How to Live out Your Faith in the Public Sphere

How to Live out Your Faith in the Public Sphere

As a Christian, you may ask yourself at times how to live out your faith in the public sphere. Injustices are occurring in the world around us every day. Because your faith doesn’t allow you to ignore these happenings, you feel a strong desire from within to take productive action. Some people choose to take harmful action but your desire is to take action that heals, that works towards justice and that shows God’s love for humanity. This is what we should aim to do, and my goal is to help you begin to think of ways you can live out your faith while having a positive impact on the world around you.

We are called to live out our faith and have an impact on society. A verse in the scriptures that reiterates this calling is Micah 6:8, which says “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In this verse Micah points out what God requires of us. We are to do Justice. How are we “to do Justice”? What does that mean for us? Justice comes in different forms. We can do Justice by lending help to the parent who is struggling to put food on the table and is earning just enough to put a roof over their children’s heads. We can lend our help by offering to buy them groceries, maybe filling up their car with gas or connecting them to resources that can give them financial assistance and build their credit. We can do justice by assisting the homeless in our community to find shelter and get them connected to resources that will supply them with food and daily necessities. We can do justice by giving our time, talent and treasure to community organizations that give back to youth, those who are less fortunate and those who are struggling to make it each day.

Help for Homeless

These are some ways we can do justice on an individual basis. To those who already do such acts regularly, I commend you. Continue this good work. However, there’s also a need for justice on a systemic level within our society. As Christians, we are to follow the example of Christ, and stand beside those who are looked down on and mistreated by society. We have the capability to do justice on a systemic level by advocating for changes within our systems. We should advocate for opportunities for disadvantaged youth. Whether that be through mentorship programs, academic tutoring, pouring more resources into historically underfunded schools and giving families more choices as to where their child can attend. We should advocate for those who are battling unfair sentences in the justice system and creating opportunities for those who have paid their debt to society, in an effort to reduce recidivism rates. We should aim to provide more accessible opportunities for employment, educational opportunities, and programs for financial and civic literacy once they are released. More people should focus on advocating for those struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. These are initiatives that would exhibit justice as Micah 6:8 led us to do.

Our participation in advocating for policy and systemic change in the public sphere is crucial. Many people believe their voice doesn’t matter, and as a result they don’t bother to vote or advocate for change. I can understand why many feel this way. However, inaction by good hearted people doesn’t get us further towards justice at all. Our government is supposed to be by and for the people. That means we the people of the United States have a voice and can move our government through civic engagement to reform laws and systems to deliver true justice. We can have a great impact especially on a local level. For example, after the terrible deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor many cities across the country were pressed by citizens to take action against not only police brutality but racial injustice on a broad systemic level. That means in education, voting, criminal justice, and especially public health as the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inequities in our health care system. With much to be addressed U.S. cities and state governments passed their own policies in an attempt to tackle racial injustice. In my home City of Middletown, CT where I am a member of the City Council, we decided to establish a Task Force on Anti-Racism. This Task Force was given the charge to find policy solutions to systemic racism wherever it exists under our jurisdiction. My colleagues and I received numerous emails from residents calling for change. The establishment of the Task Force was a response to residents’ call to action and would be the beginning of furthering justice within our own community. This is one example of how people can make a difference and move our government from stagnation and lip service to action and moving in the right direction. I encourage you to believe that your voice matters. Someone is waiting for you to stand up for the cause of justice.

With myriad issues that need to be addressed it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to figure out how you will be an advocate for all of them. I encourage you to look at the example of Christ. He advocated for those who were hungry, sick, outcasts and shamed. He even advocated for you before you were born so that you may have life more abundantly. If you use your time and energy each day advocating for justice, you are advocating for those who are facing current circumstances as well as generations to come. Remember, to do justice is to take action that creates a society where everyone has the opportunities, tools and resources to fulfill their God-given potential. Justice can be restorative instead of further tearing individuals down.

I focused in the previous passages on how we “do justice.” However, those actions are to love kindness and walk humbly as well. When we reach out our hand to help and advocate for others who society would rather turn their backs on, we extend kindness. When we set aside our pride and consider the circumstances of others instead of solely focusing on our own, we begin to walk humbly. I challenge you to think about what issues in your community you can begin to advocate for that would further the cause of justice. What Town Hall meetings can you attend to advocate for justice? What issues can you write your Legislator or Mayor about? If you don’t know who these individuals are, I encourage you to research them. As you begin to walk in the requirements of Micah 6:8, you will be living out your faith in the public sphere.

