(RNS) — Pastors in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are taking action as the city reels in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4. Video footage of the shooting was released on Wednesday (April 13), sparking protests outside the city’s police department.
Lyoya, who is Black, was pulled over last week for a mismatched license plate. Video footage shows a white officer shooting Lyoya in the head after a brief scuffle. Lyoya and his family arrived from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014 as refugees, and he leaves behind his parents, two young daughters and five siblings.
In the days since Lyoya’s death, a group of Black pastors in Grand Rapids, called the Black Clergy Coalition, has been organizing community events to promote dialogue, healing and justice.
“We think that our faith perspective is critical in this hour, to not just discuss policy change, which is necessary, but to also discuss the spiritual and faith dynamic,” said Pastor Jathan K. Austin of Bethel Empowerment Church in Grand Rapids. “We must continue to keep our trust in the Father so that people don’t lose trust in this time because of the heartache, the pain.”
On Sunday (April 10), the group helped organize a forum for community discussion in response to Lyoya’s death. The discussion took place at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids — the location was intentional, according to the church’s senior pastor, Bishop Dennis J. McMurray, who noted the wider church’s historic role in guiding civil rights movements and said the Black Clergy Coalition is drawing on that legacy.
“It was unreal, the level of cooperative dialogue and understanding that took place,” McMurray told Religion News Service. “If these conversations would have started almost anywhere else, the volatility that could be associated to something as devastating as what we’re facing could have been a bomb that goes off that would cause so many other issues.”
The group also helped host a Thursday press conference at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ and a noon Good Friday service at the church, where they took up a collection for the Lyoya family.
The Rev. Khary Bridgewater, who lives in Grand Rapids, said the city’s racial and religious landscape informs how local leaders are responding to Lyoya’s death. Grand Rapids has a population that’s over 65% white and about 18% Black. It’s also the headquarters for the Christian Reformed Church, a small, historically Dutch Reformed denomination, and is home to over 40 CRC churches. According to Bridgewater, leaders shaped by the CRC’s reformed theology are often more likely to advocate for change within existing systems.
According to Bridgewater, “It’s very hard for most CRC churches to look at a system and say, ‘This is wrong, we’re going to act as activists to push the system into a different state.’ They’re more inclined to say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and have a conversation with the leaders and try to do things differently.’” Bridgewater says this theology can bump up against the Black church’s prophetic tradition of change-making. For this reason, he said, Christian groups in Grand Rapids need to have theological discussions around topics like justice and citizenship.
Nik Smith, a Grand Rapids activist and member of Defund the GRPD, agrees the city’s religious culture is shaping local leaders’ responses.
“The nonprofits are run by Christian folk who are just waiting for Jesus to come, not realizing not only was he here already, but he’s given us things to live by,” said Smith. “So we have to be seeking justice actively in our community. We can’t just say, let’s pray. Prayer is not going to bring Patrick back.”
Smith has been involved in Defund the GRPD since 2020, when the coalition first began advocating for reducing the police budget and refunding over-policed communities. Though Smith doesn’t identify as a Christian as strongly as she once did, she believes the Bible highlights the consequences of earthly authorities wielding too much power and the importance of working to make the world a better place. For Smith, defunding the Grand Rapids Police Department is part of securing a better future.
For years, the city’s police department has been criticized for racial profiling and for drawing guns on Black children. Joseph D. Jones, who is a city commissioner and pastor, told Religion News Service he wants to address police and community relations by looking at “root causes” of socio-economic inequality and other disparities while also addressing training for officers.
“I do believe in the absolute power of prayer,” Jones added. “I’m asking those who do pray … to pray for the family of Patrick, to pray for our city, to pray that angels are encamped around our city to protect our city and to pray that God restore and change the hearts of those who desire to engage in anything that is seen as evil in our country and our world,” Jones said.
Austin of Bethel Empowerment Church said the Black Clergy Coalition has long been advocating for police reform and specifically wants to see better diversity and culture training for officers and changes in how the department responds to police shootings.
“I am going to allow the wheels of justice to roll, and we pray that they roll properly,” said McMurray, who is also part of the coalition. “We are working, but we’re also watching.”
