The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European

The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European

The portrayal of Jesus as a white, European man has come under renewed scrutiny during this period of introspection over the legacy of racism in society. As protesters called for the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S., activist Shaun King went further, suggesting that murals and artwork depicting “white Jesus” should “come down.” His concerns about the depiction of Christ and how it is used to uphold notions of white supremacy are not isolated. Prominent scholars and the archbishop of Canterbury have called to reconsider Jesus’ portrayal as a white man.

As a European Renaissance art historian, I study the evolving image of Jesus Christ from A.D. 1350 to 1600. Some of the best-known depictions of Christ, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” to Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, were produced during this period. But the all-time most-reproduced image of Jesus comes from another period. It is Warner Sallman’s light-eyed, light-haired “Head of Christ” from 1940. Sallman, a former commercial artist who created art for advertising campaigns, successfully marketed this picture worldwide.

Through Sallman’s partnerships with two Christian publishing companies, one Protestant and one Catholic, the Head of Christ came to be included on everything from prayer cards to stained glass, faux oil paintings, calendars, hymnals and night lights.

Sallman’s painting culminates a long tradition of white Europeans creating and disseminating pictures of Christ made in their own image.

In search of the holy face

The historical Jesus likely had the brown eyes and skin of other first-century Jews from Galilee, a region in biblical Israel. But no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like. There are no known images of Jesus from his lifetime, and while the Old Testament Kings Saul and David are explicitly called tall and handsome in the Bible, there is little indication of Jesus’ appearance in the Old or New Testaments. Even these texts are contradictory: The Old Testament prophet Isaiah reads that the coming savior “had no beauty or majesty,” while the Book of Psalms claims he was “fairer than the children of men,” the word “fair” referring to physical beauty. The earliest images of Jesus Christ emerged in the first through third centuries A.D., amidst concerns about idolatry. They were less about capturing the actual appearance of Christ than about clarifying his role as a ruler or as a savior.

To clearly indicate these roles, early Christian artists often relied on syncretism, meaning they combined visual formats from other cultures. Probably the most popular syncretic image is Christ as the Good Shepherd, a beardless, youthful figure based on pagan representations of Orpheus, Hermes and Apollo. In other common depictions, Christ wears the toga or other attributes of the emperor. The theologian Richard Viladesau argues that the mature bearded Christ, with long hair in the “Syrian” style, combines characteristics of the Greek god Zeus and the Old Testament figure Samson, among others.

Christ as self-portraitist

The first portraits of Christ, in the sense of authoritative likenesses, were believed to be self-portraits: the miraculous “image not made by human hands,” or acheiropoietos.

This belief originated in the seventh century A.D., based on a legend that Christ healed King Abgar of Edessa in modern-day Urfa, Turkey, through a miraculous image of his face, now known as the Mandylion.

A similar legend adopted by Western Christianity between the 11th and 14th centuries recounts how, before his death by crucifixion, Christ left an impression of his face on the veil of Saint Veronica, an image known as the volto santo, or “Holy Face.”  These two images, along with other similar relics, have formed the basis of iconic traditions about the “true image” of Christ. From the perspective of art history, these artifacts reinforced an already standardized image of a bearded Christ with shoulder-length, dark hair.

In the Renaissance, European artists began to combine the icon and the portrait, making Christ in their own likeness. This happened for a variety of reasons, from identifying with the human suffering of Christ to commenting on one’s own creative power.

The 15th-century Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina, for example, painted small pictures of the suffering Christ formatted exactly like his portraits of regular people, with the subject positioned between a fictive parapet and a plain black background and signed “Antonello da Messina painted me.”

The 16th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer blurred the line between the holy face and his own image in a famous self-portrait of 1500. In this, he posed frontally like an icon, with his beard and luxuriant shoulder-length hair recalling Christ’s. The “AD” monogram could stand equally for “Albrecht Dürer” or “Anno Domini” – “in the year of our Lord.”

In whose image?

This phenomenon was not restricted to Europe: There are 16th- and 17th-century pictures of Jesus with, for example, Ethiopian and Indian features. In Europe, however, the image of a light-skinned European Christ began to influence other parts of the world through European trade and colonization. But Jesus’ light skin and blues eyes suggest that he is not Middle Eastern but European-born. And the faux-Hebrew script embroidered on Mary’s cuffs and hemline belie a complicated relationship to the Judaism of the Holy Family. The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi” from A.D. 1505 features three distinct magi, who, according to one contemporary tradition, came from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They present expensive objects of porcelain, agate and brass that would have been prized imports from China and the Persian and Ottoman empires.

In Mantegna’s Italy, anti-Semitic myths were already prevalent among the majority Christian population, with Jewish people often segregated to their own quarters of major cities. Artists tried to distance Jesus and his parents from their Jewishness. Even seemingly small attributes like pierced ears – earrings were associated with Jewish women, their removal with a conversion to Christianity – could represent a transition toward the Christianity represented by Jesus. Much later, anti-Semitic forces in Europe including the Nazis would attempt to divorce Jesus totally from his Judaism in favor of an Aryan stereotype.

White Jesus abroad

As Europeans colonized increasingly farther-flung lands, they brought a European Jesus with them. Jesuit missionaries established painting schools that taught new converts Christian art in a European mode. A small altarpiece made in the school of Giovanni Niccolò, the Italian Jesuit who founded the “Seminary of Painters” in Kumamoto, Japan, around 1590, combines a traditional Japanese gilt and mother-of-pearl shrine with a painting of a distinctly white, European Madonna and Child.

In colonial Latin America – called “New Spain” by European colonists – images of a white Jesus reinforced a caste system where white, Christian Europeans occupied the top tier, while those with darker skin from perceived intermixing with native populations ranked considerably lower. Artist Nicolas Correa’s 1695 painting of Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint born in “New Spain,” shows her metaphorical marriage to a blond, light-skinned Christ.

Legacies of likeness

Scholar Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey argue that in the centuries after European colonization of the Americas, the image of a white Christ associated him with the logic of empire and could be used to justify the oppression of Native and African Americans.

In a multiracial but unequal America, there was a disproportionate representation of a white Jesus in the media. It wasn’t only Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ that was depicted widely; a large proportion of actors who have played Jesus on television and film have been white with blue eyes. Pictures of Jesus historically have served many purposes, from symbolically presenting his power to depicting his actual likeness. But representation matters, and viewers need to understand the complicated history of the images of Christ they consume.The Conversation

Anna Swartwood House, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of South Carolina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary

The Rev. James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, died Saturday morning, according to Union Theological Seminary.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Cone, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York City. His groundbreaking 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, revolutionized the way the public understood the unique qualities of the black church.

Cone was a native of Fordyce, Ark., and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

We would like to hear how Cone influenced you. We invite you to share 200- to 250-word tributes on UrbanFaith.com. Send your tribute with your first and last names, city, state, and church affiliation (if desired) to [email protected]

 

 

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

For a while the most popular literature and television programming about black people captured no sense of African consciousness. We’ve been far removed from The Cosby Show which introduced many of my generation to Miriam Makeba or A Different World which introduced us to divesting from businesses that supported apartheid in South Africa. Those shows and others of the late 80s to early 90s taught my generation that we don’t only have a history in Africa but our actions affect our present and future connection with the continent. But since then we have slipped out of the realm of cultivating such an understanding of our connection to the continent. For the last decade or so, television programming about black people has been driven by self-interestedness over communal values. There has been nothing to remind us of our descendants and ancestors. On the literary front, we were also hard-pressed to get beyond the Zanes and the Steve Harveys of the world. But recently there has been an uprising of African narratives from African-born writers and creators that is breathing a breath of fresh air on literature and on-air/online programming.

We see its presence in the work of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author of the novel “Americanah” which tells the story Ifemelu, a young woman who journeys from Nigeria to America and back again. It is primarily a love story but it also acknowledges the cultural differences between American black people and non-American black people. Ifemelu captures and critiques these differences on her blog and Adichie uses Ifemelu’s blog posts to break up the narrative arc of the book. Though these blog posts are the work of a fictional character they resonate as fact among African and African American alike. Adichie also has Ifemelu return to Nigeria where she comes to grips with the ways that America has changed her and also the ways in which Nigeria in particular and Africa in general will always be a home to her despite the ways in which she has fallen out of love with it. African-American readers of “Americanah” are forced to take a look at the ways in which American culture influences their perceptions of African people and question the relational disconnect between American and non-American blacks. “Americanah” is at the top of many books lists and is rumored to be optioned for a screenplay starring Luptia Nyong’o as Ifemelu. Adichie’s earlier novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which tells the story of the effects of the Nigerian-Biafran War through the eyes of five different characters, is now a full-length feature film and is currently being screened in major cities. The film features an all-star cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Anika Noni Rose.

Teju Cole is also a part of Africa’s uprising in American literature. Nigerian-American Cole was born in the US, raised in Nigeria until the age of 17 and came back to the states. A Distinguised Writer in Residence at Bard College and a regular writer for publications such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, he recently released his novel “Every Day is for the Thief” in the US–it was published in Nigeria in 2007. The novel tells the story of a young man revisiting Nigeria and facing some of the less beautiful aspects of life in Africa, such as watching the audacious Nigerian scammers in action—you know, the ones who e-mail many of us claiming we will inherit millions if we respond to their message. Cole’s is a less glamorous account of revisiting the continent, but he also holds that in tension with the fact the he believes Nigeria is “excessively exciting” to the point of being overwhelming. In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish Cole said, “But for me, personally, I have not actually really considered seriously living in Nigeria full time. This is my home here [New York and the United States], and this is the place that allows me to do the work that I do…I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many places, and to go to Nigeria often. And so I feel close enough to the things happening there without needing to live there.” This quote captures the beauty of Cole’s work which banks on both his lived experience in Nigeria and life as an Nigerian-American writer trying to maintain some semblance of a connection. His next book will be a non-fiction narrative on Lagos.

Finally the most recent example of Africa’s uprising in American literature and entertainment is the new web series “An African City.” Created by Ghanaian-American Nicole Amarteifio, the series follows five young African women who move to Ghana after educational and professional stints in America and Europe. The show is billed as Ghana’s answer to “Sex and the City” but it is actually smarter than SATC. The characters don’t just navigate the sexual politics that SATC was famous for, they launch into the deep of socio-economic politics on the continent. The show touches on the plight of the underdeveloped countries, the people who hold the power in such countries—mostly men, and the premium placed on the authentic African woman over the African woman who has been corrupted by Western ways. It branches out from self-interest to communal concern. The series also provides viewers with a look at the landscape of Accra, a region that is reaching toward urban metropolis status in the midst of strong rural roots. Shots of dirt roads lined with shacks where vendors sells their wares and old Toyotas putter down the streets offset the young women’s appetite for cosmopolitan fare and fashion. The show balances inherited American sensibilities with ingrained African pride with style and grace within each 11-15 minute webisode.

And lest I be remiss there is Kenyan Lupito Nyong’o. Born in Mexico City and raised primarily in Kenya, she stole our hearts in her first major acting role as Patsy in “12 Years a Slave.” She also steals our hearts every time she appears on a red carpet, gave an awards acceptance speech, or appeared on the cover of or in the pages of a magazine. Her beauty is being celebrated by many–and it isn’t limited to the fashion and beauty industries. Nyong’o is blazing the trails that supermodel Alek Wek set for African women and expanding dominant views of what is beautiful. But it is not just Nyong’o’s beauty that is captivating, it is her    humble spirit and intelligence that is reminding the world that Africa is a force to be reckoned with.

Lupita Nyong’o, Nicole Amarteifio, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more African-born actresses and actors, producers, writers and other creative types are broadening American understanding about Africa and its people. They are also expanding the African-American consciousness on Africa. We can only hope that this is truly the  start of a beautiful relationship that goes from this generation beyond.

 

 

Are American Christians on the path to severe persecution for their faith?

Are American Christians on the path to severe persecution for their faith?

Image by Drew Beamer/Unsplash/Creative Commons

(RNS) — A retired U.S. Army lieutenant general spurred debate recently when he said that the rise in global attacks on Christians could become a national security threat to the United States.

In an interview with The Washington Times, retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a former commander of Delta Force and undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said the attacks indicate an increased religious intolerance that could hit closer to home. He warned that Christian persecution is “only going to grow unless we wake up and start taking a very strong stand against this.”

Boykin is not alone in his fear that America is plunging toward an increasingly anti-Christian future. A 2017 survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute found that millions of Americans, including 57% of white evangelical Protestants, say that “there is a lot of discrimination” against Christians in the U.S. today.

Those who follow the news have heard countless stories of Christians who have, to one degree or another, experienced some level of pressure about their faith from individuals and institutions in our increasingly secular society. Certainly, domestic trends around religious freedom should be closely monitored.



And yet, at least right now, there is a marked difference between the treatment of Christians in many countries abroad and what believers are facing here at home. American Christians still enjoy broad religious protections under the law, and the intensity of what Christians face here pales in comparison to the depths of persecution suffered by followers of Jesus in many places around the world.

While a Christian college student in New York City might face ridicule for their beliefs, it would be impossible for them to live openly as a believer if they were living in Afghanistan, ranked No. 1 on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Last year, the Taliban began the restoration of their oppressive rule by going door to door looking for Christian leaders. Those who are identified as Christian face dire consequences — our sources indicate torture or death are possible. The prospect of fleeing the country is largely hopeless. Refugees face chaotic and difficult journeys, risking being kidnapped and trafficked along the way. The governments across the Pakistan and Iran borders are little more accepting of Christians. Given these dangers, unmarried women, widows and older people especially have a very small chance of getting out of Afghanistan safely.

Christian politicians in America have been attacked for their religious convictions, but in places such as Vietnam, Christians face much more than mere criticism. Several house churches in Dak Lok province were recently harassed and fined by police because they publicly honored the United Nations’ International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

In the central Vietnam province of Nghệ An, government officials compete to create “Christian-free zones,” and authorities pressure animist relatives to drive Christians from their homes and communities. Some have been forcibly separated from their spouses, children, farm fields and even their wedding rings. The head of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ was tortured and imprisoned until the government yielded to international pressure urging his release. Despite his nominal freedom — the government tracks him constantly — he was kept from attending the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington this summer.

Similarly harrowing anti-Christian discrimination and violence exist in numerous other countries — from the slaughterous actions of Boko Haram in Nigeria to China’s surveillance state to Iran’s state-sanctioned crackdown.

While we cannot deny that Christians in America today experience discomforts, inconveniences and sometimes even social ostracization, these instances simply do not rise to the level of the horror that countless global Christians face every day. Moreover, there is very little evidence that this level of carnage is coming to the United States soon.

In America, we’re blessed with incredible amounts of freedom. We can attend church, pray, meet with fellow believers and read the Bible whenever we want without legal consequence. But many millions of our brothers and sisters around the world simply cannot do those same things without facing repercussions, often dire.

David Curry. Courtesy photo

David Curry. Courtesy photo

We should be “wise as serpents,” as the Gospel of Matthew counsels, when it comes to monitoring domestic trends around religious freedom. The liberties we enjoy should be defended at all costs. But we must also invest the resources we have where the needs are so much greater, to defend those around the globe who risk life and livelihood simply for confessing the name of Jesus.

(David Curry is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, which advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith throughout the world. Open Doors publishes the World Watch List, an annual report on the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Why We Must Wait: An Advent Reflection

Why We Must Wait: An Advent Reflection

Video Courtesy of TheKingdomChoirVEVO


Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season observed by many Christians as a period of waiting and preparation for the Nativity of Jesus. This season begins four Sundays before Christmas and concludes on Christmas. The hanging of greens, adorning sanctuaries and wearing vestments of purple, and lighting the Advent wreath candles in order to move from darkness to light are key components in Advent observation. All of this is in anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, a birth that people anxiously awaited then and a symbolic birth we should anxiously await now. But some may ask, “Why must we wait for something that has already happened? Why exist in symbolic darkness for a time in order to celebrate that which was revealed some 2000 years ago? Why is this relevant to our time?” I suggest that we must wait in order to reclaim the wonder of the light that was brought into this world.

Earlier this year, during an Ash Wednesday service at a large Baptist church, I looked forward to ushering in the season of penitence with somber worship and a penitent message. Ash Wednesday is supposed to remind us of our finitude and it plunges us into a season of penitence, and the journey into the wilderness with Christ. But as I sat in that Ash Wednesday service, I was jolted from somber reflection with songs of joy and a sermon celebrating victory. Not a moment in the service–besides the impartation of ashes which concluded the service–was spent ushering people into the dry season ahead of them because the church couldn’t not praise. On one hand I understood the church’s inability to squelch their praise. It’s a church that has seen many trials and tribulation and its membership are a part of the resilient race in this country who can’t not praise because of how far they’ve come by faith. Why would they want to launch themselves into a period solemnity? But on the other hand, I desired for this congregation to withhold their praise and shouts of victory in order to rightfully claim it at the end of the Lenten season. In doing this, they would truly walk with their redeemer and taste the sweetness of victory because they had made the journey by way of symbolically situating themselves on Ash Wednesday as sojourners with Jesus. This too is our call during the season of Advent except that we are not sojourners with Jesus this time around but sojourners with a generation of people who were awaiting his arrival. People who heard a particular prophecy about the coming of Jesus and who were waiting and preparing for his arrival. People who didn’t have Christmas gift shopping, parties to attend, and a plethora of “holiday” distractions, but who were watching and waiting for him. I imagine that their wait was one of wonder mixed with skepticism fueled by the rumors of Mary, a virgin, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit with the son of God. How unbelievable that had to be then and how unbelievable we should consider it now in order to rekindle the wonder of it all. Awesome wonder is what this season is about.

