Restoring Homeowner Hope

Restoring Homeowner Hope

Purchasing a home is one of the biggest decisions a person will make. The process can be exciting, and equally daunting. But ultimately it’s a step toward fulfilling the American Dream.

In the wake of the current economic downturn, however, the notion of homeownership seems less attainable than before. And for many current homeowners, the threat of foreclosure has turned the American Dream into a nightmare. Hundreds of thousands of families each year are now faced with the reality of losing their homes due to high interest rates and subprime lending, and the crisis has hit the African American community especially hard.

Last year, a Pew Research Center study revealed that wealth among black Americans dropped 53 percent during the current recession as the result of falling home prices. What’s more, black homeownership rates fell to the lowest level in 16 years.

One company working to reverse these trends is HomeFree-USA, which has been a leader in bringing awareness to the foreclosure discussion in the black community.

Marcia J. Griffin

“Our mission is to provide both information and inspiration,” says HomeFree-USA president and founder Marcia J. Griffin. “We try to teach families and individuals that there are things they can do to improve their situations and avoid foreclosures.”

As a HUD-approved non-profit organization, Griffin’s organization has been aiding families across America in securing and maintaining their dreams of homeownership. According to Griffin, HomeFree-USA has helped more than 7,000 families since 1995, and not one of them has gone into foreclosure.

On Saturday July 21 in Chicago, HomeFree-USA will host “Homeownership for All,” a free community seminar designed to educate and encourage people interested in gaining more insight about buying or keeping a home, all while living debt free.

Joining Griffin and her team of experts will be the Rev. DeForest Soaries, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, and the author of dfree: Breaking Free of Financial Slavery. Soaries, who will share spiritual principles for successful money management, brings years of practical experience on issues related to the black family. He formerly served as New Jersey’s Secretary of State and was featured in the CNN documentary Almighty Debt

“We think it’s imperative that churches and faith-based organizations be leaders in teaching their communities about financial literacy,” says Griffin. “No one has been giving us wise advice on these matters, so faith-based organizations have an opportunity to make a difference.”

Griffin, who as one of 19 HUD intermediaries in the nation is able to bring both informational and financial assistance to local communities, plans to take the “Homeownership for All” seminar to other cities as well. Following the Chicago event, HomeFree-USA plans to make stops in Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, and Atlanta.

With high expectations for the Chicago meeting, Griffin says that her hopes are to have a full house. “We certainly want a packed house, with about 200 people determined to make their financial situation better,” she says.

For more information about HomeFree-USA and its upcoming events, call 301-891-8400 or go to HomeFreeUSA.org.

The Black Church, Obama, and Gay Marriage

The Black Church, Obama, and Gay Marriage

“There’s no way I can support this man now.”

“I disagree with his decision, but not enough to make me vote for the alternative.”

 “Obama is too calculating to have made this view known apart from some political strategy. I need to let this marinate.”

Those are just a few of the comments we overheard from different Christians following President Barack Obama’s announcement that he now supports same-sex marriage. His “evolution” on the issue dominated the news last week, and his explanation about how his personal faith informed the decision opened up a wide-ranging discussion on gay rights, the Bible, and the proper Christian response.

For the record, UrbanFaith maintains a traditional view of Christian marriage as an institution ordained by God to be a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. However, we recognize there is a diversity of Christian opinion on the subject of homosexuality and gay rights, especially within the African American community. So, we asked a spectrum of Black Christian leaders to share their perspectives on President Obama’s announcement and the subject of same-sex marriage. The opinions that follow belong to the respondents and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of UrbanFaith.

Not a Central Issue for the Black Community

Dr. Vincent Bacote

The president’s public affirmation of the legalization of same-sex marriage will not be a surprise to many people, because his “evolving views” have trended in this direction for quite a while. It could be problematic in November with some demographics, but most likely he will still have the great majority of the African American vote because this isn’t one of the central issues for the community; even though same-sex marriage is strongly resisted by the community, other commitments will likely lead to a share of the vote similar to what he received four years ago…. But I could be wrong. It is certainly possible that this was a great political miscalculation.

Vincent E. Bacote (Ph.D., Drew University) is an Associate Professor of Theology and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. He is the author of The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper and the editor of Precepts for Living, Urban Ministries Inc.’s annual Bible commentary.

Rev. Chris Williamson

Offensive to God

President Obama’s position on gay marriage is not only offensive to God, it should also be offensive to all Christians. With one insidious statement, he threw another piece of dynamite at the institution of marriage that God designed and always intended (i.e. one man married to one woman). But as we rightfully criticize the president, we should also pray for him. May God send someone to help him rethink and even retract this hellish statement in the light of Scripture.

Those of us who want to see the president reclaim a position of truth should let him know. Here’s the letter that I sent to the White House following Mr. Obama’s announcement:

Mr. President,

Because of your recent statement in support of gay marriage, you will not get my vote in November for a second term unless you retract.

Truthfully, I’m very disappointed in you. You profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, yet you form and endorse opinions that contradict the words of Jesus. I love you, Mr. President, but I love Jesus more. What Jesus says has more authority than what you say and how your friends choose to live.

I will be glad to write you or speak with you about what Jesus teaches on this subject. Just let me know.

You will continue to be in my prayers.

Sincerely,

Chris Williamson

Chris Williamson is the founder and senior pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Since 1995, Strong Tower has been a disciple-making, Bible-based, multi-ethnic church committed to Up-Reach, In-Reach, and Out-Reach. Rev. Williamson is the author of One But Not the Same: God’s Diverse Kingdom Come Through Race, Class, and Gender.

