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.

 

 

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.

Race Is Often Used as Medical Shorthand for How Bodies Work. Some Doctors Want to Change That.

Race Is Often Used as Medical Shorthand for How Bodies Work. Some Doctors Want to Change That.

Several months ago, a lab technologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital mixed the blood components of two people: Alphonso Harried, who needed a kidney, and Pat Holterman-Hommes, who hoped to give him one.

The goal was to see whether Harried’s body would instantly see Holterman-Hommes’ organ as a major threat and attack it before surgeons could finish a transplant. To do that, the technologist mixed in fluorescent tags that would glow if Harried’s immune defense forces would latch onto the donor’s cells in preparation for an attack. If, after a few hours, the machine found lots of glowing, it meant the kidney transplant would be doomed. It stayed dark: They were a match.

“I was floored,” said Harried.

Both recipient and donor were a little surprised. Harried is Black. Holterman-Hommes is white.

Could a white person donate a kidney to a Black person? Would race get in the way of their plans? Both families admitted those kinds of questions were flitting around in their heads, even though they know, deep down, that “it’s more about your blood type — and all of our blood is red,” as Holterman-Hommes put it.

Scientists widely agree that race is a social construct, yet it is often conflated with biology, leaving the impression that a person’s race governs how the body functions.

“It’s not just laypeople — it’s in the medical field as well. People often conflate race with biology,” said Dr. Marva Moxey-Mims, chief of pediatric nephrology at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

She’s not talking just about kidney medicine. Race has been used as a shorthand for how people’s bodies work for years across many fields — not out of malice but because it was based on what was considered the best science available at the time. The science was not immune to the racialized culture it sprung from, which is now being seen in a new light. For example, U.S. pediatricians recently ditched a calculation that assumed Black children were less likely to get a urinary tract infection after new research found the risk had to do with a child’s history of fevers and past infections — not race. And obstetricians removed race and ethnicity from a calculation meant to gauge a patient’s ability to have a vaginal birth after a previous cesarean section, once they determined it was based on flawed science. Still, researchers say those race-based guidelines are just a slice of those being used to assess patients, and are largely based on the assumption that how a person looks or identifies reflects their genetic makeup.

Race does have its place during a doctor’s visit, however. Medical providers who give patients culturally competent care — the act of acknowledging a patient’s heritage, beliefs, and values during treatment — often see improved patient outcomes. Culturally competent doctors understand that overt racism and microaggressions can not only cause mental distress but also that racial trauma can make a person physically sick. Race is a useful tool for identifying population-level disparities, but experts now say it is not very useful in making decisions about how to treat an individual patient.

Because using race as a medical shorthand is at best imprecise and at worst harmful, a conversation is unfolding nationally among lawmakers, scientists, and doctors who say one of the best things patients can do is ask if — and how — their race is factored into their care.

Doctors and researchers in kidney care have been active recently in reevaluating their use of race-based medical guidance.

“History is being written right now that this is not the right thing to do and that the path forward is to use race responsibly and not to do it in the way that we’ve been doing in the past,” says Dr. Nwamaka Eneanya, a nephrologist with Fresenius Medical Care, who in a previous position with the University of Pennsylvania traced in the journal Nature the history of how race — a social construct— became embedded in medicine.

The perception that there is such a thing as a “Black” or “white” kidney quietly followed patient and donor as Harried and Holterman-Hommes were on the path to the transplant — in their medical records and in the screening tests recommended.

Medical records described Harried as a “47-year-old Black or African American male” and Holterman-Hommes as a “58-year-old, married Caucasian female.” Harried does not recall ever providing his race or speaking with his physicians about the influence of race on his care, but for two years or more his classification as “Black or African American” was a factor in the equations doctors used to estimate how well his kidneys were working. As previous KHN reporting lays out, that practice — distinguishing between “Black” and “non-Black” bodies — was the norm. In fall 2021, a national committee determined race has no place in estimating kidney function, a small but significant step in revising how race is considered.

Dr. Lisa McElroy, a surgeon who performs kidney transplants at Duke University, said the constant consideration of race “is the rule, not the exception, in medicine.”

“Medicine or health care is a little bit like art. It reflects the culture,” she said. “Race is a part of our culture, and it shows up all through it — and health care is no different.”

McElroy no longer mentions race in her patients’ notes, because it “really has no bearing on the clinical care plan or biology of disease.”

Still, such assumptions extend throughout health care. Some primary care doctors, for example, continue to hew to an assumption that Black patients cannot handle certain kinds of blood pressure medications, even while researchers have concluded those assumptions don’t make sense, distract doctors from considering factors more important than race — like whether the patient has access to nutritious food and stable housing — and could prevent patients from achieving better health by limiting their options.

Studying population-level patterns is important for identifying where disparities exist, but that doesn’t mean people’s bodies innately function differently — just as population-level disparities in pay do not indicate one gender is fundamentally more capable of hard work.

“If you see group differences … they’re usually driven by what we do to groups,” said Dr. Keith Norris, not by innate differences in those groups. Still, medicine often continues to use race as a crude catchall, said Norris, a UCLA nephrologist, “as if every Black person in America experiences the same amount and the same quantity of structural racism, individualized racism, internalized racism, and gene polymorphisms.”

In Harried and Holterman-Hommes’ case, one striking example of race being used as shorthand for determining how people’s bodies work was an informational guide given to Holterman-Hommes that said African Americans with high blood pressure could not donate an organ, but Caucasians with high blood pressure might still qualify.

“I can’t believe they actually wrote that down,” said Dr. Vanessa Grubbs, a nephrologist at the University of California-San Francisco. That worries Grubbs because using race as a reason to exclude donors can create a situation in which Black transplant recipients have to work harder to find a living donor than others would.

“I do think that criteria such as these become barriers for transplantation,” said Dr. Rajnish Mehrotra, head of nephrology at the University of Washington. He said that type of hypertension distinction could exclude potential donors — like the 56% of Black adults with high blood pressure in the U.S. — when more of them are sorely needed.

The inclusion of race did not necessarily affect Harried’s ability to receive a kidney, nor Holterman-Hommes’ ability to give him one. But following their case offers a glimpse into the ways race and biology are often cemented together.

The St. Louis Case

Harried and Holterman-Hommes met 20 years ago when they worked together at a nonprofit that serves youth experiencing homelessness in St. Louis. Harried was the guy who pulled kids out of their ruts and into a creative mindset, from which they would write poems and songs and do artwork. Holterman-Hommes said he was “the calm in their storm.” Harried calls Holterman-Hommes “big stuff” because she is the nonprofit’s CEO who keeps the lights on and the donations coming in. “You never knew that she was the president of the company,” said Harried. “There wasn’t an air about her.”

Harried resigned in 2018 as his health declined. Then in 2021, Holterman-Hommes saw a KHN article about Harried and decided to see if she could help her former colleague. Although Holterman-Hommes’ mother was born with one kidney, she had lived a long and healthy life, so Holterman-Hommes figured she could spare one of her own.

As Holterman-Hommes explored becoming a donor candidate, initial tests showed high blood pressure readings, in addition to lower-than-ideal kidney function. But “I like to get an A on a test,” she said, so she redid both sets of tests, repeating the kidney function test after staying better hydrated and the blood pressure test after a big work deadline had passed. She moved on in the screening process after her results improved.

Grubbs wonders whether, if Holterman-Hommes had been Black, “they would have just dismissed her.” Grubbs shared an instance in which she suspects that’s exactly what happened to the wife of a patient of hers in California who needed a kidney transplant.

The wife, who is Black and was in her 50s at the time, wasn’t allowed to give the patient a kidney because of her hypertension.

“There are people in this country that will tell you that, ‘Oh, white people donate kidneys, Black people don’t donate kidneys, and that’s not true,’” said Mehrotra. “You hear that racist trope. But [there are] all of these barriers to kidney donation.”

Barnes-Jewish Hospital later said it had given Holterman-Hommes an outdated guide, “an unfortunate circumstance that is being corrected,” and provided a new one that does not say Black people with hypertension cannot donate. Instead, it says that people cannot donate if they have hypertension that was either diagnosed before age 40 or requires more than one medication to manage.

But “at some point, it was a policy,” said Harried, whose kidneys have been failing for several years. And it’s unclear how many years that “outdated” guidance shaped perceptions among those seeking care at Barnes-Jewish, which performs more living-donor kidney transplants per year than any other location in Missouri, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

There is little transparency into how medical centers incorporate race into their decision-making and care. Guidelines from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the national organization in charge of the transplant system, leave the door open for hospitals to “exclude a donor with any condition that, in the hospital’s medical judgment, causes the donor to be unsuitable for organ donation.”

Tanjala Purnell, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studying disparities in kidney transplantation, said she knows of several centers that used race-based criteria, though some have relaxed those rules, instead deciding case by case. “There’s not a standard set to say, ‘Well, no, you can absolutely not have different rules for different people,’” she said. “We don’t have those safeguards.” Dr. Tarek Alhamad, medical director of the kidney program at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, said race-based criteria for kidney donations aren’t created to exclude Black people — it was born of a desire to avoid harming them.

“African Americans are more likely to have end-stage renal disease, they are more likely to have end-stage renal disease related to hypertension. And they are more likely to have genetic factors that would lead to kidney dysfunction,” said Alhamad.

Compared with white and Hispanic donors, non-Hispanic Black donors are known to be at higher risk for developing kidney failure because of their donation, though it’s still very rare.

He said it feels unethical to take a kidney from someone who may really need it down the line. “This is our role as physicians not to do harm.”

The Science

Researchers are studying a possible way to clarify who is really at risk in donating a kidney, by identifying specific risk factors rather than pinning odds on the vague concept of race.

Specifically, a gene called APOL1 could influence a person’s likelihood of developing kidney disease. All humans have two copies of this gene, but there are different versions, or variants, of it. Having two risk variants increases the chance of kidney injury.

The risk variants are most prevalent in people with recent African ancestry, a group that crosses racial and ethnic boundaries. About 13% of African Americans have the double whammy of two risk variants, said Dr. Barry Freedman, chief of nephrology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Even then, he said, their fate isn’t sealed — most people in that group won’t get kidney failure. “We think they need a second hit, like HIV infection, or lupus, or covid-19.”

Freedman is leading a study that looks, in part, at how kidney donors with those risk variants fare in the long term.

“This is really important because the hope is that kidneys won’t be discarded or turned down as frequently,” said Moxey-Mims, who is also involved in the research.

Researchers who are focused on health equity say that while APOL1 testing could help separate race from genetics, it could be a double-edged sword. Purnell pointed out that if APOL1 is misused — for example, if a transplant center makes a blanket rule that no one with two risk variants can donate, rather than using it as a starting point for shared decision-making, or if doctors offer the test based only on a patient’s looks — it could merely add another criterion to the list by which certain people are excluded.

“We have to do our due diligence,” said Purnell, to ensure that any effort to be protective doesn’t end up “making the pool of available donors for certain groups smaller and smaller and smaller.” Purnell, McElroy, and others steeped in transplant inequities say that as long as race — which is a cultural concept defining how someone identifies, or how they are perceived — is used as a stand-in for someone’s ancestry or genetics, the line between protecting and excluding people will remain fuzzy.

“That’s the heart of the matter here,” said McElroy.

So where does race belong in kidney transplant medicine? Many of the physicians interviewed for this article — many of them people of color — said it primarily serves as a potential indicator of hurdles patients may face, rather than as a marker of how their bodies function.

For example, McElroy said she might spend more time with Black patients building trust with them and their families, or talking about how important living donations can be, similar to the ways she might spend more time with a Spanish-speaking patient making sure they know how to access a translator, or with an elderly patient emphasizing how important physical activity is.

“The purpose is not to ignore the social determinants of health — of which race is one,” she said. “It’s to try to help them overcome the race-specific or ethnicity-specific barriers to receiving excellent care.”

