What the Democrats Won’t Tell You

What the Democrats Won’t Tell You

NO LOOKING BACK: Democratic delegates and supporters waved “Forward” placards at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 4, the first day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Robyn Beck/Newscom)

The contrast in diversity was striking on the screen.

The sea of red, yellow, white, black, and brown faces at the Democratic convention in Charlotte last night compared to the sea of white with black and brown specks at the Republican event last week in Tampa. It’s like watching color TV vs. black and white.

But is it really?

Nowadays we talk about red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) as code for conservative and liberal, but as the Democrats take their turn this week and re-nominate the first African American POTUS, I wonder how many black Democrats know their party’s history is much redder than the GOP when it comes to black people and other minorities. In fact, the DNC’s founding fathers would be red with rage that Barack Obama is the party’s leader.

You certainly wouldn’t know this by viewing the DNC’s website on your computer. The opening paragraph of the African American section reads:

“For decades, Democrats have stood with the African American community in the struggle for equality and the enduring struggle to perfect our nation itself.”

Really?

The section about the party’s history reeks with campaign spin:

“For more than 200 years, our party has led the fight for civil rights, health care, Social Security, workers’ rights, and women’s rights. We are the party of Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, FDR, and the countless everyday Americans who work each day to build a more perfect union.”

This is followed by a timeline with the entry being 1920.

C’mon now. Your official founding date is 1792, making the Democrats the nation’s oldest political party, yet your timeline begins in 1920? Is it because you are also the party of President Andrew Jackson that promoted the bloody takeover of Indian lands and the expansion of slavery? Is it because you are the party of President Andrew Johnson, the Confederate who during Reconstruction championed laws leading to Jim Crow that re-shackled black freedom for decades after the Civil War?

I was reared in a Democratic household in Brooklyn, New York, to parents who were union loyalists. My initial DNC history reached only as far as FDR and the New Deal. But as I came of voting age I sought the backstory for myself. In a word, it is racist.

The party of Obama had for centuries championed a laundry list of oppressive policies that have led to the tragic disparities and the areas of health, wealth, education, housing, and incarceration rates that continue to plague the African American community today. However, that revelation then didn’t stop me from voting my interest such as, helping David Dinkins to become New York’s first black mayor in 1990.

The truth before 1920 and after is easily accessible via several legit Web sites. Of course Republicans pointed this out themselves in 2008, no doubt as a way of throwing stones at then-Sen. Obama’s magical run for the White House.

What’s curious is why the DNC doesn’t openly embrace its full history — that the party that once championed slavery has produced the nation’s first African American president. Wouldn’t that show how far the party has led nation, though there’s still a ways to go? Wouldn’t that illustrate “change we can believe in,” and progress “forward?” Wouldn’t that show respect for blacks, a constituency that is supposed to be highly valued?  DNC leadership obviously decided on the history revision. Where are the black Democratic leaders on this? Where are the whites who are supposed to be progressive?

For me, it shows that both parties share a common problematic history on the issue of race. One doesn’t want to hear about it, while the other doesn’t want to talk about it. This hasn’t changed much over the years. People have just switched sides and traded names.

Real change would be seeing a sea of colorful faces at both conventions, and two parties focused on meaningful policies rather than spin. I don’t expect it to happen in my lifetime, though.

But then again, I said the same about a black man becoming President of the United States.

John Edwards Is Not Guilty

John Edwards Is Not Guilty

ACQUITTED SINNER: Former Sen. John Edwards and family last month outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was found not guilty on one of six counts of campaign corruption. The judge ruled a mistrial on the other five. (Photo: Chucky Liddy/Newscom)

The campaign-corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is history now. His former mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a daughter, is now on tour promoting her memoir, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. She announced during a TV interview that she and Edwards are no longer a couple, but will continue raising their daughter together. Soon, both will be out of the news cycle, but their saga possibly offers a lasting lesson for many Christians concerning this question about sin and crime.

A jury found Edwards, an admitted sinner, not guilty on one count that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in order to hide his adulteress affair. The jury deadlocked on five other similar counts. The acquittal hasn’t totally exonerated Edwards of campaign finance crimes, but the U.S. State Department dropped the case anyway.