 

Let’s Talk, a new racial unity initiative, takes evangelical leaders on tour of Black history

Let’s Talk, a new racial unity initiative, takes evangelical leaders on tour of Black history

Visitors with a Let’s Talk initiative pose together at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sept. 13, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

 

WASHINGTON (RNS) — For missionary Doug Gentile, it was seeing the “shackles for tiny children” used during American slavery.

For seminary professor Darrell Bock, it was confronting the specificity of the list of “Black codes” that restricted the lives of Black people after slavery ended — mandates in many states, for instance, that they sign annual labor contracts on pain of arrest.

These revelations, and many more, came out of an early morning tour Tuesday (Sept. 13) of an otherwise empty National Museum of African American History and Culture for 42 Black, white and Asian American evangelical Christian leaders, sponsored by an initiative called Let’s Talk, which aims to foster racial unity among evangelicals.

“A lot of folks had some real eye-opening moments at the museum,” said Bishop Derek Grier, founder of Let’s Talk, the day after the tour.

The visitors, who included Council for Christian Colleges & Universities President Shirley V. Hoogstra, public relations executive and longtime Billy Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross and National Association of Evangelicals President Walter Kim, followed a museum guide, most listening silently, past Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a dress made by Rosa Parks at the time of her bus protest and an exhibit about the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which occurred 59 years nearly to the day before the tour.

Their guide explained that enslaved Blacks regularly attended “what could be called church” secretly in brush arbors, because it was illegal for them to preach or gather during the time of slavery.

But there were other lessons about how the slave experience formed the basis of what some view as racial injustices today. “Most people did not realize the economic impact slavery had on the founding of the United States of America and one of the plaques said something along the lines of 60% of the U.S. economy was based on slavery,” said Grier, who is Black.

The initiative comes in answer to the rejection by some evangelicals of the idea of systemic racism. A 2019 survey found that, when asked if the country has historically been oppressive for racial minorities, 82% of white evangelicals did not agree.

Gentile, founder of Alexandria, Virginia, nonprofit James 2 Association, said the tour bolstered his organization’s goal “to use the Bible to fight back against these white-rage, rear-guard attempts to cancel discussions of racial history and racial justice in the public schools.” 

Pastor Lee Jenkins, the leader of the nondenominational Eagles Nest Church in Roswell, Georgia, and co-chair of the regional organization One Race, said he appreciated how some white visitors to the museum were affected by what they saw.

“It shook some of them to their core,” he said. “And that was encouraging because it showed that they had compassion and they were willing to acknowledge that America has had a problem in this area and this problem of racism and injustice needs to be addressed.”

Bishop Derek Grier, right, founder of Let’s Talk, talks with missionary Doug Gentile outside the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sept. 13, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The Let’s Talk initiative was launched at a banquet at the Museum of the Bible in November, and since then more than 500 people have signed its “Statement of Change,” which says in part: “We believe both the spirit and clear moral imperatives of scripture require the Christian community to lead the way in defeating racial bigotry.”

Some of the signers have also committed to meeting regularly — at first monthly and now quarterly — over Zoom to continue conversations about racial tensions.

Many of the participants already work on race issues through their churches or organizations. But Kim said Let’s Talk was a chance to learn, share and network together. “There’s a desire for us not to be territorial about this work,” he said. “This is gospel work, and it is really important for us to be in collaboration with others, sometimes applauding what they’re doing from afar, other times collaborating closely.”

Bock, a white New Testament scholar who has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary for 41 years, said the museum tour helped orient the work the group has ahead. He said their focus on unity in Christ is a starting point for conversations about polarization in the country, adding that discussions of race should not be separated from the church’s testimony.

“Most of the evangelical church is about individual salvation and a person’s individual walk with God,” he said. “This is all about larger community structures and being able to think through that space and to help people see that space is an important part of the conversation.”

Kim said his organization expects to support Grier’s plans for a “Unity Weekend” in June 2023, when churches will cooperate across racial and denominational lines on service projects and hear sermons about unity.

In March, the NAE hired a director of its new Racial Justice & Reconciliation Collaborative who has been meeting with leaders of local and regional initiatives to address racial injustice such as One Race. The NAE, an umbrella organization for a wide range of evangelical organizations, hopes to foster networks that address not only what the churches can do within their own structures but beyond them to transform their communities.