While all the science gets sorted out, Eneanya is trying to get the message out to patients: “Just ask the question: ‘Is my race being used in my clinical care?’ And if it is, first of all, what race is in the chart? Is it affecting my care? And what are my options?”

“Just keep your eyes open, ask questions,” said Harried.

In late April, a kidney from Holterman-Hommes’ body was successfully placed into Harried’s. Both are home now and say they are doing well.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Subscribe to KHN's free Morning Briefing.

The Original Juneteenth-An Interview

The Original Juneteenth-An Interview

Juneteenth, observed June 19 each year, has a long history of commemoration among African Americans in the United States. It commemorates the day that the last slaves in the former Confederacy received the Emancipation Proclamation, officially acknowledging their freedom on June 19, 1865 nearly 2 years after it was officially issued.  But within the past few years, Juneteenth has become a national Black holiday. It has been celebrated by Black people in Galveston, Texas and the immediate surrounding area for generations. UrbanFaith sat down with Valerie Boyer, an educator, minister and Galveston native to talk about the history of Juneteenth and its meaning today as it becomes a federal holiday in the United States of America.

A Freedom That Can’t Be Stolen

A Freedom That Can’t Be Stolen

Imagine being a slave, and on this particular day, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger forced your master to set you free immediately! You and your master may have heard about the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but it didn’t free you.

Gaining physical freedom is one thing. But how did formerly enslaved people gain emotional freedom while avoiding the heavy chains of emotional slavery due to the incredible injustice of their past and present reality? What possible relationship could or would they have with their former master?

What about you? As many are focused on celebrating Juneteenth and freedom, are you still in emotional chains due to injustice? How do you go on functioning while injustice continues? Black people are still being shot. Churches and schools are targets for mass murders.

Maybe you’re not in physical chains, but are you emotionally enslaved?

Want your freedom? When thinking of slavery, Grandma Shuler, my dad’s mom, always comes to mind. She was born in 1879 in South Carolina where an unofficial slavery still existed! This eighty-five-year-old’s smile and lack of bitterness profoundly impacted me when I was ten years old.

I considered becoming a Black Panther because the Ku Klux Klan ran from them. It was difficult for Blacks to be anything other than sharecroppers (a new kind of slavery) immediately after slavery was abolished. Grandma and Grandpa and their adult children lived on the same land where their parents had been enslaved. Their house’s foundation was a slave shack with an outhouse. This was 1964!

My dad has some of Grandma’s genes. He and many Black men like him had a quiet dignity no matter how badly they were treated in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. They didn’t fight back or curse at their oppressors. Injustice couldn’t break their spirits.

But how do you reconcile Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the recent shootings at the school in Uvalde, TX, and the grocery store in Buffalo, NY?

Initially, I felt that part of me died when I heard about the struggle and murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Certainly, I wasn’t free emotionally. Ironically, God spoke to me through a radio interview with two White humbled co-hosts who had done their homework. They got me talking about these murders. Surprisingly, it was therapeutic. I didn’t realize I needed to talk about it instead of keeping it inside. Many Black men don’t process it externally, which is slowly killing them.

How should we handle injustice when peaceful efforts require more discipline than giving in to our emotions? History shows us there is power in “radical love and forgiveness.” When Dylann Roof murdered nine members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., during a prayer meeting in June 2015, many surviving friends and family shocked the nation when they chose to forgive. Emmanuel AME is one of the oldest Black congregations in the South and has a long history of anti-slavery activism, civil rights protests, and ongoing political engagement. Even the late pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims shot that day, was a state senator who pushed for police to wear body cameras. So why forgive? Chris Singleton, who lost his mother in the attack, told USA Today, “After seeing what happened and the reason why it happened, and after seeing how people could forgive, I truly hope that people will see that it wasn’t just us saying words,” Singleton says. “I know, for a fact, that it was something greater than us, using us to bring our city together.”

When we don’t forgive, we put ourselves in emotional slavery. Our unforgiveness subconsciously permeates every relationship – and I’ve found that relationships are the key to healing racial divides. A freedom that can never be stolen is not about how people treat me. It’s all about how I choose to respond to it. In my latest book, Life-Changing, Cross-Cultural Friendships, which I co-wrote with Gary Chapman, author The 5 Love Languages, we talk in depth about our journey of an authentic friendship through some of the most racially divisive times in history and provide a roadmap for others to do the same.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to

forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is

some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this,

we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

My grandma couldn’t force White people or anyone else to give her justice, equality, or simply human courtesy, yet she continued to smile. Grandma was not weak. When she spoke, people moved. This barely five-foot-tall woman lived with her six-foot two-inch husband, raised seven children, and could still shoot her rifle with accuracy well into her eighties. She couldn’t go to the hospital to give birth. She and Grandpa lived off the land to survive and fed their children without a formal education. Imagine all that she saw, being born in 1879 and living until 1971. Her freedom was not dependent on White people giving her their version of justice. She treated all people with respect. She said, “As I’m treating others with respect, even some mean White people, I’m loving God and respecting myself.”

And, of course, Grandma smiled.

 

 

About the. Author

Clarence Shuler is the President/CEO of BLR: Building Lasting Relationships. He’s authored ten books. He and Dr. Gary Chapman speak together at The 5 Love Languages, Date Night, and Life-Changing Cross-Cultural Friendship events. For more information, visit www.clarenceshuler.com.

 

Faith, Fatherhood, and Football The 2% Way Interview with Myron Rolle

Faith, Fatherhood, and Football The 2% Way Interview with Myron Rolle

We love to see examples of successful black men who are also wonderful fathers. Dr. Myron Rolle is an inspiring role model with an incredible story. He was a celebrated football player who was drafted to the NFL. He received a Rhodes Scholarship and graduated Oxford University before he went to the league. And now he is a neurosurgeon in Boston working with brilliant minds from Boston University, Harvard, and others to tackle the most pressing issues of the human brain. He does all of this while being a devoted husband and father of 4 including two newborn twins. He’s a millennial who has lived his dreams.

How does he do it all? How did this middle class boy from the Bahamas become an exemplar on the football field and the field of medicine? How does he balance fatherhood with his research? UrbanFaith sat down with Dr. Myron Rolle to discuss his tactics and testimony in his book the 2% Way.

Pots and Kettles

Pots and Kettles

Something I’ve always struggled with while studying the bible is the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. The New Testament holds a special place for most Christians because it contains the records of Christ’s life. As we strive to become more like Christ, it is easy to focus exclusively on this series of books while neglecting the wisdom and historical context provided by the Old Testament. On the other hand, I’ve witnessed people strip that same historical context from this part of the bible for personal and political gain. So I decided to try and develop a better understanding of what this collection of books is trying to say for myself. 

One of the aspects of the Old Testament that often goes overlooked are the books of  prophecy (Isaiah through Malachi). Compared to some of the more popular Old Testament books, these stories tend to be less self-contained and also require some outside knowledge of the context in which they were written to make much sense. One historical event in particular sticks out in these books, the Babylonian captivity. 

The comparison between America and Babylon has been made to the point of meaninglessness, instead, I want to focus on Israel’s role in this story. First though, it would help to establish a definition for what the Babylonian captivity was and its relevance to biblical history. In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple. After the city fell, he enslaved large swaths of the population and forced them to migrate to Babylon. This exile contains the stories of Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. However, leading up to this point, God sent many prophets to warn Israel of its fate. The biggest warning, perhaps, was the fall of Israel’s northern kingdom to the Babylonians nearly a decade earlier. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah tried to warn Jerusalem that they would meet the same fate as their northern counterpart if they didn’t attempt to make a change. Sure enough, this fate came to pass and it irrevocably changed Jewish culture and religion as a result. 

But I want to focus on how things got to this point. How could a God that claims to love his adherents also allow them to be enslaved, conquered, and killed. The answer lies in the nature of covenants. One of the oldest and most important covenants in the Bible is between God and Abraham. It provides the cultural narrative of the Jewish faith, that God promised to protect and guide the descendants of Abraham so long as they remained loyal to him alone. Pretty simple, but the region where Jerusalem is located has always been a hotly contested area of land. All around Israel, powerful cities increased their strength beneath the banners of false gods and idols. Over the course of centuries, Israel declined in prominence from the golden age of King David as places like Babylon, Persia, and Egypt began to thrive. Instead of remaining faithful to the invisible promises of God, Israel forsook it’s covenant in order to gain a fraction of the wealth and influence seen sprouting up in the neighboring nations. 

Ultimately, it is this betrayal that caused the downfall of Jerusalem. A promise takes two sides to uphold and God showed the people of Jerusalem grace by giving them an example of what awaited them in the future. Isaiah 2:6-9 follows the prophet Isaiah as he tries to convince the people of Jerusalem to return to God’s covenant. His diagnosis is very clear. Israelites abandoned God in favor of sorcery, sexual ritualism, and idolatry. Despite the warnings from the prophet and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, Israel persisted until their eventual destruction and captivity. But why? What force could be so powerful that it would prevent an entire nation that had been blessed beyond desire in the past to forsake their faith? 

At the heart of the problem is pride. Isaiah 2:6-9 illustrates the relationship that Israel had with these idols. They were works of art on some level, seemingly erected by patrons in order to display not just their piety but also their wealth. They literally erect works made from their own labor and worshiped them as if they are gods. In return, these idols made them prosperous. Eased political tensions within the region came about as a result of this cultural cross-pollination which facilitated trade which, in turn, made Jerusalem very wealthy. Gold and silver were seemingly endless in those days. In their quest to elevate their nation and by extension themselves, Israel broke their covenant with God thus removing his blessing and making them vulnerable to Babylonian invasion. 

My first impulse when researching this topic was to point my finger at the world around me and externalize the accusations leveled against Israel onto American culture or the modern church, but that misses the point entirely. Culturally, we have an idea of Babylon as greedy, vain, sexually immoral, and paganistic. On closer inspection, however, Israel was just as guilty of all of these things if not more. What is the point of judging Babylon when they were ignorant of God’s power entirely. In much the same way that Israel bore witness to the full power of God in its history and chose to forsake that in favor of idols; there are certainly places in my life where my faith fails despite the overwhelming blessings God has given me in the past. There are certainly places in my life where I put myself on a pedestal so the admiration of others drowns out the guilt I feel. Instead of trying to deny that those parts of me exist, perhaps it’s better to recognize the areas in my life where I put myself before Christ and address them. This might not be everyone’s story, but if you think you’re too holy, well-respected, or ecclesiastic enough to never struggle with pride then I have a trophy to sell you to commemorate your spiritual enlightenment.

Homecoming: An Interview with Thema Bryant

Homecoming: An Interview with Thema Bryant

Dr. Thema Bryant is a psychologist and minister who has become one of the most influential voices addressing mental health and spiritual health. UrbanFaith sat down to interview her about her new book Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self. The interview is above, more information about the book is below.

In the aftermath of stress, disappointment, and trauma, people often fall into survival mode, even while a part of them longs for more. Juggling multiple demands and responsibilities keeps them busy, but not healed. As a survivor of sexual assault, racism, and evacuation from a civil war in Liberia, Dr. Thema Bryant knows intimately the work involved in healing. Having made the journey herself, in addition to guiding others as a clinical psychologist and ordained minister, Dr. Thema shows you how to reconnect with your authentic self and reclaim your time, your voice, your life.

Signs of disconnection from self can take many forms, including people-pleasing, depression, anxiety, and resentment. Healing starts with recognizing and expressing emotions in an honest way and reconnecting with the neglected parts of yourself, but it can’t be done in a vacuum. Dr. Thema gives you the tools to meaningfully connect with your larger community, even if you face racism and sexism, heartbreak, grief, and trauma. Rather than shrinking in the face of life’s difficulties, you will discover in Homecoming the therapeutic approaches and spiritual practices to live a more expansive life characterized by empowerment, healthier relationships, gratitude, and a deeper sense of purpose.

Why Don’t We Celebrate Pentecost This Year?

Why Don’t We Celebrate Pentecost This Year?

