President Obama designates historic civil rights sites including black churches

President Obama designates historic civil rights sites including black churches

(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.

And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.

“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.

Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.

In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”

In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.

He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.

The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

 

 

Here’s why MLK Day is more than just another day off

Here’s why MLK Day is more than just another day off

Since 1986, the third Monday of January has been reserved to commemorate the birthday, life and legacy of one of the nation’s greatest leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King—a Baptist preacher, scholar, and arguably the greatest leader of the Civil Rights Movement, selflessly fought for the equal rights of not only African Americans, but all people.

In a time when Jim Crow and legal segregation were the law of the land, Dr. King became the face of a movement that sought to dismantle the institution of racial injustice. He advocated for persons in poverty, spoke against the Vietnam war, and worked to ensure that all Americans had equal rights and protections under the law. Nearly 50 years after Dr. King’s assassination, his legacy lives on.

Although MLK Day is a national holiday, the ways in which people choose to celebrate—or not—are endless. Many schools and organizations across the nation will have the day off and/or host an MLK Day program, while others may participate in a community service project or attend city-wide marches and rallies.

In Chicago, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago will lead volunteers in organizing food for distribution to the Senior Food and Nutrition Program in partnership with Catholic Charities. In Kansas City, Missouri, Turn the Page KC will host a book give-away at Southeast Community Center. Atlanta, the hometown of Dr. King, will have many volunteer opportunities including the 7th Annual Street Team for Energy Efficiency and Climate Resilience, hosted by the Center for Sustainable Communities.

“I will be giving 15 keynote presentations at MLK events over the next two weeks.” says Erin Jones, a 25-year educator, public speaker, and former State Superintendent candidate of Washington State. “[However,] I would like to think I celebrate his birthday every single day by living my life devoted to equality and opportunity for all, especially those who are most vulnerable in our communities.”

Just Another Day Off?

As our nation continues to fight issues of social injustice and racial tension, many question whether or not the ideals memorialized on MLK Day—a day of peace and tolerance—hold true throughout the year.

“We need to understand as a country that what [Dr. King] fought for still needs to be fought for today,” says Thomas McElroy, long-time musician from Seattle Washington. “The path towards a country united under the principals he laid down for all of us still need to be worked on.”

So, the question becomes, does MLK Day hold any true meaning in present-day society? Or, has it been reduced to a day off from work and school?

According to Erin Jones, “We have turned the day into an opportunity to rehearse the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

“I can honestly say that, personally, I have never celebrated the holiday and have taken it as a vacation day,” says Elisabeth Scott, a recent college graduate of Western Washington University. “It wasn’t until going to my current church, that I participated in an MLK service. Had I not sung [during service], I probably wouldn’t have attended.”

However, Sergeant First Class Derek White, a 16-year member of the armed forces still sees the value in MLK Day, and what it means to the future of our society.

“I think that MLK being observed most definitely holds weight for both older and the younger generations. One way to ensure that our past does not repeat itself is by honoring people like Dr. King and his legacy and what he fought for and stood for.”

The Importance of Generational Knowledge

As an educator, Erin Jones argues that celebrating MLK Day does not have the same significance for young people today.

“Students have no context to understand the gravity of what Dr. King and his peers accomplished,” the educator says. “That being said, I believe it is our responsibility to communicate the value of this holiday, which is why I agreed to speak at so many schools.”

As a professional mentor to students, Jessica Crenshaw believes in giving back to the community, but admits that she does not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day—for much different reasons.

“I do not celebrate MLK day as a holiday because I feel the significance of the day has been diminished,” Jessica says. “I feel it has been cheapened down for a “get-off-of-work-free card”.

For Jessica, authentic celebration of MLK Day should include not only service to the community, rallies, and celebration events, but should serve as a day to reflect and organize for long-term change.

“I feel as if people should really take time to reflect over what Dr. King was trying to accomplish, and actually sit down and have planning meetings to plan out actions to make sure that his dream gets fulfilled,” she says. “Concerts and protests are good, but if you don’t continue to do this work after January 16th then you’re not doing it for a real reason.”