Dr. Cheryl Sanders

Seeing the Larger Picture

President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality will alienate some of his constituents who are Bible-believing Christians, including some African Americans. However, I hope that the voters will take note of his positions on weightier matters such as unemployment, education, and foreign policy and not allow the same-sex issue to overshadow them, as occurred in 2004 when evangelical voters helped to re-elect President George Bush on the basis of his opposition to same-sex marriage without regard to his miscalculated policies in Iraq and at home. I think this is an opportune time for religious leaders to assess President Obama’s accountability to African American congregations and denominations on our most pressing social and political concerns, and then apply the same measure to Republican contender Governor Mitt Romney.

Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders is Professor of Christian Ethics, Howard University School of Divinity, and senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. She has authored several books, including Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth & the Poor (1997) and Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (1996).

Andrew Wilkes

Rethinking Sola Scriptura

Obama’s announcement reveals an inconsistency in African American biblical interpretation at the congregational and denominational levels. Black clergy routinely contextualize scriptural passages on slavery and women while simultaneously insisting on a plain, non-contextualized reading of Scripture in regards to sexuality and gay marriage. This diversity of interpretative strategies is rarely acknowledged. Regardless of where we stand, it’s time we eradicate the fiction that our moral conclusions are strictly and exclusively reached by reasoning from Scripture. Once we deconstruct the notion that any of our positions are “Biblical” with a capital B, we can then charitably discuss our respective visions of how to faithfully interpret the canon of Scripture on matters of sexuality. Such discussion can help us accomplish the positive good of Christians modeling charitable dialogue to a corrosive political culture and the negative good of ceasing to bear false witness — theologically conservative black churches/denominations in regards to theologically liberal ones and vice versa.

President Obama has supported gay marriage since his first run for public office in 1996. What has evolved, therefore, is not Obama’s position but public opinion. Some speculate that the White House tested the political waters by rolling out the support of Vice President Biden and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan prior to Obama’s announcement. I’m not sure if that’s the case—we’ll find out when Obama releases his presidential memoirs. In terms of reelection, I doubt that Obama’s support will decrease the voter turnout or the likely scenario that African Americans predominantly vote for him in 2012. Black folks know Obama is not a theologian-in-chief, but our commander-in-chief. Secondly, President Obama is generally regarded as stronger than Gov. Romney on issues of greatest import to college-educated African-Americans (his most reliable voting bloc) — jobs, supporting small business, expanding educational opportunity, and so on. As Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic once tweeted, “No one gets everything they want in a candidate.” Since the Voting Rights Act, black voters, whether Republican or Democrat, have never seen — and will never see — a fully satisfying candidate for President of the United States. Believing that such a candidate exists, or that Obama was that candidate, is an understandable but lamentable sign of political immaturity. I hope that we grow up civically, prioritize the issues according to our respective metrics, and then see how the votes aggregate once it’s all over.

Andrew Wilkes, an UrbanFaith columnist, works at Habitat for Humanity-NYC as the Faith and Community Relations associate and serves as an affiliate minister at the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York. He is an alumnus of the Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Hampton University. You can follow him on Twitter at: @andrewjwilkes.

Dr. DeForest Soaries

Not So Fast

“I didn’t hear the president propose a government program or policy. He expressed a personal opinion, which he has the right to do.”

Rev. Dr. DeForest “Buster” Soaries is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey.

Rev. Julian DeShazier

The Incompatibility of God and Caesar

Will President Obama lose some of the Christian Right in this year’s electorate? Sure, but he lost most of them already, and he’ll win a few back after the poor discover how out of touch “Daddy Warbucks” Romney really is. And if you think the Black Church (not a monolith) won’t vote for Obama over this: wrong again. The Latino vote (again, not a monolith) is overwhelmingly conservative theologically, and this may stir the pot. Overall, though, I have to believe there are more civil rights sympathizers (who want equal rights period, regardless of the issue) than ideologues. The media gives the microphone to the dogmatists, but I suspect the levelheaded have been listening to The Who (or at least watching CSI: Miami) and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” That is, if they remember George W. Bush.

The issue itself needs to be considered on civil and religious grounds — and not at the same time. The Bible should not dictate policy or how rights are distributed; God and Caesar make “strange bedfellows,” as Leo Tolstoy once remarked, and ironically, as Jesus agreed (Matt. 22:21). Yet as we render unto Caesar, we church leaders must affirm our prophetic DNA — to name when Caesar is denying basic human dignity. It happened with slavery. It happened with abortion. It is happening now with health-care rights for women, and with the issue of same-sex marriage. You may assess the decision itself on biblical grounds (as unsound an argument as that is), but Caesar cannot deny the ability to decide. This is a putrid yet common discrimination — to deny choice because of our displeasure at how one may choose — and it is an offense to God. Every citizen is also a child of God.

What the Bible says about homosexuality is fairly clear: not much, and almost never in the context we intend. But should theology shape policy? Should the office of the President also be a seat of moral authority? I worry that the trajectory of human history, including (mostly) politics, has been in search of a more perfect Christianity, and it has proven a crash course. But if we can use our worldview in search of Truth, instead of assuming these are the same, then the kingdom may be closer than we think.

Rev. Julian “J.Kwest” DeShazier regularly provides social commentary surrounding youth, ethics, and culture. A graduate of Morehouse College and the University of Chicago Divinity School, Julian is the senior pastor of University Christian Church in Chicago, his hometown. To build with this scholar, activist, and artist, hit him up at www.jkwest.com.