Pentecost is one of the most important days in scripture, one of the most important days in Church history, and one of the most significant days for all Christians because it is the birthday for the Church. But it is a day that often passes with little celebration and attention in the lives of many believers. Why don’t we celebrate Pentecost?

The other major Christian holidays have found widespread secular adoption and commercialization. Christmas season is still the greatest period of retail sales in the world, with images of Santa Claus, reindeer, gifts, and winter weather dominating our consciousness. The popular images are far removed from the poor young girl from a small unimportant town giving birth to baby Jesus in Bethlehem that is the true meaning behind the holiday. Easter has widespread fanfare involving bunnies and eggs, chocolates and baskets in the popular culture. But believers rarely forget the Good Friday services, Easter outfits, and proclamations of “Hallelujah” in response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. Christians almost universally celebrate Christmas and Easter.

But Pentecost, the occasion of the Holy Spirit appearing from heaven in the upper room and filling the disciples that began the church in Acts chapter 2 has no such consistent celebrations or commercial fanfare. 

We should absolutely celebrate that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell among believers. The new creation has begun and the “already but not yet” Kingdom of God is made visible in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ. We should have fanfare that God’s promise of living in our hearts, calling all people to Himself,  and dwelling among humanity have been fulfilled. The Church being given the power to destroy the works of sin and evil in the world were fulfilled on Pentecost. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter clearly explains that Pentecost is the fulfillment of scripture, that people were able to know God who speaks their language, and that the Holy Spirit was evidence of God among those who believes. God is not a distant force or impersonal figure. The Holy Spirit is at work everyday in our lives as believers. We can experience God in completely new ways because of His presence with us. We can discern God’s truth, share spiritual gifts with one another, and overcome sinful behaviors and sin-filled systems through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Pentecost allows us to move from knowing God’s works in the past to experiencing them in the present. Because of Pentecost all nations were invited to know the God of Israel in the ways they could understand Him. We should celebrate that the Holy Spirit is God with us today, by celebrating Pentecost. Our celebration may not have commercial Holy Spirit clothes and toys to buy. We may not hear seven sermons in a day as we reflect and are uplifted. We may not see a Pentecost holiday special on TV or Pentecost music on the radio, or Pentecost memes on our social media timelines. But we can give thanks to God for the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit  in our lives. We can praise God in our worship services as we remember the birth of the Church. We can reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. And we can celebrate Pentecost however we celebrate it as believers have been called to celebrate it for thousands of years. 

Criminal justice algorithms: Being race-neutral doesn’t mean race-blind

Criminal justice algorithms: Being race-neutral doesn’t mean race-blind

An algorithm is the centerpiece of one criminal justice reform program, but should it be race-blind? the_burtons/Moment via Getty Images
Duncan Purves, University of Florida and Jeremy Davis, University of Florida

Justice is supposed to be “blind.” But is race blindness always the best way to achieve racial equality? An algorithm to predict recidivism among prison populations is underscoring that debate.

The risk-assessment tool is a centerpiece of the First Step Act, which Congress passed in 2018 with significant bipartisan support, and is meant to shorten some criminal sentences and improve conditions in prisons. Among other changes, it rewards federal inmates with early release if they participate in programs designed to reduce their risk of re-offending. Potential candidates eligible for early release are identified using the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs, called PATTERN, which estimates an inmate’s risk of committing a crime upon release.

Proponents celebrated the First Step Act as a step toward criminal justice reform that provides a clear path to reducing the prison population of low-risk nonviolent offenders while preserving public safety.

But a review of the PATTERN system published by the Department of Justice in December 2021 found that PATTERN overpredicts recidivism among minority inmates by between 2% and 8% compared with white inmates. Critics fear that PATTERN is reinforcing racial biases that have long plagued the U.S. prison system.

As ethicists who research the use of algorithms in the criminal justice system, we spend lots of time thinking about how to avoid replicating racial bias with new technologies. We seek to understand whether systems like PATTERN can be made racially equitable while continuing to serve the function for which they were designed: to reduce prison populations while maintaining public safety.

Making PATTERN equally accurate for all inmates might require the algorithm to take inmates’ race into account, which can seem counterintuitive. In other words, achieving fair outcomes across racial groups might require focusing more on race, not less: a seeming paradox that plays out in many discussions of fairness and racial justice.

How PATTERN works

The PATTERN algorithm scores individuals according to a range of variables that have been shown to predict recidivism. These factors include criminal history, education level, disciplinary incidents while incarcerated, and whether they have completed any programs aimed at reducing recidivism, among others. The algorithm predicts both general and violent recidivism, and does not take an inmate’s race into account when producing risk scores.

Based on this score, individuals are deemed high-, medium- or low-risk. Only those falling into the last category are eligible for early release.

A woman in a white suit looks up at a man in a suit with his back to the camera.
Then-President Donald Trump listens as Alice Marie Johnson, who was incarcerated for 21 years, speaks at the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration at the White House. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The DOJ’s latest review, which compares PATTERN predictions with actual outcomes of former inmates, shows that the algorithm’s errors tended to disadvantage nonwhite inmates.

In comparison with white inmates, PATTERN overpredicted general recidivism among Black male inmates by between 2% and 3%. According to the DOJ report, this number rose to 6% to 7% for Black women, relative to white women. PATTERN overpredicted recidivism in Hispanic individuals by 2% to 6% in comparison with white inmates, and overpredicted recidivism among Asian men by 7% to 8% in comparison with white inmates.

These disparate results will likely strike many people as unfair, with the potential to reinforce existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. For example, Black Americans are already incarcerated at almost five times the rate of white Americans.

At the same time that the algorithm overpredicted recidivism for some racial groups, it underpredicted for others.

Native American men’s general recidivism was underpredicted by 12% to 15% in relation to white inmates, with a 2% underprediction for violent recidivism. Violent recidivism was underpredicted by 4% to 5% for Black men and 1% to 2% for Black women.

Reducing bias by including race

It is tempting to conclude that the Department of Justice should abandon the system altogether. However, computer and data scientists have developed an array of tools over the past decade designed to address concerns about algorithmic unfairness. So it is worth asking whether PATTERN’s inequalities can be remedied.

One option is to apply “debiasing techniques” of the sort described in recent work by criminal justice experts Jennifer Skeem and Christopher Lowenkamp. As computer scientists and legal scholars have observed, the predictive value of a piece of information about a person might vary depending on their other characteristics. For example, suppose that having stable housing tends to reduce the risk that a former inmate will commit another crime, but that the relationship between housing and not re-offending is stronger for white inmates than Black inmates. An algorithm could take this into account for higher accuracy.

But taking this difference into account would require that designers include each inmate’s race in the algorithm, which raises legal concerns. Treating individuals differently on the basis of race in legal decision-making risks violating the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Several legal scholars, including Deborah Hellman, have recently argued that this legal concern is overstated. For example, the law permits using racial classifications to describe criminal suspects and to gather demographic data on the census.

Other uses of racial classifications are more problematic. For example, racial profiling and affirmative action programs continue to be contested in court. But Hellman argues that designing algorithms that are sensitive to the way that information’s predictive value varies across racial lines is more akin to using race in suspect descriptions and the census.

In part, this is because race-sensitive algorithms, unlike racial profiling, do not rely on statistical generalizations about the prevalence of a feature, like the rate of re-offending, within a racial group. Rather, she proposes making statistical generalizations about the reliability of the algorithm’s information for members of a racial group and adjusting appropriately.

But there are also several ethical concerns to consider. Incorporating race might constitute unfair treatment. It might fail to treat inmates as individuals, since it relies upon statistical facts about the racial group to which they are assigned. And it might put some inmates in a worse position than others to earn early-release credits, merely because of their race.

Key difference

Despite these concerns, we argue there are good ethical reasons to incorporate race into the algorithm.

First, by incorporating race, the algorithm could be more accurate across all racial groups. This might allow the federal prison system to grant early release to more inmates who pose a low risk of recidivism while keeping high-risk inmates behind bars. This will promote justice without sacrificing public safety – what proponents of criminal justice reform want.

Furthermore, changing the algorithm to include race can improve outcomes for Black inmates without making things worse for white inmates. This is because earning credits toward early release from prison is not a zero-sum game; one person’s eligibility for the early release program does not affect anyone else’s. This is very different from programs like affirmative action in hiring or education. In these cases, positions are limited, so making things better for one group necessarily makes things worse for the other group.

As PATTERN illustrates, racial equality is not necessarily promoted by taking race out of the equation – at least not when all participants stand to benefit.

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Duncan Purves, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Florida and Jeremy Davis, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Florida

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

Healing the Divide: An Interview with Derwin Gray

Healing the Divide: An Interview with Derwin Gray

Dr. Derwin Gray is a scholar and pastor who is committed to helping heal the racial divide in the Church. His experiences as a black man, former NFL player, minister, and community leader have positioned him to bring together people across lines of difference. He pastors an intentionally multiethnic church, which he believes represents the Church of Jesus Christ described in Scripture. UrbanFaith sat down with him to talk about his new book How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says and the first Christians knew about racial reconciliation. The interview is above and more information on the book is below.

In his forthcoming book, Dr. Derwin L. Gray walks us through Scripture, showing us the heart of God for racial reconciliation. This book unpacks what it means to live a multiethnic life in light of the gospel.

Derwin L. Gray is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church (TC), one of the fastest growing churches in America. TC is a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community near Charlotte, NC. Pastor Derwin and his wife, Vicki, have been married since 1992 and have two children: daughter, Presley, and son, Jeremiah. He is the author of Hero: Unleashing God’s Power in a Man’s Heart (2010), Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future, (2013), The High-Definition Leader (2015), and The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness (2020).

Devotional: A Choice To Be Made Right

Devotional: A Choice To Be Made Right

Scripture: Galatians 5:16-26 NLT

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Every day we make choices that impact our lives in a positive or negative manner. We may think of decisions and choices that we have made in the past that we regret and wish we could have handled better.

Galatians 5:16 reminds us that we are in a walk, not a race to fulfill our destiny and the only way we are going to achieve it is by doing it God’s way. His way is exemplified by the fruits that come forth when we are obedient to the leading of His Spirit.

As we walk with the Lord, the fruits of the Spirit impact our character and make us more like Christ. When we identify ourselves as believers who love Jesus we choose to willingly sacrifice anything that does not please Him. Holy Spirit helps us gauge our passions and desires with His will and purpose and if they do not line up, we are willing to lay them aside.

Keeping in step with the Spirit means we are daily tuned in to what God has to say about our lives, and open to adjust accordingly to what His word and will says. As we grow in Him and develop in the fruits of the spirit, our character is given an opportunity to grow and develop and mature.

In time, we begin to model Christ-like behavior. We resist and overcome the things that used to control us and bind us to our old nature before we submitted to Christ because our desire is to please God.

As you make decisions this week, examine and evaluate whether the results of those decisions will draw you closer or further away from the will of God. Remind yourself that you have the ability to choose right, and become more like Jesus Christ.

 

Prayer

Dear God,

I desire to develop in the fruits of the Spirit and walk upright before you. Teach me how to make the right decisions that please you and make me more like you. Remove any feelings of regret that I may be having in my heart that hinder me from making the right choices. Grant me the grace to move through this life with the right pace and posture of walking with you step by step and fulfilling your will for my life.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Texas faith leaders accompany Uvalde community, decry gun culture after school rampage

Texas faith leaders accompany Uvalde community, decry gun culture after school rampage

 

(RNS) — San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller was driving back to Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday morning (May 25) — after having spent most of the previous night there accompanying families in the wake of one of the deadliest school shootings — when he passed by an advertisement promoting guns in the Lone Star State.

“We want children and young people to think differently and the common element to all these situations having happened lately in Buffalo, New York, El Paso and Houston, Texas … the common element is guns, lack of control,” García-Siller told Religion News Service as he was en route to Uvalde.