Yesterday in church I was reminded of how in danger we are of losing that wonder because we are so familiar with the stories that tell of the coming of Jesus. Some of us know it like the back of our hands and it has become so commonplace that the narrative of a young virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to the son of God seems just as plausible as a man getting pregnant and giving birth. Some of us are no longer moved by the story because we’ve spent years with it in our churches, in our seminaries and Bible colleges, and in our homes, but we force ourselves to be moved just a few days before Christmas because that’s what we’ve been trained most to do. Many wind down and reflect as they start to wrap up their Christmas shopping, place the last few gifts under the tree, and bake the last batch of cookies. A reflection on the true significance of this moment on the Christian liturgical calendar is sometimes left as an afterthought to what is given top billing on the calendar of capitalism. But we must wait, and wait longer than a few days, to acclimate ourselves to the coming of Jesus. When we take hold of the season of waiting that Advent is, we give ourselves the opportunity to experience the wonder of every occasion that lead up to the birth of Jesus.

When we read the Gospel narratives that foretell of Jesus’ birth, of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, of the Magnificat, we must stop ourselves from breezing through it quickly because we’ve heard it all before. Instead we should be held captive by every word as if we were hearing it for the first time and as if we may never hear it again. When we repeat the refrain, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear,” we are implicating ourselves as those in captivity in need of a release from our self-imposed exile. Given the capitalism and consumerism that has marked this season—and the violence it has wrought—we are now, more than ever, in the need of the discipline of waiting. We must wait in order to restore the wonder of this blessed season we are in, a season that shines light into dark places and gives many hope. We must wait, not only for ourselves but for every person who has yet to experience the great hope that many of us know so well. We must wait so that we refresh ourselves in the wondrous love to come over receiving it as an entitlement that we might take for granted. We must wait, because in waiting we are forced to slow down, and in slowing down we gain perspective on the significance of this season which brings us back to wonder. The awesome wonder of the coming of Jesus is what this season is about, just wait for it.

 

DEVOTION: Why You Should See This Movie

DEVOTION: Why You Should See This Movie

It is not often that I go to the movie theater and feel like a movie left my speechless but that is exactly how I felt about Devotion. It is based on a true story and has been the culmination of decades of work by the family and friends of Jesse Brown, a true American hero. There was a national conversation a few years ago about the “Hidden Figures” of American history. As African Americans unfortunately much of our history has gone untold, and some of it has been erased by racism, fear, and cultural amnesia. The story of Jesse Brown, one of the first black Naval Aviators to serve in an integrated unit, is a piece of history that must be remembered. It is an honor to Jesse’s daughter and grandchildren who are still alive that their grandfather’s story can finally be told. We are rooting for everybody black, and as we learn his story we help to remember more of our own history.

Jesse served during the Korean War, a war that is not often highlighted on the big screen. It is called America’s forgotten war because it was not the heroic story of good triumphing over evil from World War II and it is overshadowed by Vietnam during the Cold War in its tragedy and impact on American consciousness. But it was the first war where young Americans who were inspired by WWII joined the ranks of the military in order to fight for their country and were not drafted. Jesse Brown was like many African Americans in his era in that he was motivated not simply by patriotism, but an opportunity to help his family advance in a rapidly changing society. He saw himself not as an incredible black man, but as an incredible man. His wife and daughter were the center of his world and his purpose was to fly with the best pilots in the nation.

As we watch the impeccable talent of Jonathan Majors bring Jesse Brown to life we cannot help but to see his devotion. He was a man of faith, a man of family, and a man of fortitude. He demanded respect but rarely opened himself to trust people outside of his home. A lifetime of facing overt and structural racism had taught him to test before he trusted. A new and accomplished member of his unit Tom Hudner played by Glen Powell attempts to build a friendship across the cultural divide.

There is a special bond between team members that go through battles together, and it builds a devotion to one another and to the cause they fight for. This movie explores the depths of that passion in a profound way. But the reason why you should really see this movie is because the story of Jesse Brown needs to be told. We hear about how African Americans have to work twice as had to get half as far, Jesse Brown lived it in our military. We remember stories of American heroism trying to serve our country and protect their fellow soldiers. We rarely hear about black men in those positions. There have been countless successful war movies. This one is for our community with all of the nuance and authenticity that is true to our struggle to be part of the military let alone thrive in it. How can we honor the people in uniform for a country that has long neglected the rights and humanity of black people? Hundreds of our ancestors wore those uniforms and the story of the American struggle for freedom has been the story of the African American struggle for freedom since America’s first war. All Americans need to hear that story and be reminded of the struggle and the triumphs. We need to tell Jesse Brown’s story the same way we tell the stories of Pearl Harbor, Letters from Iwo Jima, Dunkirk, and all of the other films that share tragedies and triumphs of our veterans.

I left the theater in tears. I was moved. I could not believe I had never heard about Jesse Brown’s story, and had rarely heard about the Korean War in all of the history classes I had taken. I feel myself particularly acquainted with African American history having attended the illustrious Howard University and taken several African American history courses. I could not shake the sadness, frustration, and inspiration I felt because I had never heard the name Jesse Brown as one of the “First Black” in the long list of first blacks. We have to know and share our history. We have to share our devotion to our heritage. You have to see this movie, so that this piece of history, our history, is never forgotten again.

Thanksgiving hymns are a few centuries old, tops – but biblical psalms of gratitude and praise go back thousands of years

King David playing the lyre in a scene from a 15th-century manuscript of the Book of Psalms. Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Hulton Archive via Getty Images
David W. Stowe, Michigan State University

Thanksgiving doesn’t ring in the ear for months on end, unlike another holiday that lies just ahead. Yet readers may remember a couple of hymns that roll around each November in church, around the dinner table, or even – for readers of a certain age – in school. One I remember well is “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Then there’s “We Gather Together,” or “We Plough the Fields and Scatter.”

Interestingly, for songs associated with a distinctly American holiday, none have American origins. “Come, Ye Thankful People” was written by Henry Alford, a 19th-century English cleric who ascended to become dean of Canterbury Cathedral and supposedly rose to his feet to give thanks after every meal and at the close of every day. “We Gather Together” is much older, written in 1597 to celebrate the Dutch victory over the Spanish in the Battle of Turnhout. “We Plough the Fields” was written by a German Lutheran in 1782.

As someone who studies American culture and religious music, I’m interested in the backstory of the songs that we have come to take for granted. Someone wandering into a church and picking up a hymnal will likely find a handful of hymns filed under “thanksgiving,” but many more express a general sense of gratitude, such as “Now Thank We All Our God” and “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Even more hymns fall under the related category of praise – after all, a common response to feeling blessed or rescued is to offer praise to the higher being thought to bestow those gifts.

None of these impulses are uniquely Christian, or even religious. But hymns of praise and gratitude have been central to Jewish and Christian worship for millennia. In fact, they go back to one of the best-known scenes in the Hebrew Bible.

Fleeing Pharaoh

The earliest musical performance mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is “The Song of the Sea,” referring to two songs Moses and his sister Miriam sing to celebrate the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. As Pharaoh’s army pursues the fleeing slaves to the edge of the Red Sea, God opens a dry path for them before closing up the sea to swallow the soldiers, according to the Book of Exodus:

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.’

Jewish singer Debbie Friedman, who died in 2011, wrote “Miriam’s Song,” adapting these lines from Exodus into a modern favorite.

A page from an old Book of Psalms shows a woman in a red dress dancing next to a group of people emerging from water.
‘The Chludov Psalter,’ a book of psalms, shows ‘The Song Of Moses and Miriam,’ from around A.D. 850. Found in the Collection of State History Museum, Moscow. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Temple worship

One research project took me deep into the world of the Hebrew Psalms, which originally were sung mainly during rituals at the temple in Jerusalem. Scholars have speculated for centuries over the composition and sequencing of these Hebrew poems that form one book of the Bible. The 150 psalms include a great many laments, expressions of praise and gratitude, and quite a few texts that combine both.

Hermann Gunkel, a pioneering Bible scholar at the turn of the 20th century, developed a system of classifying the texts in the Book of Psalms by genre, which experts still use today. What Gunkel called “Thanksgiving” psalms are texts that celebrate God’s actions to bestow blessings and alleviate affliction in particular times and places: healing from a serious illness, for example. Gunkel’s categories also include psalms that refer to gratitude for more general divine actions: creating the cosmos and the wonders of the natural world, or protecting the ancient Israelites from foreign enemies.

It’s hard to find a text more brimming with gratitude than Psalm 65, which includes verses very suitable for Thanksgiving Day:

 The streams of God are filled with water
 to provide the people with grain,
 for so you have ordained it. 
 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
 you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
 You crown the year with your bounty,
 and your carts overflow with abundance. 

A new idea: Songs about Jesus

Though the original tunes of the psalms have been long lost, their words are still a mainstay of religious singing for both Jews and Christians.

Their key role in Protestant churches today owes partly to the Reformation of the 16th century. During the Renaissance, Catholics had developed more ornate musical forms for the Mass, including the use of polyphony: songs with two or more simultaneous interwoven melodies. Protestants, on the other hand, decided that unadorned psalms, put into standard musical meters that matched existing tunes, were optimal for church.

Reformation leader Martin Luther loved music and wrote his own hymns with original words that are still popular today, such as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As far as the more austere reformer John Calvin was concerned, however, the plainer the better. Unharmonized a cappella psalm singing was plenty good for the sabbath, he insisted.

Calvin’s judgment carried the day in New England, which was settled largely by Puritan Calvinists. In fact, the first book published in North America was “The Bay Psalm Book,” in 1640. It took a century for hymns with new words to start finding acceptance in churches, and even longer for organs to make an appearance there.

A black and white illustration shows a woman helping four children sing from hymnals.
An illustration from an 1866 edition of hymn writer Isaac Watts’ ‘Divine and Moral Songs for Children.’ Bridgeman/Culture Club/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Gradually these restrictions began to soften, even in New England. During the 1700s, hymns began to compete with psalms in popularity. The key innovator was Isaac Watts, a talented poet who wondered why Christians couldn’t sing worship songs that referenced Jesus Christ – since the Book of Psalms, written before his birth, did not. John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism, were also inveterate hymn writers.

Praise yesterday and today

To modern ears, the difference between psalms and hymns is barely perceptible. Hymns often draw heavily on the images and tropes of the psalms. Even a simple-sounding Thanksgiving hymn like “We Gather Together” contains no fewer than 11 allusions to particular psalms.

Watts, the Wesley brothers and several other hymn writers were part of movements that helped birth modern evangelical Christianity. Some of the most famous hymns of thanksgiving and praise have been popularized by evangelical revivals over the centuries: “Amazing Grace,” by an 18th-century English curate, and “How Great Thou Art,” the theme song of world-famous preacher Billy Graham’s revivals.

Over the past 30 years, the booming genre of contemporary worship music, often referred to simply as praise music, has become the standard heard in megachurches and other evangelical congregations across the world. Not surprisingly, praise and gratitude are inescapable themes in this genre – whether or not they evoke a Thanksgiving feast.The Conversation

David W. Stowe, Professor of Religious Studies, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Never Would Have Made It: An Interview with Bishop Marvin Sapp

Never Would Have Made It: An Interview with Bishop Marvin Sapp

Bishop Marvin Sapp is a pastor, musician, author, artist and now filmmaker. He’s working on learning how to cook. He has over a dozen Grammy nominations, Stellar Awards, BET Awards and more as a Gospel Artist. He is the co-founder and pastor of two churches in Grand Rapids, MI and Fort Worth, TX. He is the Bishop serving over 100 congregations. He is a gifted preacher, speaker and leader. He most recently released a film with TVOne telling his testimony and was an executive producer and star of the film. To put it lightly, Marvin Sapp is a busy man of God. But it is his love for people, his incredible testimonies, and his heartfelt authenticity that have helped him be a vessel for the Holy Spirit for decades. UrbanFaith sat down with this legendary Gospel artist and minister and talked about everything from film to football and ministry to mental health. The full interview is above, more about Bishop Sapp is below.

Bishop Marvin L. Sapp is a passionate orator and biblical teacher, who desires to be a living epistle glorifying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both in word and in deed who is the Co-Founder of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the Senior Pastor of The Chosen Vessel Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas as well as a Metropolitan Bishop that oversees more than 100 churches in the Central Deanery of Global United Fellowship.

Bishop Sapp is a multiplatinum selling artist who has enjoyed a decorated music career receiving 13 Grammy nominations, 24 Stellar Awards, 2 Soul Train Music Awards, 2 BET Awards, 4 Dove Awards, 8 BMI songwriter’s awards for sales, Black Music Honors Gospel Music Icon Award along with many other accolades and honors from national, regional, and local institutions.

 

 

Believe For It: A Look at CeCe Winans’ new book

Believe For It: A Look at CeCe Winans’ new book

Cece Winans is one of the most celebrated Gospel music artists of all time. She has won fifteen Grammys in addition to Dove Awards, Stellar Awards, and many others. As she surpasses the achievements of some of the great artists and exemplars of the faith she looks up to such as Andre Crouch and continues to push her contemporaries and fellow Detroit natives the Clark Sisters, you would think her most important legacy would be music. However for CeCe Winans, the greatest legacy any believer can have is passing on their faith to the next generation. CeCe Winans explores her journey of lifelong faith and her pursuit pass it on to the next generation in her new book Believe For It. 

CeCe Winans had an upbringing that most people could not imagine. She was raised in a home with ten siblings who formed multiple musical groups with faith in Jesus Christ at the center of their lives. She was raised in the Church of God in Christ, and like many of her contemporaries brought up in a strict but loving Christian home. She highlights that it was a very intentional decision by her parents to create a home filled with love and faith after neither of them had grown up that way. CeCe contends that it is the intentionality alongside the handwork of raising children to be strong believers that can make a difference for young believers today. 

In her book she does not simply tell stories of singing and success. She provides practical principles that she is applying in her own home and church today to ensure her faith in Christ is passed down. Each chapter is broken into easily digestible principles and interlaced with testimonies and stories from Winans’ life. True to her Sunday School roots she ties everything back to scripture as she talks about the importance of starting with faith in the home that translates into the world. 

What is fascinating about CeCe Winans sharing this testimony now is that she is the co-pastor of Nashville Life Church that her and her husband started in her living room that is filled with young adults. Churches across the country are struggling today with how to pass on faith to the next generation, how to do multigenerational ministry, and how to preserve the traditions that have preserved us for generations while remaining relevant. And through this book CeCe Winans gives simple and practical keys on how her and her family are doing it. She regularly engages in these topics on her  YouTube show Generations, but through the book we get the depth, structure, and narrative that helps us apply the lessons to our lives. 

One of the most important keys is relationships. CeCe Winans was shaped by her relationships with her family, church family, and community as a child. Her relationship with Jesus was profoundly shaped by her relationships with other believers. As we embrace new technologies, strategies, and demographics we cannot forget the value of relationships in helping us grow and persevere in faith. I love this book of wisdom. Wisdom is gained from experience and discernment, and as I read it I was able to do both as I consider the impact I have on my own children’s faith. Her legacy for music is also a legacy of sharing faith in God. There are many more keys CeCe shares and her voice through this book is wisdom the Church needs today as we share our faith with the next generation. You can find the book everywhere books are sold this week and check out her latest award winning music video below! 

Brainwashed: An Interview with Manny Arango

Brainwashed: An Interview with Manny Arango

Manny Arango believes we are all brainwashed. Our thoughts are shaped daily by positive and negative influences whether online, in our social circles, in our workplaces, in our schools, or in our churches. The enemy of our souls desires for us to live in mental bondage, unable to walk in the freedom Christ has purchased for us. But we can choose whether to be brainwashed by the world or have our brains washed by blood of Jesus Christ. Pastor, author, youth ministry expert Manny Arango shares his insights on how to renew our minds and take on the mind of Christ in his new book Brainwashed: Overcome Toxic Thoughts and Take Back Control of Your Mind. UrbanFaith sat down with Pastor Manny to discuss the book and his journey to maintaining mental and spiritual health. More information about Pastor Manny and the book are below.

 

You can either take your thoughts captive or be held captive by them. The choice is yours. Scripture declares we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Manny Arango, preacher, storyteller, and self-proclaimed Bible nerd, describes this process as God cleansing our brains. It is the surest way to overcome anxious thoughts, self-doubt, bitterness, and other mental struggles. But how can we experience this healing power?

Brain Washed: Overcome Toxic Thoughts and Take Back Control of Your Mind is a biblical roadmap for winning the battles in your mind. Readers will identify faulty ways of thinking and learn how to take every thought captive under the authority of Christ.