A Tasty Way to Succeed

A Tasty Way to Succeed

Celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson (Photo Credit: Mariela Lombard/Newscom)

I have read many books in my life and have had many, different reactions. Some have prompted great sorry. Some have made me laugh. This book stands alone among those that elicited a reaction from me for an interesting reason: it made me hungry, for both food and life.

Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson chronicles his journey from life as Ethiopian orphan to becoming the youngest chef to ever receive a New York Times three star rating. His journey, however, didn’t stop there. He went on to win TLC’s Top Chef Master competition and the opportunity to prepare President Obama’s first state dinner…at the same time.

When I read about all the accolades he’d won, I was nervous that this book might be cerebral and stale. I was pleasantly surprised. The narrative is personable and refreshing. It is layered with the richness that Chef Samuelsson accomplished with his food and there is something for every palate.  Unlike other memoirs, which capture a snapshot of a season of life, Yes, Chef portrays a full picture of Samuelsson’s life and struggles.

The book is divided into three sections: Samuelsson’s life as a boy, as a chef, and as a man. Each of these sections evoked a different kind of hunger for me. The first section made me hungry to overcome adversity. Samuelsson tells about how his young life began with his mother walking he and his sister seventy-five miles to a hospital, all while they were sick with tuberculosis. Despite that and his mother’s death, Samuelsson recovered but faced more adversity when a Swedish couple adopted him.

Here we see Samuelsson’s first introduction to cooking through his grandmother since his mother didn’t hold cooking in as high regard as his grandmother. Here we also find something else that makes this book great: Samuelsson writes great imagery. He writes that his mother made “…pasta as not even a prisoner would tolerate it…”.

The second section stirred up the hunger to persevere as it gave an intimate look not only into Samuelsson’s progression as a chef, but the service industry as a whole. I found myself in awe of his drive to become the best, amazed at how he endured unkind treatment for the sake of perfecting his craft. Most of all, this section documents Samuelsson’s remarkable desire to learn; a desire which, as he notes, is not always present in African-American youth.

One piece of this story that made reoccurring appearances in the book was the racism Samuelsson experienced. Since he wasn’t a traditional African-American male, his thoughts gave an “outsider looking in” feel to parts of his narrative. He also highlights the subtle racism in the food service industry with his aversion to the term to the French and Swiss term negre, a word used for lower level kitchen assistant.

Race also plays another role in this book, a significant one. Samuelsson’s journey to becoming a chef took him through several different cultures and ethnicities. Having visited or eaten many of cuisines mentioned in the book, I appreciated how he incorporated them into his life and cooking.

And the cooking! Most readers snack while they read, but this book took snacking to a new level. My mouth watered for the dishes he described, especially the section on fried chicken. Given Samuelsson’s poetic writing style, I could almost taste the flavors of his cuisine. He learned his craft well and it shows in the pages of this book.

Samuelsson’s endurance is to be applauded and celebrated. Too often success in our culture is presented in a microwave perspective. Although achieving goals appears to happen overnight, Samuelsson’s journey illustrates that success comes from years of persistence and perseverance.

The last section reads like the serving of a great dish. It shows how all of the flavors of Samuelsson’s life come together. Reading the end of the journey is as satisfying as a wonderful meal, but even better because it shows how the events of his life shape his character. One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s not just for readers who admire Chef Samuelsson or for people who love food. It’s for anyone in love with life and Samuelsson doesn’t disappoint – just be sure to keep a snack nearby.

Beware the Mark Driscoll Hasty Retweet

Beware the Mark Driscoll Hasty Retweet

On President Obama’s second inauguration, noted pastoral iconoclast Mark Driscoll tweeted the following, to a reception of thousands of retweets: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church (Photo courtesy of MarsHill.com)

It may seem like a bit of an exaggeration to refer to Driscoll as an iconoclast, but I can’t think of a better descriptor for his brand of cultural engagement, particularly when aimed at those he sees as liberal.