Grier, who is pastor of an independent church in Dumfries, Virginia, said his reasons for founding Let’s Talk are based on biblical lessons about collaboration, including Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels “that they may be one” and that “a house divided against itself will not stand.”

“I have children I love, people I love that are going to be here a lot longer than I will be,” said the 57-year-old pastor. “And I want to make sure that I do my part in trying to make this a better country for the young people that are going to follow us.”

‘Fifth Little Girl’ of 1963 Klan bombing reunites with nurse

‘Fifth Little Girl’ of 1963 Klan bombing reunites with nurse

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — When an initially blinded, and nearly lifeless, 12-year-old girl found in the rubble of a church bombing was wheeled onto the 10th floor of University Hospital in Birmingham nearly 60 years ago, one of the first people to tend to the child was Rosetta “Rose” Hughes, a nurse.

It was Hughes who stayed with Sarah Collins, the “fifth little girl” in the bombing, until a doctor arrived on that momentous Sunday, as an unforgettable chapter was being etched into the city’s history.

Hughes was on duty on Sept. 15, 1963, when a bomb demolished the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Rosamond Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14 and injuring dozens of parishioners.

One of the surviving girls was Sarah Collins, sister of Addie Mae. On that Sunday, staff at the emergency clinic at University Hospital received the bodies of the four children killed and tended to scores of others who were injured. Sarah Collins was among the wounded, and one of the first to see her was Hughes.

“When I saw her that Sunday, … she was just covered with soot and ashes (and blood),” Hughes recalled in an exclusive interview with The Birmingham Times. “(It) looked like she was gone. … I thought she wasn’t going to wake up. … She was not moving.”

That was 59 years ago.

On Thursday, Birmingham commemorated the explosion that proved to be a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, became a catalyst for change in the United States, and ultimately prompted global efforts for equality and human rights.

Hughes, who turns 101 in October and still lives in Birmingham, is believed to be one of the last remaining workers on duty at the hospital the day of the bombing.

Last month, for the first time since the bombing, Hughes and Rudolph, now 71, reunited for their first one-on-one, lengthy discussion of the events on that pivotal day in world history.

“It’s more than a blessing to meet her because she took care of me,” Rudolph said during the interview. “When I was younger, I didn’t know how she looked or anything because I was practically blind then. So, just to see her now and know her is a blessing. She’s looking real good.

Hughes recalled working on the 10th floor of University Hospital, which was known as the “Eye” floor, when young Sarah was wheeled in.

“I remember they brought her to the emergency room, and I was working on the Eye floor. We had the surgery up there, and they sent her to eye surgery. … She was on a stretcher, and I took care of her until they called the doctor to come in,” said Hughes, who recalls the doctor’s name only as “Pearson” and that he arrived with a toddler.

Medical staff from across the city were being called in to help with the influx of patients. Many of the doctors were scheduled to be off that weekend, and that likely included Dr. Pearson, who came to the hospital with his son. While Hughes could not remember the doctor’s first name, University of Alabama at Birmingham records show a “Dr. Robert S. Pearson” as a resident in ophthalmology at the facility in the early 1960s.

“It was a Sunday morning, and the doctor’s wife had gone to church, so he was watching the baby and had to bring him (to the hospital). … I babysat while (Dr. Pearson) checked on Sarah,” Hughes recalled.

“(Dr. Pearson) came back out and sent her back downstairs to the where she was examined at first. … They took her back on a stretcher. She was still asleep … and I didn’t have to do anything. I just had to watch her. She was also covered with ashes and smoke.”

Even though she was 12 at the time of the bombing, Collins-Rudolph, still has vivid memories of what happened.

“That’s one day I will never forget,” she said. “I remember, you know, when they operated on my eyes. … I remember when they took the glass out of my eyes, glass from my face. … The doctor had told me there were about 20 to 26 pieces of glass in my face altogether.

“I know when the doctor operated on my eyes, they put this bandage on it. … Maybe about a week later, they took the bandage off. At first, the doctor asked me, ‘What do you see out of your left eye?’ I told him, ‘I just see a little light.’ He asked me the same question (about my right eye). I said, ‘I can’t see anything.’ So, he said I was blinded instantly in my right eye.

“When (the doctor) was talking to my mother, I remember hearing him tell her that eventually I would start seeing out of my left eye because I was real young and the sight would start coming back. When I was getting ready to leave the hospital, I remember (the doctor) telling (my mother) to bring me back in February because they were going to have to remove my right eye, and that’s what they did. I went back in February, and that’s when they removed my right eye and fit me with a prosthetic.”

