We are seeing an outpouring of donations from individuals, corporations and foundations that began to grow as soon as protests and other activities in support of racial and social justice started to spread across the country.
Floyd’s GoFundMe memorial campaign has garnered more donations than any other campaign in the online platform’s history, raising over $14 million with 500,000 individual donors from 140 countries worldwide. Many of these gifts to the impacted families of police violence were for $5 and few were for $50,000 or more.
For example, when protests erupted, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which advocates for a more equitable system of cash bail, turned its attention to bailing out arrested protesters. Once the fund reached a total of $20 million in donations, its organizers urged donors to support Black-led organizations.
Other grassroots organizations and networks also received support, such as the National Bail Fund Network, which received $80 million in donations in late spring.
Even before the protests erupted, the Movement for Black Lives had received $5 million in the first five months of 2020 to support Black communities affected by the pandemic and to address broader issues of racial equity. This was nearly double the $2.7 million the group, founded in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raised in all of 2019, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The Libra Foundation announced that a dozen grant-making organizations were joining together to give a total of $36 million to Black-led organizations and social movements like The Black Youth Project and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.
These numbers provide only a partial estimate of total giving to these causes, and it will take at least until mid-2021 for the IRS to begin to release the official records and statistics needed for a fuller picture of giving to these groups. Based on data from Candid, a research group, institutional funders and large donors have contributed $5.9 billion for organizations primarily engaged in in racial equity work to date.
3. Shoring up HBCUs
Historically Black colleges and universities, often called HBCUs, and related groups that fund scholarships for the students who attend them, are getting more donations in 2020.
All told, the roughly 100 HBCUs have a total of only $2 billion in their endowments. By comparison, 54 predominantly white colleges and universities have $2 billion or more in their own endowment.
In 2018, for example, there were seven of these major gifts totaling $48 million. In contrast, there were at least 33 of these donations by mid-September of 2020, totaling $347 million, according a list of these donations of $1 million or more compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and tracking by statistician Xiao Han of additional news reports and public information disclosed by donors and the schools.
Donors from all backgrounds have turned their attention to increasing calls for racial equity. While new donors are turning their giving to racial equity issues, wealthy African Americans have contributed to causes that support racial justice and equity.
Along with other colleagues at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and in partnership with the Bank of America, we are conducting a long-term research project regarding affluent donors. Based on our findings in our 2018 report, at least half of all wealthy Black donors supported African American causes, compared to 6.5% overall of all surveyed donors.
Additionally, 43.8% of the wealthy Black donors surveyed indicated that they made giving to groups that aim to improve race relations a high priority, as opposed to an average of 5.7% all donors.
In mid-September, philanthropist Susan Sandler announced that she was giving a total of $200 million to an array of racial justice groups. Sandler’s disclosure echoed Scott’s announcement, in July 2020, that she was giving $587 million to HBCUs and racial justice organizations.
That means established civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, and newer racial justice groups like the Equal Justice Initiative, which aims to end mass incarceration and advance racial equity, and the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank focused on improving racial equity within police departments, are all getting a boost.
Kim Williams-Pulfer, Postdoctoral Research Appointee-Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, IUPUI and Una Osili, Professor, Economics and Philanthropic Studies; Associate Dean for Research and International Programs, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, IUPUI
Robert Pettigrew has a mass on his lung that makes him more suscpetible to contracting COVID-19, so he had to give up his job at Motel 6 when the pandemic struck. The loss in income meant that his family had trouble paying the $600-a-month rent on their two-bedroom apartment in Milwaukee, and were served an eviction notice by their landlord after a statewide eviction moratorium expired in May. (Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch)
In August, Robert Pettigrew was working a series of odd jobs. While washing the windows of a cellphone store he saw a sign, one that he believes the “good Lord” placed there for him.
“Facing eviction?” the sign read. “You could be eligible for up to $3,000 in rent assistance. Apply today.”
It seemed a hopeful omen after a series of financial and health blows. In March, Pettigrew, 52, learned he has an invasive mass on his lung that restricts his breathing. His doctor told him his condition puts him at high risk of developing deadly complications from COVID-19 and advised him to stop working as a night auditor at a Motel 6, where he manned the front desk. Reluctantly, he had to leave that job and start piecing together other work.
