BROTHERS IN REDEMPTION: Chuck Colson (right) hugs an ex-inmate and graduate of Colson's Prison Fellowship program. Founded in 1976, PF is aimed at rehabilitating incarcerated men and women through faith-based education, job training, and aftercare. (Photo: Shawn Thew/Newscom)
The passing of Chuck Colson over the weekend brought to mind the issue of stewardship in ministry. Many of the headlines remembered him as Nixon’s “evil genius” in the Watergate scandal, but for many of us he was even better known for what he did after leaving prison.
Colson, as the founder of Prison Fellowship, lived his post-prison, post-conversion life as a champion for the evangelization and discipleship of incarcerated men and women. His gradual expansion of PF to an organization that included work in the area of public policy and criminal justice reform took the group beyond the norms of many predominantly white evangelical organizations. His mobilization of and influence on theological and political conservatives around issues such as the Second Chance Act, prison conditions, and prison rape showed his commitment to both rescuing fish and cleaning the fishbowl. Countless numbers of people, both those incarcerated and those impacted by incarceration (such as victims of crime, former prisoners, and family members of the incarcerated) have been helped, saved, blessed, and reconciled as God used Brother Colson in providing leadership in this area.
But I am mostly drawn to his sense of stewardship in this hour, because it had everything to do with Prison Fellowship’s ascendancy and the challenge of the organization’s future. Stewardship, because Brother Colson had a public visibility prior to his conversion that God was able to use to strengthen the organization itself and give more visibility to prison ministry as a critical component of the witness of the church. With all that Brother Colson could have done with his visibility, committing it to the service of men and women Jesus identified as “the least of these” rings nobly. This is especially significant in light of the historic tension between white evangelical organizations and indigenous African American congregations and ministries, where the competition for scarce resources often gives advantage to the former while the latter struggles in relative obscurity.
I remember once having breakfast with an NFL quarterback who had just made a five-figure donation to an urban youth ministry organization in Philadelphia. He talked about the great needs there, and the fact that this organization was “on the front lines.” I countered that they were indeed, but that there were countless African American and Latino congregations in that city that could use support — they just don’t have leadership with the visibility and clout of some in the white evangelical community. Colson chose to use his clout to answer Christ’s call to remember the prisoner.
Of course, one alternative to white paternalism in urban ministry is for white evangelicals to take all their marbles and go home — leave the places of pain where, as Bible scholar Dennis Kinlaw has reminded us, “God always gets there first.” And so the fact that organizations like Prison Fellowship continue to witness to a holistic gospel in this era of mass incarceration is important. And Brother Colson took good care of his name as a steward of the visibility he gained from his days at the White House, involvement with Watergate, trial and incarceration, conversion and release. He lived as a vibrant example of a life redeemed — a man of influence, thoughtfulness, and compassion.
FROM 'EVIL GENIUS' TO GOD'S SERVANT: A White House special counsel during the Nixon administration, Colson was a key player in the Watergate scandal. He became a Christian in 1974 before serving a prison sentence.
Like many organizations before it, Prison Fellowship will now face the so-called “founder’s dilemma” in staying the course without Colson’s critical stewardship. But there are other obstacles as well: notably the downturn in the economy, which has affected the bottom line of all non-profits, and PF’s continued search for a way to strengthen its work with indigenous African American and Latino congregations. During one of his Breakpoint broadcasts in 2009, Colson lauded the prisoner-reentry partnership which had been developed between Prison Fellowship and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the historic African American denomination that counted Martin Luther King Jr. as one of its founding members. Colson’s attempts to bridge this gap between conservative and progressive Christians reflected his sincerity, even if the organization’s infrastructure continued to struggle with how to give this vision legs.
As a sociologist who studies congregations, I have seen such infrastructural challenges from Richard Niebuhr’s original documentations in The Social Sources of Denominationalism, through case studies, to my mentors Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner warning us that your ministry can grow into a monster. Whether it’s a large company or big congregation, infrastructure can outgrow mission both in the size of the organization and the attention of its leadership and staff. But even as PF wrestled with these dilemmas, Chuck Colson worked as a steward of his visibility — championing Angel Tree ministries for the children of the incarcerated, advocating compassion for inmates in overcrowded and inhumane conditions, and demonstrating a dogged commitment not only to the evangelization of inmates but to their discipleship as well (no small feat when the predominant mode of prison preaching follows the script: “You messed up, you got caught, you need Jesus”).
Indeed, there is an irony in saying that Chuck Colson has gone to “be with the Lord.” After all, if we take Matthew 25 seriously, Chuck had already been “with Him” more than most.
