, in 2019, it seems like her two key missions of the “Me Too” movement: visibility for black female survivors of sexual violence and the dismantling of power and privilege will finally converge.
Burke appeared in Lifetime’s six-hour docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly.”
The three-night special is a deep dive into the background of singer R. Kelly and the decades of sexual assault allegations against him, weaving testimonies of his alleged victims — all black and brown women — with interviews from their friends, parents and teachers. Burke is part of a team of experts, including activists, journalists, and cultural critics, assembled to shed light on why the singer’s history of abuse — while heavily reported — has been ignored.
Burke has devoted her career to working at the intersection of racial justice and sexual violence, and she spent significant time in Selma laying the groundwork that would later evolve into the “Me Too” movement.
In October, days before the one-year anniversary of the tweet that launched “Me Too” on social media, Burke returned to Alabama to talk about her roots as an activist.
For Burke, that appearance was indeed a homecoming, as she stood before her elders. This included Rose Sanders, her mentor during her formative years in Selma, who waved at her from the third row of an auditorium in UAB’s Alys Stephens Center.
It was a semi-full circle moment. In March, Sanders, who made history in 1973 as the state’s first African American female judge, proudly told a room full of people in the Dallas County courthouse during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee that Burke started the “Me Too” movement in Selma.
As Burke took the stage to cheers and a standing ovation, she paid homage to her elders.
“I know I have my family from Selma here,” she said, lovingly holding out her hands. “You all are part of my story.”
“People keep thanking me for coming to Birmingham,” said Burke, smiling widely as the audience simmered down. “That’s because they don’t know I have ties to Alabama. I relish the opportunity to come here.”
For close to an hour, Burke talked about her childhood, her early years in Selma, and the life-changing moment that would lead her to start the movement known as “Me Too.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Burke was groomed to be an activist as a child.
“I had a normal family,” Burke told the audience. “Except for I had a grandfather that was a Garveyite.” Her grandfather, a close follower of the teachings of Marcus Garvey, made sure she was well versed in the readings of black liberation. On car rides, they would listen to cassette tapes of John Henrik Clarke, a native of Union Springs, Al. who was a scholar and pioneer in the field of Africana studies.
“You can read that Bible, but make sure you have your history right along with that,” she said he’d tell her.
Burke’s mother, while she never referred to herself as a feminist, surrounded Burke with the works of Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins.
“I was wrapped in Black feminist literature growing up.”
Burke was discovered at age 14 by the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, an organization founded by Rose Sanders in 1985 to educate young people about voting rights and the political process. And it was through that organization that Burke says she learned about the impact youth could have.
“That was the first time an adult had said to me, ‘you have power now.’ ”
Through her work with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, she became an activist. One of the first cases she worked on would be the case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Their sentences would be overturned decades later.
“It’s so funny how we talk about due process in the White House now,” referencing President Donald Trump, who in the 1980s took out full page ads in four of the city’s newspapers, calling for the return of the death penalty, but in 2018 demanded due process for former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriter David Sorensen after allegations of domestic abuse, and Brett Kavanaugh, his nominee to the Supreme Court who was faced with allegations of sexual assault.
HER JOURNEY TO ALABAMA
Burke traveled to Alabama for college where she continued to organize, starting at Alabama State before transferring to Auburn University.
“Your college campus is practice for the real world,” she told the audience.
After graduation, Burke went to work in Selma, where an experience changed the trajectory of her life.
While working as a camp counselor for the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, she met a girl she would describe to the audience as “Heaven.”
As a counselor, she had started workshops where young girls could speak openly and reveal stories about sexual violence and assault.
One day, Heaven made a beeline for her. Immediately, Burke said, she knew something was wrong. At first she avoided Heaven because she didn’t feel equipped to provide guidance for what she knew would be devastating news.
“I thought to myself ‘I’m not a counselor,’ said Burke. “But in my heart, I thought, that happened to me too.”
But in that moment, Burke said as she lowered her voice, those words didn’t seem like enough. But later, she realized that phrase was the one thing she needed to tell Heaven.
Burke told the audience she spent years afterwards feeling guilty. Over and over again, she’d ask “what difference does ‘me too’ make?”
Turns out, the phrase would make a lot of difference.
JUST BE, INC. : THE BEGINNING OF ME TOO
In Selma, Burke started Just Be, Inc., an organization focused on the health and well being of young girls of color. As the organization grew quickly, Burke noticed a pattern — when the girls gathered together, stories started spilling out. And when the girls shared their stories, Burke said, she’d always think about her encounter with Heaven.
As her work in a Selma junior high school continued, the stories from young girls kept coming and Burke started to notice a common thread. The girls told their stories as if they were normal experiences, not revealing painful secrets. None of the girls knew they were describing acts of sexual violence.
The tipping point came when Burke saw a 12- year-old student waiting for her “boyfriend” after school — a boyfriend who was 21 years old. To make matters worse, it was a man Burke already knew. He had been dating one of the girls at a local high school the year before.
“How do you tell a 7th grade girl that this is not a relationship, this is a crime?” said Burke.