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a problem. In June 1944, Allied forces had landed on Normandy Beach in France and were moving east toward Nazi Germany at a clip of sometimes 75 miles (121 kilometers) per day.
With most of the French rail system in ruins, the Allies had to find a way to transport supplies to the advancing soldiers.
“Our spearheads … were moving swiftly,” Eisenhower later recalled. “The supply service had to catch these with loaded trucks. Every mile doubled the difficulty because the supply truck had always to make a two-way run to the beaches and back, in order to deliver another load to the marching troops.”
The solution to this logistics problem was the creation of the Red Ball Express, a massive fleet of nearly 6,000 2½-ton General Motors cargo trucks. The term Red Ball came from a railway tradition whereby railmen marked priority cars with a red dot.
From August through November 1944, 23,000 American truck drivers and cargo loaders – 70% of whom were Black – moved more than 400,000 tons of ammunition, gasoline, medical supplies and rations to battlefronts in France, Belgium and Germany.
These Red Ball Express trucks and the Black men who drove and loaded them made the U.S. Army the most mobile and mechanized force in the war.
They also demonstrated what military planners have long understood – logistics shape what is possible on the fields of battle.
That’s a point well known in today’s war in Ukraine: As the Russian invasion stretches into its second month, logistics have been an important factor.
Supplying the front lines
The Red Ball Express gave the Allies a strategic advantage over the German infantry divisions, which were overly reliant on rail, wagon trains and horses to move troops and supplies.
A typical German division during the same period had nearly 10 times as many horses as motor vehicles and ran on oats just as much as oil. This limited the range of the vaunted Blitzkrieg, or lightning attacks, because German tanks and motorized units could not move far ahead of their infantry divisions and supplies.
Driving day and night, the Red Ball truckers earned a reputation as tireless and fearless troops. They steered their loud, rough-driving trucks down pitch-black country roads and through narrow lanes in French towns. They drove fast and adopted the French phrase “tout de suite” – immediately, right now – as their motto.
James Rookard, a 19-year-old truck driver from Maple Heights, Ohio, saw trucks get blown up and feared for his life.
“There were dead bodies and dead horses on the highways after bombs dropped,” he said. “I was scared, but I did my job, hoping for the best. Being young and about 4,000 miles away from home, anybody would be scared.”
Patton concluded that “the 2½ truck is our most valuable weapon,” and Col. John D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander’s son, argued that without the Red Ball truck drivers, “the advance across France could not have been made.”
Fighting Nazis and racism
The Red Ball Express was a microcosm of the larger Black American experience during World War II. Prompted by the Pittsburgh Courier, an influential Black newspaper at the time, Black Americans rallied behind the Double V campaign during the war, which aimed to secure victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home.
Many soldiers saw their service as a way to demonstrate the capabilities of their race.
The Army assigned Black troops almost exclusively to service and supply roles, because military leaders believed they lacked the intelligence, courage and skill needed to fight in combat units.
Despite the racism they encountered during training and deployment, Black troops served bravely in every theater of World War II. Many saw patriotism and a willingness to fight as two characteristics by which manhood and citizenship were defined.
The boundaries between combat roles and service roles also blurred in war zones. Black truck drivers often had to fight their way through enemy pockets and sometimes required armored escorts to get valuable cargo to the front.
Many of the white American soldiers who relied on supplies delivered by the Red Ball Express recognized the drivers’ valor at the time.
An armored division commander credited the Red Ball drivers with allowing tankers to refuel and rearm while fighting. The Black drivers “delivered gas under constant fire,” he said. “Damned if I’d want their job. They have what it takes.”
A 5th Armored Division tank driver said, “If it wasn’t for the Red Ball we couldn’t have moved. They all were Black drivers and they delivered in the heat of combat. We’d be in our tanks praying for them to come up.”
Logistics in Ukraine
Days into the war, Ukraine’s armed forces destroyed all railway links between Ukraine and Russia to thwart the transport of Russian military equipment and tanks.
Relying on trucks and road networks, Russian convoys encountered fuel shortages and counterattacks from Ukrainian military and civilians.