Sarah has had problems with her eyesight for the past 59 years. She developed glaucoma in her left eye and was initially given drops for the eye.

“That didn’t work too good, and they tried another drop. It didn’t work too good either, so they tried a third drop,” she recalled. “When the drops stopped doing any good, (the doctor) said he would have to operate and give me an incision in that (left) eye. They put an incision in there to drain the fluid. … If he had not done that, I would have gone blind.”

Even today, Rudolph still must visit an eye doctor every six months.

“I had to pay for that out of my own pocket,” she said. “I would always wonder to myself, … ‘I was in that bombing, and I got hurt. How come I had to foot these bills by myself when it wasn’t my fault?’”

While the state apologized to Rudolph two years ago, it hasn’t yet honored her request for restitution.

At the reunion with Hughes, husband George Rudolph, who has been at Sarah Rudolph’s side for the past two decades and knows about survival after his first tour of duty as a 19-year-old during the Vietnam War, said his wife has strength he has not seen.

“For my wife to survive what she went through and not hold any animosity toward the KKK because she forgave them, that’s a strong person,” he said. “She didn’t want to hold her hatred in her heart for those Klansmen. When she said, ‘I forgive you,’ that was such a powerful statement. Very powerful. … She is just a strong Black lady and amazing. I love my wife. I thank God for Sarah.”

How St. Louis churches are revealing the disparities in the air we breathe

How St. Louis churches are revealing the disparities in the air we breathe

(RNS) — A few weeks before speaking at a rally pushing for solutions to improve air quality in St. Louis, DeAndress Green was in the hospital, feeling like she was unable to breathe.

Green had suddenly begun feeling short of breath after spending some time in an industrialized north St. Louis neighborhood, where she was delivering food through DoorDash to families who lack transportation to grocery stores. When Green went to the hospital, doctors found blood clots in her lungs.

“I was in the hospital for a few days before the doctors figured out what was wrong,” she said at the July 23 rally, organized by Metropolitan Congregations United, a coalition of about 60 religious communities around St. Louis. Green works with MCU in its ongoing activism around local environmental crises. “That whole week, I lived in fear, planning for the worst.”

But for Green, a Black urban farmer and small business owner who had grown up in north St. Louis, this was but the latest in a lifetime of chronic respiratory problems — for her and for her family. All her family members suffer from asthma. She says she’s always known the cause: her neighborhood’s poor air quality.

Green grew up in the College Hill neighborhood, in government housing that was less than a mile from Procter & Gamble’s factory along the north St. Louis riverfront and other industrial facilities that burn metals or chemicals producing pollutants in the air. Trees were few and far between. The apartments in which she lived were plagued with black mold; the schools she attended had lead paint peeling from the walls. That’s also the case for many other members of the church she grew up in, Epiphany United Church of Christ, and other local congregations.

An example of one of the low-cost air pollution sensors at First Unitarian Church of St. Louis. Photo by Britny Cordera

An example of one of the low-cost air pollution sensors at First Unitarian Church of St. Louis. Photo by Britny Cordera

Earlier this year, the multifaith coalition launched a new online air quality monitoring tool, tracking pollutants in the city in partnership with scientists at The Nature Conservancy; the Jay Turner Group, part of Washington University’s Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering; and the university’s environmental studies program.

The community-based air quality monitoring initiative, AirWatch St. Louis, has been keeping track of what’s in the city’s air since December 2021. Low-cost sensors are placed on the roofs of MCU churches spread throughout the city to measure particulate matter, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Through the new digital map, the data collected by these sensors is publicly viewable.

MCU organizers say they see their efforts to collect and publish data on air quality as part of their spiritual commitment to racial and environmental justice. Since many religions believe that the Earth is sacred, created by a divine being, the effort to protect the environment brings congregations of varying backgrounds together to fight against climate change, according to Kentaro Kumanomido, an environmental justice organizer with United Congregations of the Metro East, another faith-based organization that worked closely with MCU on the air quality rally.

Beth Gutzler. Photo by Britny Cordera

Beth Gutzler. Photo by Britny Cordera

Beth Gutzler, who has lived in houses with lead paint and currently lives near West Lake Landfill, where locals are concerned that trash smoldering underground is dangerously close to buried nuclear waste, leads MCU’s environmental justice team. She believes this project is critical to empower people in faith-based communities who are affected by industrial pollution, giving them the tools to take control of the fate of their neighborhoods through legislative action.