Why Midterm Elections Matter

Why Midterm Elections Matter

Every two years in the United States of America we have federal, state, and local midterm elections. And every year we hear from politicians or administrative officials about why we should vote for them (or not vote for their opponent). The people elected during midterms become the leaders who manage our communities’ money, advocate for our well being, determine how our justice system works, shape our education systems, provide for our safety, dispose of our waste, maintain our environment, and more. Local and state elections are the most impactful on our day to day lives and yet few of us even know who our representatives, administrators, or public officials are.

Our democracy is at stake. Politicians, media outlets, public figures, scholars, researchers, activists, and others have all sounded the alarm. There are thousands of people across the country working in coordinated ways to undermine our system of elections, take control of our local governments, and advocate for political violence. Many of those who are part of this movement claim to be Christians. There are politicians running and influencers on social media who have convinced millions of Americans to place greater faith in lies and liars than in Christ Himself. They devote their energy toward upholding election lies and won’t trust anyone  that doesn’t agree with them. They are unmoved by evidence, only valuing the echoes of affirmation in their social circles.They have created a religion of suspicion and their faith is distrust.  Believers must stand in contrast with the false followers of Jesus who are really white Christian nationalists and make sure to vote for leaders who represent justice, equality, value, and care for all people regardless of their background. We cannot support or endorse hate, fear, and violence in the name of our Lord and call it faithfulness. We have learned we cannot be slaves to single issues at the federal level and neglect policies and positions at the local and state levels. We have to vote in midterm elections like this one, or our votes may become truly meaningless in the future. It is only pride that keeps us from seeing that if fascist governments can rise in other other countries that it can happen here if we do not participate.

As a voters we fall easily and deeply into tribalism, the identification and support of leaders we feel like are part of “our group.” Unfortunately when we do not have a president to vote for, most of us don’t vote at all. According to Pew Research Center 62% of people of voting age turned out in the 2020 elections, which was a record breaking number, mostly fueled by the bitter cultural wars in the Presidential race. But consider that means that 38% of people who could vote, did not. In midterm elections the numbers are usually under 50%. Literally the minority of people elect leaders who impact all of our lives. And yet when we don’t vote or care about who to vote fore beyond the top officials, we miss out on a critical piece of our democracy.

West side of the Capitol Building at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Daily photos in the afternoon, good for late autumn, winter and early spring illustration

We are engaged and fervent whenever we elect the president, even though most of us will never meet them and rarely understand their impact on our day to day lives. A president is a symbolic leader for many of us, representing our collective hopes, aspirations, and ultimate accountability. But a president can make none of the changes we imagine for ourselves and our communities without the cooperation and support of the legislature. The laws passed by legislative bodies are ineffective when the courts don’t enforce them. Our entire government is built on cooperation between branches and accountability through voting, both of which are under greater threat than many of us could imagine. We must vote in midterm elections, otherwise our desires to see flourishing in our communities will remain only dreams. We need to know who our tax assessor is, our city council members, our sheriffs, our judges, our attorney generals, our state representatives, our county officials, our congresspeople, and our governors.

As people of faith we have an even greater responsibility to be informed voters and to vote. The United States of America is not the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the eternal King of the Kingdom and He is not up for election. No leader can serve as proxy for Jesus over our lives or our nation. We are not voting to put Jesus Christ in office. He is already reigning over everything by His own power. But we can absolutely elect leaders who agree with our Christian principles of justice, help for the poor, safety for children, value for all lives, and care for the environment. We must look to our faith to inform what matters in our personal politics, and value other people’s faith or lack of faith enough to care for them too. Jesus taught us to seek justice for those who are different from us. Jesus taught us to hold leaders accountable. Jesus taught us to pay special attention poor people, homeless people, those from different countries, those with disabilities, those with food insecurity, and young people. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Which means we have to vote for leaders and policies that will positively impact not just us, but members of our community.

We should vote because we need more good in our government. And we should know our leaders from city hall to capitol hill because their decisions impact us at home, work, school, church, in the park, in the street, in the store, and everywhere else in this country.

‘Tell what happened’: Pastor and last surviving eyewitness urges Christians to remember Emmett Till

‘Tell what happened’: Pastor and last surviving eyewitness urges Christians to remember Emmett Till

WHEATON, Ill. (RNS) — The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. still remembers clearly the moment as a teenager he thought he was going to die.

Parker was 16 years old, visiting family in Mississippi, when he woke in the early morning hours to the sound of voices in the house. Moments later, the door to his bedroom opened and a man pointed a flashlight and a pistol in his face.

He shut his eyes tight, but the shot never came.

The man moved on to the next bedroom and the next before finding and kidnapping his cousin — Emmett Till.

It was the last time he saw his best friend alive, Parker, now in his 80s, told a packed concert hall Tuesday night (Oct. 25) at Wheaton College, the evangelical flagship school in the Chicago suburbs.

What happened next — Till’s brutal murder, his mother’s decision to allow an open casket at the 14-year-old victim’s funeral, so the country could see what had been done to her son — shone a light on racial violence in the United States and became a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Mamie Till-Mobley weeps at her son’s funeral on Sept. 6, 1955, in Chicago. (Chicago Sun-Times/AP Photo)

Mamie Till-Mobley weeps at her son’s funeral on Sept. 6, 1955, in Chicago. (Chicago Sun-Times/AP Photo)

“A picture’s worth a thousand words. That picture made a statement. It went throughout the world, all over the world, and it still speaks,” Parker said of the photographs of Till in his casket, taken by David Jackson and first published in Jet magazine.

The story of Till continues to resonate because it “provides us with a lens to understand racial conflict in our own moment,” said Theon Hill, associate professor of communications at Wheaton College and primary organizer and moderator of Tuesday’s event, “Remembering Emmett Till: A Conversation on Race, Nation and Faith.”

“When we see George Floyd killed right in front of us due to the officer’s knee,” said Hill, “when we see Breonna Taylor’s death, when we see Ahmaud Arbery, we’re trying to make sense of what’s happening, and Till’s death, as tragic as it will always be, provides us with a grammar to understand this is what’s happening and this is how you might respond in your moment.”

The enduring relevance of Till’s death is apparent in the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime and signed in March by President Joe Biden, nearly 70 years after Till’s murder.

“A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till" by Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. and Christopher Benson. Courtesy image

“A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till” by the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. and Christopher Benson. Courtesy image

It’s also borne out in the critical acclaim for a new film, “Till,” centering on Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and her fight for justice for her son, which appears in theaters nationwide this week. In January, Parker will publish his recollections of his cousin, “A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till.”

It was 30 years before anybody asked Parker his account of what had happened over the handful of days in 1955 he and his cousin, who lived in Chicago, spent in Mississippi visiting family, according to Parker, the last surviving witness to Till’s abduction.

In Parker’s account, Till is a jokester, the boy next door he accompanied fishing, picnicking and on other trips. When his cousin found out he was planning to take the train down South to visit his grandfather, he insisted on going too.

“If you didn’t live in Mississippi at that time or experience what it was like, you have no idea what it was like,” Parker said.

He had lived in the South until he was 7 and knew “what you had to do to stay alive and what could happen to you,” he said.

Till didn’t.

When the younger boy whistled in the presence of a white woman outside a store, Parker said, the cousins left in a hurry. He worried what could happen in a place and time when a Black man couldn’t so much as look at a white woman, he said.

But days passed, and they’d nearly forgotten about the incident. Then came the moment Parker heard voices in his grandfather’s home at about 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, asking about the boys from Chicago.

“Sunday morning should be the safest place on earth for a young man in his house — on Sunday morning, waiting to go to church,” he said.

Shaking and sure he was about to die, he prayed, “God, if you just let me live, I’m going to get my life together.”

That Monday, he returned to Chicago alone, his life changed “completely,” said Parker, now pastor and district superintendent of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ in Summit, Illinois.

The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. speaks duringthe “Remembering Emmett Till: A Conversation on Race, Nation and Faith" event at Wheaton College, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. speaks during the “Remembering Emmett Till: A Conversation on Race, Nation and Faith” event at Wheaton College, Oct. 25, 2022, in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

What happened to Till changed the country, too.

Dave Tell, author of the 2019 book “Remembering Emmett Till,” told the audience Tuesday night that he had become invested in civil rights because of Till’s story.

“The Till story prompted a new generation to stand up for justice, and I think the good news of the night is that the Till story — Rev. Parker’s story — is still motivating a new generation,” Tell said.

It’s a story, he said, the U.S. needs to hear today more than ever. Considering the stories of Floyd and others against the backdrop of Till’s murder, it’s hard to minimize their killings as “a problem of a bad apple or bad cop,” he said.

And the church has a role to play in sharing that story, both Tell and Parker agreed.

The biblical Book of Genesis tells the story of Abel, murdered by his brother Cain, Tell pointed out. In the story, God says Abel’s blood cries out to him from the ground, where Cain has tried to bury what he did.

If God demands that voices that have been buried be brought to light as part of the work of justice and healing, shouldn’t the church? Tell asked.

“We’ve got to keep the legacy going — got to keep the story going — and not with animosity,” Parker added.

“Just tell the story. It’s history. It’s real. Tell what happened,” he said.

While clean water isn’t a partisan issue, it is a faith issue

While clean water isn’t a partisan issue, it is a faith issue

(RNS) — Water is both sacred and the cradle of life. It connects us to one another. We all have relationships with bodies of water, whether that be with the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, a local creek, wetland or river or a nearby lake. These places are vital to our health and wellbeing but also help us spiritually connect.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act — legislation that helped clean up waterways across the nation — we must use all the tools available to ensure clean water is available in all our communities. Ensuring clean water often means properly stewarding upstream waters and wetlands. With more than 117 million people in the U.S. receiving their drinking water from public systems fed in whole or in part by intermittent, headwater, and ephemeral streams, protecting these waters is paramount.

The Clean Water Rule, which the Environmental Protection Agency put in place to designate which waterways were protected under the Clean Water Act, helps ensure safe drinking water for communities. The Clean Water Rule protects nearly one-third of all Americans’ drinking water from pollution.

Despite the reality that water is not bound to particular waterways but is connected, the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that could change which waters are protected under the Clean Water Rule and eliminate certain wetlands and waters from protection. This would have severe repercussions to clean drinking water in Virginia and across the U.S.

In Virginia, we have a lot of water to protect: 249,000 miles of streams, 322,000 acres of lakes, 1,600 springs, and approximately 1 million acres of wetlands that provide flood protection, pollution filtration and essential wildlife habitat. For a state that values its lakes, streams and waterways, as well as public health, a robust Clean Water Rule is crucial.

Clean water is not a luxury. Clean water is integral to all human communities and the rest of the Earth. Which is why it makes common sense to ensure our common good through clean water protections. While clean water isn’t a partisan issue, it is a faith issue. Water is central to many faith traditions and most sacred ceremonies: washing, baptism, forgiveness. Religious traditions across the spectrum attend to justice and urge us to properly steward the Earth. In addition to our call to be faithful stewards of the Earth, our faith traditions teach us to care for vulnerable populations, including communities of color and low-income communities.

Regional studies and stories from across the country document the water struggles of these communities and demonstrate that there is much progress to be made before water justice is achieved in the United States. There are numerous instances where these communities are disproportionately burdened by water degradation, ranging from lack of clean drinking water to higher exposure to fish contamination.

The removal of clean water protections for wetlands, such as the Supreme Court is considering in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, leaves too much to chance. Specifically, it puts more than 117 million people at risk for pollution and would be highly detrimental to wildlife.

Protecting clean water is a moral call. The Clean Water Rule helps us, as a country, protect one of the most important elements of creation: clean water. We have a duty to care for these essential, life-giving waters.

(Cassandra Carmichael is the executive director of National Religious Partnership for the Environment. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Halloween and the Holy Ghost

Halloween and the Holy Ghost

Video Courtesy of WYServe


It’s once again that time of year when I don’t know whether to say it’s pumpkin season or Jack-o-Lantern season.

It all has to do with this Christian dichotomy of how we regard Halloween. Is it a nationwide glorification of all things wicked, sinful, and abominable? Or is it merely a cultural ritual that celebrates the adrenaline rush of being scared, touts the fun of dressing up like something we’re not, and grants us permission to eat high-calorie sweets without guilt?

We can answer the question of what Halloween was by studying its origins. One of the world’s oldest holidays, it started with the Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced sow-in) that marked the end of summer. Believing the spirits of the dead would return, Celts lit bonfires, wore disguises and offered animal sacrifices to their deities to ward off ghosts. From that information, courtesy of the History Channel, we can imagine the evil celebrations that likely evolved as part of these practices.

But does that presumed celebration continue when we allow our kids to dress up and go door-to-door asking neighborly strangers for sweet treats? Are we acting as agents of the devil by donning our costumes for the various parties we’ll go to this weekend and Monday, likely with church worship services in between?

Probably not.

I would argue that the majority of people who plan to participate in the candy trade, costume parties, and perhaps mass readings of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will not consider themselves celebrators of all things wicked.

Instead, it seems as if a sizable handful of Christians have created something else, devoid of any representation of questionable origins, for the sake of fellowship over bite-sized candy instead of bread. Quite honestly, the only evil I see in candy corn and other delectable features of the holiday, is the sugar content — and maybe the fact that isn’t sold in abundance year-round.

At the same time, I don’t deny the validity in the argument of those who vehemently denounce everything related to Halloween, including the motivation to make money. That’s likely what has made the holiday the hullabaloo it has become. Some interpretations of Halloween do, in fact, include Ouija boards, séances, and satanic rituals. I’m willing to bet, though, that people who practice that side of Halloween “fun” don’t need a holiday for that.

As an alternative to all that is demonic and unholy about Halloween, many churches opt to have a “Hallelujah Night,” where people still collect candy and play dress up — just in the form of biblical characters.

I attended several of those in my younger days. One year, it took me a while to figure out why one first lady came dressed like Barney. Turns out she was actually dressed as Lydia, the lady who sold — and apparently wore — purple. I was obviously less studied then, so she wasn’t the only one who threw me for a loop. The presumed Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz turned out to be the Lion of Judah. I never dressed up, but I often wondered whether my preferred costumes would’ve disqualified me from the festivities. After all, one kid wearing a sheet over his head and a cross around his neck had trouble at the door. The irony that the Holy Ghost almost couldn’t get into the church on Hallelujah Night wasn’t lost on me.

What if I had dressed as Saul’s buddy, the witch of Endor? That’s a biblical character. Or suppose I’d shown up with a platter fixed around my neck, serving up John the Baptist? (Yes, decapitation happened in The Omen and Friday the 13th movies, but it happened first in the Bible.)

The main thing that I didn’t understand then and struggle with now is telling the difference between Halloween as commonly practiced and its church-led alternatives. Candy? Check. Games and dressing up? Check. How do we know which is which, and is there a real difference beyond what we say it is?

I don’t have an answer and likely won’t anytime soon, but I guarantee you I’ll be having some candy corn in the meantime.

Civil Rights & Civic Engagement: An Interview with Rep. Jim Clyburn

Civil Rights & Civic Engagement: An Interview with Rep. Jim Clyburn

Congressman Jim Clyburn Interview

by Maina Mwaura

Jim Clyburn has led a remarkable life that has been marked by the pursuit of a more just society. As the child of a minister and a Christian himself, his faith has been a driving force in his public work for justice. He was an early members of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) working alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jon Lewis who became his fellow Congressman. He now serves as a Congressman in South Carolina and one of the senior ranking members of the United States House of Representatives. President Joe Biden credits him directly with helping him win the presidency. UrbanFaith sat down with Congressman Jim Clyburn to discuss his faith, his legacy, HBCUs and his work to strengthen democracy and justice in the United States. The full audio interview is above!

Battle Cry: An Interview with Jason Wilson

Battle Cry: An Interview with Jason Wilson

Jason Wilson has been training and mentoring men and speaking about emotional, mental, and spiritual health for decades. His new book Battle Cry shares his insights and principles for becoming the man he is and helping others become the holistically healthy people God has called them to be. UrbanFaith sat down with him to discuss his new book and his journey.

 


About Battle Cry

For decades, Jason Wilson tried his best to “be a man” but struggled to express the full range of human emotions because the only ones he felt comfortable expressing were the traditional “masculine” emotions–anger, aggression, and boldness. This went on until he finally released years of past trauma to attain the healing he needed to become a better man, husband, father, and leader. Learning how to master his emotions and verbally process them transformed Jason’s life and relationships in ways he never could have imagined. He now seeks to expose the lies that many men have been deceived to believe about manhood and bring healing to their lives. Battle Cry will teach men how to wage and win the war within themselves–unlearning society’s definition of masculinity and empowering them with the tools needed to freely live from their hearts instead of their fears.

PBS docs depict Frederick Douglass’ and Harriet Tubman’s paths of freedom, faith

PBS docs depict Frederick Douglass’ and Harriet Tubman’s paths of freedom, faith

Frederick Douglass, left, and Harriet Tubman are featured in new PBS documentaries. Douglass photo © New York Historical Society / Bridgeman Images; Tubman photo © RTRO / Alamy Stock Photo

(RNS) — Frederick Douglass called the Bible one of his most important resources and was involved in Black church circles as he spent his life working to end what he called the “peculiar institution” of slavery.