The Russian military’s ability to move supplies across extended distances – as well as Ukraine’s ability to disrupt those supply lines – is pivotal in determining the future direction of the war.
We were honored to interview Stacey Abrams a woman who is making history daily. Stacey Abrams was the first African American major party nominee for Governor in Georgia, running again in 2022, is one of the most prominent advocates for voting rights in the nation, and is former Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Stacey Abrams is a graduate of Spelman College and has been involved in public service for decades. What many may not know is that Ms. Abrams is the daughter of two ministers and her faith informs who she is and how she serves daily. UrbanFaith sat down for this exclusive interview to talk about faith, family, public service, voting rights, and Ms. Abrams historic run for governor. Full interview is above!
(RNS) — Millions of Texas voters headed to the polls earlier this month in the state’s primary elections — but the democratic system they participated in is markedly different from the recent past.
After last year’s enactment of sweeping voting restrictions by the Texas Statehouse, the primaries served as a first chance to see how damaging these laws would truly be. It’s too soon to get the full picture, but early signs are ominous: Roughly 30% of absentee ballots cast were rejected by election officials, a massive increase from the 2020 general election when fewer than 1% of ballots met the same fate.
Regrettably, this is likely a mere preview of what’s to come for millions of voters across the nation. In 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. This includes limiting mail balloting, purging voter rolls and reducing poll hours on Election Day. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access were introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions and more are certain to come.
This isn’t just about who will or will not be able to vote in elections. When combined with the toxic partisanship that is dividing our country — and the fact that large portions of our population and numerous elected leaders still cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election — an undeniable truth emerges: Our democracy is in deep peril.
As the first registered religious lobbying organization in the United States, we at the Friends Committee on National Legislation believe civic engagement of all people is vital to the democratic life of our country. This begins with the fundamental right to vote. Quakers and other people of faith understand that voting is not just a basic civic right but a moral requirement. At the center of our faith is the unwavering belief in and commitment to the equality and dignity of every human being. Safeguarding the integrity of the voting process for all people and removing, not raising, barriers to the full participation of disenfranchised people in our electoral process is vital to our democracy and our integrity as a nation.
What happened in Texas and in other states violates our democratic principles and our moral conscience. We know voters of color are most directly impacted by efforts to suppress their voice, both historically and today. These communities are also leading the voting rights movement, often at great personal risk. This is only the latest chapter in a long struggle against disenfranchisement of Black and brown communities in the United States. Our faith calls us to help uproot racism and discrimination wherever it exists, including at the ballot box, and to help transform our nation into the beloved community we envision.
This call to protect elections as the bedrock of democracy is not new. Earlier this year, in anticipation of Martin Luther King Day, advocates launched a large scale effort to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. This bill would revitalize American democracy by making elections more accessible, secure and transparent, and by ensuring that states do not pass discriminatory laws that restrict access to the ballot box. The effort failed due to a filibuster but has not been abandoned.
Even as Congress rightly focuses on the crisis in Ukraine and the president’s economic agenda, voting rights must remain a top priority for the nation. Currently, efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 have real momentum in Congress, with a bipartisan group of senators working to find common ground.
This alone will not end all voter suppression, but it could be a successful vehicle for additional necessary reforms, including amendments to prevent state legislatures from overturning election results, making Election Day a holiday, supporting small-donor financing, instituting gerrymandering reforms or making absentee/vote-by-mail easier.
And despite the failed vote, senators should keep pushing for the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. History has taught us the advancement of voting rights has never come quickly or easily — and raising the moral conscience of our nation on these issues is an important role of the faith community.
Quakers believe our democracy can live up to its potential only if the government safeguards the integrity of the voting process and ensures full participation for all people. The push for voting rights is a moral imperative and requires the urgent passage of nationwide voting rights legislation. Advocates and people of faith won’t rest until real action is taken. The Senate shouldn’t either.
(Bridget Moix is the fifth general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in its 80-year history. She brings with her more than 25 years of work in peacebuilding. Moix also leads two other Quaker organizations: Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
(RNS) — The middle of a war that is grabbing the world’s attention may not be the best time to reflect on climate change. But the latest report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that one crisis is not taking a pause while we settle another.
