2011 News Highlights


Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.

1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year.  Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it,  others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich.  As a  government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.

Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for Americarealized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.

3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.

The Occupy Movement spread across the country.

4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?

5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.


Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.

In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in  SomaliaUganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.


Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.

On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay.  2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.


After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.

1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.)  Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).


Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.

In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of  Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.

What do you think?

What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?

Palmer Chinchen: God Can’t Sleep

Dr. Palmer Chinchen is pastor of The Grove church in Chandler, Arizona, where he puts not only his advanced training in intercultural studies to use, but also the lessons he learned as a missionary kid growing up in Liberia. Chandler holds a doctorate in educational studies and is author of two books: True Religion and God Can’t Sleep: Waiting for Daylight on Life’s Dark Nights. UrbanFaith talked to Chinchen about his ministry values and about God Can’t Sleep. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UrbanFaith: What is your primary calling as a pastor?

FAITH IS NOT PRIVATE: Arizona pastor and author Dr. Palmer Chinchen.

Palmer Chinchen: First, it’s to lead our people to know God and to know him deeply and intimately, and to have a rich, authentic relationship with him. With that comes the challenge to inspire them, lead them, and equip them to take his message of hope and to give our lives away to change what’s not right in this world, to love people that hurt in places that are broken.

What is the greatest challenge that you face in your ministry?

The biggest challenge right now is that I’m feeling like Christians in this country have historically and up to the present made our spirituality very personal. We talk about it in those terms as though it’s a private, inner relationship with God that happens on the inside. We limit it sometimes to our soul or to our mindset; it’s something cognitive. What I’m challenged with is trying to get people to see that when Jesus was here, he meant for us to live out the kingdom of God. Our lives are meant to be his vessels for changing not just what people believe, but changing the circumstances in which they live.

What sustains you spiritually, emotionally, and physically?

My wife, first of all. Walking with God with her is maybe the only way I’ve been able to do what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. Getting to know the pieces of the Bible that I missed early in my life has given me new energy and inspired me in new ways. In particular, exploring Jesus’ teachings around his kingdom and the “nowness” of that this last year has been absolutely reenergizing for me. And then, the people that I work with have had a profound influence in keeping me encouraged. I have a great staff at The Grove of other pastors and leaders.

How do you protect yourself, your time, and your family from the unique temptations that ministry families face?

I have four sons: a junior higher, a high schooler, and two in college so I feel like my time is always in demand. When my garage door opens at the end of the day when I come home, my cell phone goes off. I don’t take any calls on my cell phone over the weekend. I do not allow church emails to be forwarded to my home or to my phone. I only answer them in my office. And so, when I get home I want to be free of everything that happens at church. Another practical, simple thing I do is I take Fridays off. I like having Friday and Saturday back-to-back off, so all of my sermon prep work, all of our prep for Sunday as a staff is done on Thursday..

Your parents have been missionaries in Africa since 1970. How has their ministry influenced yours?

Lawrence Richard called it social learning theory. Just by being near people, you learn a lot. So just being around my dad and my mother, the first thing I learned was to live with great faith. When you spend 40 years in Africa, you realize quickly the only way you’re going to make it to the next day is to have a lot of faith and so I try to share that passion with the people that I lead and we talk a lot about faith. We take a lot of risk. I learned to take risk from my father and to not be afraid of failing.

How did growing up and then living in Africa inform your ministry perspective?

Growing up in Africa showed me how simple, and yet how powerful church can be. It doesn’t have to be about a staff and a building and payrolls. My church has a building so I’m a bit of a hypocrite, but we try to do it as simply as possible. To be honest, I think we have far too many ministries. I think we need to empower our people to meet each other’s needs, period, and stop paying so many people to do the things that people who call themselves Christians should be doing.

What influence is there from your training in intercultural studies?

We live in a globalized world and for me that’s an important part our church identity. I keep trying to tell our people that heaven is not just going to be filled with people like us. It’s going to be filled with people from every race and every tribe and every ethnicity. We can’t separate who we are as Christians from being a global people. I use that from my background to encourage people to live comfortably, to be moved towards people who are different in any way. I challenge our people that I speak to to include “the other” and to celebrate our differences, whether it be by language or skin color, or even denominations.

Is racial reconciliation formally a part of your ministry?

I haven’t termed it racial reconciliation. What we do at The Grove is racial celebration. We do all we can to make everything we do inclusive of the other and so we don’t want to be color blind. We want to celebrate those differences.

Your new book, God Can’t Sleep: Waiting for Daylight on Life’s Dark Nights, is full of stories of profound suffering. What inspired you to write it?

When I lived in Malawi, I got tired of doing funerals for babies who died of AIDS because their mothers had AIDS. I taught a class at a Christian university that I titled “A Theology of Suffering” that started with a Malawian perspective on suffering. I realized that this is the world’s common language, so it went from there.

A lot of times as Christians, we don’t have answers to life’s most difficult problems and to the problem of pain and we end up saying really cheap things like, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That’s not even in the Bible, and the truth is we often end up in situations when on that week, for that moment, in that year, it feels like far more than anyone can handle and it is.

I talk about where God is and the things that happen in those dark times. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but there’s often a kind of spiritual change or growth that only happens on the most dark nights of our lives. If you think of anyone you would consider a mature Christian, I can almost promise you that person has been through some pain. God makes us deeper, wiser, more gentle people full of grace and mercy through it and we understand and we walk maybe a little closer to God.