Harriet Tubman sensed divine inspiration amid her actions to free herself and dozens of others who had been enslaved in the American South.

The two abolitionists are subjects of a twin set of documentaries, “Becoming Frederick Douglass” and “Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom,” co-productions of Maryland Public Television and Firelight Films and released by PBS this month (October).

“I think that the faith journey of both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were a huge part of their story,” Stanley Nelson, co-director with Nicole London of the two hourlong films, said in an interview with Religion News Service.

“Religion for both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass was the foundation in many ways of who they are.”

Stanley Nelson. Photo by Corey Nickols

Stanley Nelson. Photo by Corey Nickols

The films, whose production took more than three years in part due to a COVID-19 hiatus, detail the horrors of slavery both Tubman and Douglass witnessed. Tubman saw her sister being sold to a new enslaver and torn away from her children. A young Douglass hid in a closet as he watched his aunt being beaten. They each expressed beliefs in the providence of God playing a role in the gaining of their freedom.

Scholars in both films spoke of the faith of these “original abolitionists,” as University of Connecticut historian Manisha Sinha called people like Tubman, who took to pulpits and lecterns as they strove to end the ownership of members of their race and sought to convince white people to join their cause.“The Bible was foundational to Douglass as a writer, orator, and activist,” Harvard University scholar John Stauffer told Religion News Service in an email, expanding on his comments in the film about the onetime lay preacher. “It influenced him probably more than any other single work.”

Frederick Douglass, circa 1847-52. Photo by Samuel J. Miller, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Frederick Douglass, circa 1847-52. Photo by Samuel J. Miller, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago Stauffer said the holy book, which shaped Douglass’ talks and writings, was the subject of lessons at a Sunday school he organized to teach other slaves.

“It’s impossible to appreciate or understand Douglass without recognizing the enormous influence the Bible had on him and his extraordinary knowledge of it,” Stauffer added.

Actor Wendell Pierce provides the voice of Douglass in the films, quoting him saying in an autobiography that William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly abolitionist newspaper The Liberator “took a place in my heart second only to the Bible.”

The documentary notes that Douglass was part of Baltimore’s African Methodist Episcopal Church circles that included many free Black people. Scholars say he met his future wife Anna Murray, who encouraged him to pursue his own freedom, in that city.

“The AME Church was central in not only creating a space for African Americans to worship but creating a network of support for African Americans who were committed to anti-slavery,” said Georgetown University historian Marcia Chatelain, in the film.

The Douglass documentary is set to premiere Tuesday (Oct. 11) on PBS. It and the Tubman documentary, which first aired Oct. 4, will be available to stream for free for 30 days on PBS.org and the PBS video app after their initial air dates. After streaming on PBS’ website and other locations for a month, the films, which include footage from Maryland’s Eastern Shore where both Douglass and Tubman were born, will then be available on PBS Passport.

The Tubman documentary opens with her words, spoken by actress Alfre Woodard.

“God’s time is always near,” she says, in words she told writer Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney around 1850. “He set the North Star in the heavens. He gave me the strength in my limbs. He meant I should be free.”

Tubman, who early in life sustained a serious injury and experienced subsequent seizures and serious headaches, often had visions she interpreted as “signposts from God,” said Rutgers University historian Erica A. Dunbar in the film.

Portrait of Harriet Tubman taken in Auburn, New York. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Portrait of Harriet Tubman taken in Auburn, New York. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress. The woman known as “Moses” freed slaves by leading them through nighttime escapes and later as a scout for the Union Army in the Civil War.

“She never accepted praise or responsibility, even, for these great feats,” Dunbar said. “She always saw herself as a vessel of her God.”

But, nevertheless, praise for Tubman came from Douglass, who noted in an 1868 letter to her that while his work was often public, hers was primarily in secret, recognized only by the “heartfelt, ‘God bless you’” from people she had helped reach freedom.

Nelson, a religiously unaffiliated man who created films about the mission work of the United Methodist Church early in his career, said the documentary helps shed light on the importance faith held for Tubman.

“It’s something that most people don’t know and so many people who see the film for the first time are kind of surprised at that,” he said in an interview. “She felt she was guided by a divine spirit and the spirit told her what to do.”

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.

 

Stop Asking For Permission with Stephen Chandler

Stop Asking For Permission with Stephen Chandler

Have you ever wondered how to press into your purpose? You may recognize that God has gifted you and believe He has a plan for you, but are uncertain how to realize your purpose. Pastor Stephen Chandler has one of the fastest growing churches in the United States at a time when people are attending church less and less. How is he growing and walking in purpose in the midst of such transition and apathy all around us? UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with Pastor Stephen Chandler to talk about his new book Stop Asking For Permission which helps us unlock our God given potential. The interview is above more about the book is below.

From the pastor of one of America’s fastest-growing churches, Union Church in Maryland, Stephen Chandler releases his debut book, Stop Waiting for Permission: Harness Your Gifts, Find Your Purpose, and Unleash Your Personal Genius (September 27, 2022, WaterBrook) with a foreword by New York Times bestselling author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell. This bold, inspiring manifesto will show readers how to dream, plan, and ultimately achieve their great calling in life.

 

 

Stephen Chandler is the senior pastor of Union Church, based in Maryland, and the author of Stop Waiting for Permission. Through his unapologetic pursuit of fulfilling his God-given purpose, Union Church has become known for its unrelenting desire to unite people with purpose. Since its launch in 2011, Union Church has grown from fifty to thousands in weekly attendance, with tens of thousands joining live online every week. It has expanded to multiple campuses across Maryland. Stephen’s obsession with people, systems, and culture resulted in Union Church (formerly Destiny Church) being named the fastest-growing church in America by Outreach magazine.

You’ve seen ‘The Rings of Power,’ but have you heard of this tiny museum housing J.R.R. Tolkien’s treasures?

You’ve seen ‘The Rings of Power,’ but have you heard of this tiny museum housing J.R.R. Tolkien’s treasures?

Wheaton College has an open library commemorating Tolkien and the “Lord of the Rings” universe, formally known as the Marion E. Wade Center, at the college in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

WHEATON, Illinois (RNS) — It started with an inkling.

It was the 1950s. Clyde S. Kilby, then an English professor at Wheaton College, had a feeling about a British author he’d been reading named C.S. Lewis — that he was “probably going to be famous one day,” according to Crystal Downing, co-director of Wheaton’s Marion E. Wade Center.

So Kilby wrote to Lewis and started collecting books and letters written by the author. He met some of Lewis’ friends and family.

Years later, he was traveling to England to work with Lewis’ Oxford University colleague J.R.R. Tolkien on “The Silmarillion,” a collection of stories that fill in the background of Tolkien’s beloved “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Decades later, the professor’s collection of letters and books has grown to become the Marion E. Wade Center, one of the foremost research centers not only on Lewis, but also Tolkien and five other British Christian authors who had influenced Lewis’ work.

Now the Wade Center is preparing for an influx of archival materials and interest as Tolkien and his fantasy world of Middle-earth have once again grabbed the spotlight.


RELATED: Tolkien fans hope to turn his house into a ‘Rivendell’ for writers and filmmakers


After years of speculation, the first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” — the multimillion dollar prequel series produced by Amazon Studios and inspired by the appendices to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” novels, debuted Thursday night (Sept. 1) on Prime Video, Amazon’s streaming service.

“Tolkien probably would never have gotten published if it weren’t for Lewis,’” Downing said.

“And, of course, Lewis wouldn’t be famous if it weren’t for Tolkien because Tolkien is the one who convinced him he could be a Christian.”

The Wade Center can feel like the evangelical Christian college’s best-kept secret, housed in a cozy building that looks like a stone English cottage nestled into Wheaton’s suburban Chicago campus.

Laura Schmidt, archivist and Tolkien specialist at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

Laura Schmidt, archivist and Tolkien specialist at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

But Laura Schmidt, archivist and Tolkien specialist at the center, said, “Tolkien knew about Wheaton College. He knew about the Wade Center.”

Pre-pandemic, the Wade Center welcomed about 10,000 people a year, ranging from elementary students from Chicago-area school districts to scholars from around the world.

Its archive includes books belonging to authors Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams (including more than 2,400 from Lewis’ personal library alone). It also includes original manuscripts of their work, letters they wrote and oral history recordings of people who knew them.

Among its treasures are rare, autographed first editions of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit,” all featuring cover artwork designed by the author himself.

Marion E Wade Center, home to the Tolkien Library, is housed on the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

Marion E Wade Center, home to the Tolkien Library, is housed on the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

An exhibit in the museum shows how those covers have changed over time, from Tolkien’s artful eye of Sauron circled by Elvish script to a 1980s paperback featuring an Olan Mills-style portrait of the dwarf Gimli and elf Legolas with flowing, romance-novel hair.

Another exhibit atop the dining room table from Lewis’ house displays merchandise that accompanied the popular “Lord of the Rings” films released in the early 2000’s and more recent films based on “The Hobbit.” There is a Lego scene of The Shire; a letter opener made to look like Bilbo Baggins’ Elven sword, Sting; even a board game.

The museum also features the small, nearly hobbit-sized desk at which Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” and much of “Lord of the Rings,” as well as the dip pen he used to write, slightly melted on the end he used to tamp his pipe tobacco. Its most popular attraction, though, is the wardrobe carved by Lewis’ grandfather that inspired his beloved children’s story “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Yes, there are fur coats inside.

On Tuesday, scholars from Ireland and Australia perused texts in the reading room, home to at least one copy of every book published by the seven Wade authors, as well as nearly everything ever published about them.

Meanwhile, across campus, members of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society shared their plans for watching “The Rings of Power” while manning a table at Wheaton’s club and ministry fair. The series had yet to premiere, and members were feeling both excited and apprehensive.

Elizabeth Church, president of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society, was one of several students helping to run a booth about the club at the school's Ministry and Club Fair. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

Elizabeth Church, president of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society, was one of several students helping to run a booth about the club at the school’s Club and Ministry Fair. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Tolkien Society President Elizabeth Church said that what drew her to Tolkien’s stories was the “found family aspect.” In the “Lord of the Rings” series, the Fellowship of the Ring brings together hobbits, elves, dwarves, humans and others for a single purpose: to destroy the one ring and defeat evil.

Church has found a similar family in Wheaton’s Tolkien Society, she said.

“We’re very much like the fellowship in the books in that we are a ragtag bunch of people who come together for one goal, which is to be a fellowship,” the senior said.

The first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” set up an epic battle between good and evil. In one of its opening scenes, a young Galadriel, who will become the elven Lady of Lórien in “Lord of the Rings,” questions how to recognize the light when evil masquerades as good.

The answer comes near the end of the episode: “Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.”

Light and dark, good and evil are themes found throughout Tolkien’s work, Schmidt said before watching the new series.

And Schmidt, who advises the Tolkien Society, expects the series to get dark.

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College includes a wide variety of memorabilia including cards, miniature swords and other decorations symbolic of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College includes a wide variety of memorabilia including cards, miniature swords and other decorations symbolic of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” series. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

It’s drawn from writings set before the events of “Lord of the Rings,” when the evil sorcerer Sauron is handing out what Schmidt jokingly called “friendship rings” to men, dwarves and elves that he’ll later use to control Middle-earth. It’s a long time before the conclusion of “The Return of the King,” the final book in Tolkien’s series, when good ultimately triumphs over evil.

Those themes are also part of the reason why the author’s work not only endures nearly 70 years after it first was published, but also has inspired what has been called the most expensive TV show ever made.

“I think that’s going to really resonate with people in this time and era now, because there’s a lot of darkness that we’re trying to figure out. That’s why these books are pertinent to our time, and it’s going to, hopefully, inspire hope in people’s hearts that the fight is worth fighting,” Schmidt said.

“Maybe we’ll get a ‘Return of the King’ in a few years.”

Killing Comparison: An Interview with Nona Jones

Killing Comparison: An Interview with Nona Jones

We have to get past the constant assault of comparison. It keeps us insecure, negative, and disappointed. Author, speaker, and business leader Nona Jones helps us get past the temptation of jealousy and attack of inferiority in her new book Killing Comparison. UrbanFaith sat down with her to discuss the book and her journey to overcoming insecurity and embracing more of her identity in Christ. The full interview is above, more information on the book is below.

 

Nearly all of us deal with the struggle of comparison and finding ourselves lacking. But there is a way to break free from internal and external messages communicating a lack of self-worth.

It starts with identifying the basis of your urge to compare and ends with securing your identity to the unchanging confidence of God’s love for you.

Nona Jones knows this journey all too well. Throughout her life and in her career–most recently as an executive for the world’s largest social media company–Nona discovered that despite professional success, true confidence can only be achieved by defeating toxic comparison and securing our identity to God’s approval alone.

 

 

The Journey: An Interview with Dr. Tony Evans & Priscilla Shirer

The Journey: An Interview with Dr. Tony Evans & Priscilla Shirer

Dr. Tony Evans is one of the most influential pastors and theologians in the United States and his daughter Priscilla Shirer is one of the most well-known authors and speakers. UrbanFaith sat down with them to discuss their documentary Journey with Jesus and their book Divine Disruption written as a family holding onto faith in the midst of grief.

Testimony Tuesday: Surviving Cancer

Testimony Tuesday: Surviving Cancer

In the journey of my life, yesterday a chapter ended.  Thank goodness, I didn’t get stuck but moved past my circumstances, when I was diagnosed with my first brain tumor. 

I say first because there was a third time around. And each time, it was a severe blow that overpowered me and almost put me under. I have a history of brain tumors (Meningioma). Therefore, I want to share what God has done in my life, God brought me through it all. 

I was a single woman working in the medical field with no expectations of bad news. I started having severe headaches, and knew something wasn’t right. A MRI was ordered and my peaceful life was impacted significantly when the doctor called me at work and gave me the results. My physician asked: “is this Peggy Hatton?” I said yes. He said “your “MRI” results revealed a large brain tumor.” I said, “what?!” I cried, wanting to scream, but had to hold it in because I was at work. 

And the first thing that came to my mind was, “I’m going to die.” I notified the supervisor of my situation and let them know that I had to leave. I wasn’t any good after hearing this. I had to call my cousin to pick me up because I couldn’t drive either. I was weeping non-stop. I cried unstoppably until my face was swollen. I knew God was the only one who could help me and I prayed and talked to him saying, “Why Me Lord?” I felt the Holy Spirit respond: “Peggy, why not you? Don’t be discouraged, I will always be with you.”

God comforted me and I moved forward and had the first brain tumor surgically removed. Although I woke up temporarily blind, the surgery was successful. I was still in ICU when an optometrist came and worked on my eyes. I was so scared. Later on that day, my vision returned. 

After all of the procedures, my eyes have never been the same. Today, I use numerous eye drops and visit an optometrist regularly. I accepted what I had no control over. 

Years later, I started having severe headaches again and knew the brain tumor had returned. Another MRI was taken and showed it had returned with a vengeance, it was brain cancer. I prayed and put it in God’s mighty hands. 

I had radiation treatment for brain cancer.  Today, I am still having more treatments and is scheduled to graduated soon. None of this was easy and if I didn’t have a mustard seed of faith in God, I wouldn’t have made it. 

I interacted with cancer patients and we all need encouragement, inspiration, and  love. This is whyI am sharing my story to uplift others in their battles.

This illness shattered my life, caused me to become disabled, and live less fortunately financially. However, God has truly blessed me and I thank him for placing supportive saints around me.

During all my trials and tribulations, real compassionate people reached out through texts, calls, and visits. I thank God for his mercy, grace, and his angels.  act of kindness and thoughtfulness was greatly appreciated.

When going through battles, everyone needs somebody. It helps so much just knowing other people care and you are not going through this alone. There is always someone in circumstances worse than yours. No matter how tough this battle has been. I never lost my faith in God, therefore I never lost a battle. I kept my head up, wiped tears, and kept moving. 

Through it all, as a wounded soldier, God gave me peace that passes all understanding. 

 

Faithful Service: An Interview with Rep. Val Demings

Faithful Service: An Interview with Rep. Val Demings

Val Demings describes herself as “a little rough around the edges.” She says what she thinks and cares more about serving people than political partisanship. She was raised by Christian parents, graduated from Florida State University, and stayed in her hometown of Orlando. She was a career police officer and then police chief who helped reduce crime by 40% in Orlando while she served as chief of police. But an invitation to run for congress changed her life and catapulted her onto the national stage. She is now running for US Senate in Florida.

Above is an UrbanFaith exclusive interview with US Congresswoman Representative Val Demings on how she got started in politics, how she maintains her faith as a public servant, and her hopes for a united future for our nation.

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.”

Single and Free to Be Me: An Interview with Clarence Schuler

Single and Free to Be Me: An Interview with Clarence Schuler

Many believers wonder how to approach staying faithful to Christ while being single, dating, and waiting for marriage.

Dr. Clarence Shuler, an author, minister, and relationship coach shares his insights on how to pursue a godly life while being single and preparing for marriage with UrbanFaith. More on his book Single and Free to Be Me! which explores the joys and challenges of a godly single life is below.