Edward’s sin with Hunter occurred while he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States and while his late wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer. Like many men (and women) caught in an immoral self-inflicted bind, Edwards lied and lied until the truth, as it always does, eventually came to light. Many people who paid attention to the case agree that Edwards was put on trial more so as punshment for being unfaithful to his dying wife and for his hubris to believe he could sneak his secret into the White House.

And so Edwards publicly confessed his sins (which the Bible, in 1 John 1:9, states will be forgiven) before God and the world. However, should the government criminalize a sin that basically affects only the imperfect consenting adults involved? Should the church get riled about certain sins, while giving a pass to others?

I’ve been wondering about this most recently since President Obama announced in a TV interview in May that he supports same-sex marriage. The president caused an uproar among many Christians that still simmers, including among many of his supporters in the black church. But should the government, under political pressure from the church, legislate against same-sex marriage, especially when in America two consenting heterosexual adults can marry and divorce without the church being involved? Should most Christians insist that same-sex marriage be illegal, when homosexuality is actually listed in the Bible equally among other sexual sins, including adultery, that are not federal crimes?

A sin is a transgression against divine law for which Christians believe the sinner will be accountable at the judgment seat. The sinner mainly puts him or herself at risk with God. A crime is an action against the people that injures the “public welfare.” Like a drunk driver who runs a stop sign, or an armed robber, committing a crime puts several innocent people potentially at great risk. The government, working on behalf of the people, therefore has a duty to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Does the same duty apply to non-felonious sins?

Obviously many sins are also crimes such as, for example, being a serial killer. But what injury does same-sex marriage between two consenting adults cause to the public welfare? Is it more severe than adultery? Is it more destructive than divorce, a sin that often tears families and wounds innocent children? God allows divorce (which should be a last resort when reconciliation fails) under certain circumstances. Neither adultery nor divorces are federal crimes. Thankfully America is a democracy — a nation of Christians, believers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists, who for the most part believe in preserving the separation of church and state, and not a theocracy, as in living under Sharia law.

A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Perhaps they’re saying it should be treated like adultery or divorce; it may be wrong, but people deserve the free-will right to choose who they want to (or don’t want to) be in a committed personal relationship with.

During closing remarks, Edwards’ attorney Abbe Lowell reportedly told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”

Perhaps Christians who are adamantly against two consenting same-sex adults having the legal right to marry should adopt this reasoning, too.

Listening to Immigrant Children

Listening to Immigrant Children

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier: ‘Immigration is a trauma. Even if you came here and you are a citizen, immigration is still traumatic.’

“Conversations on immigration are more often politicized than humanized,” marketing text says for the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier’s new bilingual book, Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families. In the book, which is a finalist in ForeWord Review’s 2011 Book of the Year awards, she attempts to change both the reality and the discussion by sharing immigrant families’ stories and by offering parenting advice to those in the midst of immigration journeys. Conde-Frazier is vice president of education and dean of Esperanza College in Philadelphia. She is also is an ordained American Baptist pastor with more than ten years ministry experience. UrbanFaith talked to Conde-Frazier about the book and about how Christians should think about illegal immigration. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UrbanFaith: Why did you write Listen to the Children?

Elizabeth Conde-Frazier: I wrote the book while I was professor at the Claremont School of Theology in California. Part of my job was working with students from the Latin American Bible Institute. A lot of them came from families that were a mix of persons who had or did not have citizenship and it led to conversations and to my doing workshops around the country.  And so, I started to understand the issues of the people, of the pastors working with the people, of the Sunday school teachers, of the social workers and so forth.

In North Carolina, I did a five-hour presentation with this community, which allowed me time to be with the parents. When we sat down to eat, a lot of children were sitting at the table with us. There had been a roundup of persons at a particular place of employment, and I looked at the reaction of the children to the conversation about this. They recoiled; they became very fearful; they left the table; they began to cry. This was hard enough for the adults. But, for the children it was even more so.