He condemned gun culture, saying guns are treated as idols and a source of pride among people who may feel like “I am powerful with a gun.”

“We don’t want to give up what that means money-wise, business-wise,” he added.

García-Siller said people can’t be “pro-life” and continue to support laws that allow these kind of shootings to happen. He said a “corrupted political system for years has undermined human beings.”

“If our ethics are not consistent with respecting human life, period, no matter color, language, religion, profession, way of life — life is life — then we are not pro-life,” he said.

Nineteen children and two teachers were killed Tuesday after an 18-year-old gunman stormed into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a small, predominantly Latino city of about 16,000 residents. The city sits about 80 miles west of San Antonio. About 1 in 5 residents live in poverty.

“What happened yesterday is one more expression of how we leaders have failed,” García-Siller said.

“I have been many years in the United States and I have been working a lot with immigrants and in very impoverished communities, and it’s just, what else? What else can help us realize that we are people, period,” he added.

After the shooting, García-Siller visited Uvalde Memorial Hospital, where many of the shooting victims were taken Tuesday, and he led Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde that evening. He planned to spend the day in Uvalde again on Wednesday.

García-Siller has met with the husband of one of the teachers killed in the shooting. The archbishop also spoke with a person who called 911 to report the shooting and referenced a woman who drove children to the hospital from the school. “We don’t need heroes. We need just people of goodwill,” he said.

While there was a lot of uncertainty on Tuesday as parents awaited news of their children, now there’s a “piercing pain” knowing the outcome, García-Siller said.

 

Throughout Texas, a number of houses of worship are holding services and prayer vigils to help the community cope with the aftermath.

St. Ann Catholic Church in La Vernia, Texas, is hosting a Mass Wednesday evening in honor of the victims and families of the shooting.

First Baptist Church of Brackettville is hosting a candlelight prayer vigil Wednesday evening. The Rev. Y.J. Jimenez, the pastor there, accompanied parishioners at the hospital who lost their grandchild in the shooting.

Getty Street Church of Christ in Uvalde is also holding a prayer vigil Wednesday for the surrounding community.

And in Houston, religious leaders are planning an interfaith gathering outside the National Rifle Association’s annual convention this Friday.

Megan Hansen, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, a Disciples of Christ pastor and chaplain in Houston, learned about the convention in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre and felt called to act.

Pecinovsky said those who support the NRA and the gun lobbying industry “are very much rooted in their own religious perspective.”

“It’s important for us as clergy and people of faith to say that is not the only perspective of people with a faith view,” she said.

Living in Texas, Hansen said, “we’re surrounded by so much of this ‘God and guns’ thought.”

“I’m not even going to call it theology, because I don’t understand how you could think about the divine, and not just in Christianity, but many ways that people considered the creation of the world and the Creator and be able to reconcile that with owning a weapon,” Hansen said.

Added Hansen: “This is very much a Christian problem. Which is one reason we want to be witnesses in this, walking with our other faith communities, because it is our problem. It’s coming from inside our house. ”

Honoring God And Sharing Your Gift: Wisdom from Otis Kemp

Honoring God And Sharing Your Gift: Wisdom from Otis Kemp

UrbanFaith had the opportunity to sit down with artist Otis Kemp to talk about how he is able honor God while sharing His musical gifts. His hit single “The Reason” has gone viral and his music is being played all across the Southern United States. But his impact on his community and his journey to success have been anything but overnight. Otis Kemp shared a few key nuggets of authentic wisdom for people trying to be a blessing while being blessed.

Our Gifts Should Honor God

You want to share your gift. You want to share the message that God has given you. The music that I represent is life music. I don’t look at a particular genre, like gospel or anything, because anybody can say they are gospel and live like whatever. I believe life music is a testimony of who you are. When you when you see me, you should see some residue or some characteristics of the one Savior.

What Inspires You to Share Your Gift

I mean, to be honest [The Reason] was a song God gave me a couple of years ago, and it was at a dark time in my life. I began to prophesy over my life. I began to declare things that I was taught [since I was] a little boy. The God that my father taught me about [is why I live the way I do] even though at the time I didn’t understand what he was instilling in me. I’m a preacher’s kid and my family prayed.

You know, the Bible says you train up a child in the way they should go, and when they get older, they won’t depart from it. That is a true scripture. I’m evidence of that. I wanted to share with people when I say the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jabez [in my song] I’m talking the one and only true God. I’m talking about the God that you can actually talk to that you can have a relationship with. This ain’t no fake. It’s a real thing that he saved me. Like, I come from the streets. I’m from Miami, Florida, it’s rough. And down here, only the strong survive. God snatched me out of the darkness, snatched me out of the enemy’s camp, and brought me to his side.

 

How Can You Use Your Gift to Bless Others?

I would say the first thing that they should do is build a relationship with the Most High. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s not. I’m a living testimony. I got kicked out of every school in Miami and South Florida. And now I own three private schools within two and a half years. [It doesn’t] take 30 years; God judges you and he positions you by your heart. If your heart posture is correct, whatever passion you have, he will lead and guide you into all truth. The word of God is true.

If you want success, the only success you will have is with the Lord and in His Kingdom. Anything else is going to tear you down, going to destroy you, going to suck you dry. You become successful when it’s benefiting other people. Everything you do [with your gifts] should benefit someone else. That’s how you know it is from the Most High God. Jesus never did anything for Himself. Everything He did was for someone else. Now [He has] the highest name in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth. When you begin to lay down your life for the kingdom, your desires, your passion, or whatever it is, you can find out what God has already planned out for you. When you follow with Him you will have success. It’s just going to come with obedience.

 

Why we need the Africa Study Bible

Why we need the Africa Study Bible

The internet is saturated with tons of information for all facets of life, including spiritual resources.

In fact, if you do an Amazon search for something like study Bible results will include a wide variety of options. While scrolling down the list, you will find study Bibles for men and women. You will find study Bibles for couples and you can also find a study Bible in just about every translation. So why would anyone need another study Bible, particularly the Africa Study Bible?

Well, to start, we suppose you should start by asking, “What exactly is the Africa Study Bible?”

While all of aforementioned study Bibles have their merit, the Africa Study Bible delivers something unique. It contains insight and knowledge about the Bible from a non-majority culture perspective. It is packed with over 2,400 features, and 350 scholars from more than 50 African countries have contributed to the making of this Bible.

The features of the Africa Study Bible speak on different topics through the lens of African culture. Whether you’re African or a member of the African Diaspora, this Bible provides in-depth knowledge to show that Christianity extends beyond just one group of people.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not solely the territory of those of European ancestry. In fact, it is the countries and cultures of the South and the East where Christianity is growing at a rapid rate. Not only that, but studies show that Africa played a major role in the development of Christian theology. The Africa Study Bible helps to make that clear and it can make that clear for you as well.

The Africa Study Bible is loaded with tons of features, including:

  • Book introductions explaining the history of each book
  • Touch Points to show where the culture of the Bible meets African cultures and how Africans shaped Christian belief
  • Learn Notes to teach the foundations, values, and the doctrine of the Christian faith.
  • Proverbs and Stories to enlighten readers through the parallels of Scripture and cultural wisdom found in wise sayings and fables.
  • Application Notes to inspire readers to reflect on issues and apply truth to everyday life
  • Articles giving practical advice on how to live out the Christian faith, focusing on 50 critical concerns facing the church in Africa and its people
  • Topical Index and Concordance that lists the biblical text s and Africa Study Bible features by topic and defines difficult-to-understand words connecting concepts from Genesis to Revelation for research and teaching
  • Maps, Graphical Timelines, and Other Features that spread throughout the Bible and help provide insight and understanding

With this Bible you will have specific insight and knowledge into the cultures and customs of the Bible from an African perspective. This will equip you with tools to share non-majority insights with your congregation or Bible study. The Africa Study Bible can help you to reclaim Christianity’s African roots.

Get yours today here!

Check out our interview with Dr. A. Okechukwu Ogbonnaya, Ph.D. on the inspiration behind the Africa Study Bible and its impact on our community below:

 

Faith on the ground in Buffalo: Voice Buffalo executive director Denise Walden

Faith on the ground in Buffalo: Voice Buffalo executive director Denise Walden

(RNS) — Soon after a white 18-year-old shooter targeted Black customers of a community grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday (May 14), the Rev. Denise Walden, executive director of Voice Buffalo, a social justice and equity organization, was coordinating clergy to offer grief counseling and help families immediately and, she hopes, for the foreseeable future.

She was also grieving personally: She knows the families of most of the 10 people killed in the massacre.

“This is going to take more than a week, more than a month, more than six months,” said Walden, a member of the clergy team at First Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, a predominantly Black congregation in Buffalo. “We need long-term solutions and support.”

Walden’s 25-year-old organization is a local chapter of Live Free, a Christian organization that has in recent years focused on preventing community violence, which now has new questions to answer, Walden said, about “the hate that caused this person to come into this community and create such a horrible, violent violation to our community.”

She said more resources are needed to counter hate in general and to cope with the reaction from Buffalo’s Black community. “When tragedy strikes and those things are not in place,” Walden said, “we create an environment that can become even more dangerous because people don’t know what to do to process their grief and their trauma.”

Walden, 42, spoke with Religion News Service about her connections to the people who died on Buffalo’s East Side, who the community has lost and what it needs now.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The massacre on Saturday occurred at a grocery store in your neighborhood. How did you react to the violence that happened there?

I’m a seven-minute walk away from the grocery store. It’s our community store. We’re there regularly. As far as how I reacted, I think I’m still trying to figure that out. For me it was, how do I show up with and in my community, just being a resource and, hopefully, a person to bring some peace and love that are all much needed in this time. And just being as comforting to those who are closest to the pain from this as possible.

You were one of the officiants of a vigil on Sunday outside the Tops grocery store. What words did you find to say?

It was hard. I think we know that there’s a need for comfort. There’s a need for love in our community. And that was the word, reminding people that we are still a strong community; reminding those of us that live here that in spite of this heinous act that we’ve seen, this is still home. This is our home.

You helped notify family members of those who were killed. Was that an unexpected responsibility or have you done that in the past?

That is definitely an unexpected responsibility. I’ve done little bits of it in my clergy capacity. For our organization it’s completely different and completely new. And I’ve never had to show up that way in something so tragic, and also something that is so closely impacting me as well.

The Rev. Denise Walden. Photo via Voice Buffalo

The Rev. Denise Walden. Photo via Voice Buffalo

It must have been very difficult.

Difficult doesn’t even describe it. I don’t think that there are words that can describe what was felt by these families and especially when our community is already in such a deep period of grief just still coming out of the pandemic. And then to now have loved ones ripped away from (them) so violently. That’s very difficult news to deliver to anybody.

Some of those lost have been described as church mothers or community mothers and a deacon — people who may have helped others cope when something like this happens in their community.

They are some of the matriarchs and the pillars of our community. They will be missed in ways that I don’t think I can do justice to describing, but who bring joy to this community. They’re the ones who help stand and hold this community together. Check those of us that need to be checked when we need to be checked. They are such an instrumental part of our community. I know some of them have snatched up my kid, like, “Hey, young man, get it together.” That is a huge loss to our entire community.

How will faith leaders address the mental health needs that there are now?

One of the asks that Voice and our partners have been consistently making is for culturally responsive services — people who understand there is some generational trauma here. People that they can feel a sense of community and trust with. There are very big cultural dynamics at play here. We’re working really hard to coordinate faith effortsalongside mental health providers and we’ve had a call out for faith leaders who are also licensed in providing (such) services.

Is that clergy of color who would understand some of the cultural and long-term dynamics here?

Yes, that can do grief counseling, trauma, counseling, all of those typesof things. But we’ve also put out a call to clergy to just be a presence in this community. Just be a presence of peace, a presence of comfort, a presence of love in this community. Because at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to help us start to process. That’s what’s going to help us start to heal.

Before the shooting, what were you planning to do this week?