 

In his book, Single and Free to Be Me, Dr. Clarence Shuler gives male and female singles of all ages practical and biblical tools on how to navigate the many phases of singlehood, from the art of flying solo and some of its struggles to learning how to deal with relationships with the opposite sex, all the way to preparing for marriage while still single.Single and Free to Be Me is a handy companion for anyone at any phase of singlehood. “Most books focus on a particular aspect of singlehood like dating or finding the One,” says Dr. Clarence Shuler. “But, singlehood has different cycles like discovering who you are, feeling lonely, healing a broken heart, dealing with the pressure to date or marry, learning how to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex and for some, discerning a potential marriage partner.”Adding to the book’s research, singles’ personal accounts and biblical examples, Dr. Shuler opens up about his own struggles shared by many singles including yearning for marriage, pornography, masturbation, rejection, and other issues. His more than 30 years of counseling singles and married couples as well as his nearly 30 years of marriage provide relevant insight and principles that will help many singles find freedom from society’s and self-imposed pressures.

‘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.

Always: An Interview with Chris Tomlin

Always: An Interview with Chris Tomlin

Chris Tomlin has shaped Contemporary Worship Music for decades. He has written dozens of songs that have been sung by congregations across races, included in hymnals across denominations, and translated into languages around the world. His newest album Always is no exception in its intimate reach for the God whose love is always the same. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura interviewed Chris about his new album and his journey.

Marriage Be Hard: Interview with @Kevonstage and @Mrskevonstage

Marriage Be Hard: Interview with @Kevonstage and @Mrskevonstage

Marriage is one of the most important institutions in the lives of believers. Unfortunately it is rarely spoken about beyond the headlines of culture wars in the news or as the excuse some believers hide real conversations about sex behind. A lot of believers have a hard time keeping it real about how hard it is to be married. Kevin and Melissa Fredericks, aka KevOnStage and MrsKevOnStage, rarely hold back on keeping it real in conversations.

With over a million followers on social media (which don’t happen for church folks), they are some of the most busy and influential believers on the internet. Their authenticity and creativity have helped them connect with the “churchy” and unchurched alike. But like all married folks they have had challenges in life and in marriage. Their new book Marriage Be Hard is a candid look at their marriage and the lessons they have learned along the way through reflection, therapy, The Love Hour podcast and real work. They hope to help couples everywhere to get past “just making it” in marriage to thriving through their insights.

UrbanFaith sat down with Kevin and Melissa to talk about their journey and their book. The full interview is above, more information on the book is below.

 

ABOUT MARRIAGE BE HARD

Discover the keys to upholding your vows while staying sane in this hilariously candid guide to relationships, from the husband-and-wife team of comedian Kevin Fredericks and influencer Melissa Fredericks

Growing up, Kevin and Melissa Fredericks were taught endless rules around dating, sex, and marriage, but not a lot about what actually makes a relationship work. When they first got married, they felt alone—like every other couple had perfect chemistry while the two of them struggled. There were conversations that they didn’t know they needed to have, fears that affected how they related to each other, and seasons of change that put their marriage to the test.

Part of their story reads like a Christian fairytale: high school sweethearts, married in college, never sowed any wild oats, with two sons and a thriving marriage. But there’s another side of their story: the night Melissa kicked Kevin out of her car after years of communication problems, the time early in their marriage when Kevin bordered on an emotional affair, the way they’ve used social media and podcasts to conduct a no-holds-barred conversation about forbidden topics like jealousy, divorce, and how to be Christian and sex positive. (Because, as Kevin writes, “Your hormones don’t care about your religious beliefs. Your hormones want you to subscribe to OnlyFans.”)

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.)

When Faith Meets Therapy

When Faith Meets Therapy

When Faith Meets Therapy

Singer, author, and worship leader Anthony Evans collaborated with licensed psychotherapist and TV personality Stacy Kaiser on a new book, “When Faith Meets Therapy: Find Hope and a Practical Path to Emotional, Spiritual, and Relational Healing.”

Evans, a well-known Christian musician and the son of renowned Pastor Drs. Tony and Lois Evans, and Kaiser, a sought-after professional, media personality, and speaker, met five years ago when he sought emotional, relational, and spiritual healing.

“I hit up Stacy after seeing credits role after a TV show. I saw her, and the way she handled a scenario. I’m desperate. Let me see these credits. And normally, I’m sure her staff was like, uh oh, crazy person alert, but they just looked me up and realized this dude’s not nuts. He just happened to find you on TV. And so are you willing to see him? And so she told her people, yes,” said Evans.

Kaiser led Evans through a process of internal renovation and continues as his personal therapist. The two opened the world up about their partnership through their When Faith Meets Therapy Zoom talks. With the release of their book, the duo takes the conversation around mental health and faith to the next level, packaging insights from Anthony’s personal experience with therapy and poignant takeaways from Kaiser.

“A therapist, client relationship is confidential except for things like if somebody is harming themselves or someone else or child abuse and things like that — so we had to have that conversation, but Anthony was on board, and we made a deal that he’s going to share his story. I’m not. And that’s what the book is. Anthony really talking about his story and giving his wisdom and then me giving therapeutic advice throughout — the kinds of things I would say to Anthony or any other client that I was working with,” said Kaiser.

The authors offer hope and practical steps to getting started on a mental health journey, examples of strategies that worked for Anthony and encourage readers to take the next step toward individualized professional help if needed.

“In our book, Stacy and I want to have an open, honest conversation about faith and mental health in a way that doesn’t make a person feel worse about themselves and their relationship with God,” writes Anthony. “A lot of faith meeting therapy is talking about boundaries and balance, power and responsibility, fear and healthy relationships. Mental, physical, and spiritual health are connected. It all works together.”

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church elects second woman and African bishops

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church elects second woman and African bishops

The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church has elected its second woman bishop and received its first episcopal address from a woman during its quadrennial General Conference.

“I think when you elect the first you have to be really careful that they just don’t become a token and so I was really excited,” said Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, who was the first woman elected in 2010 and serves as the secretary on the College of Bishops.

The Rev. Denise Anders-Modest, pastor of Trinity CME Church in Memphis, Tenn., and coordinator of the CME Commission on Women in Ministry, will serve the 2nd Episcopal District, which includes Kentucky, Ohio and Central Indiana.

The Rev. Denise Anders-Modest. Photo courtesy of Farish Street Baptist Church

The Rev. Denise Anders-Modest. Photo courtesy of Farish Street Baptist Church

Her forerunner was particularly pleased that voting delegates chose Anders-Modest as the second to win election to the role of bishop, not waiting until the last opportunity to add another woman to the CME episcopacy. “That’s also quite commendable that people were able to see her qualifications and not just, ‘oh, we need a woman bishop.’”

Jefferson-Snorton achieved another first this year, becoming the first woman to give the episcopal address — the message given on behalf of the bishops to the denomination — on June 25, the first official day of the gathering at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati. The meeting, which was attended by about 2,500 people, is set to conclude Friday (July 1).

She also was elected as the denomination’s new ecumenical and development officer, a role that no longer requires her to also lead a district of churches. Part of her role will be to seek resources to create and work on ministry and outreach programs at both the denominational and local levels.

“I see lots of our churches that are in communities that have such need but the local church itself doesn’t really have the capacity to go out and look for funds or even manage the program,” she said.

The delegates, who attended in person, also elected the second African bishop in the history of the denomination, which was founded in 1870 and claims 1.2 million U.S. members. It has sister churches and missions in 14 African countries, Haiti and Jamaica.

The Rev. Kwame L. Adjei, a member of the CME Church’s Judicial Council and a former associate pastor and high school chaplain in his native Ghana, will serve the 11th District, which is in East Africa.

The Rev. Kwame Lawson Adjei, right, is the new bishop-elect for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church's 11th District, located in East Africa. Courtesy of CME Church Facebook

The Rev. Kwame Lawson Adjei, right, is the new bishop-elect for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s 11th District, located in East Africa. Courtesy of CME Church Facebook

He will be the second African bishop. Bishop Godwin T. Umoette, the first African-born bishop was elected in 2010 and died earlier this year.

“Because we do consider ourselves the international church,” Jefferson-Snorton said, “bishops in the leadership needed to also include a voice that was not just the American voice but someone at the table of the College of Bishops who brought another cultural perspective.”

Other new bishops are: the Rev. Clarence K. Heath, pastor, Carter Metropolitan CME Church of Fort Worth, Texas, who will lead the 5th Episcopal District, based in Birmingham, Alabama; the Rev. Charley Hames Jr., senior pastor of the Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland, California, who will lead the 9th Episcopal District, based in Los Angeles; and the Rev. Ricky D. Helton, senior pastor of Israel Metropolitan CME Church in Washington, D.C., who will lead the 10th Episcopal District, based in West Africa.

Despite temperature checks and other measures to keep the gathering free of COVID-19, some attendees tested positive during the General Conference.

Jefferson-Snorton, who also is board chair of the National Council of Churches, said she did not know how many people tested positive but she quarantined for three days after she learned her husband tested positive.

“No one has had to go the hospital,” she said. “It wasn’t like gaping holes in the delegation.”

In recent weeks, other gatherings of religious denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have had COVID-19 cases as well.

“We had a handful of attendees who reported they had tested positive for COVID-19 in the days following their trip to Anaheim,” said Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications of the SBC Executive Committee. “None of those with whom we spoke were able to identify the source of their specific case, nor did any report significant illness that required hospitalization.”

Preliminary meetings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) featured reports of 13 cases of COVID-19, its stated clerk said in a June 23 statement posted on Twitter.

“We believe that this week’s small outbreak of positive cases did not originate from the Presbyterian Center or during General Assembly meeting times,” said the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II about the gathering in Louisville, Kentucky. “Rather, the source of this outbreak appears to have occurred outside of official General Assembly activities involving receptions and other hospitality events.”

Pushing ‘closure’ after trauma can be harmful to people grieving – here’s what you can do instead

Pushing ‘closure’ after trauma can be harmful to people grieving – here’s what you can do instead

People need time and space to grieve at their own pace. John Encarnado/EyeEm/Getty Immages
Nancy Berns, Drake University

From the breakup of a relationship to losing a loved one, people are often told to find “closure” after traumatic things happen.

But what is closure? And should it really be the goal for individuals seeking relief or healing, even in these traumatic times of global pandemic, war in Ukraine and mass shootings in the U.S.?

Closure is an elusive concept. There is no agreed-upon definition for what closure means or how one is supposed to find it. Although there are numerous interpretations of closure, it usually relates to some type of ending to a difficult experience.

As a grief expert and author of “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us,” I have learned that the language of closure can often create confusion and false hope for those experiencing loss. Individuals who are grieving feel more supported when they are allowed time to learn to live with their loss and not pushed to find closure.

Why did closure become popular?

Closure is entrenched in popular culture not because it is a well-defined, understood concept that people need, but rather because the idea of closure can be used to sell products, services and even political agendas.

The funeral industry started using closure as an important selling point after it was criticized harshly in the 1960s for charging too much for funerals. To justify their high prices, funeral homes began claiming that their services helped with grief too. Closure eventually became a neat package to explain those services.

In the 1990s, death penalty advocates used the concept of closure to reshape their political discourse. Arguing that the death penalty would bring closure for victims’ family members was an attempt to appeal to a broader audience. However, research continues to show that executions do not bring closure.

Still today, journalists, politicians, businesses and other professionals use the rhetoric of closure to appeal to people’s emotions related to trauma and loss.

So what is the problem with closure?

It is not the mere presence of closure as a concept that is a problem. The concern comes when people believe closure must be found in order to move forward.

Closure represents a set of expectations for responding after bad things happen. If people believe they need closure in order to heal but cannot find it, they may feel something is wrong with them. Because so many others may tell those grieving they need closure, they often feel a pressure to either end grief or hide it. This pressure can lead to further isolation.

Privately, many people may resent the idea of closure because they do not want to forget their loved ones or have their grief minimized. I hear this frustration from people I interview.

Closure frequently becomes a one-word description of what individuals are supposed to find at the end of the grieving process. The concept of closure taps into a desire to have things ordered and simple, but experiences with grief and loss are often longer-term and complex.

If not closure, then what?

As a grief researcher and public speaker, I engage with many different groups of people seeking help in their grief journeys or looking for ways to better support others. I’ve listened to hundreds of people who share their experiences with loss. And I learn time and again that people do not need closure to heal.

They can carry grief and joy together. They can carry grief as part of their love for many years. As part of my research, I interviewed a woman I will call Christina.

Just before her 16th birthday, Christina’s mom and four siblings were killed in a car accident. Over 30 years later, Christina said that people continue to expect her to just “be over it” and to find closure. But she does not want to forget her mother and siblings. She is not seeking closure to their deaths. She has a lot of joy in her life, including her children and grandchildren. But her mom and siblings who died are also part of who she is.

Both privately – and as a community – individuals can learn to live with loss. The types of loss and trauma people experience vary greatly. There is not just one way to grieve, and there is no time schedule. Furthermore, the history of any community contains a range of experiences and emotions, which might include collective trauma from events such as mass shootings, natural disasters or war. The complexity of loss reflects the complexity of relationships and experiences in life.

Rather than expecting yourself and others to find closure, I would suggest creating space to grieve and to remember trauma or loss as needed. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

• Know people can carry complicated emotions together. Embrace a full range of emotions. The goal does not need to be “being happy” all the time for you or others.

• Improve listening skills and know you can help others without trying to fix them. Be present and acknowledge loss through listening.

• Realize that people vary greatly in their experiences with loss and the way they grieve. Don’t compare people’s grief and loss.

• Bear witness to pain and trauma of others in order to acknowledge their loss.

• Provide individual and community-level opportunities for remembering. Give yourself and others freedom to carry memories.

Healing does not mean rushing to forget and silencing those who hurt. I believe that by providing space and time to grieve, communities and families can honor lives lost, acknowledge trauma and learn what pain people continue to carry.The Conversation

Nancy Berns, Professor of Sociology, Drake University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Life Starts Now: An Interview with Chanel Dokun

Life Starts Now: An Interview with Chanel Dokun

Have you ever felt like you’ve been waiting for life to happen or chasing a dream that isn’t yours? Chanel Dokun, a therapist and life planner, helps women and all of us redefine our worth from the inside out instead of the outside in her book Life Starts Now: How to Create the Life You’ve Been Waiting For. UrbanFaith had the chance to chat with her has she releases this timely book with practical ways to stop waiting and start living.The full interview is above. More on the book below:

LIFE STARTS NOW:
HOW TO CREATE THE LIFE YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
Did you think you’d finally be happy if you built a great career, found a meaningful romantic relationship, and crafted the picture-perfect life? But once you’ve gotten those things, you find yourself asking, Why isn’t this enough? Shouldn’t there be more? You’re not alone.

Chanel Dokun has walked hundreds of clients, just like you, through a similar journey of disillusionment because she’s traveled the same path herself. She spent years trying to achieve the lifestyle she thought she wanted, but with every accomplishment, Chanel found herself feeling more disappointed, disillusioned, and lost. She realized she needed to let go of society’s definition of success and become the architect of her own life.

In Life Starts Now, Chanel draws on her experience as a therapist and certified life planner to help you redefine what success really means as she offers practical strategies to help you create the life you are longing for. She shares

-an in-depth look at why society’s definitions of success and significance aren’t the answer in your search for more;

-practical action steps for unlocking your genius, finding your flair, and discovering your unique life purpose; and

-how the five postures of silence, solitude, generosity, gratitude, and play will take you from striving to thriving.

Life Starts Now will inspire you to release the search for significance and recover a redemptive view of your ordinary life so you can experience profound joy and fulfillment—and embrace your true purpose.

Three Tips for Bringing Your Ministry Skills Into the Marketplace

Three Tips for Bringing Your Ministry Skills Into the Marketplace

Tip #1: Break Out of Your Box

Understand that God uniquely designed you. Everything about you was created to appeal to the people, place, and position that God destined for your life. Breaking out of your box is an act of surrender that allows God the opportunity to move on your behalf. If you’re seeking help discovering your destiny, reflect on these scriptures: Isaiah 43:19, Psalms 139:14, and Jeremiah 29:11.

Tip #2 Trust God

This tip could not be overstated. Many in ministry are joining the “Great Resignation for various reasons, forcing them to step out on faith into vocations outside their typical comfort zone. When I was called to consult for a land development opportunity, I wanted to decline the offer. After prayer and agreement from my wife, I accepted. Turning down the chance to lead a development worth millions could have caused me to head in the opposite direction from God’s calling for my life. If you’re desiring to trust God in this season, reflect on these scriptures: Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalms 46:10, and Matthew 6:25.

Tip #3 Be Strategic

Strategy is time-consuming, tiring, and sometimes frustrating, but it’s what makes and breaks organizations and sets the successful apart. The planning, implementation, and execution of an idea puts your faith into action. As you balance strategy and trust, reflect on these scriptures: Habakkuk 2:2-3, James 2:14-26, and Proverbs 16:1-3.

For Christians, walking in the will of God is critically important. Understanding how your uniqueness in Christ relates to the world provides the opportunity to thrive and spread the Good News in the unreached parts of society. Even those skilled in ministry can find themselves venturing into opportunities to be influential in the business sector. I believe that God is calling many Christians to break out of the box and pursue ministry in the marketplace, trust Him by taking opportunities to work in secular settings, and strategize for success. Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

The Violin Conspiracy: An Interview with Brendan Slocumb

The Violin Conspiracy: An Interview with Brendan Slocumb

From music educator to best selling author Brendan Slocumb has an unexpected journey. But his action packed novel The Violin Conspiracy is a fictional story based on his true life journey. UrbanFaith sat down with Brendan to talk about his book, his faith story, and what stories he wants to tell next. The interview is above. Information on the book is below.