The year 1787 saw many important milestones in American history. In 1787, the United States adopted its constitution, a document significantly, seriously, and regularly called the most important document of political freedom in human history. Delaware became the first state in the newly named United States of America. Silicon was discovered. It was a significant year.
Seventeen eighty-seven also marked the beginning of the Free African Society in Philadelphia, a mutual aid organization where Blacks gathered for community affairs, insurance and banking, health care, and education. African Americans also recall 1787 as the year that the United States federal government enacted a compromise between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states to account for enslaved Africans in the regular federal census — the now infamous “three-fifths compromise” determining that for the purposes of the census, Blacks were “three-fifths” of a human being. The only reason the South wanted enslaved Africans counted at all was that representation in congress depended on census numbers.
By the way, did you know that in the current practice of the United States Census Bureau, prisoners are counted as part of the census for the communities that host the prisons in which they live? A significant amount of public money is distributed according to census data, which means that communities that host prisons receive state and federal dollars for community projects based on their being the communities in which African American prisoners are held. In both cases, Blacks are counted but not as citizens.
A Mother’s Mission
The year 1787 also marked the birth of Sally Thomas, an incredible African American woman who represents the best in the human realm of what we can learn about the character and will of God concerning redemption.
Sally Thomas was born 225 years ago in Albemarle County, Virginia. She was a fair-skinned, enslaved African American who was led to her pursuit by wealthy White slave owners because of purposes in violation of biblical principles. Eventually she had three children by two White slave owners, neither of whom ever acknowledged paternity. Sally Thomas determined that her life’s goal would be the freedom of her three sons. In that regard, she mirrored the holy intention of God.
The life of Sally Thomas shows us how God commits Himself to our freedom — even as Thomas did for the sake of her sons. She sacrificed and worked hard to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of one, aid in the escape of a second, and arrange for a job that led to the freedom of the third. There was nothing more important to Sally Thomas than the freedom of her children. So, too, does God value the freedom of His children.
Paying the Price for Freedom
God commits to the freedom and redemption of His people out of His love and faithfulness. He expressed His commitment to Israel through the Exodus. He raised up prophets and priests, kings and judges for His people, even in the midst of their unfaithfulness. He expressed His ultimate love in sending Jesus for us “while we were yet sinners.” The renowned preacher Gardner C. Taylor was right when he told young preachers-in-training his charge: “The Bible has only one major theme: God is getting back what belonged to Him in the first place.”
Redemption is paying the price to buy something back. Sally Thomas paid the price for her sons’ redemption through work, money, and sound connections with the business world. God paid the price for our redemption by sending His Son Jesus into the world to die for our sins. The resurrection of Jesus gives hope to all who trust Him as Savior. The apostle Paul says that without the hope of the resurrection “we are the most miserable” of all people. Peter says that the Christian has been “born again into a living hope” by the Resurrection. Truly, the resurrection of Jesus brings us hope. It is the hope of redemption.
Just as enslaved Africans were objects of redemption in the antebellum period of the United States, a new cohort of persons in our society are candidates for redemption in today’s society. Over 2 million men and women live their lives behind the bars of our state and federal prisons, and countless more languish in county and city jails. The United States incarcerates its citizens at a higher rate than any nation on the earth. And the disproportionate numbers of those prisoners who are African American should give call for pause and prayer, preaching and prophesying in our congregations. According to the Pew Center, in 2008 one in every 100 Americans was incarcerated. For African American males between the ages of 25 and 34, the numbers were one in nine. Our young men need redemption.
In addition, the overwhelming majority of those state and federal inmates eventually return to society. In 2010, the number exceeded 708,000. And this number did not include those returning from county and city jails. For men and women returning from incarceration, redemption means more than just the personal regeneration occurring when a person gives his or her life to Christ. Redemption includes being reconciled with God and humanity, and those leaving the prisons and jails of our country struggle to be reconciled with family and friends, community and society.
Many of our congregations have prison-ministry programs. They do good work in providing worship services, Bible studies, and some counseling and working in conjunction with jail and prison chaplains. Yet so much more is needed. We need the work of full redemption.
When redemption comes to a person, it does more than change them internally. It changes his or her relationship to the community and world, as well as his or her relationship to God. God redeems His people to make them a people and a community of the redeemed who become agents of reconciliation in the world. A prisoner may give his or her life to Christ, but they also need support in reforming and revitalizing the relationships with others. And sometimes they need support to begin new relationships where there once were either bad relationships or no relationships at all.