She realized it was up to her to change and translate that wording into a conversation that young girls could understand.
“So we had to figure out how to simplify that language.”
DESIGNING THE TOOLS TO TALK ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT
Burke had previously read about how to teach young people to talk about sexual assault, but recognized no one was relaying those messages to girls.
“Nobody was speaking healing into our community,” said Burke. “How can we heal something that we can’t name?”
She and her team started off by teaching the girls ways to recognize sexual violence.
Burke started going into the community to find resources, starting with another junior high school.
She also went into a local rape crisis center, located next to a homeless shelter. But, that environment, said Burke, wasn’t a comfortable or safe space for young girls. In order to get to the crisis center, girls would have to walk past groups of men huddled outside of the center who would often yell catcalls.
Burke says that walk into the rape crisis center was the turning point.
“That day was the nugget,” said Burke. “Adult women don’t report sexual violence. Do you think these children would go through that?”
“THE BIRTH OF ‘ME TOO’ “
Looking into the audience, Burke reflected on guidance from her mentors in Selma
“An elder once told me: you have to take what you have to get what you need.”
With that advice, she started a Myspace page for her project to gain visibility. Her goal was simple: she wanted people to see the resources she’d compiled and the work she was doing.
Soon, Burke says, people started reaching out to thank her. She knew the next step was to distribute the resources to even more people.
“I remember sitting with my two friends in my living room and wondering ‘how are we going to make this work?’ ”
The method they came up with was simple — she and her friends packed the resources into glossy folders and shipped them out around the country.
Soon after, Burke left Selma to move to Philly.
THE AFTERNOON OF 2017
“I always intended for ‘Me Too’ to be a movement for survivors,” said Burke.
But for years, the challenge was getting people in the room to have the conversation about sexual assault.
“Filling up a room like this would be impossible,” said Burke, motioning to people sitting in the Alys Stephens Center.
She said she would have to reach out to churches to ask them to speak. She describes the tweet Milano sent in 2017 as a “lightning bolt” that gave life to the healing she had been trying to bring to young girls for more than two decades.
Alyssa Milano’s “me too” tweet reached millions on Twitter in 24 hours. On Facebook, there were more than 12 million comments, posts and reactions.
But she says she wasn’t upset that it took a viral hashtag to catapult her cause.
“What I care about is getting the room full now. We are just not comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Burke. “This is hard, but we have the ability to get this right.”
And getting it right, says Burke, means believing survivors and not blaming them for being victims of sexual assault.
“If we woke up and found out that 12 million people all had a disease, we wouldn’t ask ‘well, who were they touching?'” Burke remarked, a statement met with uproarious applause.
The focus, she says, should be on what happened and how to stop it.
But people have misconstrued the message of the movement to be about taking down powerful men.
Burke told the audience she was in the room when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that she was allegedly assaulted by Kavanaugh. She says powerful men like Kavanaugh were the “epitome” of unchecked power and privilege.
“This is the first time that we’ve seen any modicum of accountability in our lifetime,” said Burke. “This is not about crime and punishment. It’s about harm and harm reductions.”
But Burke knows why the “takedown” narrative has caught on: “if you say something over and over again, people will start to believe it.”
And now, says Burke, it’s time take back the focus in order reach communities of survivors who desperately need the help of the movement.
“Outside of Black women, it astonishes me that we have no conversations about native women and sexual violence.”
“ME TOO” IN ALABAMA
Rose Sanders had to leave the Alys Stephens center early, so she didn’t get to say a formal goodbye to the activist she once mentored. But she beamed with pride as she talked about Burke, the young student she took under her wing.
“It’s awesome. She’s true to her cause. And I’m glad she’s pushing 21st Century (Leaders). And I’m hoping she’ll do it more.”
Sanders says there’s an even greater need for community focused leadership development now, and wished there were more young people involved the struggle against sexual abuse.
“When I started (the organization) it was in 1985, 20 years after the civil rights movement. It became clear to me that very few young people even knew about the movement,” said Sanders. So we were fortunate enough to get people like John Lewis, Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson to come to our camps.”
But Sanders has plans to bridge the communication gap. She says she wants to build on Burke’s work, growing the “me too” movement into the “we too” movement.
“It’s not just about the survivors of the actual physical damage. It’s also about a mother who may not have been sexually abused, but has to suffer through (her child’s) abuse. It’s got to be “we too.”
This year, she plans to have workshops to educate attendees of the Bridge Crossing Jubilee about sexual assault, and has her vision set on bringing back Burke to speak on at least one of the panels.
“The people who are the actual victims of assault suffer the most damage, but so does everybody that’s connected to that child or that woman that’s been sexually violated,” said Sanders. “We too are also hurting and it’s going to take all of us to resolve it.”
And as Burke closed her speech, she also acknowledged that the movement was bigger than her, and challenged the room to take action after the lecture and challenge institutions to protect survivors and prevent sexual assault.
“I’m a 45-year-old black woman. It’s not enough to celebrate me if you’re not going to commit to ending sexual violence and the movement I stand for.” said Burke.
“This is really about people being able to walk through life with their dignity intact.”