Having been a teacher myself, I realized the children were not able to articulate their feelings. And so, I later spent time sitting on the floor in this room where they were playing. Rather than asking them questions, I began to use felt puppets to tell the story of Ruth and Naomi and how they had immigrated. Then I allowed the the children to retell me the story with the same figures. In doing so, the children used the figures to tell their own stories. I began to see how they were feeling. When I finished my time with that community, they came to me and said, “Where is your book on all of this that you have presented to us? We need you to write a book.” That to me felt like a call, and so that’s what I did. But I wrote the book not so much from the perspective of the adults, but for the children and their needs.

What are the primary challenges these children experience?

Immigration is a trauma. Even if you came here and you are a citizen, immigration is still traumatic. Let me create a metaphor for you to describe it. If I take a bunch of dominos and I stand them up and create a pattern with them, that is life the way we know it, where we are sure about the different institutions and how life is, how the culture names things, what our traditions are that create parameters around our identity and so forth. If I take my fists and bang them on the table, the dominos fall apart and the patterns that are there fall apart. Some of the dominos may even fall on the floor. That’s how immigration feels. The patterns of life and everything about life as you know it falls apart. You may try to rebuild, but there are pieces that you lose in the process.

Then, on top of that, if I take a bunch of marbles and I roll them out on this same table with the dominos, now you’ve got all these elements of life that you have no idea how to manage. You have to take the dominos, which are the things that you think you know how to manage and you have to use them in new ways to keep all these marbles from falling all over the place. In the midst of your trying to do that, I can continue to come back and bang my fists again, and the things that you thought you had begun to construct again once more fall apart.

When children are living in the midst of that, it is very traumatic. It says there’s no routine, there’s no structure, and the most important thing that children need in life is routine and structure. The routine creates the structure. Not having work creates chaos and poor families don’t have a sense of structure. That affects the child’s intelligence. That affects their ability to organize their thoughts, it affects how their brains are formed and so forth. Putting together life parameters, relationships, and so forth becomes twice as difficult.

Children also have a sense of abandonment. The adults can leave them at any point. They have no control over any of those things. Trust cannot be built. When families are separated for long periods of time, you see how difficult it is for children to reconnect to parents and parents to children. And so, there’s this continuous sense of loss that people are experiencing, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.

How can those of us who may be in relationship with immigrant children support them and their families?

In everyday life we are on committees in the community perhaps, we have food banks, we may be in the PTA, wherever we are, we can find opportunities to help change or expand the agenda of that place so that it is sensitive to those who may be alternately documented.

If a church has a program to the community and is serving these persons, then they need to be aware of how their program can address these needs, or how they can partner with others so that rather than being limited only to what their program has to offer, they have a network of other programs to pull from in a moment of crisis.

Advocating for the laws at this time is very important. Writing to our different legislators does make a difference. Legislators do listen to that. What does it take to have a night where you serve soup and bread? I say soup and bread, because it’s a very simple meal and it’s probably what persons who have just arrived here are going to have to eat. In solidarity, what we do with this evening is we pray, we have this meal, we write these letters, we talk about the issues, and we send the letters out. It forms the compassionate heart of a people of God who do justice. And what does God require of us in Micah? Whatever it takes that we can internalize persons who are different from ourselves, whose lives are different, that’s what we want to do as the faith practice of the church.

Given your target audience’s transience, how will readers find the book?

Remember that there is the network of churches and families. That is a network that’s beyond marketing. They pass it along. For example in the summer, I teach in Texas. People come from both sides of the border to learn. They’re pastors and lay persons and they’ll use the book. They’ll take it back across the border. The section on preparing children for border crossing or separation is helpful not only to people who might be thinking of immigrating, but it is also helpful to persons who may have already done so. It allows them the opportunity to reflect on what they did or didn’t do, so that then they can ask themselves, “Oh, what do I need to do at this point, because I did it this way or that.”

How would you respond theologically to those who may criticize you for providing helpful information to people who may be planning to do something illegal?