Hope and Healing After Incarceration
A group of religious leaders met in Baltimore in 2006 at the Annie E. Casey Foundation to discuss ways in which congregations could be a part of the redemption of prisoners, especially those about to return from incarceration. They pointed to relationships as the key concept in assisting people returning from incarceration. As several of them met over the next year, they were joined by leadership from the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which formed a Social Justice and Prison Ministry Commission. That Commission worked with representatives of the Foundation and other key Christian leaders to produce a model for relationally based prison ministry and prisoner reentry called Healing Communities.
In the Healing Communities model, each congregation identifies families in their own church who have an incarcerated loved one — a father, mother, son, daughter, etc. The congregation then begins to minister to the family and the inmate just as they would if that inmate were hospitalized. They provide prayerful counsel and support, visitation to the prison, and assistance with financial matters when appropriate. One group of congregations began using their church vans to provide rides for families on visiting days. Another developed financial support for families with phone bills (a collect call from a state prison can cost as much as two dollars and fifty cents per minute). Yet another church, recognizing how important it is to keep families in touch during incarceration, set up a video-conferencing program with a prison seven hours away so that inmates could have real time video visits with loved ones.
These congregations grew in their ability to be communities of redemption. They became more sensitive to the difficult transition from incarceration back into society by ministering to inmates and their families during the period of incarceration and by becoming welcoming congregations upon the return of the inmate. They even moved away from using the term “ex-offender,” preferring the term “returning citizen.” One pastor, who had served significant prison time prior to his entering the ministry, told a group of churches that were beginning this ministry, “How would you like to be forever known by a title describing the worst moments of your life?”
This same pastor freely shares his having been incarcerated as a way of helping congregations overcome the stigma of incarceration. Many members of our churches have families living with a sense of shame that their family member is incarcerated. But as we look at so many people who have made the successful transition home and share their stories and hopes, we can reduce the stigma and shame and provide real support for all persons affected by crime and incarceration. Some pastors are even preaching sermons about prisoner reentry, citing Peter’s ambivalent reception upon his return from prison in Acts 12, the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity in Isaiah 49, and John coming home from exile with a fresh revelation from heaven.
All of us must be held accountable for our actions. For some, it means the consequences of incarceration. But if we are willing to be changed — to be redeemed — then congregations must stand ready to be communities of redemption, no matter how far someone may have fallen. We should be prayerfully open to God’s heart for the redemption of the prisoner and his or her family. After all, our Redeemer paid the price for us while a prisoner Himself.
This article originally appeared in the 2010-2011 edition of Precepts for Living, UMI’s annual Bible commentary. Visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation website to download the handbook What Shall We Then Do?, prepared by the Foundation and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
In a recent Wall Street Journal review of Baylor University sociologist Byron R. Johnson‘s new book, More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More, James Q. Wilson questions Johnson’s assertion that religion reduces crime.
Johnson looked at every study conducted between 1944 and 2010 that measured the possible effect of religion on crime. In 273 such studies, he found that “even though their authors used different methods and assessed different groups of people, 90% of these studies found that more religiosity resulted in less crime,” writes Wilson, who then assesses what he alleges are the weaknesses of Johnson’s approach. The key weakness he identifies is the lack of control groups in the cited studies. Nonetheless, Wilson concedes that the sheer number of studies show “a religious effect.”
Dr. Harold Dean Trulear is an associate professor of applied theology at Howard University’s School of Divinity, as well as the director of the Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Reentry Project in Philadelphia. He’s also a longtime colleague of Johnson’s. In an email response to UrbanFaith, Trulear said he thinks the Wall Street Journal review is “honest and fair.” He added that, as a fellow social scientist, he has “found it best to … use data to be suggestive, but not conclusive.”
“I use Johnson’s work, my own research in religion and social behavior, and the work of others to point academics, researchers, and policy makers toward religion and religious institutions as valuable contributors to our common good. But I always stop short of saying ‘religion works,’ precisely because it is God — not human religious activity — that has true efficacy,” Trulear wrote.
“As a person of faith, my ultimate allegiance is to Christ and His Kingdom, and my sociological training is but a tool for His use. That said, I do not rely on sociology to ‘prove’ the effectiveness of religion or Christianity,” he added. “The whole idea of Christian ‘proofs’ is a late phenomenon in Christian history, coinciding with the scientific age, and the faith’s unfortunate sense that it needed to be scientific to have validity. I use social science to point in the direction of religion’s efficacy concering crime reduction, but strict cause-and-effect language is inconsistent with Christian faith, whether in social science or in prosperity ‘name it and claim it’ theology.”