With pay coming in less steadily, Pettigrew and his wife, Stephanie, fell behind on the rent. Eventually, they were many months late, and the couple’s landlord filed to evict them.
Then Pettigrew saw the rental assistance sign.
“There were nights I would lay in bed and my wife would be asleep, and all I could do was say, ‘God, you need to help me. We need you,’” Pettigrew said. “And here he came. He showed himself to us.”
As many as 40 million Americans faced a looming eviction risk in August, according to a report authored by 10 national housing and eviction experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited that estimate in early September when it ordered an unprecedented, nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of 2020.
That move — a moratorium from the country’s top public health agency — spotlights a message experts have preached for years without prompting much policy action: Housing stability and health are intertwined.
The CDC is now citing stable housing as a vital tool to control the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Home is where people isolate themselves to avoid transmitting the virus or becoming infected. When local governments issue stay-at-home orders in the name of public health, they presume that residents have a home. For people who have the virus, home is often where they recover from COVID-19’s fever, chills and dry cough — in lieu of, or after, a hospital stay.
But the moratorium is not automatic. Renters have to submit a declaration form to their landlord, agreeing to a series of statements under threat of perjury, including “my housing provider may require payment in full for all payments not made prior to and during the temporary halt, and failure to pay may make me subject to eviction pursuant to state and local laws.”
A sign inside a Boost Mobile store in Milwaukee prompted Robert Pettigrew to call Community Advocates to ask for help paying rent on the apartment he shares with his wife, daughter and grandson. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said stable housing is vital to controlling the coronavirus pandemic.(COBURN DUKEHART/WISCONSIN WATCH)
Princeton University is tracking eviction filings in 17 U.S. cities during the pandemic. As of Sept. 19, landlords in those cities have filed for more than 50,000 evictions since March 15. The tally includes about 11,900 in Houston, 10,900 in Phoenix and 4,100 in Milwaukee.
It’s an incomplete snapshot that excludes some major American cities such as Indianapolis, where local housing advocates said court cases are difficult to track, but landlords have sought to evict thousands of renters.
Children raised in unstable housing are more prone to hospitalization than those with stable housing. Homelessness is associated with delayed childhood development, and mothers in families that lose homes to eviction show higher rates of depression and other health challenges.
Mountingresearch illustrates that even the threat of eviction can exact a physical and mental toll from tenants.
Nicole MacMillan, 38, lost her job managing vacation rentals in Fort Myers, Florida, in March when the pandemic shut down businesses. Later, she also lost the apartment where she had been living with her two children.
“I actually contacted a doctor, because I thought, mentally, I can’t handle this anymore,” MacMillan said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go. And maybe some medication can help me for a little bit.”
But the doctor she reached out to wasn’t accepting new patients.
With few options, MacMillan moved north to live with her grandparents in Grayslake, Illinois. Her children are staying with their fathers while she gets back on her feet. She recently started driving for Uber Eats in the Chicagoland area.
“I need a home for my kids again,” MacMillan said, fighting back tears. The pandemic “has ripped my whole life apart.”
Searching for Assistance to Stay at Home
That store window sign? It directed Pettigrew to Community Advocates, a Milwaukee nonprofit that received $7 million in federal pandemic stimulus funds to help administer a local rental aid program. More than 3,800 applications for assistance have flooded the agency, said Deborah Heffner, its housing strategy director, while tens of thousands more applications have flowed to a separate agency administering the state’s rental relief program in Milwaukee.
Persistence helped the Pettigrews break through the backlog.
“I blew their phone up,” said Stephanie Pettigrew, with a smile.
She qualifies for federal Social Security Disability Insurance, which sends her $400 to $900 in monthly assistance. That income has become increasingly vital since March when Robert left his motel job.
He has since pursued a host of odd jobs to keep food on the table — such as the window-washing he was doing when he saw the rental assistance sign — work where he can limit his exposure to the virus. He brings home $40 on a good day, he said, $10 on a bad one. Before they qualified for rent assistance, February had been the last time the Pettigrews could fully pay their $600 monthly rent bill.