 

—-

Most classical musicians are white, wealthy, privileged. Not Ray: he’s Black and comes from a single-family household, with a self-centered mother who actively blocks Ray’s aspirations. Only his Grandma Nora seems to care about his love for music. She gives him her old family treasure – a beat-up fiddle that hasn’t been played in eighty years. Ray confronts rampant discrimination from an establishment that believes that Black people cannot emotionally understand the music of dead white Europeans: Blacks should stick to hip hop, Gershwin, and jazz. A college music scholarship, and a professor’s mentorship, nurture Ray’s extraordinary talent and unstoppable ambition.

Then Ray discovers that Grandma Nora’s ancient violin is actually a rare and unique instrument that can take his playing to an entirely new level. The resulting media frenzy catapulted him into a solo violinist’s career. His star rises, but with success comes heartbreak: two lawsuits threaten to rip the violin away from him. In the first, his family claims that the instrument is rightfully theirs; in the second, the slaveholder family of his ancestors declare that Ray’s great-grandfather stole the violin from them. The two claims intertwine. Desperate to keep the violin, Ray makes a bargain that will have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

And then someone – his family? The slaveholder family? The mafia? – steals the violin. Ray has a month to raise five million dollars to pay the ransom before the Tchaikovsky Competition – classical music’s version of the Olympics –  begins, and before the violin disappears forever.

In Moscow, under the glaring lights of musical stardom, Ray will not only compete, but will also discover what happened to the violin that means everything to him.

True Life: I’m a Father In A Blended Family

True Life: I’m a Father In A Blended Family

In our current cultural and historical moment, it is common to have blended families. Single parents form new households, people wait later in life to get married or have children, and people who have been through divorce find the courage to marry again. But blended families have been present throughout human history, and we see them prominently in Scripture and in African American history.

We think of the patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob. Abraham with children from different women, and Jacob who had a large family with multiple wives and children with each of them. We can think of Moses who was adopted, Esther who was raised by her uncle, and Ruth, whose story revolves around her second marriage to Boaz. David who had children from different relationships and caused strife, and of course we remember Joseph, the stepfather of the Savior Jesus Christ.

In many African cultures, grandparents live with their adult children, children who are orphaned are raised by the closest of kin or the closest neighbor, and fathers have children from multiple relationships. During our history as Africans in America, the extended and blended family systems were how we survived slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing attacks on Black family life.

Growing up, I knew uncles who raised their wives’ children from previous relationships, I had aunts who raised their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We had cousins who had a different mother or father than their siblings, and cousins on their second and third marriages. My story is not unique in the Black community. But interestingly, these realities of complex blended families are almost treated as taboo in our conversation and daily lives.

I grew up with both of my biological parents married and in the same house. When I started dating the woman who became my wife, some people around us were surprised and concerned because she already had two daughters from a previous relationship. I was single with no children, a couple of prestigious degrees, and a good job, so for many people the thought of dating—let alone marrying—a woman who had children was a letdown or an offense. But it has been an incredible joy and an experience of God’s love to raise two daughters who are mine through chosen relationships and one who is mine biologically.

Don’t get me wrong, raising children is one of the greatest challenges you can ever have, most of the parents out there will agree with me. But it is also one of the most rewarding journeys a person can undertake. Raising children who do not share your blood takes a special person. But if I’m honest, I feel similar about my call to parenting all of my children as I do to being a husband. Let me break the myths: marriage is not for everyone. Raising children is not for everyone, either. But both are callings for many of us. And as Christians, we know both take the grace and power of God to do well.

Being able to raise and care for children who are mine not by blood and obligation, but by relationship and choice gives me a different perspective on how God loves us as His adopted children by the Spirit. Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:14–15 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”

When you raise children who are adopted into your family, you are able to share your spirit and more importantly God’s Spirit with them—even if you may not share blood. Having adopted children is different than having biological children for me. But it does not make the relationship any less important, loving, or powerful, just as when God adopted us by His Spirit. God’s love toward us as His adopted children is the same as His love toward Jesus, His only begotten Son. That is a powerful revelation and goal for our love as people in blended families: to love every member the way God loves Jesus, the way Jesus loves us, the way we are called to love one another. Although our relationships in blended families may be different, the love should not be different.

Having a blended family is not for everyone. But with intentionality, grace, and patience it can be an amazing experience of God’s love. Scripture and history show that blended families have always been part of God’s people. It is not a moral failure to bring children into a new family or marry someone with children. It should not be taboo to have a blended family. Our response as believers to blended families is clear: love them as Jesus loves us.

First known depictions of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah uncovered in Israel

First known depictions of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah uncovered in Israel

(RNS) — The earliest known depiction of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah was discovered at an ancient synagogue in Israel, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced last week. A rendering of one figure driving a stake through the head of a military general was the initial clue that led the team to identify the figures, according to project director Jodi Magness.

“This is extremely rare,” Magness, an archaeologist and religion professor at UNC-Chapel Hill,  told Religion News Service. “I don’t know of any other ancient depictions of these heroines.”

The nearly 1,600-year-old mosaics were uncovered by a team of students and specialists as part of The Huqoq Excavation Project, which resumed its 10th season of excavations this summer at a synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in Lower Galilee. Mosaics were first discovered at the site in 2012, and Magness said the synagogue, which dates to the late fourth or early fifth century, is “unusually large and richly decorated.” In addition to its extensive, relatively well-preserved mosaics, the site is adorned with wall paintings and carved architecture.

The fourth chapter of the Book of Judges tells the story of Deborah, a judge and prophet who conquered the Canaanite army alongside Israelite general Barak. After the victory, the passage says, the Canaanite commander Sisera fled to the tent of Jael, where she drove a tent peg into his temple and killed him.

The newly discovered mosaic panels depicting the heroines are made of local cut stone from Galilee and were found on the floor on the south end of the synagogue’s west aisle. The mosaic is divided into three sections, one with Deborah seated under a palm tree looking at Barak, a second with what appears to be Sisera seated and a third with Jael hammering a peg into a bleeding Sisera.

Magness said it’s impossible to know why this rare image was included but noted that additional mosaics depicting events from the Book of Judges, including renderings of Sampson, are on the south end of the synagogue’s east aisle. According to the UNC-Chapel Hill press release, the events surrounding Jael and Deborah might have taken place in the same geographical region as Huqoq, providing at least one possible reason for the mosaic.

“The value of our discoveries, the value of archaeology, is that it helps fill in the gaps in our information about, in this case, Jews and Judaism in this particular period,” explained Magness. “It shows that there was a very rich and diverse range of views among Jews.”

Magness said rabbinic literature doesn’t include descriptions about figure decoration in synagogues — so the world would never know about these visual embellishments without archaeology.

“Judaism was dynamic through late antiquity. Never was Judaism monolithic,” said Magness. “There’s always been a wide range of Jewish practices, and I think that’s partly what we see.”

These groundbreaking mosaics have been removed from the synagogue for conservation, but Magness hopes to return soon to make additional discoveries. The Huqoq Excavation Project, sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill, Austin College, Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto, paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and is scheduled to resume next summer.

 

Derrick Boseman Reflects on His Brother Chadwick’s Faith, Spirituality

Derrick Boseman Reflects on His Brother Chadwick’s Faith, Spirituality

Urban Faith Contributing Writer Maina Mwaura interviewed Derrick Boseman about his late famous brother Chadwick, a man of faith who he says took the gifts that God blessed him with and he multiplied it. Chadwick, 43, died August 2020 of Colon Cancer.


Transcript from the Video:

Maina Mwaura

I can still remember the Friday night that I got the news from my good friend about Chadwick Boseman no longer being here with us. And I can remember thinking for days, wow, so young, so passionate, so incredibly just gifted. And then wondering about his family as we do in many of these cases, which is why it is an honor to be here with his brother this morning, Derrick Boseman. How are you doing?

Derrick Boseman:

All sorts of ways.

Maina Mwaura

It’s a loaded question.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah, it is.

Maina Mwaura

I mean, it is. How do you handle that loaded question and the emotions and the thoughts that go with that? Fair question?

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. That’s fair. It’s hard. It’s extremely hard. I think about him throughout the day. Oftentimes when I wake up, that’s the first thing that’s on my mind is him and what happened to him. And why did it happen? I have like breakdowns. Daily. And when I say breakdowns, I mean thoughts will be in my head and it’ll bring me to you know how you start to tear up. And then I’ll usually like, if I’m around people, I’ll catch myself and I’ll stop myself. But if it’s just me, I just let it…

Maina Mwaura

Let it flow.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. Yeah.

Maina Mwaura

You guys were close.

Derrick Boseman:

Right.

Maina Mwaura

And it’s one of those things I was doing the research for our time together, man, what was that bond like? Because I mean, even up until the last minute you were there. What was that bond like that we don’t know, we will never know, obviously. But can you give us a sense of what it felt like to call him brother?

Derrick Boseman:

I didn’t see him as Chad the movie star. Yeah. Chadwick is his given name, but we called him Chad. He didn’t even like the name Chadwick. As a little boy he asked my mom, why did she name him Chadwick?

Maina Mwaura:

Are you serious? That’s a name that would carry him too, that’s kind of funny.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. I mean that’s his name. And as he grew older, he became fond of the name and it became his Hollywood name or his Hollywood persona, so to speak. But the people who really know him or knew called him Chad.

Maina Mwaura:

What were the growing up years like?

Derrick Boseman:

As his brother?

Maina Mwaura:

Yeah.

Derrick Boseman:

I’m 10 years older. So it was first me being fascinated by him.

Maina Mwaura:

Really?

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. He’s my second brother. When my first brother came, I’m six. I’m used to being the baby.

Maina Mwaura:

I’ve been there. Those days are over it. Yeah.

Derrick Boseman:

He interrupts my flow. I still love him, but I got to get used to him.

Maina Mwaura:

I’ve been there. Being the oldest.

Derrick Boseman:

I’m just being real. And we real, like tight right now. All of us are, he was just here last week for about five or six days. But when Chad comes, I’m ready to be-

Maina Mwaura:

You’re in charge.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah, I am. I am. I am. So by the time he’s two or three and I’m 12 or 13, I’m left in charge of the house. If parents are at work all day during the summertime.

Maina Mwaura:

You’re the oldest.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. So I’m fixing breakfast. I’m helping him get potty-trained. He’s bending over and I’m wiping his butt literally. I’m brushing his hair. Getting his clothes ready. He’s like my first kid really.

Maina Mwaura:

Wow.

Derrick Boseman:

Though he wasn’t, I mean of course we’re brothers.

Maina Mwaura:

We are the oldest though. I get that. When did you know, as a brother looking in on all of this, that man, there is something here when it comes to him acting? Of course he goes to Howard University, does well there. When did you know, okay, this is going to go pretty far?

Derrick Boseman:

Not just him acting, him doing whatever he wanted to do in life. But as far as the acting is concerned, it was writing at first because he wanted to be a writer and a director. The moment that he said this is what I want to do, that’s when I knew he was going to make it, because he’s just that gifted.

Maina Mwaura:

Wow. When did it go from writing to acting?

Derrick Boseman:

When he got to Howard. Felicia Rashad from the Cosby Show was one of his professors. She suggested that he act.

Maina Mwaura:

Did he want to?

Derrick Boseman:

I mean, he respected her/.

Maina Mwaura:

Obviously. Yeah.

Derrick Boseman:

I don’t know about the want to part. He just followed somebody’s advice.

Maina Mwaura:

Yeah.

Derrick Boseman:

The Bible says that there is wisdom in many counselors. So he followed what she said.

Maina Mwaura:

He was a deeply spiritual man. And it’s one of those things where the more I read about that side of him, the more I do go, man, I want to know more, to be honest with you, in a good way. Where did that deeply spiritual side of him come from? And am I accurate about that first of all?

Derrick Boseman:

Well, you are accurate. And I would say from my parents, from my family. From my parents, from my grandparents, both sides. From my aunts and uncles.

Maina Mwaura:

Wow.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. From my family. Not saying that my family is perfect because we aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, we have our dysfunctions, like every other family. Yeah but the root would have to be family.

Maina Mwaura:

He gets to Hollywood though and he still carries that spiritual side with him basically.

Derrick Boseman:

Correct.

Maina Mwaura:

How did he decide to do that in Hollywood? I mean, most people go to Hollywood and they lose it. If we’re going to be fair, about this discussion. How does he keep it?

Derrick Boseman:

Meditating. Prayer. Meditating. It was nothing to see him say, if we’re home for Christmas or for Thanksgiving, he might go into the living room, he was a martial artist. So he would do that and he would sit in the floor and in the meditation type thing and he might do this for an hour.

Maina Mwaura:

Wow. Just taking it all in.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. Prayer. Continued study. He had books. He didn’t have a library like this, but he had spiritual books. It was a lifestyle.

Maina Mwaura:

Yeah. Usually, help me out here pastor, usually people go out to Hollywood and I mean they experience with stuff, they usually leave their roots behind from where they came from. He doesn’t do that. I mean, he gets to Hollywood and he still…

Derrick Boseman:

He stays true to who he is.

Maina Mwaura:

He still remembers he’s from South Carolina. He still remembers that he’s a deeply spiritual man. He keeps with that flow. You don’t hear anything bad about him in the media. I mean, he stays with that.

Derrick Boseman:

I think he stayed grounded by keeping the lines of communication open.

Maina Mwaura:

With family?

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. I mean, he would talk to my mom more than anybody else. Probably Mom, Dad, me and Kevin probably run neck and neck in third place. I think it’s because he kept the same voices.

Maina Mwaura:

Wow. In his head.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. Yeah.

Maina Mwaura:

When I think of Black Panther, I look that movie, you are physically engaged in all of that. I mean, at the same time, he’s sick at the same time. How does he do that? Where does that endurance come from?

Derrick Boseman:

I mean, it has to come from the “most high.” It has to come from God. God tells Paul that my strength is made perfect in weakness.

Maina Mwaura:

In your weakness.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. So it had to come from that source.

Maina Mwaura:

I mean, when I found out that he had cancer and he was doing that, that’s unreal.

Derrick Boseman:

It’s my strength is made perfect in weakness. And he also, before it even happened, had lived a life of discipline. He had lived a life of building stamina. Because like the meditation period that I, that was either preceded, I don’t know if it came before or after like an hour-long fight workout where he would do 50 pushups, 50 crunches, throw 50 right crosses, 50 left crosses, 50 uppercuts, 50 jabs with each hand. So he would do all the punches known to man, all the kicks known to man.

Maina Mwaura:

That’s unreal.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. And he would do it in like a cycle of 10 times. And then he would just repeat that cycle.

Maina Mwaura:

As you’re watching this though…

Derrick Boseman:

It was like watching a machine.

Maina Mwaura:

What were you thinking internally though, as his brother going?

Derrick Boseman:

That the workout that I was doing was nothing compared to what he was doing. And I had serious workout.

Maina Mwaura:

Serious workout. I’d be going.

Derrick Boseman:

But his was other worldly.

Maina Mwaura:

When he’s going through his cancer battle, how was the family so disciplined to not reveal that to anyone else? How did you guys decide as a family, hey, this is between us? Because you and I both know families and friends who would have shared that, but man, no one knows until the day of his death. How does that happen?

Derrick Boseman:

Loyalty. Just pure unadulterated loyalty. It’s something that’s ingrained. I mean, it’s understood if this is what you want, this is how we’ll handle it. And I think it’s a protection thing too. Yeah. For me personally, being the older, I’m going to protect my brothers and my family, period. And he wanted to be a normal person. I mean, he was an exceptional person. But he wanted to be a normal person and a normal person would deal with it, I think, that way.

Maina Mwaura:

Privately.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah.

Maina Mwaura:

Yeah. Very much so. That’s a great point.

Derrick Boseman:

I mean, I’ve seen people do it other ways. But I mean, he didn’t want to take the world on that journey with him. And I’m not saying that people who opt to do it differently, who have celebrity were wrong, I’m just saying that he chose to do it privately.

Maina Mwaura:

I read, I think in The New York Times to be accurate and I think it was you who gave an interview to them, how he came to you the day before he passed away and said, “I’m in the last quarter.” What was that like? How’d you walk that through inwardly?

Derrick Boseman:

I have to think about it for a second.

Maina Mwaura:

And it’s one of those things I’m wondering-

Derrick Boseman:

I was already coming to, I don’t want to interrupt.

Maina Mwaura:

No, go right ahead.

Derrick Boseman:

I was already coming to that understanding anyway, just in watching. Just in seeing him in the kind of pain that he was in. I remember one time I leaned over to give him a hug and I just kissed him on his forehead, on his cheek and I accidentally put weight on his collarbone. He had gotten so small that he didn’t have like the…

Maina Mwaura:

Just the weight that you would normally have.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. And I was like, “Did that hurt?” He was like, “Everything hurts.”