Wilson’s review mentions Prison Fellowship as the largest effort to increase the religiosity of “convicted offenders.” The Christian organization utilizes a three-stage approach that includes Bible study, community service, and commitment to a church and mentors upon release.
“Johnson looked at the program’s effectiveness in Texas and found that those who completed all three phases were much less likely to be arrested or incarcerated for a new crime than those who dropped out. The key question is whether the inmates who go through all three phases differ in other ways from those who never join the program or drop out early,” writes Wilson. He concludes that in an earlier study Johnson found “no difference between Fellowship and non-Fellowship groups over an eight-year period except for those members of the program who worked hard at Bible studies” and then “the effect lasted for only two or three years after prisoners’ release.”
Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson responded to Wilson’s review in a Breakpoint commentary that praised Johnson’s work.
“What Johnson’s book More God, Less Crime shows so clearly, is that we’ve been right all along: The Gospel changes lives, and it’s the best hope for keeping men and women out of prison,” wrote Colson.
But Trulear would temper any enthusiasm about the book with this caution: “As valuable as Johnson’s work is — and it is extremely valuable in pointing us to religious institutions and behavior as available loci in the fight against crime — people of faith must remember that their ultimate allegiance is not to what works, but to what is best and right. The answers to these two questions will not always coincide.”
The unresolved drama surrounding Bishop Eddie Long and his alleged misconduct with four young men in his congregation raises serious questions about clergy abuse and matters of sexuality in the Black church. But are we ready to be honest? Three scholars respond.
One of the top religion stories of 2010 was the controversy involving Bishop Eddie Long, in which four young men filed civil suits against the Atlanta megachurch pastor accusing him of sexual misconduct and manipulation. When the story broke last September, it generated a variety of responses, but two recurring themes were the issue of clergy sexual abuse and the unofficial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward homosexuality within the African American church, which was heightened by Long’s outspoken preaching against same-sex relationships.
As UrbanFaith columnist Wil LaVeist remarked last year, Bishop Long is innocent until proven otherwise, and it is not UrbanFaith’s intention to pass judgment one way or the other. The case is scheduled to move into mediation next month. In the meantime, however, we asked three leading Christian scholars to share their perspectives on the larger themes that this scandal has raised for the Christian community, and especially the Black church. Their remarks reflect their own opinions and do not necessarily represent the views of UrbanFaith.
CHERYL J. SANDERS: We Must Confront Clergy Abuse
Because I have not heard of any clear statement from Bishop Eddie Long admitting or denying that he committed the sexual acts alleged by his four young accusers, I can assert neither his guilt nor innocence with any degree of certainty. However, I am convinced that religious leaders and congregations can learn some lessons from the crisis that has arisen as a result of the highly publicized charges against him.
The first lesson is to be aware that clergy sexual abuse can occur in any congregation. Awareness empowers us to be proactive about creating and maintaining safe sacred spaces for children and adults to worship and grow spiritually. It includes offering age-appropriate instruction to our children and teens about how to identify and report inappropriate sexual acts.
Second is the importance of setting boundaries. We cannot assume that everyone who participates in a faith community is automatically equipped and motivated to maintain proper boundaries. How many of our congregations have developed and published guidelines and policies to safeguard interactions between adults and children during church activities and trips? When it comes to sexual harassment and misconduct, it is essential to show everyone where “the line” is before anyone crosses the line.
The third lesson is that our congregations must exercise vigilant stewardship of the physical well-being, mental health, and spiritual potential of our young people. This requires a commitment to do everything in our power to prevent sexual molestation. If it does occur, we have an inescapable obligation to administer discipline to the offender and offer healing to the victim. The issue here is not homosexuality per se, and this scandal brings neither “homophobia” nor hypocrisy to an end in the black churches. Can we develop viable structures of accountability to check those pastors, teachers, counselors and mentors who would gratify their own sexual desires by preying upon the vulnerable young people entrusted to their care? If not, then we would do better by our children to shut our churches down rather than to support and defend their abusers in complicity with crimes against God and humanity.
Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders is Professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University and the senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C.
HAROLD DEAN TRULEAR: Sex in Its Proper Context
Sexual immorality is dirty.
I offer this as a social scientist who, with Margaret Mead, argues that “dirt” is “matter out of place.” Our yards and parks consist of dirt, but they are not “dirty.” Rather the soil is in place, therefore we pronounce them clean. But if a discarded newspaper covers the soil, the area is “dirty,” not because of dirt, but because of the presence of the paper strewn about. Sex is not dirty, but sex away from its proper context is.
Sexual immorality is sinful.