Robert and Stephanie Pettigrew embrace outside their two-bedroom rental apartment in Milwaukee on Sept. 4. In August, local group Community Advocates covered more than $4,700 in the Pettigrews’ rental payments, late charges, utility bills and court fees, and is now helping them look for a more affordable place to live.(COBURN DUKEHART/WISCONSIN WATCH)
Just as their finances tightened and their housing situation became less stable, the couple welcomed more family members. Heavenly, Robert’s adult daughter, arrived in May from St. Louis after the child care center where she worked shut down because of concerns over the coronavirus. She brought along her 3-year-old son.
Through its order, the CDC hopes to curtail evictions, which can add family members and friends to already stressed households. The federal order notes that “household contacts are estimated to be 6 times more likely to become infected by [a person with] COVID-19 than other close contacts.”
“That’s where that couch surfing issue comes up — people going from place to place every few nights, not trying to burden anybody in particular, but possibly at risk of spreading around the risk of coronavirus,” said Andrew Bradley of Prosperity Indiana, a nonprofit focusing on community development.
The Pettigrews’ Milwaukee apartment — a kitchen, a front room, two bedrooms and one bathroom — is tight for the three generations now sharing it.
“But it’s our home,” Robert said. “We’ve got a roof over our head. I can’t complain.”
Housing Loss Hits Black and Latino Communities
A U.S. Census Bureau survey conducted before the federal eviction moratorium was announced found that 5.5 million of American adults feared they were either somewhat or very likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months.
State and local governments nationwide are offering a patchwork of help for those people.
In Massachusetts, the governor extended the state’s pause on evictions and foreclosures until Oct. 17. Landlords are challenging that move both in state and federal court, but both courts have let the ban stand while the lawsuits proceed.
“Access to stable housing is a crucial component of containing COVID-19 for every citizen of Massachusetts,” Judge Paul Wilson wrote in a state court ruling. “The balance of harms and the public interest favor upholding the law to protect the public health and economic well-being of tenants and the public in general during this health and economic emergency.”
The cases from Massachusetts may offer a glimpse of how federal challenges to the CDC order could play out.
By contrast, in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers was one of the first governors to lift a state moratorium on evictions during the pandemic — thereby enabling about 8,000 eviction filings from late May to early September, according to a search of an online database of Wisconsin circuit courts.
In other states, housing advocates note similar disparities.
“Poor neighborhoods, neighborhoods of color, have higher rates of asthma and blood pressure — which, of course, are all health issues that the COVID pandemic is then being impacted by,” said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana.
“This deadly virus is killing people disproportionately in Black and brown communities at alarming rates,” said Dee Ross, founder of the Indianapolis Tenants Rights Union. “And disproportionately, Black and brown people are the ones being evicted at the highest rate in Indiana.”
Across the country, officials at various levels of government have set aside millions in federal pandemic aid for housing assistance for struggling renters and homeowners. That includes $240 million earmarked in Florida, between state and county governments, $100 million in Los Angeles County and $18 million in Mississippi.
In Wisconsin, residents report that a range of barriers — from application backlogs to onerous paperwork requirements — have limited their access to aid.
In Indiana, more than 36,000 people applied for that state’s $40 million rental assistance program before the application deadline. Marion County, home to Indianapolis, had a separate $25 million program, but it cut off applications after just three days because of overwhelming demand. About 25,000 people sat on the county’s waiting list in late August.
Of that massive need, Bradley, who works in economic development in Indiana, said: “We’re not confident that the people who need the help most even know about the program — that there’s been enough proactive outreach to get to the households that are most impacted.”
After Milwaukeean Robert Pettigrew saw that sign in the store window and reached out to the nonprofit Community Advocates, the group covered more than $4,700 of the Pettigrews’ rental payments, late charges, utility bills and court fees. The nonprofit also referred the couple to a pro-bono lawyer, who helped seal their eviction case — that means it can’t hurt the Pettigrews’ ability to rent in the future, and ensures the family will have housing at least through September. The CDC moratorium has added to that security.