Published through the AP Member Exchange
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Emerging from a season that primarily represents joy, unity and faith, fear and distrust lead the way. Whether you are a part of the faith community or not, you witnessed a 2019 new year governed by a democracy that was less than fully functional. In fact, it rapidly progressed into a historic government shutdown. Call it what you want, but many people are anxious about all types of potentially damaging effects of some degree of personal and publicly traded financial free fall. At the core of the matter, can we consider that perhaps the lack of ethics was a major culprit in this dilemma? If we all authentically ponder this idea, we may find some eye-opening premises.
Years ago during my college days, my roommate and I would joke about advice that her parent would often tell her when she was growing up. Almost always when she responded with her version of various explanations to her parents’ inquiries, they were met with the response from the parent “now lie to me the truth!” Of course, it was a laughing matter then, but now it is a demand within every part of our culture. One fact that will always remain, regardless of what Christian apologists or universal pessimists choose to teach the masses, truth is the cornerstone of ethics. The quality of being honest will always win. In the context of biblical teaching, 1 John 3:18 encourages all Christians to “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” But, who’s perfect?
For the first time in history, 2019 has presented us with the longest federal government shutdown ever. Mired by future uncertainty, lack of confidence and blind allegiances are rampant and send alarming signals projecting harm on others and fail to be in the interest of anyone but a few. There are more questions than answers and even less tolerance to resolve the obvious ills that plague all of us. If we struggle to depend on our nation of laws, then where is the teaching and intervention from the church? Have we all tossed our consciousness out the window?
The Wall, Conspiracies, and Indictments
There are multiple contexts given these are subjects that intertwine ethics and faith. However, it can be assumed that some of these most recent circumstances are not all negative or intentional. Perhaps there is a spiritual message that reminds us of lessons from the ministry of Christ. Christ and his disciples worked to teach the meaning and the importance of the necessity to respond to the concept of ethics to the nations. Their message essentially resounded that love and care for all people was good. Selfishness and lack of respect, not just the love of money, is equally the root of all evil. However in these times, self-preservation has become a common mantra and the Apostle Paul’s brutally honest confession in Romans 7:15-20 (NLT) simply has been lost in the sauce. Paul honestly explained that 15 “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Does this sound familiar as reflected in our current state of world affairs and personal choices? Can we at least give Paul credit for acknowledging his truth to others? His statement was not an excuse to continue his inappropriate behavior, but a truth of his own self-awareness that as human beings, our faith can be a saving grace that begins to address the issues that contribute to corruption in our society and to the human spirit.
The good news is that the cornerstone of Christianity is still built on righteousness, not perfection. Although our government and its leadership have an obligation to be lawful, our community of faith has a job to also be accountable to teach more truth and empowerment. There are biblical laws that are universal. The lack integrity can bring on harsh consequences that spare no one. For example, we can begin with the Ten Commandments. They are regarded to some as ancient fairytales that have less relevance in our lives, yet disobedience of either of them can literally wreak havoc on our well-being as well as our quality of life or even our very existence. Biblical principles must be taught purposely for both salvation and survival and not in vain.
Ethics begin and end when there is a conscientious shift that keeps us in tune with truth that transforms us to intentionally think more in-depth about our ethical life choices or outcomes. The old must make an honest effort to teach the young. The self-absorbed must realize that they can make a difference to the less fortunate. Leadership is far more effective when leaders deliberately learn strategies without an ulterior motive that connotes deception or intent to hide true motivation. While there may have been many reasons for an action, the intent should reflect the true thing that is trying to be accomplished. No matter how insignificant an issue may be, a little white lie is still deception. More than ever before, there is a critical need for leaders of all levels to learn and continue to re-learn contemporary and more influential leadership skills that help those who follow them better understand that hopelessness is a choice and not the norm. As one of the wealthiest nations on earth, we have the resources, ability, and heart to be the ethical beacon of light that practices the type of equality that pays employees on time, feeds the hungry, provides a fair system of education for all, helps those who are giving their all to escape persecution, and most of all, as the Bible instructs “obey the laws of the land.” This is emphasized in Romans 2:13 — 13 ”For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.” This logic should make sense, especially to those who follow Christ’s teachings.
Before we as a nation pay to build more walls for borders, let more individuals within the community of faith tear down unnecessary walls to embrace those who seek refuge. This is also embodied within the ministry of Christ. Keep in mind that all efforts to conspire against anyone or anything is unethical. Nevertheless, let the church continue to maintain its major role to inspire hope and spiritual awakening. Believers in Christ, let’s not allow ourselves to become desensitized to anything that resembles less than the truth. It carves a path that may lead to eventual indictments on the message of love we attempt to send throughout the world. For indeed, it is our privilege to be vigilant in recognizing the opposite of what is right and ethical to further strengthen faith in the face of fear. The freedom of truth is the most ethical contribution to mankind. Jesus was very clear about this in John 8:31-32, 31 Those that had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
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?
— Rico Love (@IamRicoLove) January 7, 2019
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:
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.
Is this our fault?
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.
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:
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”)
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.
King 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.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.