The news from this sixth IPCC assessment, unsurprisingly, is not good.
As The New York Times summarized it, “The dangers of climate change are mounting so rapidly that they could soon overwhelm the ability of both nature and humanity to adapt, creating a harrowing future in which floods, fires and famine displace millions, species disappear and the planet is irreversibly damaged.”
Nowhere does the future appear more harrowing than for the inhabitants of small islands, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, whom rising seas threaten to literally wipe off the map. But as imminent as the physical danger is, how the inhabitants reckon with what they are facing is often at odds with the scientific understanding.
In a chapter on small islands, the IPCC report to its credit recognizes that “material and non-material symbols that express collective meaning” are “often overlooked in adaptation policies and plans.”
As it happens, many of these communities are composed largely of Bible-believing Christians, and what they believe matters because “(e)xternally-driven adaptation efforts in rural small-island communities that exclude community priorities, ignore or undervalue IKLK (indigenous knowledge and local knowledge), and are based on secular western/global worldviews, are often less successful.”
In other words, it is important to know where the affected communities are coming from — not least, religiously.
Take the outer Fijian island of Ono. When Amanda Bertana, a sociologist at Southern Connecticut State University, went there to study relocation plans, she found a devout Christian population that believes that rising sea levels are the result of God’s disapproval of their immoral behavior and, at the same time, that they won’t be flooded into oblivion.
Why not? Because in the ninth chapter of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, God promises Noah after the waters recede, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of the flood.”
For Bertana, this rejection of the secular narrative of coastal degradation is “a form of emotional self-preservation” — one, to be sure, that undermines efforts to get them safely relocated. This comforting promise not to flood the Earth again has been widely embraced among sea-level-threatened islanders.
But University of Oxford geographer Hannah Fair, also working in the South Pacific, has found alternative climate-related interpretations of the Noah story.
Some Fijians see in Noah a model for disaster preparation. Others, in a less orthodox interpretation, regard Noah as a villain who used his wealth for self-protection and those who drowned as victims.
Meanwhile, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, University of Texas anthropologist Brent Crosson found that the Afro-Christian denomination of Spiritual Baptists has adopted a biblical understanding of environmental destruction based on a (mis-)reading of Psalm 24.
That psalm begins, in the King James Version, “The Earth is the Lord’s.” But since the English creole spoken in Trinidad does not employ the possessive apostrophe-s, the Spiritual Baptists say, “The Earth is the Lord.”
This has led them to see the Earth as God’s body, suffering harm from human activity. That includes the activity of oil companies, which despite providing Trinidad with significant wealth nevertheless are considered vampires consuming the planet’s lifeblood.
Writing in a forthcoming collection of essays, “Climate Politics and the Power of Religion,” Crosson sees in this interpretation of Scripture an “ethics of injury” that “forms the basis not only for empathy but for new legal regimes that, despite many challenges in implementation, define the Earth as a person with rights.”
Those who track religion and climate change tend to divide the world into Pope Francis-type progressives and white evangelical deniers. But there are more environmental theologies in heaven and earth, dear reader, than are dreamt of in their philosophies.
(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
It is clear to see that brokenness pervades our world as we look at the news headlines. We encounter the same brokenness in our communities and households. But when we recognize our ability to impact the culture that surrounds us in the same way we are impacted by it. UrbanFaith sat down with artist, entrepreneur, and now author PROPAGANDA to discuss his new book Terraform: Building a Better World. Full interview is above, more information on the book is below.
In this deep, challenging, and thoughtful book, Propaganda looks at the ways in which our world is broken. Using the metaphor of terraforming—creating a livable world out of an inhospitable one—he shows how we can begin to reshape our homes, friendships, communities, and politics. In this transformative time—when we are redefining what a truly just and equitable world looks like, and reflecting on the work that needs to be done both in our spiritual and secular lives—Propaganda rallies readers to create that just world. He sheds light on how nefarious origin stories have skewed our views of ourselves and others and allowed gross injustices, and demonstrates how great storytelling and excellent art can create and shape new perspectives of the world and make all of us better.