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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

How do students’ religious lives influence their academic ones? Image Source via Getty Images
Ilana Horwitz, Tulane University

In America, the demographic circumstances of a child’s birth substantially shape academic success. Sociologists have spent decades studying how factors beyond students’ control – including the race, wealth and ZIP code of their parents – affect their educational opportunities and achievement.

But one often overlooked demographic factor is religion. The U.S. is the most devout wealthy Western democracy. Does a religious upbringing influence teens’ academic outcomes?

Over the past 30 years, sociologists and economists have conducted several studies that consistently show a positive relationship between religiosity and academic success. These studies show that more religious students earn better grades and complete more schooling than less religious peers. But researchers debate what these findings really mean, and whether the seeming effect of religiosity on students’ performance is really about religion, or a result of other underlying factors.

My latest research underscores that religion has a powerful but mixed impact. Intensely religious teens – who some researchers call “abiders” – are more likely than average to earn higher GPAs and complete more college education. By religious intensity, I refer to whether people see religion as very important, attend religious services at least once a week, pray at least once a day, and believe in God with absolute certainty. Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave – they also need to be part of a religious community. Adolescents who see an academic benefit both believe and belong.

On average though, abiders who have excellent grades tend to attend less selective colleges than their less religious peers with similar GPAs and from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds.

The takeaway from these findings is not meant to encourage people to become more religious or to promote religion in schools. Rather, they point to a particular set of mindsets and habits that help abiders succeed – and qualities that schools reward in their students.

Religious landscape

People of any religion can demonstrate religious intensity. But the research in my book “God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success” centers on Christian denominations because they are the most prevalent in the U.S., with about 63% of Americans identifying as Christian. Also, surveys about religion tend to reflect a Christian-centric view, such as by emphasizing prayer and faith over other kinds of religious observance. Therefore, Christian respondents are more likely to appear as highly religious, simply based on the wording of the questions.

Based on a 2019 Pew survey and other studies, I estimate that about one-quarter of American teenagers are intensely religious. This number also accounts for people’s tendency to say they attend religious services more than they actually do.

The abider advantage

In my book, I examined whether intensely religious teens had different academic outcomes, focusing on three measures: secondary school GPA; likelihood of completing college; and college selectivity.

First, I analyzed survey data collected by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which followed 3,290 teens from 2003 to 2012. After grouping participants by religious intensity and analyzing their grades, I found that on average, abiders had about a 10 percentage-point advantage.

For example, among working-class teens, 21% of abiders reported earning A’s, compared with 9% of nonabiders. Abiders were more likely to earn better grades even after accounting for various other background factors, including race, gender, geographic region and family structure.

Then working with survey measurement expert Ben Domingue and sociologist Kathleen Mullan Harris, I used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to see how more and less religious children from the same families performed. According to our analysis, more intensely religious teens earned higher GPAs in high school, on average, even compared with their own siblings.

But why?

Scholars like sociologist Christian Smith have theorized that increased religiosity deters young people from risky behaviors, connects them to more adults and provides them more leadership opportunities. However, I found that including survey measures for these aspects of teens’ lives did not fully explain why abiders were earning better GPAs.

To better understand, I went back to the National Study of Youth and Religion, or NSYR, and analyzed 10 years of interviews with over 200 teens, all of whom had been assigned individual IDs to link their survey and interview responses.

Many abiders made comments about constantly working to emulate and please God, which led them to try to be conscientious and cooperative. This aligns with previous research showing that religiousness is positively correlated with these traits.

Studies have underscored how habits like conscientiousness and cooperation are linked with academic success, in part because teachers value respect. These traits are helpful in a school system that relies on authority figures and rewards people who follow the rules.

A teenage boy in a blue shirt works on an assignment in class.
Traits like cooperation can play an important role in students’ success. Will & Deni McIntyre/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Post-graduation plans

Next, I wanted to know more about students’ college outcomes, starting with where they enrolled. I did this by matching the NSYR data to the National Student Clearinghouse to get detailed information about how many semesters of college respondents had completed, and where.

On average, abiders were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than nonabiders, since success in high school sets them up for success in college – as also shown by my analyses of siblings. The bump varies by socioeconomic status, but among working-class and middle-class teens, abiders are more than 1 ½ to 2 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than nonabiders.

Another dimension of academic success is the quality of the college one graduates from, which is commonly measured by selectivity. The more selective the institutions from which students graduate, the more likely they are to pursue graduate degrees and to secure high paying jobs.

On average, abiders who earned A’s graduated from slightly less selective colleges: schools whose incoming freshman class had an average SAT score of 1135, compared with 1176 at nonabiders’.

My analysis of the interview data revealed that many abiders, especially girls from middle-upper-class families, were less likely to consider selective colleges. In interviews, religious teens over and over mention life goals of parenthood, altruism and serving God – priorities that I argue make them less intent on attending as highly selective a college as they could. This aligns with previous research showing that conservative Protestant women attend colleges that less selective than other women do because they do not tend to view college’s main purpose as career advancement.

Grades without God

Being a good rule follower yields better report cards – but so can other dispositions.

My research also shows that teens who say that God does not exist earn grades that are not statistically different from abiders’ grades. Atheist teens make up a very small proportion of the NSYR sample: 3%, similar to the low rates of American adults who say they don’t believe in God.

In fact, there is a strong stigma attached to atheism. The kinds of teens who are willing to go against the grain by taking an unpopular religious view are also the kinds of teens who are curious and self-driven. NSYR interviews revealed that rather than being motivated to please God by being well behaved, atheists tend to be intrinsically motivated to pursue knowledge, think critically and be open to new experiences. These dispositions are also linked with better academic performance. And unlike abiders, atheists tend to be overrepresented in the most elite universities.The Conversation

Ilana Horwitz, Assistant Professor, Fields-Rayant Chair in Contemporary Jewish Life, Tulane University

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

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is the Chief Engagement Officer of the TD Jakes Foundation, a well respected pastor and education advocate. But his journey was not easy or simple. His book Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns details his journey, his context, and his perspective on one of the most important topics for us everyday: how to educate our children and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. He masterfully blends personal stories with scripture, statistics, history, and context to help us understand and impact the education system. Check out the full interview above!

You can get the book here

Ready to Raise Your GPA: An Interview with Jonathan Banks

Ready to Raise Your GPA: An Interview with Jonathan Banks

Across the world students, teachers, parents, professors, pastors, and caregivers are beginning a new year facing numerous challenges. The uncertainty of the pandemic, the logistics of classes, and the worries about the economy are one thing. But the larger questions about purpose, relationships, and faith impact us far beyond the classroom year after year. UrbanFaith interviewed Jonathan Banks, author of Raise Your GPA about how we can have success this school year and beyond. The full interview is above.