First of all, the theological piece has to be informed by a political piece, because theology is not done in a vacuum. People need to realize that the laws of our country and the free-trade laws are taking land away from people and making it impossible for many of the farmers [in Latin American countries] to survive. Those countries do not have the safety net that we so far have. And so, I would love to see those critics find themselves hungry, with nothing to feed their children, with no way of having a job and prayers that seem to go unanswered. I’d love to see how they would stay within the confines of what they call law.

What Christians need to ask themselves is: “When is the law unjust?” If it is unjust, then it is not a law according to the purposes of God. Our response to that should be that the church is called to denounce unjust law. Corrie ten Boom was a Christian. We glorify her story because she saved the Jews. She broke the law of her time. Today, after the fact, we say, “Oh how wonderful!” We’re also okay with those who break the law in China because they become Christians, but we’re not okay with people breaking the law because they’re hungry, or because the law is unjust?

I recall from research I did for an article I wrote in 2006 that the number of legal immigration slots for Latin American countries is the same as that for countries with whom we don’t share a border. Is that still the case?

Yes, it is. And the thing for people to look at is the following: The United States has a history of always needing cheap labor. Ever since we had enslavement, we have needed cheap labor. It’s just which immigrant group gets to be the cheap labor. That changes. In order for us to ensure that cheap labor what we do is we create an underclass of people with the law. So we say, on one hand, “We need you to come and work,” but on the other hand, we create laws that say, “If you come, we can’t give you citizenship; we can’t give you your benefits and your rights as a human being.”

Matthew 25 speaks about what human rights are. It speaks about it in the language of the kingdom of God. And so, for someone to eat, to drink, to dress, to be sheltered, to have human companionship, those are the things that are important for sustenance, and the kingdom of God is about sustenance. When we have laws that do not provide for the sustenance of a group of persons, then we are the ones who are against the law, but it’s the kingdom law that we are against.

There’s a discussion in the book about the “worthiness” of immigrants and you advocate using terminology like “alternately documented” and “uncertain” or “precarious” status instead of “illegal alien” and “undocumented.” What’s wrong with using language like “illegal alien”?

The most important thing for Christians is to recognize the Imago Dei, the image of God in all human beings, because to do so is to honor God. To fail to do so and to shut our wells of compassion is to dishonor God. How we call one another needs to reflect what we truly believe. I don’t believe that you are the only one who is in the image of God just because you happen to come to my church or you look like me, or you’re a citizen like me. All human beings are. When we do mission work—and these churches are very happy to go out and do mission work—is it only because it makes them feel good? Or is it because they believe in the image of God in others?

And so, the theological and biblical roots of worthiness come from there. Worthiness also comes from the laws in the Old Testament about how we are to treat those who are foreigners in our midst and how we are to treat the poor and the widows in our midst. There should be no one who is poor in our midst. There should be no on who is discarded in our midst. The words we use have to reflect honor. Rather than using words that reflect distance from others and categorizing them as not being a part of ourselves, we should use words that demonstrate the ministry of reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5, we’re called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. “Illegal” and “alien” are words that reflect disconnect with others and say they’re not my neighbor, so I don’t have to watch over them. They are words that go along with a current in our country, and around the world really, that categorizes human beings politically as being far away from us, and not deserving of any type of rights as the rest of us, whereas in the eyes of God, that is not how to do it. And so, we need to use words that allow the space for worthiness.

Obama Marriage Evolution Over

Obama Marriage Evolution Over

COMING OUT: President Barack Obama tells Robin Roberts of ABC's 'Good Morning America' that he now supports same-sex marriage. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in an interview with Good Morning America host Robin Roberts Wednesday. The president said that as practicing Christians, both he and Mrs. Obama understand that their shared position puts them at odds with some of their fellow believers.

“When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts,” Obama said. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

The president decided “early in 2012” that he personally supports same-sex marriage, “top administration officials” said, according to the Huffington Post. He had planned to state his support at the Democratic Convention, HuffPost reported, but Vice President Joe Biden drew renewed attention to the issue Sunday in a Meet the Press interview.