Maina Mwaura:

Wow. One of his last acts that he does that, so struck me was that he weighs in on the election. He basically says, Senator Harris, I’m glad you’re here, basically. Why was that so important? This is my wife’s question here. She’s a AKA, by with way. Why was that so important for him to say, “Hey, I am acknowledging you. I’m glad you’re in the race.”

Derrick Boseman:

I didn’t know he did that.

Maina Mwaura:

Really?

Derrick Boseman:

I know there’s a picture of them. I know they’re both from Howard. She actually called our family. Yeah, I didn’t know he did that.

Maina Mwaura:

Yeah. My wife was is AKA like Senator Harris is.

Derrick Boseman:

Mine is also.

Maina Mwaura:

Yeah. So it was very powerful moment for her because my wife’s a big, she would want to be here to ask you the questions right now, by the way. His legacy. What do you think not only will that be, but as his brother, what do you want that to be?

Derrick Boseman:

As a man of faith. A man of extreme intelligence. A man who took the gifts that God blessed him with, he took what he was given and he multiplied it. He was well rounded. He was well read. He was completely into culture, who we are as a people. He was an amazing person. He had the three A’s, I call them, he was analytical, he was athletic and he was very, very artistic.

Maina Mwaura:

Wow. Man, that’s a powerful combination. Really last question this time, Derek. Black Panther II, I can’t tell you how my friends told me to ask this question, because I’m a big fan as well, what would he want Black Panther II to be like?

Derrick Boseman:

I can’t answer that.

Maina Mwaura:

What would you want it to be like, I can’t come here and ask that question. No, I’m joking Derek. No, I get it.

Derrick Boseman:

I mean, I would want him to be in it. I would want him to continue to be King T’Challa. Now I can answer what you aren’t asking me.

Maina Mwaura:

Okay. What is that question?

Derrick Boseman:

I see a narrative being assembled by Hollywood and I could be completely wrong, but a Black man being a king does not fit the narrative of what they want the world to see. A Black man being a victim, yeah. Black men being killed in the streets, yeah. But a Black man being a king is not the narrative that they want the world to see. And I don’t think they liked the response that came back from a Black man being a king. And though I believe that Black women are queens anyway, I think that the narrative that we will see is that the Black Panther will be a female.

Maina Mwaura:

You think so?

Derrick Boseman:

I believe so. I believe it’ll be her little sister or his little sister. That’s what I think. But a Black man being a king does not fit what the powers that be want.

Maina Mwaura:

That’s very interesting. It’s said that the more we do talk things out, the more we do start to heal. Yes. But also the more we start to honor the person too, which is even deeper, I think.

Derrick Boseman:

Yeah. I mean, I have other battles to fight that that are surrounding this. So that narrative that I gave sounds probably kind of conspiratorial.

Maina Mwaura:

You think?

Derrick Boseman:

I think so.

Maina Mwaura:

Why is that? I got to ask that. Why is that? The journalist that’s in me got to ask that question.

Derrick Boseman:

I don’t think anything’s happens by happenstance. I’m going to leave it right there for now.

 

Why Christians Need to Talk About Sex

Why Christians Need to Talk About Sex

Sex is a good thing. For all human history, human beings have had sex and been aware of their sexuality. It is a fundamental function of creation to reproduce that God instituted from the beginning. But sexuality is not simply about reproduction. It is about the awareness and expression of our bodies. We are spiritual beings, but we are also natural beings. God created us that way on purpose. If we were meant to be all spiritual, we would have been created like angels, but God made us from the earth on purpose. Jesus Christ came to us IN THE FLESH, not as a spiritual principle, a vision, or a disembodied being. Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day according to Jewish law, as all Jews were. This was a sexual act with spiritual meaning that is literally at the heart of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, as New Covenant Christians we often overfocus on the spirit and miss the fact that the New Covenant is literally made because of Jesus’ BODY broken for us and blood shed for us. It is Jesus’ humanity, not spirit that is the sacrifice that reunites us with God. The conversation is different depending on your stage of life. Believers who are married with kids need to have different conversations than single believers in early adulthood, or teenagers, or those who are divorced, or single after the death of a spouse. But regardless of our age or station in life we need to do a better job having these conversations as Christians. Here are 3 major reasons why Christians need to talk about sex.

  1. God created us to be sexual beings

Every person was designed to be sexual, and that goes far beyond having sex. When God created Adam and Eve, they were meant to relate to one another sexually and their relationship to be closer than parent to child in future generations. They were naked and unashamed of their bodies (Genesis 2:24-35). There are any number of reasons why believers are ashamed of their sexuality today, many of them unfortunately from bad teaching in churches. But that is not the design of God. We were created to relate to one another sexually BEFORE sin entered the world.

  1. Christian sexuality is meant to be different

A lot of our confusion, angst, shame, sorrow, and frustration with reconciling our sexuality with our faith is because of a Biblical principle that Christian sex is meant to be different than sexuality for those who don’t follow Christ. The covenant between God and Abraham made Israelite men sexually different from their neighbors in other nations (Genesis 17). The Law of Moses set up sexual limitations and regulations that were meant to distinguish Israel from other nations. The principle always pushed toward relationship with God reflected in our sexual relationships with others. The word used in scripture is holy, but to translate that our modern culture we might say intentional, purposeful difference that honors God. Paul picks up this Jewish principle in the New Testament by articulating a vision of sexual relationships that is monogamous, mutual, caring, and loving that reflect Christ’s love. We have often been caught up on the restrictions and missed the vision in the church. We have to be responsible with our sexuality because we are accountable to God in a different way as followers of Christ. We are called to be vulnerable, loving, and intentional with our sexuality in a way that is different than the world around us.

  1. We should love and not fear our sexuality

1 John 4:18 reminds us that perfect love casts out all fear. The world has set false standards that promote fear, violence, and mistrust in sexual relationships. We have no need to rehearse the many ways popular culture, corporate interests, and sociopolitical forces use and abuse sexuality. Often their goals are to use sex to make money and create false intimacy. But for many believers we have been taught to fear sexuality to maintain holiness. It has caused believers to have arrested development, face shame and ridicule, leave churches, and seek unhealthy sources to define their sexuality. We rarely speak of the difficulties many newly married Christian couples face around sexual expectations, communication, and formation because of ignorance, self-rejection, and fear. We do not talk about the struggles teenagers face with loving their bodies instead of hating and fearing them. We do not deal with the choice to not have sex as young adults instead of treating sex as an uncontrollable inevitable impulse. We are afraid of the word intimate because we have been taught it is dirty. Our bodies are not beasts to be tamed. They are part of us to be loved. Paul Himself would agree with this, treating our bodies as a Temple of God means loving and tending to them with the utmost care (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Not fearing and avoiding them as we abuse them and let them be abused by others. But Jesus loves us. He loves our bodies. He wants us to love God with our bodies just as we do with our minds and hearts. And we make sexual choices that build intimacy and protection with our romantic partner. We do not discuss the why of a holistic view of Christian sexuality which sets us up for pain before and during marriage. But we should talk about sex. We should love our bodies and our sexuality. We should define what sexual holiness means as believers in terms of what we choose to do instead of what we feel we can’t do. We should honor God’s design for sexuality by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, sexuality included.

Speaking Across Generations: Interview with Dr. Darrell Hall

Speaking Across Generations: Interview with Dr. Darrell Hall

As we emerge from the global lockdown of the pandemic many institutions, organizations, and individuals are having to rethink what it means to connect and communicate. The Church is faced more than ever with how to reach across generational lines to survive and thrive in the new world. Dr. Darrell Hall has been in ministry for decades and now has quantitative and qualitative research to help churches reach multigenerational communities. UrbanFaith sat down with Darrell Hall to discuss his new book Speaking Across Generations.

 

#multigenerational #church #generationalknowledge #faith #christianity #atlanta #genx #genz #babyboomers #millennials #onechurch #community

EntreVangelism: Stepping Out of the Church and Into the Marketplace

EntreVangelism: Stepping Out of the Church and Into the Marketplace

 

For years, I struggled to reconcile my passion for ministry and the marketplace. As a young minister, I found myself equally intrigued by the stories of great evangelists and the stories of entrepreneurs that used their influence to change the world. While the aspiration to be like the men and women I admired was immense, my reality painted a different picture. I was broke. Not only was I broke, but I faced the hard truth that I did not have the financial resources to accomplish what I felt God was calling me to do in ministry. Please don’t get me wrong, money does not make a ministry successful, but it sure does help. After all, the Bible states: “Money answers everything.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19).

As a Campus Staff Minister at a major Christian non-profit, I was tasked with raising a substantial budget to support the work of ministering the Gospel to students at Wesleyan University. After eight months of meeting with fundraising coaches and pitching the ministry to over 200 potential philanthropic partners, I was only able to raise half of my original fundraising goal. Little did I know that my failure to secure funding would be the catalyst to discovering my destiny in Christ.

Like many other young ministers, my desire to be an entrepreneur was distinctly separate from my desire to preach the Gospel. Because of this, I attributed my failures to lack of networks, lack of skill, and poor personal leadership, only to find that the deeper issue at play was that I was inauthentically engaging the call of God on my life. God called me to be a minister and an entrepreneur. In essence, an “EntreVangelist.”

I had spent nearly a decade preaching, serving on non-profit executive boards, traveling on missions nationally and internationally, and ministering in my local church. Yet, I never thought of taking the skills I acquired in ministry into the marketplace until I received what seemed to be a random call from a multi-millionaire asking me to work for him. He remembered my fundraising pitch from years ago. Now, it was his chance to pitch his multimillion-dollar project to me.

During the interview, I listened intently, mentally documented the areas needed for improvement, and made a suggestion that changed the project’s trajectory. Within a few weeks, I became the lead consultant. From that point on, I leveraged the skills I learned in ministry to lead a team of consultants, hire staff, and successfully pitch the project to city officials. While this opportunity transitioned me into a better understanding of God’s will for my life, I realized that I was internally conflicted by my desire to minister outside of the confines of the box I created around my calling. To address this internal struggle, I needed to clear up a misconception within myself regarding ministering in the marketplace.

Misconception: Ministry and the Marketplace Must be Separate

The misconception that deterred me from merging my skills in ministry and the marketplace was that I believed they were distinctly separate. Remember the story in the Bible where Jesus entered the temple courts and drove the money changers and merchants out of the temple? Well, for many that Scripture has been used to justify a separation between business and church; however, when one takes a closer look at Matthew 21:13, they will notice that Jesus declares: “My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.” This narrative focuses on the merchants and money changers perverting the House of God for personal gain. When Jesus forcefully redirects those exploiting the temple, He re-shifts the focus back to its primary use as a house of prayer. So, does this justify that the church and business should remain separate? The answer is no.

One thing to consider is that churches in America are legally and practically a business. Many, if not most churches have budgets, paid and volunteer staff, insurance, and boards of directors. In fact, the estimated hundreds of thousands of Protestant churches in America collect billions in revenue each year. They provide services, strategic planning, community development, networking events, conferences, and workshops that are considered valuable services in secular industries. A critical concept to understand is that the Church is a business and a ministry. As stewards entrusted with leading both, we should never forget that the primary function of the Church must always remain for the worship of God.

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.

Faith leaders attend White House celebration of gun control law

Faith leaders attend White House celebration of gun control law

 

(RNS) — Faith leaders from a wide range of traditions, including those whose houses of worship have been attacked, were at the White House Monday (July 11) as members of Congress and other gun control advocates gathered for a White House celebration of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed into law June 25.

Pastor Mike McBride, the leader of Live Free USA, who has long sought political support to especially help the nation’s urban centers, hailed the signing as an opportunity to address gun violence deaths that do not always make national headlines.

“It’s been a very difficult task to get the death of Black men in this country, much less the death of any Black folks, to receive national attention and intervention,” said McBride. “Even among Democrats — Democrats have not been the most political champions for this work. So it’s taken us 10 years to get to $250 million committed in a bipartisan way.”

On hand were Rabbi Jonathan Perlman and others who endured a mass shooting in 2018 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother was among the nine African American worshippers killed during the 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“That was beautiful — to see all these heroic people, survivors that have been working for change,” said Shane Claiborne, co-founder of the group Red Letter Christians and leader of an effort that melts down guns into garden tools in observance of the biblical call to turn “swords into plowshares.”

But Claiborne added that he understood that the bipartisan legislation “is the most substantial gun reform bill that we’ve seen in 30 years. But what we also heard is how dysfunctional our political process is — because there’s so much more that’s needed.”

“We need a ban on assault rifles,” he added.

The legislation includes a variety of interventions into gun purchasing, including expansion of background checks for people younger than 21, $250 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives and $500 million to increase the number of mental health staffers in school districts.

President Joe Biden, in remarks from the White House’s South Lawn, decried the violence that has turned houses of worship, schools, nightclubs and stores into places of death.

“Neighborhoods and streets have been turned into killing fields as well,” said the president. “Will we match thoughts and prayers with action? I say yes. And that’s what we’re doing here today.”

Claiborne said he presented a Christian cross made from a melted-down gun barrel to second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, as well as to a friend of President Biden.

McBride said his efforts with faith leaders on this issue date back to a 2013 meeting at the Obama White House, when Biden was vice president.

“In 2013, we asked for $300 million, and we were told no,” he recalled. “And so some 10 years later, we’ve gotten close to that original ask.”

He said the programs for which groups like the Fund Peace Foundation seek support are “targeted for Black and brown communities that are dealing with the highest rates of gun violence,” including from gangs and intimate partners.

Other faith groups have responded to the passage of the legislation with statements of support.

“The investments in mental health services and reasonable measures to regulate guns included in this bill are positive initial steps towards confronting a culture of violence,” said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“We are heartened that after almost three decades of gridlock, Congress has finally taken bipartisan action to address America’s gun violence epidemic and end violent crime,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “This is a huge victory, but we cannot allow this to be the end.”

While calling himself grateful for this historic development, McBride said he and his partners will be pushing for far more support.

“This will be a failure if this is the only thing they do for the next few years,” he said.

Biden seemed to agree that further action was needed.

“We have so much more work to do,” he concluded. “May God bless all of us with the strength to finish the work left undone, and on behalf of the lives we’ve lost and the lives we can save, may God bless you all.”

Inflation boosts demand at food banks as pandemic anti-hunger measures fall away

Inflation boosts demand at food banks as pandemic anti-hunger measures fall away

(RNS) — At the Seven Loaves Food Pantry at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, volunteers have been serving 800 to 1,200 families a week since the COVID-19 pandemic began — about four times the weekly traffic in 2019.

At the ICNA Relief Food Pantry in Raytown, Missouri, just east of Kansas City, 100 new families have registered to receive the Muslim-led organization’s services in just the past month.

“We are busier than ever right now,” said Shannon Cameron, executive director of the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry in Aurora, Illinois, where, after a slight dip around tax return season, between 30 and 60 new families are registering every week.

The inflation that has loomed over the economy and restricted many Americans’ purchasing power of late has doubly affected low-income people who already struggle to get by. A recent survey by the anti-hunger organization Feeding America has shown that increased demand has affected nearly 80% of U.S. food banks, as higher prices cause more families to seek assistance.

And while President Joe Biden recently signed the Keep Kids Fed Act, extending free meal programs for schoolchildren, many stopgaps funded during the pandemic have ended or are only available in some states.

“For the households that were already food insecure in 2020, nearly half of those reported using a food pantry,” said Jordan Teague, interim director for policy analysis and coalition building at Bread for the World. “Now, more people are facing the crisis. We’re all sort of feeling that pinch, and government programs are coming to an end.”

Since the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has donated surplus commodities it buys to stabilize farm prices to the Charitable Food Assistance System, a network of food banks. For four years, the Trump administration bolstered the program to offset the cost of its tariff increases, raising the share of the USDA’s contributions to as much as 15% of some food banks’ supplies. Those resources, too, have now tailed off.

“We saw a real increase even before the pandemic hit in those USDA commodities and, obviously, during the pandemic, USDA made more commodities available as well,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, a faith-based food security organization based in Austin. “Now, without them, we’re seeing a drop-off.”

Food banks are looking more than ever to make up the gaps with private monetary donations, and government financial assistance. “For every dollar donated to a food bank, we can stretch it to four meals,” said Cole. “We encourage people to be educated with their elected officials in support of hunger-fighting programs like SNAP and the Child Nutrition Programs.”

Historically high gas prices have added further strain on local food pantries, causing delays in the transport of food from farm to market, and from market to food banks.

“We own a fleet of semis,” said Mike Hoffman, inventory and logistics director at Midwest Food Bank, a Christian charity that supplies more than 2,000 churches, nonprofits and community centers across the country. “Fuel prices have taken a toll. We’ve gone through our entire year’s fuel budget in the first five months.”

The same supply chain problems, including a lack of available truck drivers, that have beset the economy apply to fighting hunger as well. Barbara Wojtklewicz, part of the leadership team that runs the food pantry at Christ Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts, said staff at the Greater Boston Food Bank, a regional network of 600 food distributors, have reported driver shortages recently.

“There is ample food to distribute,” Wojtklewicz told Religion News Service, “but they’ve had to limit … distribution to different food pantries.”