I was getting ready to go to my sister’s graduation. She’s graduating with her second master’s degree and with honors. We were planning a great family Saturday to just all be together before I was leaving out of town. (But) I need to be here with my family. That’s my actual family, my husband and my children, but I also need to be here with my family that is my community. And so, for that reason, I won’t be traveling, and I’m grateful because she understands.

 

How Blacks and Jews are bound together in ‘great replacement’ theory

How Blacks and Jews are bound together in ‘great replacement’ theory

(RNS) — The man authorities say opened fire in a Buffalo grocery store Saturday (May 14), killing 10 mostly Black shoppers, was an avowed white supremacist. But his agenda went far beyond Blacks.

In the 180-page manifesto posted online two days before he carried out his attack, the 18-year-old gunman wrote that he chose the Tops Friendly Market on Buffalo’s east side because it is in an area with many Black residents. Eleven of the 13 people shot there were Black, law enforcement officials said.

Blacks, wrote Payton Gendron, come from a culture that sought to “ethnically replace my own people.”

But at the root of this xenophobic plan, known as replacement theory, are Jews to whom the alleged shooter devotes as much vitriol. Traditionally, Jews are depicted as stealth invaders who manipulate Western elites to disempower and replace white Americans.

Both Blacks and Jews are bound together in white supremacy, watchers of the movement say.

“You can’t separate the racism and antisemitism,” said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, the nonprofit that successfully sued organizers of the 2018 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where marchers chanted “The Jews will not replace us.”

“There needs to be some conspiracy responsible for everything terrible that these white supremacists think is happening to this country as a result of Black and brown people, immigrants and refugees,” said Spitalnick.

Dozens of pages in the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto are devoted first to Blacks and then to Jews, replete with photos, drawings, graphs and caricatures.

On Sunday and Monday, scores of American Jewish organizations loudly denounced the massacre, which the U.S. Justice Department is investigating as “a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the National Urban League and others called on President Biden to convene a summit on hate and extremism and to develop a plan to combat hate crimes, white supremacy and violent extremism.

The “great replacement theory” that binds racism and antisemitism was once an obscure extremist idea relegated to white supremacist forums. But in recent years it has become mainstream, especially as Fox TV host Tucker Carlson has made the Democrats’ intent to dilute the white voting population a central theme of his show. Several congressional Republicans have echoed it or outright embraced the notion.

At its root, the theory holds that not only is immigration to the United States crowding out whites, but that a cadre of elites, including Jews, are intentionally encouraging that to happen.

That charge is not new, said Samuel Perry, professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and a leading expert on white Christian nationalism. It’s core to many authoritarian movements, stretching back to Nazi Germany.

The idea, said Perry, is that white people aren’t fertile enough and that it is “everybody’s responsibility to outbreed the negative elements we don’t want in our society,” he said.

“It’s wrapped up in ethno-cultural outsiders: immigrants, Jews and Muslims. They are a threat to white hegemony,” Perry said.

The theory appeared to go dormant for some years but resurfaced in Norway in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people. In 2019 in New Zealand, Brenton H. Tarrant killed 51 people in a pair of mosques while warning of “white genocide.”

About 20% of Gendron’s manifesto appears to be plagiarized from the declaration left by the New Zealand shooter, according to an analysis conducted by the Khalifa Ihler Institute, a Sweden-based think tank that seeks to combat extremism, The Washington Post reported.

In the U.S., white supremacy has a long history that has lately reemerged in mass-shooting sprees such as the 2015 massacre of nine people at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gendron praised Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, in his manifesto. Roof, like Breivik, he wrote, “fought for me and had the same goals I did.”

Three years later, Jews were the target when Robert Bowers gunned down 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, because he thought they were working to admit immigrant “invaders” into the United States.

For whatever reason, the Buffalo gunman sidestepped Jews this time, writing, “They can be dealt with in time.”

But he hardly spared them.

“The Jews are the biggest problem the Western world has ever had,” the manifesto reads. “They must be called out and killed, if they are lucky they will be exiled. We can not show any sympathy towards them again.”

White supremacists view American Jews as liberal, stereotypically tied up with institutions, such as government, media and academia, that are viewed as left-leaning and secular.

American Blacks, who are overwhelmingly Christian, are also on the wrong side of politics in the minds of xenophobes. Tending to vote Democratic, they are thought to support immigration — and to be a danger to white culture in themselves.

In the manifesto, Gendron writes about Blacks nearly the same way as about Jews. “We must remove blacks from our western civilizations,” his screed said.

Many Jewish groups issued statements of solidarity with Blacks Monday.

“Today, our multiracial Jewish community sits in grief, extending our love, solidarity, and support to the Black community in Buffalo and all who are in pain,” wrote Jamie Beran, interim CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. “Tomorrow, we rise in partnership to hold the politicians and corporations profiting from the spread of dangerous conspiracies accountable.”

Many are hoping the two groups can come together to fight the onslaught of hate.

“There needs to be clear recognition that you can’t take on antisemitism without taking on the various forms of hate bound up in white supremacy,” said Spitalnick. “All of our lives are intertwined.”

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

No Bias in Christ

No Bias in Christ

Scripture: Galatians 3: 18-29 NLT

18 For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.

19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. 20 Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham.

21 Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises?[a] Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

26 For you are all children[b] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[c] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[d] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[e] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

 

There is such a joy and peace to know that we serve a God who has created a way for all of us to understand that we are one in His presence. This scripture is a reminder of the viewpoint of God regarding unity and oneness.

For those who desire to come into the Kingdom of God, it can be difficult to get to Him if all they see is the bias and prejudice that sometimes exists in our society. That mindset can be applied to their own personal relationship with God. They may think that He is a biased God who picks and chooses who to bless.

Have you felt that way? Has the enemy convinced you that there are certain blessings you cannot attain in this lifetime? May you be encouraged by this scripture to know:

  1. We are all the children of God by faith in Christ

This means we all have the privilege of being blessed by God. Remove the fear, distrust, and doubt that God will not bless you because of your social status, race, or whatever bias you face. Ask and believe in faith that God is able and desires to give you all blessings that pertain unto life and godliness.

 

  1. We are one in Christ Jesus

The Lord desires for us to view one another as one. If one person hurts, we hurt as well. Considering this fact will open our lives to embrace compassion, empathy, and kindness. The next time you want to be quick to judge or scorn another brother or sister in Christ, remember that we are one in God’s eyes. Ask Holy Spirit what He desires for you to do and place yourself in that person’s shoes to ensure that the decision you make in thought or actuality will be pleasing to Him.

 

  1. We are heirs to the promise because we are Abraham’s seed

Recognizing that we are one in Christ Jesus allows us to ask boldly for all the promises that were provided to Abraham. It is easy to read the Word of God and look at what God blessed Abraham with and think that those blessings were only for him. However, Abraham is no longer living but those promises God gave him, still exist. Why won’t you claim them? God desires for you to experience the joy and breakthrough that Abraham received.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The love of God is not a feeling, but it is His Word in manifestation. This week, begin to think about the promises of God that are accessible to you, and have not been activated in your life.

 

  • Why are they not manifesting in your life?
  • Have you positioned yourself to ask and believe in faith that God can do it?
  • Do you have stewardship principles in your life to ensure those blessings are passed on to future generations after you? Who will gain from your blessings and breakthrough?

 

It is time to walk in the fullness of what God has for you. Believe that He is more than able to bless you with an abundant life and wants you to experience all that this life has to offer you. All you have to do is ask in faith, believe, and receive it by preparing for the manifestation of what you ask Him. He will bless you according to His Word and His will for your life.

Prayer

Dear God,

I am grateful for the clarity you bring through your Word to remind me that I am just as qualified for your favor, love, and blessings as Abraham was. I boldly begin to believe and ask by faith for everything I need.

Teach me the discipline to steward what you have placed in me so that I can pass it on to future generations and become a carrier of the many blessings that you will bestow upon me. My mind is being transformed to believe for the best and view myself as a partaker of the blessings that Christ has to offer.

Thank you for this reminder. I am loved by you.

Amen.

Holiness: An Interview with Jackie Hill Perry

Holiness: An Interview with Jackie Hill Perry

Jackie Hill Perry is one of the most sought after speakers and poets in the country. Her passion for God and using her pen to serve Him led her to write her most recent book: Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him. UrbanFaith sat down to discuss the new book with her. The interview has been edited for clarity. More information on the book is below.

 

If God is holy, then He can’t sin. If God can’t sin, then He can’t sin against you. If He can’t sin against you, shouldn’t that make Him the most trustworthy being there is?

Bestselling author Jackie Hill Perry, in her much-anticipated follow-up to Gay Girl, Good God, helps us find the reason we don’t trust God—we misunderstand His holiness.

In Holier Than Thou, Jackie walks us through Scripture, shaking the dust off of “holy” as we’ve come to know it and revealing it for what it really is: good news. In these pages, we will see that God is not like us. He is different. He is holy. And that’s exactly what makes Him trustworthy. As it turns out, God being “holier than thou” is actually the best news in the world, and it’s the key to trusting Him.

Devotional: Creation awaits you

Devotional: Creation awaits you

Scripture: Romans 8:18-30 NLT

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,[a] including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope[b] for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers[c] in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together[d] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn[e] among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

As a true child of God, there is a power and authority that we are expected to walk in and manifest. At times, the problems we see in the world create hopelessness and despair as many ask themselves, “where is God?” These are signs that there is a need for solutions from the Church of Jesus Christ.

What if our faith in God could push us to fulfill our destiny? How many times have you wallowed in sadness and discouragement wondering what will happen with your life? We may be the answer to the world’s problems.

In Romans 8:18-30, we are reminded of the beginning in the book of Genesis where the Lord gave man authority as a caretaker of the garden of Eden. That level of responsibility meant that humanity had the power to creatively come up with solutions that would impact creation.

 

Every day, there seems to be a new problem in our society. There is always something pending that should be handled or taken care of. This scripture is a reminder that the God we serve has great confidence in us to come up with solutions that will create positive changes.

Creation is yearning for us as children of the most High God to awaken to our divine collaboration with the Lord caretaking and providing answers to every day questions and problems. If humanity can creatively come up with a strategy and a means to travel to the moon, there is a grace that is in us to come up with answers that will transform the world we are living in a day at a time.

All it takes is a perspective of faith, belief in oneself, trusting the power of God in you, and looking around to see the problems that need to be solved. Instead of waiting and wondering what your life is about, be proactive in using what God has given you to make the world you live in a better place.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Today I ask for a change in mindset. Teach me how to think like a winner and a solutionist. Instead of complaining about the problems in my life, help me to look for opportunities to make a change. Reveal to me the gifts and graces you have bestowed upon me and help me to create answers. Let me be confident in your ability to assign me as a caretaker of the world I live in. Make it a personal responsibility to make a positive change. I believe I can do it. Show me how to do it, so that I may please you as a compliment of your faith in me.

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Half of churches say Sunday school, other education programs disrupted by pandemic

Half of churches say Sunday school, other education programs disrupted by pandemic

(RNS) — Sunday school and other Christian education programs have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, with half of congregations surveyed saying their programs were disrupted.

A March 2022 survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that larger churches with more than 100 people were more successful in maintaining their educational programming for children and youth, often using in-person or hybrid options. Smaller churches, especially those with 50 or fewer attendees, were least likely to say they continued religious education without disruption.

Scott Thumma, principal investigator of the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations project, said the findings echoed concerns about general education of schoolchildren, where researchers have seen declines in learning over the last two years.

“My sense is that people knew what good robust Sunday school was or what a successful vacation Bible school was,” said Thumma, drawing in part on open-ended comments in the survey. “And they couldn’t parallel that using Zoom or using livestreaming or using take-home boxes of activities. It just wasn’t the same thing. And so when they evaluated it, it just didn’t measure up to what they previously knew as the standard of a good quality religious education program.”

The findings are the third installment in the five-year project, a collaboration with 13 denominations from the Faith Communities Today cooperative partnership and institute staffers.