The president’s announcement came one day after North Carolina became the thirtieth state in the nation (according to Baptist Press) to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman. The North Carolina amendment not only defines marriage, it also prohibits “New Jersey-style civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage, minus the name,” Baptist Press reported

“The announcement completes a turnabout for the president, who has opposed gay marriage throughout his career in national politics,” ABC News reported, saying President Obama indicated support for same-sex marriage in 1996 as a state Senate candidate, but came out against it as a US Senate candidate in 2004. At that time, he cited his own faith as a reason for his opposition: “I’m a Christian. I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman,” Obama reportedly said.

Conservative Outrage

Conservative Christian leaders are “outraged” by the president’s announcement and “vowed to use it as an organizing tool in the 2012 elections,” CNN reported. Among the opponents cited is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in suburban Washington D.C.; and political organizer Ralph Reed.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church near Orlando, Florida, told the Associated Press that the president called him before he spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage Wednesday.

“Hunter says he told the president he disagreed with his interpretation of what the Bible says about marriage. Hunter says the president reassured him he would protect the religious freedom of churches who oppose gay marriage. Hunter says the announcement makes it harder for him to support Obama, but he will continue to do so,” AP reported.

Black Christian News Network collated statements by other Christian leaders who oppose the President’s position. Among them is Pastor Jentezen Franklin, who reportedly said, “Feel a real sadness for America with the announcement of Gay Marriage support from Pres. Obama. Bible is clear this is sin. PRAY!”

“The charade is finally up,” Gary Bauer, president of American Values, is quoted as saying in an article at World. “We’ve always known that Barack Obama supports same-sex marriage. With every action he’s taken, from court appointments to his rhetoric, he’s been preparing the way to undermine traditional marriage. Obama’s finally made that support explicit.”

World also quoted National Organization of Marriage co-founder Maggie Gallagher, who reportedly said, “Politically, we welcome this. We think it’s a huge mistake.” NOM actively opposes same-sex marriage.

‘Golden Rule’ Christianity

At Religion News Service, religion scholar Mark Silk cited sociologist Nancy Ammerman in saying that the president’s “Golden Rule Christianity” is the “dominant form of lived religion in the American mainstream.” “At the end of the day, we Americans find it difficult not to yield to its demands when a case for equal treatment is made (be it for blacks or women or disfavored religious minorities), even when the other side offers up its own religious arguments,” said Silk.

“There is a right and wrong side of history in the struggle for full and absolute equality for LGBT people,” said Huffington Post religion channel editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush on Tuesday. “All signs indicate that America is in the last decades of the misguided and hurtful effort to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people as second class citizens. And, if history is any guide, a few decades after that the ‘mea culpa’ and formal apologies will come. … Here’s an idea. Why don’t we just skip the ‘more oppression’ part and move straight to the reconciliation and full communion? Saying that gay people can’t be Christian (or really anything we want to be) isn’t going to work much longer anyway,” said Raushenbush.

What do you think?

What is the significance of the president’s announcement?

America’s Choir

America’s Choir

SOULFUL CELEBRATION: North Carolina's Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir during their finale-winning performance at the Verizon 2011 "How Sweet the Sound" choir competition.

At any mention of Verizon’s popular How Sweet the Sound choir competition to director Kristian Herring, you might as well tune up the Hammond organ for him to cut a step in praise for his choir’s recent win in the 2011 competition.

Judged on presence, technical merit and originality and interpretation, Herring’s Salvation and Deliverance Choir from Tarboro, North Carolina, was crowned grand finale winner and “America’s Church Choir” Oct. 28 in Los Angeles. The group won after three rounds of competition against groups nationwide by performing a rearranged rendition of “Hallelujah” from “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration,” complete with a few surprises.

See the video here:

We talked to Herring just days after the competition and a whole year after the Salvation and Deliverance choir participated in the 2010 How Sweet the Sound but lost in the finale.

UF: To get as close as you did last year and not win, some people would’ve been discouraged. What motivated you to try again?

Let me tell you what that was. I was one of the ones last year that said, “I won’t do this again.” I thought we should’ve won because of what we presented, but maybe every director feels this way. But at the end of the last year, the Lord gave me what to prepare for this year. I was like, “What the Lord has given me, we must do this.”