Much of our revulsion to practices like adultery and homosexuality, and hence the silence of the Black church, reflects our sense of dirt, not sin. The emotional energy exerted toward reviling the “dirty” points to a desire to avoid the “out of place.” Sexual sin is dirty because it is sex out of place, whether fornication or adultery. But the incongruity is even more pronounced when two persons of the same gender engage in sexual activity, because one of the two is “out of place.” Hence, as with all repulsive reactions, we either rail against the dirt or turn our heads.
Sexuality is fragmentary.
One’s sexual behavior never fully defines one’s personhood, therefore to call someone a “homosexual” can only identify a portion of who they are. And, likewise, male heterosexuality can never fully define someone as a “real man.” True manhood and womanhood flow from the Imago Dei, and not from sexual practice. Persons can never be fully defined by, and personhood can never be fully achieved by, any type of sexual behavior.
Jesus transforms dirt to medicine — redeeming that which is out of place.
Jesus sets us free from sin — the sin which separates us from God.
Jesus makes people whole — sending His Spirit into every aspect of an individual life.
Jesus does not throw away or suffer revulsion from dirt; He transforms it. Jesus does not couch sin in terms of cognitive development; He names it and heals it. Jesus does not lift sexuality and sexual behavior to definitive status; He, as part of the Trinity at creation, blessed humanity with it to express union in a manner consistent with His union with the church.
Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D., is an ordained American Baptist minister and an Associate Professor of Applied Theology at the Howard University School of Divinity.
RANDAL JELKS: The Black Church Needs to Be Honest About Sexuality
Black Christians must fess up and acknowledge that human beings are sexual. Sexual intercourse is a reality. Intercourse is a biological mechanism for procreation and a
pleasurable desire. Like all things, sex can become deviant. By deviant I do not mean same-sex relations, I mean sex can be used to satisfy needs for power, control, and status. By not having frank discussions and theological reflection with Black congregants, biological urges and sexual desires take on a greater place in the imagination of Black Christians than is healthy.
Here’s the problem. Historically, sex was used against Black people. Let’s just think about it for a moment. Slave owners could sexually abuse and rape a slave woman without recourse to the law. The justification for this use of power was the notion that slave women had uncontrollable libidos, proverbial “hot mommas.” After the Civil War, Black people sought to legalize their relationships through marriage, a civil benefit that slavery did not permit. These new marriages attempted to give Black women legal protections that they did not have against powerful and abusive men. Following the war, sex was used in post-emancipation America to justify lynching. A chief justification for lynching was the rapacious nature of Black men, even though a question of property ownership underlined most lynching. Sex and sexuality justified abuse of both black women and men. As a result, many Black men and women tried to suppress their sexuality. They hid their sexual behaviors behind middle-class mores, lest there be another justification to subjugate Black lives.
This attitude should also be placed in another historical context of evangelical Christianity. The evangelicalism that Black Americans adopted and transformed served to give a conflicting outlook about sex, sexuality, and sexual expression. This theology, while promoting fidelity, also promoted a level of prudery about sex that most rural people never had. Attitudes about sex as Black people became urban were supposed to be restrained and only acceptable among married couples. Sexual desire was chastened by calls for “purity,” especially among young women, but purity did stop people from cavorting. The rates of sexually transmitted diseases were terribly high in Black communities long before the advent of the civil rights movement. The evangelicalism that Black people used as a tool of middle-class respectability could not hide the fact that churchgoing people had desires and were acting upon them then as they do today.
Sex or sexuality is not mechanically or psychologically pure. We know this from psychology, anthropology, and biology. Therefore, it seems incumbent on Black Christians to discuss sexuality that happens inside and outside churches in a more thoughtful theological way.
The angry preachments that condemn same-sex relationships are the same ones that are completely silent about the disastrous rates of HIV/AIDS killing Black communities today. This is quite ironic, because the mythic Black church — the liberating Black church — was suppose to be a community where all Black people could find loving freedom and equality as children of God.
Randal Jelks, Ph.D., M.Div., is an Associate Professor of American Studies with a joint appointment in African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He is also an ordained clergy person in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and a founder and co-editor of the blog TheBlackBottom.com.
President Barack Obama's first 100 days have been anything but uneventful.
Today marks President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed bailouts, stimulus bills, budget battles, Korean rockets, gangbanging pirates, Michelle’s arms, a dog named Bo, and most recently an international outbreak of swine flu. Given the magnitude of issues facing our nation right now, 100 days seems hardly enough time to measure a presidency.
Still, right or wrong, we view those initial 100 days as the first significant benchmark of a U.S. president’s effectiveness. And there clearly are important things that we can glean about the man from watching his progress out of the gate. That’s why we asked a variety of urban pastors and ministry leaders to share their impressions of our new president on the occasion of his 100th day. Read their critiques, and then let us know what you think.