The new report, “Religious Education During the Pandemic: A Tale of Challenge and Creativity,” is based on responses from 615 congregations across 31 denominations.

Comparing data from 2019, churches surveyed in March 2022 reported that the attendance of their religious education programs had decreased an average of 30% among children younger than 13 and 40% among youth, ages 13-17.

“Analysis showed that those who closed their programs had the greatest decline in involvement even after they restarted,” the new report states. “Likewise, churches that moved religious education online lost a higher percentage of participants than churches who modified their efforts with safety protocols but continued meeting in person either outdoors or in small groups.”

The report notes that it’s not surprising the smallest churches experienced the most disruption in their religious education, given the decline in volunteer numbers and additional stresses on clergy during the pandemic.

“In the smallest churches (1-50 attendees) pastors were most likely in charge of the religious education programs, while for those between 51 and 100 worshippers, volunteers bore the bulk of leadership responsibilities,” according to the report.

Overall, evangelical churches reported experiencing the least disruption to their educational programs, while mainline churches reported the most, followed by Catholic and Orthodox congregations.

Vacation Bible school, long a staple of congregational outreach to local communities, has also been shaken by COVID-19. More than a third (36%) of churches offered such programs prior to the pandemic. That number decreased to 17% in 2020 and jumped back to 36% in the summer of 2021. Slightly less than a third (31%) reported VBS plans for 2022.

While children’s programming was greatly affected by congregational change during the pandemic, adult religious programs saw the smallest decreases compared with pre-pandemic levels, with a quarter growing since 2019 and an almost equal percentage (23%) remaining even.

But, as with children’s programs, churches with 50 or fewer worshippers saw the greatest loss in adult religious education, while those with more than 250 in worship attendance increased their adult programs by an average of 19%.

Some congregations reported moving Sunday school activities to weeknights or vacation Bible schools from weekday mornings to later hours, with mixed results.

“One said they ‘went from a typical 200+ kids to about 35,’” the report notes, and they “’shortened the number of days and moved VBS to the afternoon.’”

Thumma said innovations including intergenerational and kid-friendly programming helped sustain programs for people of all ages in some congregations. These included revamping of the children’s message time during worship to be more inclusive or older members greeting children who run by during Zoom sessions. Some churches called their all-ages activities “messy church” or “Sunday Funday” as they used interactive educational events.

“It becomes, out of necessity, intergenerational because that allows you to have robust energy and lots of people there,” he said. “But it really is directed at the kids being involved in the life of the congregation in a way that isn’t, like, ‘OK, you go to your class’ and ‘you go to your classes,’ and the classes don’t ever mingle.”

Whether creative steps such as new intergenerational activity will continue remains to be seen, Thumma added.

“I think it should because that’s a valuable strategy,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve seen in lots of our research is the more intergenerational the congregation is, the more it has a diversity of any degree, the more likely they are to be vital and thriving.”

The findings in the new report of the project, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment, have an estimated overall margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Uncompromising: An Interview with Steve White

Uncompromising: An Interview with Steve White

Steve White is a man with an inspiring life and an incredible legacy. He began his journey as the child of a single mother from the housing projects with obstacles set in the way of his success. And yet as a man of faith who embraced his “why,” he overcame the difficulties and is now one of the most successful Black leaders in the nation as the President of Comcast.

As we look towards Mother’s Day, he uplifts the impact of his mother on his story. UrbanFaith sat down with Steve to discuss his book Uncompromising: How an unwavering commitment to your why leads to an impactful life and a lasting legacy. The full interview is above, more about the book is below.

 

When you adhere to Steve’s seven pathways discussed in the book, you are standing by your why with an uncompromising mindset. And you are doing it with a winning and impactful approach that can help you lead a more fulfilling and purposeful life, while helping you guide others and leave a lasting legacy.

Devotion: An Instrument of Righteousness

Devotion: An Instrument of Righteousness

Scripture: Romans 6:1-14 NLT

1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

12 Do not let sin control the way you live;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

There is great power in what we permit to happen. We do not recognize this power we have because it is invisible and not obvious. But it is present. This scripture offers a viewpoint of self-responsibility, reminding us that we usually have a choice in what we allow to happen to our body.

The language used to describe wickedness is interesting. It can be an instrument. Which means wickedness has a rhythm and can flow like a song to produce a melody that can create memories. By the same token, the scripture describes righteousness as an instrument which means it can flow in our lives like a beautiful song.

When you think of music, it impacts everyone in a different way. There are certain songs that you hear that trigger traumatic memories, moments, or times in your life that you would rather forget. On the other hand, there are certain songs that will motivate you and inspire you to do better and push yourself to do great things.

The scripture likens righteousness to an instrument that can orchestrate appreciation and honor God for what He has done for us. Righteousness is by grace through faith. We can never be perfect or do what is right fully for there is a flesh nature in us that always desires to do what is wrong. However, as we allow the righteousness of Christ to move through our lives, the nature of God becomes appealing to us. By grace, we show our appreciation to God by resisting sin and fulfilling our destiny one day at a time.

Just as wickedness is likened to an instrument, righteousness is also likened to an instrument. I is up to us to choose what type of influence we desire to govern our lives. The scripture is clear, it is wise to choose righteousness, because we are no longer enslaved by sin. We live by the grace of God through faith.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you for the gift of righteous living. I am grateful for the power of willful decision, to make the choice every day to follow you. Help me by faith to resist sin and desire righteousness. Purge the appetite of my soul that may desire to stay enslaved to sin, and arouse a desire of freedom through Christ. Let me please you by how I live, and let righteousness be revealed in my life as a testament of my faith in Jesus Christ.

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

How to put your faith to work in response to today’s violence

How to put your faith to work in response to today’s violence

No one can deny that our nation is angry, hurt and frustrated due to the senseless violence that continues to plague us; however, the way we address today’s issues is absolutely critical, particularly for us as Christians. Here are a few suggestions on how we can respond to the violence and pain through active faith.

Local Victim Remembered at Orlando Massacre Vigil in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaPray in unity.

Now, more than ever, the church is commanded to pray in unity. In Matthew 18, Jesus emphasizes the importance of collective spirituality by saying, “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Yes, times are tough and you may find it difficult, but praying together not only obeys these words of Christ, but also serves as a powerful tool of encouragement and reminds us that we are not alone in the struggle. Besides, Christianity is a communal faith, and historically, many African and African-influenced cultures have always valued collective spirituality. Most importantly, we must remember that we serve a God who answers prayer, not always in the ways we expect, but always effective according to His will!

Educate yourself and others.

Hosea 4:6 declares, “For my people perish for lack of knowledge.” In order to actively address today’s issues, it is absolutely critical that we are prepared, both spiritually and intellectually. Take the time to educate yourself on the laws, procedures and government systems that affect both you and your family. However, it is just as important to equip yourself with Scriptures that will assist you in learning strategies that respect government while actively advocating against injustice and violence. Throughout the Bible, Jesus teaches us the importance of knowing your rights as both citizens of your home country and citizens of God’s kingdom. (Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 4:38-53, Mark 3:1-6) It is imperative that you know your rights in order to prevent them from being violated.

Be persistent and hopeful in seeking justice.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable that is not often shared among members of the Church. It is a parable about a persistent woman who goes to a judge to receive justice. Although he is not righteous, the judge gives the woman justice because of her persistence. As Christians, will we have enough faith to be persistent and seek God, even when dealing with a broken and unrighteous government?

The call to action here is clear. Keep seeking justice, even in a broken system, because the persistence will eventually bring about change.

Love your neighbor.

In the midst of all that is going on, this is the key. We have to choose to love our neighbors the way God loves (Matthew 22:38-39). We must love because we have been shown love, even when it is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Showing acts of love to our neighbors, particularly to those who historically have not always shown love in return, will begin to build the bridges across the ravines of fear that divide our nation and lead to the violence in the first place.

It is important to see here that love covers a multitude of sins, the sins that separate us from one another and God. Fear drives a lot of the sin of violence in this nation.  It is the fear that we will keep killing one another, fear that things will not change, fear between races, and fear within communities. However, it is perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

Share your thoughts on the recent violence and your plan of action as a Christian in today’s society below.

Movement to build affordable housing on church land reaches Florida

Movement to build affordable housing on church land reaches Florida

(RNS) — As Miami-Dade County in Florida grapples with a housing affordability crisis, houses of worship are being recruited to build affordable homes on vacant or underutilized church land.

The national nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners on Thursday (April 21) announced $1.3 million in grant funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation that would go toward helping 15 South Florida congregations convert underused church property.

The nonprofit will assist clergy, who may lack the resources or knowledge to cut housing deals, in navigating the development process, negotiating long-term ground lease agreements and vetting development partners, such as architects and designers.

This effort is part of the nonprofit’s Faith-Based Development Initiative that launched in 2006 in the Mid-Atlantic region, where it has helped faith-based organizations create or preserve more than 1,500 affordable homes and one community-based health clinic.

So far, $8.5 million has been committed in a new push to help congregations in Atlanta, New York, Baltimore, Miami and Seattle build affordable housing on their properties.

In South Florida, this money is being made available just as Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in early April declared a state of emergency over housing affordability.

Faith leaders, along with county and housing officials, on Thursday (April 21) gathered at Koinonia Worship Center to talk about the steps congregations could take to build housing on their church land. The gathering was held in partnership with the Collective Empowerment Group of South Florida, a group of local churches that aims to provide homebuyer training and credit counseling services in the area.

David Bowers, vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, said this effort makes “radical common sense,” allowing congregations that are “sitting on a resource” to “be good and faithful stewards.”

“We will share lessons from you with others in cities around the country who are at work as we expand this movement,” Bowers, who is also an ordained minister, said Thursday.

Over the last few years the county has partnered with faith-based organizations to build seven affordable rental developments, said Jorge Damian de la Paz, a representative of the mayor, at the Thursday gathering. These projects stretch across Miami-Dade County, from Miami Gardens down to Richmond Heights.

Citing property records, de la Paz said there are more than 1,220 parcels in Miami-Dade County currently being used exclusively for religious purposes. This includes churches, synagogues and mosques. In total, houses of worship sit on at least 95 million square feet of land in Miami-Dade County, he said.

“Religious organizations, in aggregate, are some of the largest owners of land in Miami-Dade County,” de la Paz said.

“Some of these lots could potentially be used to build affordable housing or … some type of community facility to serve congregants in a new way and generate additional revenue to the organization,” he said.

One example is Second Baptist Church of Richmond Heights. In 2016, the church opened the Reverend John & Anita Ferguson Residence Apartments, which provides 79 units of affordable housing for seniors.

The Rev. Alphonso Jackson, pastor of Second Baptist Church, helped oversee the project, which was a vision of the former pastor, the Rev. John Ferguson, who secured the land adjacent to the church.

“It was our desire to complete the vision he had,” Jackson said on Thursday.

Jackson said they sought to secure the necessary funds to build the project in a way that “wouldn’t be a burden to the church.” They formed a community development corporation and dealt with housing bonds, tax credits and grant funding.

Although it was years in the making, “it ended up being a wonderful project,” Jackson said.

“It adds to the community. It increased the property value of the community. It is not an eye sore. It is something very nice … We are very proud of it,” he said.

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Devotion: The Yoke of Invisible Slavery

Devotion: The Yoke of Invisible Slavery

Scripture Reference

John 8:31-38 NLT

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. 38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

Slavery is a terminology that creates discomfort in conversations because it represents one of the worst atrocities a human life can undergo. It is easier to deny or be hush about it. Openly acknowledging that the human mind is capable of manufacturing an ideology to oppress and detain, mistreat and dehumanize another human being can be difficult for the mind to wrap around. Yet Jesus was not afraid to address slavery head on.

Jesus reveals the type of mentality we should have towards sin which is detest, avoid and conquer it. Sin is a master that loves slaves. There is nothing good that comes out of it. It will seduce, manipulate, use, and deplete you. And just when you think you are done, it will create a small sense of relief to trick you into thinking you are okay, only for you to succumb to another cycle that keeps going on and on.