It’s as if the Lord himself took over my mind and said, “Here’s some music …” It was surely amazing, and it’s definitely not me — definitely His inspiration.

UF: Who did the choreography? The arrangement?

Some of that came from the initial vision. My plight has been to never bore the audience. I just tend to use a lot of choreography. I think it makes for a great interpretation. The choreography is another form of expression.

One thing I tried to stay away from: gospel singers tend to sing classically or as if they’re in a choral choir. They’ll clasp our hands at the abdomen level, and that just gets me. Where did that come from? I tried to stay away from things that were common.

When we sang, “The kingdom of this world,” the music was a go-go style, so we did a go-go style of movement.

UF: Also, showmanship aside, there seemed to be clear evidence of a spiritual sacrifice of worship and praise. How did you maintain your focus on who you sang about in the midst of performing and preparing to perform?

I think that’s what makes us unique: We are a church choir. A lot of time, a lot of community choirs don’t have that same spirit. We know how to tap into that otherworldly realm, that’s what I call it, otherworldly realm that a lot of people don’t understand. We pray together, we fast a lot together. Can I tell you, that day of the competition, we had a worship experience in our dressing room.

One person started a song, “We give you all the glory (we worship you our Lord. You are worthy to be praised)…” And another person, it was that person’s sister, picked it up, but she didn’t hear when it started. It blew our minds when we talked about it afterward. She took over her sister’s song and didn’t realize it. It was just beautiful.

We’re always focused spiritually, but that deep worship that fell was atypical. So it was like God’s stamp of approval even more.

UF: What did it do for you when host Donald Lawrence restarted the praise after your performance? (‘Cause, basically, it was clear y’all just went in.)

SWEET REWARDS: Salvation and Deliverance choir director Kristian Herring (right) accepts the championship prize check from How Sweet the Sound host Donald Lawrence.

From there, it was on like popcorn. That’s what we needed. I kept trying to say to the choir: “None of this stuff is new to us, we do this all the time.” We sing classical music, we sing a capella, we sing in different languages, we can “take a song to church” if we need to.

I was saying, “Forget the choreography, y’all. Go to church!” So when Donald came out … I had to come out of my jacket.

From my college days, I cannot wear a choir robe. I just feel stiff. I cannot conduct in a choir robe, but even with a jacket — I just snatched it off. From there, we went to work (praising God and dancing) like we do on Sunday morning.

UF: What are the perks of winning, beyond the $25,000 and opportunities to sing?

To be VIPs at the Stellar Awards and the Super Bowl: (Pause). That’s my response: silence. Those were some musical rests. That’s when I really knew this was colossal. It’s just too good to be true. I was always saying, “I’m gonna go to the Stellar Awards. I’m gonna go” and never made it. Now, we’re going and we’ll be VIPs.

UF: Everybody always tries to play it cool, but were you a little star struck singing in front of judges Marvin Sapp, Shirley Caesar — who is, like, gospel royalty — and Israel Houghton?

Mervyn Warren, who actually arranged “A Soulful Celebration,” you know, the hallelujah chorus. I was extra nervous when I saw him in the hallway; I didn’t know he was gonna be there. When I saw him, Mervyn Warren, I got so nervous.

When I saw (the judges) stand up during our performance, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

BACKSTAGE HALLELUJAH: The Salvation and Deliverance choir members rejoice upon learning of their victory.

UF: What advice — technical or spiritual — do you have for choirs who may never minister on a national stage? What encouragement do you have for them?

To find your niche. When you concentrate on giving God your best, He’ll breathe on whatever you’ve got to give. That’s it.

Before we went to How Sweet the Sound, we went and sang at a small church. Our choir could’ve filled the whole church. As a matter of fact, it did. But we sang the way we sing everywhere. The pastor of that church, she got up and said, “You all sang here like you sing at the national competition.”

I don’t care if it’s two people in the audience, if you concentrate on touching a life and changing a future, God has no choice but to extend your borders. He will do it because He can trust you.

We will always give it 100 percent.