>“Our goal is to bring people of multiple faiths together to work towards a common goal of changing policy for social and environmental justice,” she says.

According to Tyler Cargill, a doctoral student with the Turner Group, the spatial variety and community connection MCU churches offer have been central to this project. Some of the churches are in downtown St. Louis, while others are in Webster Groves, a suburb. Some churches are in areas with a high density of roads. Some are near parks. And others are near industries that release particulate matter into the air.

“By having a variety of placements of these sensors, we do get to see if the urban planning of St. Louis makes any difference for what we’re seeing with our air pollution,” Cargill said.

2019 report on environmental racism in the city, published by the Washington University School of Law, found that most St. Louis’ air pollution sources are in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

According to the report, Black children in the city of St. Louis are 2.4 times more likely than white children to test positive for lead in their blood. They also account for more than 70% of children suffering from lead poisoning, researchers found, and make about 10 times more emergency room visits for asthma each year than white children. Majority-Black neighborhoods are more likely to be near highways and to see more building demolitions, which creates dust that may contain asbestos and lead.

“There are too few air pollution monitoring stations in St. Louis to allow for comparisons of air pollution in different neighborhoods,” the report noted. “However, the locations of air pollution sources, vehicle emissions, and demolitions all indicate that minority communities in St. Louis are being disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution.”

David Yeom, Intern with WashU, from left, Tyler Cargill, WashU PHD student with Jay Turner Lab, and Li Zhiyao, WashU PHD student Jay Turner Lab, work with Father Nick Winker to set up an air pollution monitor at St. Ann Catholic Church in St. Louis. Photo by Beth Gutzler

From left, David Yeom, intern with Washington University; Tyler Cargill, Washington University doctoral student with the Jay Turner Lab; and Li Zhiyao, also a doctoral student with the Jay Turner Lab, work with the Rev. Nick Winker to set up an air pollution monitor at St. Ann Catholic Church in St. Louis. Photo by Beth Gutzler

national study published in 2019 found that people of color bear a disproportionate “pollution burden,” with Black Americans being exposed to 56% more pollutants in the air than they themselves create. This has deadly consequences: A study of nine deadly health conditions, including lung cancer, kidney disease and hypertension, linked with such exposure concluded that pollution kills about 200,000 Americans a year.

For MCU, working to improve air quality for vulnerable communities is a matter of faith.

The Rev. Kevin Anthony, who serves at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ and as a member of MCU’s interfaith environmental justice task force, points to the biblical narrative of creation, in which God breathed “the breath of life” into man’s nostrils.

“I want us to imagine … each and every one of us having that same posture, leaning over one of our neighbors to breathe life into them,” he said during the rally. “In order for us to have life, we need to have good quality air to breathe.”

On Broadway, only a few blocks away from Green’s childhood home, neighborhoods are filled with abandoned buildings and illegal dumping. A sweet smell fills the air.

DeAndress Green. Photo by Britny Cordera

DeAndress Green. Photo by Britny Cordera

“I just assumed it was Hostess baking Twinkies, but the adults knew better,” she recalls. Her mother later told her the smell was an indication of industrial pollutants. “Broadway to the water is prime real estate for pollution industries.”

Whenever the sweet air filled the inside of the home, Green’s mother would take her and her siblings south to Tower Grove Park to get fresh air. “The difference in the environment in north St. Louis and south in St. Louis is unmistakable,” Green says. “There are trees, green spaces, businesses, and communities who want to be outside in south St. Louis.”

When Green moved out of government housing at 18, she was struck by how she could immediately breathe better.

Today, Green uses urban farming to heal her lungs and reconnect with the outdoors. But for many people of color in St. Louis and beyond, simply stepping outside is a potential health risk for environmental reasons. Families who live in so-called sacrifice zones, areas around the country where rates of cancer caused by air pollution exceed the U.S. definition of acceptable risk, are not being informed of the risks of industrial or Superfund sites — federally recognized hazardous waste sites — near their homes and are not given the resources to change their neighborhoods.

Community air quality monitoring programs, AirWatch St. Louis coordinators say, can arm those most affected with the knowledge to make informed decisions.