It is easy to look at slavery from the perspective of what you know from history. However, there is a yoke of slavery that lurks every day in your life and that yoke is sin. Jesus desires for you to be free and live with no fear.

Have you been battling something that keeps making you sin over and over again? Are you accustomed to it to the point of not desiring to seek freedom? You have to win in the mind and believe that you can be free and stay free. It is not by your might, but through Jesus Christ.

You deserve to see what a life of freedom looks and feels like. There is no human you will ever meet who loves and prays for slavery. So why should you accept sin as your master when you have the option of freedom? Jesus is able free you and shares tools through His Word on how to stay free. Release yourself from the yoke of sin, and step into the freedom that God desires for you.

 

Prayer

Dear God,

I want to be free, I desire to live a life of freedom. Give me a mindset that does not desire to sin, but desires to obey you willingly. Inspire me to believe that I can be whole and live a life that is pleasing you. Surround me with people who love freedom in you, and hold me accountable to live a life that establishes a legacy that I was your child, and I lived a life of wholeness, purity and divine freedom. I desire this blessing,

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Students of color in special education are less likely to get the help they need – here are 3 ways teachers can do better

Students of color in special education are less likely to get the help they need – here are 3 ways teachers can do better

Conversations around race and disability often get left out of schools. FG Trade/E+ via Getty Images
Mildred Boveda, Penn State

When I was a special education teacher at Myrtle Grove Elementary School in Miami in 2010, my colleagues and I recommended that a Black girl receive special education services because she had difficulty reading. However, her mother disagreed. When I asked her why, she explained that she, too, was identified as having a learning disability when she was a student.

She was put in a small classroom away from her other classmates. She remembered reading books below her grade level and frequent conflicts between her classmates and teachers. Because of this, she believed she received a lower-quality education. She didn’t want her daughter to go through the same experience.

Ultimately, the mother and I co-designed an individualized education plan – known in the world of special education as an IEP – for her daughter where she would be pulled out of class for only an hour a day for intensive reading instruction.

When compared to white students with disabilities, students of color with disabilities are more likely to be placed in separate classrooms. This may lead to lower educational outcomes for students of color in special education, as students with disabilities perform better in math and reading when in general education classrooms.

A student of color with down syndrome uses a tablet in the classroom.
Students with disabilities perform better academically when placed in general education classes. Robin Bartholick via Tetra images/GettyImages

Researchers, such as University of Arizona education scholar Adai Tefera and CUNY-Hunter College sociologist of education Catherine Voulgarides, argue that systemic racism – as well as biased interpretations of the behavior of students of color – explains these discrepancies. For example, when compared to students with similar test scores, Black students with disabilities are less likely to be included in the general education classroom than their non-Black peers. To curb this, teachers can take steps toward being more inclusive of students of color with disabilities.

As a Black feminist researcher who focuses on the intersection of race and disability, here are three recommendations I believe can help teachers to better support students of color with disabilities.

1. Inform families of their rights

Federal law requires that schools provide parents and guardians with Procedural Safeguards Notices, a full explanation of all the rights a parent has when their child is referred to or receives special education services. These notices need to be put in writing and explained to families in “language that is easily understandable.”

However, research shows that in many states, Procedural Safeguards Notices are written in ways that are difficult to read. This can make it harder for families, especially immigrant families, to know their rights. Also, families of color report facing greater resistance when making requests for disability services than white families do.

When meeting with families, teachers can take the time to break down any confusing language written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice. This can assure that the families of students of color are fully aware of their options.

For example, families have the right to invite an external advocate to represent their interests during meetings with school representatives. These advocates can speak on behalf of the family and often help resolve disagreements between the schools and families.

Educators can tell families about organizations that serve children with disabilities and help them navigate school systems. The Color of Autism, The Arc and Easterseals are striving to address racial inequities in who has access to advocacy supports. These organizations create culturally responsive resources and connect families of color with scholarships to receive training on how to advocate for themselves.

2. Talk about race and disability

Despite the growing diversity within K-12 classrooms, conversations around race are often left out of special education. This leaves a lack of attention toward the issues that students of color face, like higher suspension rates and lower grades and test scores than their white peers in special education.

When teachers talk about race and disability with their colleagues, it can help reduce implicit biases they may have. Also, dialogue about race and disability can help to reduce negative school interactions with students of color with disabilities.

Arizona State University teacher educator Andrea Weinberg and I developed protocols that encourage educators to talk about race, disability, class and other social identities with each other. These include questions for teachers such as:

Do any of your students of color have an IEP?

Has a student with disabilities or their family shared anything about their cultural background that distinguishes them from their peers?

Are there patterns of students not responding to instruction?

The protocols also encourage educators to consider their own social identities and how those may shape how they interpret students’ behaviors and academic needs:

Who do you collaborate with to help you better understand and respond to students’ diverse needs?

In what ways are students and teachers benefiting from the diversity represented in the classroom?

Educators using these questions in the Southwest, for example, say they help a mostly white teacher workforce understand their role in disrupting inequities. One study participant said, “These things are not addressed, and they’re not talked about among faculty.”

3. Highlight people of color with disabilities in the classroom

Often, classroom content depicts disabled people – especially those of color – as people at the margins of society. For example, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Tom Robinson, a Black character with a physical disability, is killed after being falsely accused of a crime. Teachers can incorporate thoughtful examples of disabled people of color in their lesson plans to help students better understand their experiences.

When teaching about Harriet Tubman, educators can mention how she freed enslaved people while coping with the lifelong effects of a head injury. Tubman’s political activism provides a historical example of disabled people of color who helped improve society for all.

A man and a woman in a wheelchair pose together next to a painting.
Famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo suffered from spinal and pelvic damage after a bus accident. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid/flickr

Art teachers can highlight Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and how she boldly addressed her physical disabilities in self-portraits. Disabled people’s experiences are frequently shown from the perspective of people without disabilities. In her art, Kahlo displayed herself with bandages and sitting in a wheelchair. Her portraits featured her own reactions to having disabilities.

Physical education teachers can discuss current events, such as recent news about Olympian Simone Biles’s attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. Her openness has sparked international conversations about less noticeable disabilities.

Teaching students about the contributions that disabled people of color make to our society emphasizes that neither race nor disability should be equated with inferiority.The Conversation

Mildred Boveda, Associate Professor of Special Education, Penn State

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

Grand Rapids pastors mobilize in wake of fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya

Grand Rapids pastors mobilize in wake of fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya

(RNS) — Pastors in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are taking action as the city reels in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4. Video footage of the shooting was released on Wednesday (April 13), sparking protests outside the city’s police department.

Lyoya, who is Black, was pulled over last week for a mismatched license plate. Video footage shows a white officer shooting Lyoya in the head after a brief scuffle. Lyoya and his family arrived from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014 as refugees, and he leaves behind his parents, two young daughters and five siblings.

In the days since Lyoya’s death, a group of Black pastors in Grand Rapids, called the Black Clergy Coalition, has been organizing community events to promote dialogue, healing and justice.

“We think that our faith perspective is critical in this hour, to not just discuss policy change, which is necessary, but to also discuss the spiritual and faith dynamic,” said Pastor Jathan K. Austin of Bethel Empowerment Church in Grand Rapids. “We must continue to keep our trust in the Father so that people don’t lose trust in this time because of the heartache, the pain.”

On Sunday (April 10), the group helped organize a forum for community discussion in response to Lyoya’s death. The discussion took place at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids — the location was intentional, according to the church’s senior pastor, Bishop Dennis J. McMurray, who noted the wider church’s historic role in guiding civil rights movements and said the Black Clergy Coalition is drawing on that legacy.

“It was unreal, the level of cooperative dialogue and understanding that took place,” McMurray told Religion News Service. “If these conversations would have started almost anywhere else, the volatility that could be associated to something as devastating as what we’re facing could have been a bomb that goes off that would cause so many other issues.”

The group also helped host a Thursday press conference at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ and a noon Good Friday service at the church, where they took up a collection for the Lyoya family.

The Rev. Khary Bridgewater, who lives in Grand Rapids, said the city’s racial and religious landscape informs how local leaders are responding to Lyoya’s death. Grand Rapids has a population that’s over 65% white and about 18% Black. It’s also the headquarters for the Christian Reformed Church, a small, historically Dutch Reformed denomination, and is home to over 40 CRC churches. According to Bridgewater, leaders shaped by the CRC’s reformed theology are often more likely to advocate for change within existing systems.

According to Bridgewater, “It’s very hard for most CRC churches to look at a system and say, ‘This is wrong, we’re going to act as activists to push the system into a different state.’ They’re more inclined to say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and have a conversation with the leaders and try to do things differently.’” Bridgewater says this theology can bump up against the Black church’s prophetic tradition of change-making. For this reason, he said, Christian groups in Grand Rapids need to have theological discussions around topics like justice and citizenship.

Nik Smith, a Grand Rapids activist and member of Defund the GRPD, agrees the city’s religious culture is shaping local leaders’ responses.

“The nonprofits are run by Christian folk who are just waiting for Jesus to come, not realizing not only was he here already, but he’s given us things to live by,” said Smith. “So we have to be seeking justice actively in our community. We can’t just say, let’s pray. Prayer is not going to bring Patrick back.”

Smith has been involved in Defund the GRPD since 2020, when the coalition first began advocating for reducing the police budget and refunding over-policed communities. Though Smith doesn’t identify as a Christian as strongly as she once did, she believes the Bible highlights the consequences of earthly authorities wielding too much power and the importance of working to make the world a better place. For Smith, defunding the Grand Rapids Police Department is part of securing a better future.

For years, the city’s police department has been criticized for racial profiling and for drawing guns on Black children. Joseph D. Jones, who is a city commissioner and pastor, told Religion News Service he wants to address police and community relations by looking at “root causes” of socio-economic inequality and other disparities while also addressing training for officers.

“I do believe in the absolute power of prayer,” Jones added. “I’m asking those who do pray … to pray for the family of Patrick, to pray for our city, to pray that angels are encamped around our city to protect our city and to pray that God restore and change the hearts of those who desire to engage in anything that is seen as evil in our country and our world,” Jones said.

Austin of Bethel Empowerment Church said the Black Clergy Coalition has long been advocating for police reform and specifically wants to see better diversity and culture training for officers and changes in how the department responds to police shootings.

“I am going to allow the wheels of justice to roll, and we pray that they roll properly,” said McMurray, who is also part of the coalition. “We are working, but we’re also watching.”

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Balance: Interview with Touré Roberts

Balance: Interview with Touré Roberts

UrbanFaith sat down to interview Touré Roberts, the visionary leader and founder of ONE (formerly OneChurch LA) to discuss his new book Balance.

Touré Roberts is a man who wears many hats. He is a husband, father, producer, pastor, author, speaker, and business executive with churches and homes in two cities. His wife Sarah Jakes Roberts who wrote the foreword to his most recent book is one of the most sought after speakers in the country. Saying Roberts needs balance to maintain his success is an understatement. But Touré has uncovered an unconventional approach to balance…as a place to live from. An overview of the book is below.

Imagine learning to tap into the awareness, the sensitivity and highest thought patterns that enable the most successful outcomes in life, love and business. What would your life look like if you were able to break the patterns of inconsistency that keep you from your absolute best? These goals are not only possible—they are what you were made for! In Balance, bestselling author Touré Roberts guides us on the eye-opening journey that unpacks the divine formula that makes this a reality. This illuminating guide brings a unique and eye-opening perspective to the evasive concept of balance.

Devotion: Life has a louder voice

Devotion: Life has a louder voice

Scripture Reference

Matthew 28:1-10 NLT

1 Early on Sunday morning,[a] as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Death has a sting, a pain that can linger and never leave the soul. The death of Jesus by crucifixion was not a glamorous thing to behold. It was painful, tormenting, heartbreaking and shattering of any form of hope for those who were present. As we read the journey He took, the imagery that plays in our minds reveals how difficult this moment of destiny was for Jesus and His disciples.