Heavenly Pettigrew and her 3-year-old son moved in with her parents in May after the St. Louis child care center where she’d been working closed because of the pandemic. The two-bedroom, one-bath apartment is tight for three generations, said Heavenly’s father, Robert, “but it’s our home.”(COBURN DUKEHART/WISCONSIN WATCH)
“It’s protecting 30 to 40 million adults and children from eviction and the downward spiral that it causes in long-term, poor health outcomes,” she said.
Doctor: Evictions Akin to ‘Toxic Exposure’
Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, said at least a third of the 14,000 families with children that seek treatment at her medical center have fallen behind on their rent, a figure mirrored in national reports.
Hospital officials worry that evictions during the pandemic will trigger a surge of homeless patients — and patients who lack homes are more challenging and expensive to treat. One study from 2016 found that stable housing reduced Medicaid spending by 12% — and not because members stopped going to the doctor. Primary care use increased 20%, while more expensive emergency room visits dropped by 18%.
A year ago, Boston Medical Center and two area hospitals collaborated to invest $3 million in emergency housing assistance as community organizing focused on affordable housing policies and development. Now the hospitals are looking for additional emergency funds, trying to boost legal resources to prevent evictions and work more closely with public housing authorities and state rental assistance programs.
“We are a safety-net hospital. We don’t have unlimited resources,” Sandel said. “But being able to avert an eviction is like avoiding a toxic exposure.”
Sandel said the real remedy for avoiding an eviction crisis is to offer Americans substantially more emergency rental assistance, along the lines of the $100 billion included in a package proposed by House Democrats in May and dubbed the Heroes Act. Boston Medical Center is among the 26 health care associations and systems that signed a letter urging congressional leaders to agree on rental and homeless assistance as well as a national moratorium on evictions for the entire pandemic.
“Without action from Congress, we are going to see a tsunami of evictions,” the letter stated, “and its fallout will directly impact the health care system and harm the health of families and individuals for years to come.”
Groups representing landlords urge passage of rental assistance, too, although some oppose the CDC order. They point out that property owners must pay bills as well and may lose apartments where renters can’t or won’t pay.
In Milwaukee, Community Advocates is helping the Pettigrews look for a more affordable apartment. Robert Pettigrew continues attending doctors’ appointments for his lungs, searching for safe work. He looks to the future with a sense of resolve — and a request that no one pity his family.
“Life just kicks you in the butt sometimes,” he said. “But I’m the type of person — I’m gonna kick life’s ass back.”
Like his spiritual mentor, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the long-standing congressman was an ordained Black Baptist minister. It meant that he not only knew how to parse legislative briefs but also ancient biblical texts and extrapolate wisdom from them to address social issues of great urgency.
For Christians like Lewis, preaching, though not an end in itself, is a means by which God reminds a society of God’s concern for community wellness, life, human dignity and freedom in a less-than-perfect world.
Preaching, in their understanding, tells the truth about suffering in the contexts of fear and death. Ultimately it declares that evil and despair have an appointed end. Because of this, as John Lewis said in his posthumously penned op-ed: “Each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out.”
This is why Black preaching and Black preachers matter.
But understanding Lewis as a preacher requires far more unpacking than one might imagine. As an ordained Baptist minister and a scholar who studies the art of preaching sermons and the evolution of the Black preacher in the U.S., I understand firsthand why suspicion has long accompanied African American preachers into America’s pulpits and often extended into the halls of Congress and even newsrooms.
Preachers wear performative masks. Who ministers understand themselves to be has major implications for how they prepare and perform sermons. If they see their role as social justice advocate, they will speak and act in ways that condemn oppressive systems. But if they see themselves more as offering pastoral care, they will focus on therapeutic matters requiring counseling and other means of congregational support.
A preacher’s persona or “prosopon” – meaning “face” in Greek – is not simply a mask behind which she or he performs a role in a socioreligious drama but is part of their being. The role and speaker are one.
Preachers fall broadly under different personas. Alongside the preacher as “social activist,” there is the “clerico-politician” skilled in the art and science of government politics. Then there is the “evangelical-moralist,” who typically has an encyclopedic knowledge of scripture and is skilled in teaching Christian doctrine.
Finally, there is the “entrepreneurial agent” who focuses on building financial and social capital for themselves and their congregations.
Yet, many outside the Black Church community remain badly informed about the complex roles performed by Black preachers in our society.