For Cargill, the project’s goal is to increase transparency. His lab gives periodic updates to the congregations and to the public. At these meetings, information is shared about air quality problems in general, what the Turner Group is doing with that research and what initiatives the community can take to advocate on its own behalf.

Action is even more urgent now that the White House’s Inflation Reduction Act gives $315.5 million for air monitoring so at-risk communities can be properly informed of what is in the air they breathe, offering an avenue toward legislation and reparations.

The particulate matter sensors on the church roofs, manufactured by QuantAQ, are a low-cost version of the EPA’s sensors, which cost tens of thousands of dollars. But even the monitors MCU is using cost $1,500.

Someday, Green would like to have her own air monitoring device. But even an at-home outdoor monitor from Purple Air costs nearly $300. She believes AirWatchSTL is helpful, but not everyone in her community has access to a smartphone or computer or has time to check the website to assess their risk.

“One of the things that I’d love to see happen is that maybe smaller devices are made available to communities,” says Green. “So we are allowed to see for ourselves how to navigate that environment.”

Organizers say solutions need to go beyond just making these sensors widely available. For Green, who was uninsured during her hospitalization and has been left with a pile of medical bills, real solutions must take the form of reparations.

That would look like Black families being allowed to dictate what will happen in their own communities, instead of nonprofits or think tanks coming in and implementing what they think will work, she says.

Green envisions a north St. Louis filled with trees, orchards, community gardens and native plants growing everywhere, cleaning the air she breathes.

“I want my community to feel like they can escape to north St. Louis and feel safe, not run from it because of racism and hate embedded in the land,” she says. “Solutions look like Black families being able to build their dreams in their front yards and provide food for their family from their own yard. Solutions look like families being able to breathe.”

This story was published in partnership with Next City, a nonprofit news organization covering solutions for just and equitable cities, as part of an ongoing series on how faith drives communities to work against urban injustices.

How faith leaders are responding to Jackson’s water crisis

How faith leaders are responding to Jackson’s water crisis

(RNS) — C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, was grabbing lunch from one of his regular spots when the restaurant manager made an announcement to all the patrons.

“Guys, we have to shut down. We have no water pressure.”

On Aug. 29, flooding from the nearby Pearl River caused complications at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, resulting in a loss of pressure and running water for the entire city.

At more than 160,000 people, Jackson is Mississippi’s largest city and the state capital. Schools, which had only just commenced classes, had to be shut down, and the city lacked water for even emergency services such as firefighting.

The crisis quickly made national news, and people from around the country turned their attention to Jackson seeking explanations and ways to help.

Within the city, residents quickly organized to help their neighbors and communities. At the center of these efforts stood faith leaders.

“Churches throughout the city of Jackson across denomination, class and race have engaged in water distributions at their churches or by giving water away in other ways,” said Rhodes.

His church became a water distribution site. As provisions flooded into the city from around the country, churches like his became hubs for supplying residents. Sometimes churches filled in where municipal distribution efforts were limited. They could stay open after hours to serve people who couldn’t make it to the city’s distribution sites before closing.

Jennifer Biard, lead pastor of Jackson Revival Center Church, lost water several days before the city-wide announcement. She came home and found the faucets simply didn’t work.

While dealing with her own water troubles, she led her church in providing for others in the southern part of the city where they have a campus. Throughout the crisis many water distribution sites were set up at various locations, but Biard and her volunteers went even further. They loaded up cases of water and hand-delivered them to individuals and businesses.

“One thing people don’t understand is that when you have people who are disabled, people who are without transportation, they may not be able to go out to the distribution sites,” she explained.

Individual churches were not the only bodies that got involved.

Reginald M. Buckley is the pastor of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He is also the president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi (GMBSC), an association of churches providing mutual aid to member congregations.

“There’s only so much any local church can do … (the convention) acts as a connector,” Buckley said.

His goal was to mobilize people and supplies from across the state and nation to help people in Jackson. The state convention has its own 18-wheel truck as well as an extensive network of churches and personnel they contacted to help.

“Though this is a trying time, one of the things that I am most grateful for is the unity that people are able to observe, how they are seeing pastors and churches come together regardless of race, regardless of denomination, regardless of anything that would divide. They are seeing the body of Christ come together like never before,” Buckley said.

Despite the efforts of churches and faith communities to provide relief, the water problems in Jackson are much deeper than a breakdown at the water plant.

The city had already been under a boil water notice for a month before the entire water system failed. Even after the city’s water pressure was restored nearly a week later, the boil water notice has remained in effect.