ERIC REDMOND: At 100 days into office, a significant decision of the President has been to attempt to make life as normal as possible for Malia, Sasha, and Mrs. Obama. Scenes of the Obamas walking Bo on the White House grounds are visible indicators of his endeavor to fulfill this goal. Hopefully President Obama will continue, as often as possible, to enjoy dinner and conversation with his family, play with his girls, and hold nightly his First Lady. This will strengthen the country beyond 100 months from now, when he is no longer President, but still a husband and a father.
Rev. Eric C. Redmond is senior pastor of Reformation Alive Baptist Church and Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology at Washington Bible College, both in Maryland. He is the author of Where Are All The Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church and blogs at A Man from Issachar.
CHRISTOPHER BULLOCK: President Obama has proven to be a visionary leader with an ambitious policy agenda. One of his greatest challenges is the Middle East. The stakes are high and complex. Issues of war and rumors of nuclear war and achieving a two-state solution are preeminent. The Holy Land is the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is consumed with so much unholy activity. In Obama’s pursuit of sustainable peace in the Middle East, he must toil relentlessly against racism, poverty, and militarism in the name of justice …with the prophetic hope of studying war no more.
Dr. Christopher Alan Bullock is pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle, Delaware. He founded the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice, which brought national attention to inadequate healthcare in Delaware prisons. He previously served as senior pastor of two historic churches, Eighth Street Baptist Church of Wilmington, Delaware (1990-98), and Progressive Baptist Church of Chicago (1998-2004).
ARLOA SUTTER: As I watched the election returns on Nov. 4, 2008, my Westside Chicago neighborhood was unusually silent. The moment the announcement was made that Barack Obama had won, the neighborhood erupted in glee. People ran into the streets and danced. It was a time of great joy. We saw an immediate transformation in the kids in our afterschool program. They now hold their heads high and speak of their dreams. They identify with Sasha and Malia. Someone who understands them is in the White House. The change in their hearts and aspirations is beyond policies and legislation. They have hope. That said, I hope President Obama changes his mind on reducing tax incentives for charitable donations. We need both private and public funds to tackle the challenges we face in impoverished communities.
Dr. Arloa Sutter is the executive director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago. Breakthrough supports men and women who struggle with homelessness by offering food, clothing, and shelter along with many holistic services. Breakthrough also operates a thriving program for youth and their families in East Garfield Park, one of Chicago’s most impoverished communities, providing sports and arts programs, academic assistance, and Bible studies. She blogs at arloasutter.blogspot.com.
HAROLD DEAN TRULEAR: The first 100 days of the administration of President Barack Obama further expanded our sense of him as a man of vision and reason. He projects the type of diplomatic outreach necessary for the United States to be a “chief among equals” in world leadership, and he possesses a compassion for “the least of these” that frames his reform agenda for healthcare, education and the economy. But vision alone cannot serve as the total package for any president. President Obama’s greatest challenges will be to move from vision to statecraft, the actual art of governing in a democracy of checks and balances.
While the Senate moves toward a 60-40 Democrat majority, there will still be areas where the President will have to negotiate with the legislature around issues such as how to fund healthcare reform, appropriate resources for access to higher education, and manage the many moving parts of the recovery act. Political scientist Robert Smith argued persuasively in his book We Have No Leaders that African Americans must not be satisfied with symbolic politics — they cannot view office holding in and of itself as victory. Rather, the highest dignity is afforded Black politicians when we hold them to standards of effective statecraft, what Smith calls “political deliverables” that reflect decisions made and executed for the good of the nation, and especially its most vulnerable.
President Obama has the vision, without which a people perish. History will tell if the Red Sea will part at the lifting of his staff.
Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C., and the president of G.L.O.B.E. Ministries in Philadelphia.
DAVID ANDERSON: It was a dark night on the open sea when the bullets ripped across the air with precision, killing three Somali pirates who held hostage an American captain. Barack Obama was indeed tested in his first six months, just like Joe Biden predicted. The retort during the campaign was whether Obama had the judgment to handle conflicts internationally. Within four days, victory for the president’s first use of military force answered the question about his judgment in his first 100 days.
In addition to judgment, the sheer volume of work has been enormous as the Obama administration accomplished more work on Day One than any president in recent history. Obama continued to state during his campaign that a president must be able to do more than one thing at a time. Has he ever. From international travel, rebuilding damaged bridges with countries that had come to see us as arrogant bullies, to a badly broken economic system, Obama has been up for the task.