Take for example Tony Evans, who is both a pastor and broadcaster. As an evangelical-moralist, he places strong emphasis on the believer’s need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through spiritual conversion, behavior modification, evangelism and soul regeneration. Proselytizing is paramount.
Megachurch preacher Bishop T.D. Jakes, as an entrepreneurial agent, is a highly pragmatic church growth strategist largely interested in enterprising pursuits and works.
MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton straddles the clerico-politician and social activist identities when stirring public discontent to shame the cruel in signal moments.
Following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a white police officer, Sharpton preached two eulogies – one in Minneapolis and the other in Houston, Floyd’s city of birth. Both of Sharpton’s sermons elicited exuberant “Amens” of celebration from face-masked mourners. More significantly, his messages had a global effect, bringing together a broad a cross-section of culturally diverse listeners.
No matter what persona they chose to adopt, Black clerics have long been encouraged to mute their voices in front of white audiences or adopt preaching methods not native to their cultural habitats.
Without these pioneering white clerics’ preaching influence on American culture there would be no Rev. Billy Graham. Graham was dubbed “America’s Pastor” and the most celebrated preaching evangelist of our time.
Many Black preachers have modeled their preaching methods after these clerics without questioning their ideological origins and philosophical heritage.
In contrast, Black preachers like John Lewis, son of Alabama sharecroppers, embraced a preaching style focused on Jesus as a disinherited figure and grounded in a philosophy of nonviolence.
Preachers with sermons of this sort prize words that speak to distressing problems affecting society’s most vulnerable populations over rhetorical methods placing logic and Western philosophy at the center.
Sermons preached in rural or urban settings that helped African Americans make sense of their plight were far more uplifting than sermons rooted in the Celtic, Nordic, and Roman cultures of Europe.
Politics and the pulpit
The political and religious stakes are always higher for Black preachers than their racial counterparts because Black communities expect their preachers will do more than preach Sunday sermons.
Georgia U.S. Senate candidate and pastor of Dr King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, who officiated at Lewis’ funeral, believes as did Lewis that communities are best served when preachers work within the system. By doing so they can exercise their influence through crafting legislation, political antagonism and forming alliances deemed advantageous for the communities they serve.
A certain moral gravitas accompanies such work.
This is why the recent deaths of John Lewis and fellow preachers Joseph Lowery, and C.T. Vivian are cause for communal mourning. These religious voices are irreplaceable in the culture.
A network of more than a dozen Christian groups is launching an initiative to address police reform.
The Prayer & Action Justice Initiative — bringing together Black, Hispanic and Asian organizations along with groups focused on prisoners, prayer and public justice — will advocate for greater equality, accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system.
“The church as a whole, especially certain parts of the church, have not been very clear where they stand on racialized violence and on racial justice in general,” said Justin Giboney, president of The AND Campaign, a group focused on applying biblical values to pressing contemporary issues, which is spearheading the formation of the network.
Justin Giboney speaks during a racial justice demonstration in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of the Prayer & Action Justice Initiative
“We don’t want any ambiguity where we stand on justice. And so our thought is that it is time for the church to unite and, through uniting, we’ll have the credibility to lead on the issue of racial justice.”
The coalition, launched Wednesday (Aug. 19), includes the National Association of Evangelicals, National Day of Prayer Task Force, Asian American Christian Collaborative, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, OneRace and the Church of God in Christ, a historically Black Pentecostal denomination.
The coalition also includes Prison Fellowship, a Christian organization founded by the late Chuck Colson, and the Center for Public Justice, a Christian think tank. Both will lead the initiative’s nonpartisan government advocacy work.
In a “Biblical Justice and Race Statement,” the groups said they mourned the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery “and all others who have lost their lives due to racialized violence. The Church must take these injustices personally, and take initiative to expel racial hatred and partiality from our society.”
Citing a dual commitment to the gospel and justice, the statement tied the groups’ efforts to the New Testament Book of James’ proclamation that faith should be accompanied with action.
“Right doctrine without righteous conduct is unfaithfulness,” they said. “Accordingly, to be silent or inactive on racism is immoral.”