Although the water plant has come back online, the infrastructure issues remain.

“Now that the plant is up and running, water is flowing again, now we have to live with pipes bursting … We still have lead leaching from the pipes into the water. We still have the EPA saying the city has failed to do a number of things and if they don’t remedy those things, there may be federal seizure of the water system,” Rhodes said.

Given the continued failure to bring Jackson’s water infrastructure system up to date, Buckley said he is preparing for the next crisis.

“What we’re absolutely convinced of is that we’re going to be faced with this again, and not in the distant future but in the near future,” he said.

Buckley is working to build a stockpile of supplies to have on hand the next time the city loses water. “We are inundated with water right now. We are partnering with the Church of Christ Holiness to create a reserve and supplies center to house water, buckets and all kinds of supplies,” he said.

The constant lack of clean water and water pressure has worn on Jackson’s residents, 80% of whom are Black.

“We should have water,” Biard, who is white, said. “We should have water whether it’s cold or hot or snowing or raining.”

Jackson exists alongside wealthier suburbs including Madison, a community north of the city that is also the wealthiest in the state.

After years of experiencing a crumbling infrastructure alongside the comparative wealth of nearby towns, a freshman college student who is Black asked Buckley, “What’s wrong with me?”

“We assured her there was nothing wrong with her. There is something wrong with the world,” said Buckley, who tried to help his young parishioner understand that the fault did not rest with who she was but with external factors and decisions made by others.

Anticipating the need not only for material supplies but spiritual relief, award-winning gospel artist John P. Kee volunteered to perform a benefit concert in Jackson.

A friend of Kee’s in Jackson connected him to Biard, and he immediately knew she was someone who could help him set up the concert but also become an ongoing partner.

“I wanted to come in and partner with such a ministry where we could actually connect, and when I’m gone I’ll stay in touch, and I’ll be family,” Kee said.

Fixing Jackson’s pipes, water plant and other infrastructure needs requires resources that exceed what local churches can provide. Yet the lightning-quick response of faith leaders and their communities when the hour of need emerged provides evidence that help will be there in a crisis.

The show of unity by churches in Jackson may even be a sign of greater changes to come.

According to Biard, “I believe that this may be not just the initiation of a fresh start for Jackson, I believe it’s going to be a comprehensive fresh start … I believe that the Lord is getting ready to do something for Mississippi as a whole.”

To support local efforts to address the water crisis in Jackson, donate below.

Jemar Tisby. Photo courtesy Acorn Studio

Jemar Tisby. Photo courtesy Acorn Studio

General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi

Corporation of Global Community, a ministry of Jackson Revival Center Church.

(Jemar Tisby, PhD, is a historian, author and speaker. He wrote “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism,” and he frequently writes about race, religion and politics in his newsletter, “Footnotes.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Seen & Unseen : An Interview with Marc Lamont Hill

Seen & Unseen : An Interview with Marc Lamont Hill

The unjust killings of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement over the past several years have become all too common news. But New York Times bestselling author Marc Lamont Hill and his co-author Todd Brewster masterfully weave together the strands of social justice uprisings, technology, and social media to talk about how the deaths of black people by police led to viral and physical social justice movements that have reshaped our national discourse.

UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura spent a few moments with Marc Lamont Hill to discuss his the new book Seen & Unseen: Technology, Social Media & the Fight For Racial Justice. The full interview is above. More about the book is below.

 

With his signature “clear and courageous” (Cornel West) voice Marc Lamont Hill and New York Times bestselling author Todd Brewster weave four recent pivotal moments in America’s racial divide into their disturbing historical context—starting with the killing of George Floyd—Seen and Unseen reveals the connections between our current news headlines and social media feeds and the country’s long struggle against racism.

For most of American history, our media has reinforced and promoted racism. But with the immediacy of modern technology—the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, and the internet—that long history is now in flux. From the teenager who caught George Floyd’s killing on camera to the citizens who held prosecutors accountable for properly investigating the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, ordinary people are now able to reveal injustice in a more immediate way. As broad movements to overhaul policing, housing, and schooling gain new vitality, Seen and Unseen demonstrates that change starts with the raw evidence of those recording history on the front lines.

In the vein of The New Jim Crow and Caste, Seen and Unseen incisively explores what connects our moment to the history of race in America but also what makes today different from the civil rights movements of the past and what it will ultimately take to push social justice forward.