No one could ever accuse the new president of being a lazy man. So far his work ethic has been strong, his wife has been graceful, and his candor with the American people has been ongoing. The president is communicating almost daily through news conferences, public appeal, and the Internet, making the American people feel informed and connected to his administration.
While some hope he fails, there are many more who are hoping — and praying — that he and our country succeeds.
Dr. David Anderson is senior pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, Columbia, Maryland, president of BridgeLeader Network, and the author of Gracism: The Art of Inclusion.
CHERYL SANDERS: President Obama’s greatest success during his first 100 days has been to demonstrate his personal and political prowess as a world leader. He has taken full responsibility for addressing the challenges of a failed U.S. economy and two morally questionable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far he has proposed bold policies to remedy these and other pressing matters without denying the complex realities involved. My prayer is that he will have the vision, the focus, and the stamina necessary to guide our nation in the crafting and implementation of credible solutions to our current problems at home and abroad.
Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders has been senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., since 1997, and is Professor of Christian Ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity where she has taught since 1984. 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).
RANDY WOODLEY: “It was the worst of times.” I had great hopes for the American spirit when President Obama was elected. That election night I told my 10-year-old son, “You can be anything you want now.” In spite of Obama’s conciliatory demeanor, the worst of conservative partisanship has surfaced to disrupt America’s move forward. This powerful rip across the pages of the American Myth of Homogeneity has exposed a concert of attacks on every move forward. America’s best hope has unwittingly unleashed unholy hosts (Limbaugh, Hannity, Boehner, Cheney, and others) who launched a great spoiler campaign. Pray for America.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian lecturer, poet, activist, pastor, historian and Professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, Oregon. He is the author of Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity.
THABITI ANYABWILE: The most important thing President Barack Obama has done in his first 100 days is continue to love his wife and children. I’m among the many who find wonderfully refreshing encouragement and joy in watching the first family. The most important thing he hopefully will continue to do in his presidency is love his wife and provide his girls attentive love and a godly example of manhood. The incomprehensible irony, of course, is that his greatest policy failure is the creation of an atmosphere and agenda that prevents so many families, daughters, and sons from ever entering the world. One prays for life-affirming consistency.
Thabiti M. Anyabwile is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. He was previously an assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Pure Church and is the author of The Decline of African American Theology.
RODOLPHO CARRASCO: He’s growing on me. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t agree with many of his policies and prescriptions, whether domestic or foreign. I think he’s trying to re-engineer American society all at once, and it’s not going to turn out as he and his allies hope. But I think he’s taking his job seriously. I think he wants to do a good job and serve many people. I pray he will listen to things which, at present, he openly opposes. I pray for him and his precious family regularly.
Rodolpho Carrasco is the executive director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California. Harambee provides afterschool programs and a private, Christian school that emphasize personal responsibility and indigenous leadership development. He blogs at UrbanOnramps.com.
LEROY ARMSTRONG: Leadership is solution oriented. I highly commend President Obama for courageously confronting the manifold problems facing our nation with salient solutions. I also commend him for seeking to make our government more transparent to the American people, so that we can get a better picture of what really is happening in Washington. With his affection for President Lincoln, I pray President Obama will, in similar fashion as in 1863 during a time of national crisis, call our nation to prayer and fasting, and to quote Lincoln, “… humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Rev. Leroy R. Armstrong Jr. is senior pastor of The House of Hope Church in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill, Texas. He is also president of Proclaiming the Word Ministries. He previously served as pastor of Greater Good Hope Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and St. John Missionary Baptist Church of Dallas. Early in his ministry, he also served as Executive Pastor of Christian Education at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, under the late Dr. E. K. Bailey.
NICHOLAS ROWE: President Obama’s election, received warmly and seen as iconic, was a significant event here in South Africa given this country’s past. However, the glow wore off quickly amid the fears of the global economy (and the American role in it). Americans are regarded warmly, but their government and its designs on the continent still raise suspicion. The president will get a hearing (especially given the deep unpopularity of the last administration), but South Africans are waiting to see how Obama will do on two fronts: how his leadership will affect global economic issues, and how he will deal with other suitors for African attention, especially China and India.
Dr. Nicholas Rowe is Head of Humanities and Education at St. Augustine College of South Africa. He is also involved in peace-building and reconciliation efforts in Africa as director of Reconciliation Projects for Arise Urban Ministries. Previously a professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, he now lives in Johannesburg with his wife, Sheila Wise Rowe, and two children.