The groups’ document calls for “policies designed to level the playing field so that outcomes are driven more by justice than wealth or race.” The policies advocated for in the document include laws for public disclosure of deaths in custody and use-of-force reports, fairer sentences and restorative opportunities for former prisoners to be reintegrated into society.
“We know this country has to do better, especially when it comes to African Americans in our criminal justice system,” said Giboney. “We think we can do that without necessarily a completely adversarial relationship with the police.”
He said there are times when there is unnecessary police contact. The network seeks both national and local consideration of how and whether police should be involved in some kinds of situations that have previously escalated with their presence.
“We know that that’s not an easy job,” Giboney said. “Whereas they do need to be held accountable and do a better job in many instances, they’re a part of our community as well.”
Individual supporters include the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, a leader of African American church coalitions; the Rev. John Jenkins, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland; and Super Bowl champion Benjamin Watson.
Many of the initiative’s members previously worked together on the Churches Helping Churches Challenge, which has raised more than $1 million since April to provide grants to mostly minority and immigrant churches that were in danger of closing during the coronavirus pandemic.
People raise their fists during a rally, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Las Vegas, against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/John Locher)
For decades, “racial reconciliation” has been the language many white evangelical Christians used when they talked about cultivating improved race relations. “Racial justice” — the term often heard in recent months in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people in police custody, was avoided.
When it comes to multiracial evangelical churches, a recent study finds, the use of the two approaches has been particularly evident of a divide between catering to the comfort of white congregants and answering the calls of Black people and others to remedy racial injustices.
Michelle Oyakawa, a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Kenyon College in Ohio, studied the responses of dozens of evangelical leaders of racially and ethnically diverse congregations in the U.S. to the two “racial frames” and found that using racial reconciliation is a “middle route.” It does not favor segregation but also does not advocate for civil rights, thus downplaying religious divisions that many people of color in multiracial congregations want to see confronted, she said.
Oyakawa wrote a paper based on findings from 121 in-depth interviews with pastors of multiracial churches for the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, led by sociologist Korie Edwards at Ohio State University. Of those, Oyakawa said, 54 were evangelical, and “the overwhelming majority” chose the frame of “racial reconciliation” instead of “racial justice.”
As an example of how talking of reconciliation can frustrate progress on racial issues, Oyakawa, who is Japanese American, cited a white clergyman who visited Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, a young Black man shot by a white police officer in 2014. In an interview, the clergyman said the gospel is “bigger than politics” but he spoke of the struggles of leaders of multiracial churches when they strive to be neutral.
“So we have to address (Brown’s killing) with the humility of Gospel and lead the way without picking one side or the other, but holding both sides together for conversation and movement beyond where we’re at,” he said. “And it’s a very difficult thing.”
Oyakawa, a former research assistant with the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, said, “It might be hard for people to truly come together across race when these racial inequalities exist and aren’t being addressed.”
Mark DeYmaz. Courtesy photo
Stewart said he remains dissatisfied with the growing discussions since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under a white officer’s knee.
“The conversations are centered simply on conversations,” said Stewart, now a graduate student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and a minister at an Augusta, Georgia, congregation affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a historically Black denomination. “The conversations don’t deal with the given system of injustice that we’re trying to live in, and not simply try to live in, but also trying to be Christian in.”
The official statements from white evangelical churches or multiracial churches and Twitter hashtags in recent months, he said, only go so far. “Public proclamations without public change is public performance,” said Stewart. “So people can say, ‘Black lives matter’ but then in the same breath they can say one of these fundamental organizations that are fighting for Black lives to matter in society — they say that ‘I don’t agree with the organization.’”
After the recent deaths of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and others, DeYmaz said that more predominantly white churches and some multiracial churches are looking to foster cross-cultural relationships within their congregations that go beyond talk.
“They want to move beyond the racial reconciliation; they want to begin to think about structural shift,” he said. “They’re coming to recognize justice is not peripheral, but intrinsic to the gospel.”
Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation.
Mark DeYmaz, co-founder and president of Mosaix Global Network, said part of the problem is that many evangelical multiracial churches may look diverse in the pews, but are dominated by white staff and a white viewpoint.