When He died, I can imagine a pain of finality that may have been felt by those who loved and cared for Him. Losing someone dear, someone you love and care for is not easy. Losing them to a painful death can be heartbreaking and it can create a traumatic scar that never leaves.

It was important for Jesus to rise up again because the only voice that is capable of shutting down the loud voice of death is life. When He rose on the third day, the powerful testimony of His resurrection was a reminder for believers all over the world to believe, and hope again.

Have you dealt with situations that seem final to you? Are you plagued with thoughts of feeling that life is not worth living? Do you sense or feel that you are at the end of your road? If your answer is yes to any of those questions, you need to fight to live. If you need help, you can get it.

Living and moving conscious of daily decisions that push you to choose better, act wiser, and try for the best takes courage and sometimes can be a battle of the will. However, life has a louder voice than death. The dead cannot breathe air or experience moments.

Do not allow the finality of circumstances, trials, or tribulations make you feel as though life is not fair or worth it. You matter, and your presence in this life, living and learning and growing allows you to make a greater impact than being dead and in the grave. Fight for your dreams, push yourself to achieve the best that you can in this lifetime and believe God to make your life worth living for, because it is.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you for what you did for me through love, by sending Jesus Christ to die for me. I acknowledge the power of the cross and the reminder that you desire for me to live. Help me today to push myself to live life with joy as Jesus died for me to be filled with peace and joy. Teach me how to maximize my days, weeks and months with what matters, and show me how to use my time here on earth wisely. I desire to live a fulfilled life, and I trust you that you will show me how to.

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Holy Saturday-A Reflection

Yesterday, churches around the nation gathered in person and virtually to commemorate the death and murder of Jesus. What a way to die, executed with his boys nowhere around, with the exception of John who he left in the care of his mother. He died in front of his mother. All of these people who loved Jesus, whether at the cross or not, had to live with the fact that they are now living in the world with a dead Jesus. We know now, because of history, that this part is an ongoing story, but even this part has a finality to it. Death is like that. Death is part of the process of living this life, and grief is its own beast of a complicated companion that comes with doing life with someone. These people had to grieve Jesus. God, the Father, had to watch his Son die. God lost His Son. Can you imagine it?

Who were your ones? Who are the people you love and loved so deeply, that your history is now split between before this person and after this person? Did you cry? Do you still cry? How did the gift that is grief show up for you? I believe in our liturgical imaginations, we have created services for almost every other day of Holy Week to commemorate, except for Saturday, because we just don’t know how to sit in grief. Grief can be an all consuming force to deal with, but grief is the price we pay for love, and they were loved. Sunday will get here in its own time, but we should take a page out of the Jesus story in this way too. There’s a reason that grief makes the story.

Theologians will debate about what He’s doing during this time, and the possibility of Him snatching the keys of hell and the people that will rise with him. What we know is that the people left on this side of the river Jordan had to grieve. And that alone is the gift here. The gift is frankly permission to grieve, and to feel feelings. It’s an invitation to learn how to sit in our Satur….sadder-days. It’s an invitation to not run and rush through the grief, but to trust God to get in the grief with you, since God knows what it’s like to live with the loss too. May we all learn how to be still on sadder-days, and hold in tension that this ongoing story, just with the added character of grief.

Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, and I am thinking of that night so long ago. I am putting myself in the scene, this soul-weary, overweight, middle-aged black woman who needs Jesus with everything in me. In my mind I am there with the disciples. I am present with my Jesus. You are there, too. Can you see it? The upper room in the drafty edifice, us stumbling in exhausted. We are starving. It’s just before the Passover Feast. So much has happened. So much will happen.

We gather together for a simple supper. Even Jesus has a kind of weight-of-the-world weariness about him. He’s talked a lot about going away lately, but he is fully present now, and his love has arms that hold us close. Still, a sadness lingers in his eyes. It reminds me of how the poet prophet Isaiah describes him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

The table is set, and we recline where we’re seated, grateful to be with him. Our cups are lined like guards before us, full of wine. A basket of bread lies in the center of the table. Later he will tell us the wine is his blood poured out, and the bread his body broken. Later. Now we sit. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounds us. The flames on the candles bow and rise in the breezy room, as if they too, worship our Lord.

Then Jesus sets aside his outer garments and dons an apron like a slave would wear. He pours water in a basin. We exchange puzzled looks.

“Give me your feet,” he says.

We are stunned silent, each of us carefully removing our sandals, unsure of what to say–what to do–faced with such shocking humility. Foot washing is the worst of tasks, despised by a servants gesture. Yet Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. I watch Him move from person to person. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our rough soles. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washes us as if the pitcher contains, then releases, his own tears. The water slips between our toes, and the filth of the world falls to the ground, ground now hallowed by His presence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional. Some of us wailed as he worked.

He sure knows how to make a mess of things.

When he gets to me I choke out his name, “Oh, Jesus,” I cry. Hot salty tears roll from my cheeks, and drop onto Jesus’ hand as he reaches up to wipe my face. “Master, let me wash yours,” I beg him.

He gently, but firmly refuses me. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” he says to me.

“I can’t let you wash my feet,” I say.

He speaks kindly to me. “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.” So I let him wash me, my Jesus, dressed as a slave, as I sit there, amazed.

He cleanses us all, every one of us. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” he asks. His brown eyes shine in the candlelight. “You address me as ‘Teacher,’ ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

Act like it, and live a blessed life.

Jesus makes things so messy, and then sets them right with such a simple, homely message, but it is good news. When he is done with you, you are washed as white as snow.

It wasn’t too long after that last meal that he left us, only to return in three days, and go again, leaving us with his Holy Spirit. As I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as he leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’

I think of this every Maundy Thursday, as we world weary travelers, parched and, hurting, and oh so vulnerable, gather. We are looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting our souls, and soles to his servants. Sometimes we sit shoulder to shoulder reclined. Waiting. Humbled. Remembering. And our feet are washed clean, while God’s slave cradles them in the circle of his tear-stained hands.

Scripture references taken from Isaiah. 53:3, NKJV and John 13:12-17, The Message.

Holy Tuesday Devotional

Holy Tuesday Devotional

Matthew 21: 18-46

When we left off yesterday, Jesus had committed destruction of property by flipping over tables of transaction and exploitation and uprooting the things that shifted His Father’s house from being relational and full of salvation. That left us to consider what tables we need to flip over, beginning with some of the ones in our hearts. What a mighty God we serve!

We pick up today with Jesus who is heading to the temple, and starts off the morning cursing a fig tree, condemning it saying it would never produce again. While we can argue about how harsh this is or isn’t, what is irrefutable is that the tree wasn’t doing its job, and Jesus had enough. And it seems as though, because He is headed to the temple, He’s not going to be stopped by the trees that aren’t doing their job. He already dealt with that yesterday, and is about to encounter it again.

When Jesus arrives at the temple, He attracts a crowd because, well, He’s Jesus. The crowd He attracts meets Him on the temple floor, and Matthew’s Gospel starts off this encounter with the authorities questioning his authority. Those who are systematically in places of authority and power want to know who or what validates Jesus as an authority figure. One could argue that there is an issue here of will. Because the Pharisees might’ve had the authority, but Jesus Christ, who is amongst the people, has the power. It’s a dangerous world when systemic authority is threatened by the people who have been empowered. I am more than sure that if we look at lived experiences Jesus shows us that just because you have authority, doesn’t mean you have power. Our faith is one that often reminds us that human-given authority is no match for God-given authority. And Jesus responds with a question, that frankly the only way it can be reconciled is with a divine answer.

We then pick-up Jesus who is engaging in what I refer to as the ultimate roasting session. He keeps sharing these parables about working in the vineyard, AND the treatment of the workers. He likens himself as the son of God, to a servant, a worker in the vineyard, and a slave. He keeps reinforcing that He is with the marginalized least of these. Thanks be to God for a savior who constantly positions himself to be for, with, and by the people. It is reassurance to us that no matter who you are, as long as you’re doing your work in the vineyard, serving the kingdom, Jesus says that you’ll inherit the kingdom of God. The Pharisees don’t like this, much like many modern authority figures, and are plotting to murder him. But if the words of Jesus be true: for Himself, for the people, and for us; no plot, no plan, no attack, no assassination, can stop the work of the people. Nothing can negate that we shall inherit the kingdom of God. Get to and keep to your work. Even if you don’t have authority, you always have the power to do your work in the vineyard. 

This week isn’t over, and we have a few more lessons to learn, but today, think about what it means to do your work anyhow. After all, Friday soon come….

Surprise deliverance: When Freedom Shows Up

Surprise deliverance: When Freedom Shows Up

Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11 NLT

21 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, 

5 “Tell the people of Jerusalem,

    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. 

8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Praise God in highest heaven!”

10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This story is very powerful, inspiring, and intriguing. As Jesus was preparing Himself for the very painful journey of the cross that was ahead of Him, He performs an act that reveals His thoughtfulness, intentionality, and commitment to destiny.

In Bethphage, there was a village that had a donkey and its foal that mattered to Jesus. A donkey is an animal that is symbolically and literally a beast that bears burdens. Donkeys can carry heavy loads and tread on difficult paths while being submitted to their owners.

  • Jesus picked an animal that was used to carry and bear burdens for people as a symbol that He had come to bear the burdens for humanity. As the disciples placed their cloaks on the donkey and its foal for Jesus to sit on, He was reminding us that He was mantled and graced for this heavy and great burden ahead of Him.

 

  • The donkey and foal were tied up and may not have known what was going to happen to them in the future, but Jesus had a plan. He was going to liberate both of them, and no one was going to get in the way of it. He specifically gave the disciples instructions, in case someone questioned them. Their response was to say “The Lord has need of them, and He will send them right away”.

 

  1. If Jesus can incorporate an animal in the story of redemption to symbolize how attentive He is to the details of destiny fulfillment, why are you questioning the details that God keeps unveiling in your life about how much He wants to use you?

 

  1. Imagine if the donkey and the foal resisted and kicked the disciples causing them to come back empty handed. Of course Jesus would have found an alternative, but the donkey and its foal would have never known the honor of deliverance from a Savior who understands and feels the weight of carrying heavy burdens.

 

The donkey and its foal walked on roads covered with cloaks and branches from trees as the crowd honored Jesus. They could not honor Jesus without honoring the donkey and the foal that were with Him. Do not resist the moment Jesus calls for you. His desire is to bestow love and grace on you. He is not one to hide you, but desires to walk with you through the journey, and ensure honor is bestowed upon you.

This week, think about the moments Jesus has pulled on you whether through prayer, His word, or a decision that He asked you to make. Why have you not obeyed? What expression of love from Jesus are you blocking when you resist Him? Isn’t it time to try pure freedom and experience what it feels like to have a Savior who understands and loves you? A Savior who has the power to loose you from every hold and bondage? He will not leave you there, but will walk with you until you fulfil the prophetic word He has spoken over your life.

If Jesus cared about a donkey and its foal, give yourself some credit and acknowledge He cares and has great plans for you. It is not a matter of if He is able, it is all about when you yield and obey His call. He is a loving Savior with open arms who desires to bless you and deliver you, to walk through this life with you in liberty and grace. It is time to answer Jesus. He has been calling for you for a while.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Today I am grateful for your kind heart, your intentionality, and ability to plan ahead with my life in mind. A lot of times, I behave as though you do not know me, but you do. Nothing changes your mind about me. Help me to see myself from the perspective of love that you have for me. Incline my ear to be sensitive to your calling. Forgive me for when I have resisted you because of fears that who I was or what I have done is too much for you. You have come to lift up every burden in my life.

I yield to you and desire to receive the honor of walking in freedom with you. This is my portion and I choose to walk in it by faith.

In Jesus Name,

Amen