SHERON PATTERSON: President Obama’s first 100 days gave America and the world the opportunity to see freshness, innovation, and confidence at work in one person. He shows us that walking in your anointing looks like. Whether he is tackling the budget, torture in Guantanamo, embryonic stem-cell research, or the struggle in Afghanistan, our president does not allow himself to be rattled or shaken by the haters.
I do have one request of our leader, however. I understand that he has assembled a group of clergy that he prays with and seeks counsel from, yet none of these clergy are women. If this is true, I say, “Please, Mr. President, don’t forget the clergy sisters; we know how to pray too!”
Dr. Sheron C. Patterson is the senior pastor of Highland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas. An author, columnist, and health and wellness expert, her books include Put on Your Crown: The Black Woman’s Guide to Living Single. Visit her at DrSheron.com.
KEN FONG: One hundred days ago, Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office facing unprecedented crises. An economy in free-fall. A severely compromised justice system. Two impossible-to-win wars. A bloated healthcare system that leaves millions of Americans without basic coverage. An environment teetering on the brink. And as our nation’s first African American president, Obama took up these challenges under intense scrutiny, as the press and people wondered if he truly has what it takes to sit capably in one of the world’s hottest of seats.
As he demonstrated on the campaign trail, President Obama has continued to come across as cool under fire, thoughtful about complex issues, unafraid to search for the best minds and the best advice. I have been taken aback by how starved I was for a president who was clearly erudite, even-keeled, and not just articulate but inspirational as he has shown himself to be. History must wait awhile before it can legitimately issue him a report card — one hundred days is far too short a period to determine whether his solutions to our nation’s problems were the right ones. However, one of the things I believe he has clearly done well already is to begin restoring the good name of America in the rest of the world. Who knew that simple gestures like a warm handshake, a genuine smile, or refraining from speaking in disrespectful and dismissive ways could so quickly thaw our nation’s relationships with other countries, especially those that have been declared our “enemies”? At a time in our history where both problems and solutions clearly require global cooperation, it is reassuring to have a person in the Oval Office who obviously grasps this.
Rev. Dr. Ken Fong has been the senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles since 1996. He has been a trustee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Westmont College, and currently serves as the vice-chair of the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. He has taught at Fuller Seminary, Haggard School of Theology, and is an adjunct at Bakke Graduate University. He has authored two books, including Secure in God’s Embrace: Living As the Father’s Adopted Child.
NORMAN PEART: It’s clear from his first 100 days that President Obama is committed to change. Some change I’ve applauded — like aggressively continuing to address the financial downturn in America, correcting gender-based pay discrepancies, shifting military focus to Afghanistan, and bolstering health coverage to children. But some change concerns me, such as expanding embryonic stem cell research, supporting domestic and overseas abortion rights, and expanding government while increasing the national debt.
Yet I continue to pray that this determined president will allow the Lord to direct his steps. There are three clear evidences that will reveal this guidance. First, President Obama will change his status from that of absentee to regular attendee in a Bible-teaching church. As the kings of Israel were instructed to lead with God’s Law always before them in order to gain a higher wisdom, so he will need the same divine counsel.
Second, he will reject the typical protocol for those in power — this protocol was evidenced in the Obamas’ glamour makeover resulting in the media’s hype of “a return to Camelot” — and encourage change by modeling humility and restraint in a time of economic uncertainty.
Third, he will draw from his unique insights as a minority to change the top-down agenda of most world leaders’ gatherings to include the needs of the devalued of the world — whether sexually exploited young women in America’s inner-cities or orphaned children in Darfur, Africa. My prayer is that he, like the prophet Habakkuk, will echo concern for the lowly masses of the nations who are treated as insignificant pawns by the powerful.
The change that has begun will continue, but may we remember our role and responsibility in guiding its course. Let us pray for the change we need.
Dr. Norman Peart is the senior pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship in Cary, North Carolina, and the author of Separate No More: Understanding and Developing Racial Reconciliation in Your Church.
MARK DE YMAZ: As last year’s historic race for the presidency now overwhelmingly confirms, demographic shifts have brought change to America. And whether for or against his policies, one must agree that Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office represent the reality of a new era in which diverse people must learn to walk and to work together as one.
Likewise, Christ-centered leaders can no longer afford to overlook the implications for themselves personally, or for the diverse people they must lead in the future. Failure to recognize the changing landscape or to adapt in accordance with Scripture may soon render their work or, worse yet, their message irrelevant.
Dr. Mark DeYmaz is lead pastor of Mosaic Church, a multiethnic and economically diverse congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. He blogs at www.markdeymaz.com and is the author of Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church.
Now, let us know what you think of President Obama’s first 100 days and these commentaries from our 15 leaders.