“If you’re in a church of 2,000 people and it’s evangelical and you looked out on the crowd and 30% of people are nonwhite, but your whole staff is essentially white, the way you lead worship is white,” said DeYmaz, whose organization offers support and training for multiracial churches. “The structures and the systems of your church are what we might call a white church.”
Since 1998, recent data shows, evangelical multiracial congregations rose from 7% to 23%.
In the years after the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin and the start of the Black Lives Movement, Danté Stewart, a Black writer and speaker, often acted as a volunteer consultant to the predominantly white evangelical churches where he attended. Pastors and other leaders sought his advice on racial issues, or how to become more multicultural. He eventually grew tired, Stewart said, of their emphasis on “unity talk” about racial reconciliation instead of “seeing black people as full citizens.”
Before he was a Democratic congressman and before he was a civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis preached to the chickens on his family’s farm as a young boy.
It’s a story staffers of Lewis can repeat by heart because they’ve heard it so many times.
“They would bow their heads; they would shake their heads,” he recounts in footage from an appearance at a Houston church in the new documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.”
“They never quite said ‘Amen,’ but they tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues on the other side listen to me today in the Congress.”
The documentary, presented through a partnership including Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films, traces the journey of Lewis, now 80, from the fields of Alabama to the halls of Congress. The film portrays how Lewis was shaped by his faith and guided by religious leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. James Lawson, two advocates for nonviolent civil rights action.
“Faith is an integral part of Mr. Lewis’ life but also part of his activism,” said Dawn Porter, director of the documentary, who filmed the congressman for more than a year starting shortly before the 2018 election.
Though he is a politician rather than a preacher per se, Lewis considers politics to be his calling, she said.
“He started preaching to chickens and now in many ways even though he’s a layperson he preaches to us,” she said of the man with a seminary degree as well as a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy. “That is part of the reason why people find it so motivating and so comforting when he speaks.”
The 96-minute documentary, which is to be released on demand and in select theaters on Friday (July 3), includes what has become Lewis’ mantra in its title.
“My philosophy is very simple,” he says in the film, which is also expected to air on CNN in late September. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something. Do something. Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”
The documentary’s producers have created a “Good Trouble Sunday” promotion for the movie, encouraging houses of worship to host a digital screening starting this Sunday,for which they can keep a portion of ticket sales.
Faith leaders on a mid-June conference call promoting the documentary expressed appreciation for Lewis, who was diagnosed with cancer late last year, and his long service as a role model.
The Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, recalled seeking advice from Lewis in the 1990s, when as the NAACP’s youth director Bryant received pushback for suggesting the civil rights organization reach out to the hip-hop generation.
“He said to me: ‘Jamal, change is never politically correct,’” Bryant recalled. “‘If everybody is in agreement, it’s not that radical.”
In the documentary, Lewis, a member of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, recalled his last meal in downtown Washington just before embarking on a trip as a Freedom Rider seeking equal access to accommodations for Black Southerners.
“Growing up in rural Alabama, I never had Chinese food before,” he recalled. “But someone that evening said, ‘You should eat well because this might be like the Last Supper.’”
American civil rights activist John Lewis on April 16, 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko/LOC/Creative Commons
Porter said those comments showed how Lewis and other young civil rights activists did not take their work lightly as they prepared for rides on segregated buses or sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.
“You’ll see in the movie that Rev. Jim Lawson, who was coaching and guiding the students, had them rehearse,” she said of Lewis and his fellow activists. “And I do think he decided that life under a segregated system was not the life that he wanted to live.”
Archival footage — some of which the congressman says he’d never seen before — reviews landmark, as well as lesser-known, moments in Lewis’ history. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On his first attempt on “Bloody Sunday” to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, he was beaten by Alabama state troopers and thought he would die as he protested for voting rights.
The film’s crew followed him as he supported fellow Democrats in the recent election and traveled with a bipartisan group of politicians and faith leaders on the annual pilgrimage to Alabama with the Faith and Politics Institute.
“Congressman Lewis has conveyed to all of us over the course of his lifetime that (the) fundamental right to vote is a foundational right,” said Joan Mooney, CEO of the institute, on the recent conference call. “So more than the transactional act of voting, Congressman Lewis talks about its sacredness, and voter participation in a democracy is the active expression of the values of all human beings.”