Maj. Deb Coolidge at the Salvation Army’s food distribution center in Plymouth has had trouble sourcing fresh food. “Less salad mix and cucumber — oranges and apples,” Coolidge said. “Those have not been on the list for the last couple of months.”

At ICNA Relief in Missouri, Ferdous Hossain, associate operations coordinator, has likewise found it increasingly difficult to provide fresh produce to the 300 families who rely on the pantry for food assistance each month. Local agencies, farms and food banks that ICNA collaborates with are also feeling the produce pinch.

 To live up to her center’s unofficial motto — “Fresh produce. Fresh fruit. Anything and everything that is fresh” — Hossain has been buying produce at the grocery store, a last resort because of higher prices.

Donors are also stepping up, thinking creatively to help fill the gaps. Wojtklewicz said that the Christ Church pantry in Plymouth received 100 gift cards to local grocery stores along with its shipment from the Greater Boston Food Bank.

As economists prepare Americans for a possible recession, Beth Zarate, president and CEO of Catholic Charities West Virginia, expressed “anxiety” about the rural residents in her state and their ability to stay ahead of increased gas prices and food costs. At 15.1%, West Virginia has the highest percentage of households facing hunger, according to a 2020 USDA study.

Zarate is counting on West Virginians to come to their neighbors’ aid. “West Virginia is unique because we come out at the bottom of every chart in terms of chronic health issues, hunger and poverty,” Zarate said. “But we also have people who are good to each other.”

“People are generous,” said Darra Slagle, director of Rose’s Bounty, a food pantry operating out of Stratford Street United Church in Boston, “and when they are made aware of the need, are able to help. I encourage people to give to their local food pantries. They could use money to get the things that they need.”

Hoffman at the Midwest Food Bank said prayer is another life raft for anti-hunger operations.

“We have a lot of prayer warriors,” he said. “The faith community is a huge part of what we do, (and) many churches pray for us. The Bible says, ‘The poor you’ll have with you always,’ so we know we have a job that needs to be done, and we’ll keep getting it done.”

From Freedom to Freedom: Memory & The Space Between

From Freedom to Freedom: Memory & The Space Between

“Liminal” is defined as the space between. It is the no-longer before, and the not-yet other. It is the space where we find ourselves caught between the light of Juneteenth and the shadow of July 4th. We are caught in the space between. No longer enslaved on plantations, but not yet with a freedom fully realized. It’s an imaginative space; an emergent space; and a space for reflection.

It is in this space that I am reminded of the Statue of Liberty, and the broken chains at her feet. I first learned about the chains in 2017, at a training in Chicago led by Dr. Joy DeGruy. She told the story of how the chains were part of the original vision of the statue, how American financiers insisted that the chains be removed, and how the sculptor still managed to sneak the chains in under Lady Liberty’s garments, lying broken at her feet. She told the story how the National Park Services didn’t talk about the chains unless someone happened to ask. The chains were not part of the Park Services’ narrative about the Statue. In the Statue’s 135-year history, information about the chains have only officially been included in the park service’s literature and website for about the past six years.

Yasmin Sabina Khan goes even deeper in her work, “Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty.” Conceived in 1865 by Édouard de Laboulaye, sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi over the course of approximately 20 years, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled at New York’s Ellis Island as “Liberty Enlightening the World” in October of 1886. At the base of the Statue, out of view from anyone looking from ground level, lie the broken chains of slavery. Visible only from helicopter or drone, the chains weren’t spoken of. Laboulaye was an ardent abolitionist. With the end of the US Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye imagined a gift that would embody the significance of the liberation of those who were enslaved. Bartholdi’s original model placed the torch of liberty in one hand, and broken chains in the other. The Statue of Liberty’s entire visual and artistic vocabulary was meant to both celebrate and honor the freedom of those enslaved in America. But financiers balked at the idea of chains placed anywhere on the Statue, and after profuse opposition by Bartholdi, the chains were removed, replaced by a tablet emblazoned with the Roman numerals for July 4, 1776. Since they aren’t easily visible, and since there was no concerted public effort to connect the statue with the narrative of the abolition of chattel slavery, the memory of it’s connections faded. And for the past 135 years, barely anyone remembered the chains.

For Black people within this liminal march of history, the Statue has long sat as a symbol of hypocrisy—celebrating a freedom that became connected to a honoring of ideals that have yet to be realized. There’s much to unpack about our historical reactions to the unveiling of the Statue, but there’s also much to be said about the loss of memory. The obscuring and loss of communal memory around the presence, history, and meaning of the chains at the feet of the Statue of Liberty is important because it reminds us that  memory is important.  And not only is memory important, memory is crucial in this liminal space between freedom and freedom. Memory is what helps us imagine. Memory is what helps us create. It’s something we can use to construct and define a new world, a new freedom, a new way of being.  We must tap into it. 

In his book, “Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance” Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes, “creative imagination is one of the greatest of re-membering practices…” and that “memory is the link between the past and the present, between space and time, and it is the base of our dreams.” Harnessing memory is our work.  These broken chains at our feet, the light of Juneteenth, the long shadow of July 4th—this liminal space—all of it is here to remind us that we have worlds to build. We have a freedom to define—to make clear and meaningful. It is within this creative tension where we have the possibility to gain a clear-eyed view of what a full realization of freedom could look like, both collectively as a community and a country, and particularly in the living out of our individual lives and individual situations. But understand, there can be no clear expression  of freedom without integrating communal memory into the foundation of work. 

If memory is the base of our dreams, what are our dreams of freedom? What if we could transform freedom in the same ways that we’ve always transformed culture? In this liminal space of history, we’ve seen Black creativity, Black genius, Black art, and Black joy shift and drive culture (and economies) around the world. Have we fired that same ingenuity in our definitions of freedom? What would the world look like, if we defined and constructed freedom based on our criteria, our imaginations, our memory? It might look something like a society built on the idea of thriving rather than destruction.  It might look something like a society built around dignity—of humans, animals, and the earth. It might look something like systems built to nourish and sustain life rather than profit. Freedom could look like so many different visions of more and better. The dreaming is up to us. 

We have work to do. We have worlds to build. We have a freedom to create. And as we go about protesting and advocating for our lives, here in this liminal space between freedom that was and freedom that might yet be, may we remember that the work we have to do, the worlds we are building, and the freedom we are creating, cannot reach their fullest expression without our communal memory. 

Let us remember the chains broken at our feet, so that we may creatively continue in our generation’s leg of the journey toward the light of freedom fully realized.

‘Blessing of Elders’ lauds 7 Black Christian luminaries at Museum of the Bible gala

‘Blessing of Elders’ lauds 7 Black Christian luminaries at Museum of the Bible gala

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Well-known names from the world of gospel music and the Black church gathered at the Museum of the Bible to hail the contributions of African American churches and to call for continued efforts toward building unity and bridging divides.

The “Blessing of the Elders,” an awards celebration held Thursday (June 23) just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, specifically honored seven leaders known for their contributions in megachurches, denominational leadership, civil rights, music and religious broadcasting.

The Rev. A.R. Bernard, an honoree and a Brooklyn, New York, pastor, described the Black church, in its varied expressions, as a repository of Black culture in America.

“Embracing Christianity, Blacks didn’t seek to imitate white Christianity — oh no, instead we created a parallel religious culture, our own brand of Christianity with our own hymns, music, style of worship, much influenced by the challenge of slavery,” Bernard said in the museum’s World Stage Theater.

“Christianity gave Blacks hope in the midst of a hopeless situation, and we’re not done yet. I believe the 21st century will see the Black church lead the way to hope and healing in a deeply divided nation.”

One honoree, Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., the former top leader of the Church of God in Christ, was unable to attend due to medical reasons.

“Bishop Blake wanted me to tell you he was sorry he couldn’t be here,” said Harry Hargrave, chief executive officer of the Museum of the Bible. “He’s coming off of COVID. He’s feeling much better.”

Jon Sharpe, the museum’s chief relations officer, and the Rev. Tony Lowden, pastor of the Georgia church where former President Jimmy Carter is a member, took the stage to explain how the predominantly Black gathering came to be.

Sharpe said he had a vision two decades ago that “the Black church is going to lead spiritual renewal in America.”

The museum executive, who is white, shared his idea over dinner with Lowden, an African American man who had attended a 2020 fatherhood conference at the museum. Lowden said the concept — which Bernard now calls a “movement” — resonated with him.

“There was a move that we had to answer, asking us to come together, go around the nation to talk about how we can bring the Black church together to lead,” Lowden said.

Over the course of the more than three-hour ceremony, coming together and overcoming were recurrent themes.

“The only way we can go forward now is with ‘love one another,’” said honoree John Perkins, a civil rights veteran and reconciliation advocate, quoting the New Testament book of 1 John and elevating the church as a whole over congregations attended by Black or white people. “‘He that loves knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God.’”

North Carolina pastor Shirley Caesar, an honoree known for her award-winning gospel singing, spoke of worshipping in the “red church,” based on the sacrifice of Jesus, rather than at a Black church or a white church.

And Dallas pastor Tony Evans also spoke of a unified church, saying, “It’s time to go public as the Black church and white church of the kingdom of God, the glory of God and the advancement of his rule in history. It’s time for the church to lead the way.”

Bishop Vashti McKenzie, an honoree and the first woman prelate in the more than 200-year-old African Methodist Episcopal Church, said she accepted her award “on behalf of women who have been pushed to the margins of church culture, yet their gifts continue to make room for them.” As McKenzie stood between her daughter and granddaughter, whom she asked to join her on stage, she urged others to adhere to the biblical admonition to “stand firm.”

Actor and producer Denzel Washington, one of the presenters at the event, noted his spiritual trajectory was shaped by two of the evening’s honorees as they led churches on opposite U.S. coasts — Blake’s West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles and Bernard’s Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.

“It’s been an amazing 40-year journey from Bishop Blake’s church, where I first was filled with the Holy Spirit, to tonight,” Washington said, noting that Bernard, “a man of God with a mind of God,” had asked the actor to speak during his time of tribute. “It has been a blessing for all of us to be students of Pastor A.R. Bernard. It’s been a blessing for me personally to have someone that I can talk to, ask questions.”

Between prayers and speeches, a range of Black church music was featured, including from co-hosts BeBe Winans and Erica Campbell — who also harmonized a bit of “Amazing Grace” while awaiting a working teleprompter. Wintley Phipps, Pastor Marvin Winans, Lecrae, the Clark Sisters, Tramaine Hawkins, Fred Hammond and Anthony Brown & group therAPy also performed.

The Blessing of the Elders initiative, which thus far has included a steering committee and been supported by the Museum of the Bible and partnering foundations, individuals and corporate sponsors, is now a not-for-profit corporation that Bernard will chair. In an interview before the gala, he said its next steps could include a documentary, an exhibit or a curriculum about the history of the Black church that would be particularly intended for white churches “to walk a mile in our shoes.”

Steve Green, board chair and founder of the museum, said in a separate interview that a temporary exhibit centered on the Black church — delving more into the subject than what is already featured in its Bible in America permanent exhibit — is a possibility at his facility.

“To be able to do a deep dive within the Black community and the Black church is an exciting opportunity for us to consider because there is a story to be told,” he said.

The evening ended with a blessing of the celebrated elders, but Bishop T.D. Jakes, another honoree, made it clear the concluding prayer should not be solely for the seven people with bios in the program but rather all those who gathered to laud them.

“Perhaps the greatest elders are not on this stage; perhaps the greatest elders are you,” he said. “So if we bless the elders and exclude you from the blessing, we will have missed the opportunity of God’s attention. Because the future is in your hands and your mouth. We’ve all spoken. The next message is on you.”

UF Ministry in the Barbershop

UF Ministry in the Barbershop

The barbershop serves as a default counseling center and community center for many Black men. But for barbers who are believers, it becomes a place for ministry. Meet Clayton Taylor, a minister and barber who sees his barber chair as his pulpit. UrbanFaith Contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with Taylor to discuss what it is like to be a barber who shares God’s love from behind the chair.

Dobbs decision and fall of Roe met with rejoicing, dismay from faith groups

Dobbs decision and fall of Roe met with rejoicing, dismay from faith groups

(RNS) — After nearly 50 years, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, is no more.

In a 6-3 decision Friday (June 24), the Supreme Court overruled both Roe, decided in 1973, and a 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion. The ruling came in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenged a Mississippi law that imposed strict restrictions on abortion.

“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” the Supreme Court ruled. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”

The Dobbs decision has been anticipated since May, when an early draft of the ruling was leaked to Politico. Friday’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion was met with both rejoicing and dismay by faith leaders, who have been loud voices on either side of the abortion debate since before Roe.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishop’s USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that Catholics and other faith communities had worked and prayed for Roe’s reversal for years.

He said that the church needs to focus its efforts on a “beautiful vision of human life” and redouble its efforts to assist pregnant mothers who are facing difficult circumstances.

“We haven’t simply opposed abortion,” he said in an interview. “We have been working for the cause of life by providing services — medical services, pro-life pregnancy centers, educational services, charitable services, adoption services.”

Lori added: “What the church has brought to this is a beautiful vision of human life.,” he said. “A beautiful understanding that every life is precious from conception to natural death. We feel that today’s decision by the Supreme Court will help us in communicating and living that vision more effectively. “

The USCCB also called for more support for pregnant women and their children in the wake of Roe v. Wade.

“It is a time for healing wounds and repairing social divisions; it is a time for reasoned reflection and civil dialogue, and for coming together to build a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her child into this world in love.”

The Vatican Academy for Life also issued a statement calling for the U.S. to build a society that supports families and “ensuring adequate sexual education, guaranteeing health care accessible to all and preparing legislative measures to protect the family and motherhood, overcoming existing inequalities.” 

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, reacted to the decision with “gut-wrenching horror.”

“This ruling gives right-wing leaders unfettered license to codify fringe religious beliefs into civil law. It is a full-frontal assault on, and is utterly incompatible with, the bedrock American principles of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.”

Like many Americans, faith leaders remain divided on the issue of abortion.

While more than half of Americans (61%) say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, 74% of white evangelicals say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Few Americans believe it should be outlawed completely, according to Pew Research.

“Today is a day of heartbreak, outrage and injustice,” said Jeanné Lewis, CEO of Faith in Public Life, in a statement. “We all have God-given dignity, and we are created to live in respectful relationship with one another. Access to abortion care honors these values; criminalizing people who access or provide abortion does not.”

The National Association of Evangelicals, which filed a brief in the Dobbs case, welcomed the news that Roe was overturned.

“God is the author of life, and every human life from conception to death has inestimable worth,” said Walter Kim, NAE president. “Under Roe v. Wade, our ability to consider policies that safeguard life at the most vulnerable stage was severely limited. While the Dobbs decision doesn’t resolve all the questions on abortion policy, it does remove an impediment to considering pro-life concerns.”

Texas pastor Bart Barber, newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that Southern Baptists rejoiced at today’s ruling, and they support laws that would ban abortion, “except in cases wherein the life of the mother is endangered by carrying the baby to term.”

Barber also said “expectant mothers facing difficult circumstances deserve the love and support of the church, the community, and society.”

The New York-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs condemned the Dobbs ruling, saying it does not represent “the will of the people, nor is it in the best interests of the country.” The group also said banning abortion is contrary to Jewish law and values.

“While we treat a fetus with great significance, it does not merit the status of a person until the moment of birth and then it has equal status with the person giving birth,” the JCPA said in a statement. “If the fetus endangers a person’s life physically or, according to at least some Jewish religious authorities, through mental anguish, Jewish law supports abortion of a fetus up until the moment of birth.”

The New York State Catholic Conference said in a response to the decision to overturn Roe, “We give thanks to God.”

“With the entire pro-life community, we are overjoyed with this outcome of the Court,” the statement continued. “However, we acknowledge the wide range of emotions associated with this decision. We call on all Catholics and everyone who supports the right to life for unborn children to be charitable, even as we celebrate an important historical moment and an answer to a prayer.”

The American Humanist Association said the decision will undermine the rights of religious minorities, including non-theists. The group also worries today’s decision will be used in the future to undermine other Supreme Court decisions.

“The reasoning used will further provide a pathway to overturn decisions in important civil rights cases like Obergefell v. Hodges (which prohibits laws banning same-sex marriage) and Loving v. Virginia (which prohibits laws banning interracial marriage) among others, the group said in a statement.

On social media, Amani al-Khatahtbeh, founder of Muslimgirl.com, called the decision a violation of her religious freedom:

The Thomas More Society, a nonprofit legal group that opposes abortion, filed several briefs in the Dobbs case and supports today’s decision.

“Today’s pro-life victory is still only one more step in our ongoing crusade for the sacred cause we serve,” said Tom Brejcha, the group’s president and chief counsel.

Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Associationalso sees the Dobbs decision as undermining religious freedom and a violation of her community’s “moral commitment” to the well-being of families.

“This anti-choice decision by the Supreme Court infringes on our deeply held religious beliefs,” she said in a statement. “Access to abortion and the right to choose is an issue of gender equality, bodily autonomy, and religious liberty, all of which are long-held Unitarian Universalist religious teachings.”

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

Jack Jenkins and Claire Giangravè contributed to this report.