See, the literal definition of iconoclast is, according to Professor Google, “a destroyer of images used in worship.” Which seems like an odd pastime for a pastor, really. When I ponder this definition, my mind conjures up a performance artist in the middle of church, swinging a sledgehammer at a bowl of communion grapes. Like the evangelical equivalent of Gallagher at a farmer’s market, he gleefully causes a tremendous spectacle, and seems to enjoy the mess he’s making in the process.

So when you think of someone who seems to derive enjoyment from tweaking the tenets of leftist Christian socially-acceptable orthodoxy, is there anyone else who comes to mind more than Mark Driscoll? Probably not.

After all, this is the same guy who used his bully pulpit to mock effeminate male worship leaders and decry the evil occult influence in Avatar and the Twilight films. And despite the respect I have for Driscoll for the latter, I can’t get over my palpable sense of disgust over the former. Being a worship leader by heart and by trade, I take special offense at the idea that being sensitive is the same thing as being effeminate. Hasn’t this guy read the Psalms?

Given his well-documented misdeeds on social media, perhaps “iconoclast” is no longer the best term to describe Mark Driscoll and his brash, in-your-face style. Maybe we should just call him what we would call anyone else on the internet who intentionally does this – a troll.

See, trolls are internet citizens who intentionally say outlandish things to provoke arguments because it delights them to see so many people upset by the things they say. I’m not in Driscoll’s head and I truly don’t know what motivates him to say the things he does, but with this latest tweet, Driscoll seems to be joining the ranks of political trolls like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. And that distresses me greatly.

I’m distressed because it’s clear Driscoll didn’t consider the unintended consequences of the tweet before he sent it out.  It’s possible that this was his misguided attempt at trying to hold the President accountable for the theological implications of some of his policy decisions.  If so, Driscoll would probably be shocked to realize just how ignorant and racist his words appeared, and that by so openly casting doubt on the authenticity of our president’s Christianity, he unwittingly allied himself with birth certificate conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers, and the sign-waving congregants of Westboro Baptist. Part of the cost of restricting your argument to 140 characters is the way it can be open to interpretation. Even in the best light, that one didn’t do him any favors.

Even more so, actually, I’m distressed because of the partial truths therein. There are legitimate reasons to question President Obama’s theological beliefs. After all, none of his advanced degrees are in divinity. He’s the Commander-In-Chief, not the Theologian-In-Chief. He could be wrong about some things. His stances on abortion and/or gay marriage can be considered by some as antithetical to some of the Bible’s more relevant passages on those subjects.

But even if that’s true, it was still a bad idea to be so cavalier about it. By tweeting in such a blatantly antagonistic manner, Mark Driscoll unintentionally justified the prevalent atheist and agnostic liberal contempt with all things related to God and the church, because most liberals were taught by experience that being a Christian is synonymous with being a harsh, unloving, hypocritical blowhard. That lie, obviously false to anyone who’s had a life-altering salvation experience with Jesus in the context of authentic Christian community, receives another veneer of legitimacy with every time something like that is said.

And the thing is, Mark Driscoll should know that. He probably does know that, actually, and probably just let his emotions get the best of him. It happens to the best of us.

But what distresses me the most about all of this is that his tweet was retweeted over three thousand times, probably by people who feel the same way. How many of those people have non-Christians among their Twitter followers? How much damage was done to the credibility of the local church because of one celebrity pastor’s flippant judgment?

Such tweets tend to be less about engaging others who feel differently than they are about rallying people to your side who already agree. In politics, as in sport, few things are more effective at firing up your support base than thumbing your nose at the competition.

But the end result is a mess of unintended consequences. The people who need to see us at our best, end up seeing us at our worst. Our unsaved neighbors – or even worse, our brothers and sisters in Christ — become our enemies. This is how churches become beholden more political objectives than gospel objectives. This is how culture wars are waged.

So people, use more care when tweeting your political dissent. It’s important to take a stand on the issues that matter to you and your church, but bear in mind that recklessly upsetting people off is a poor way to transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the ecumenical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water, then bashing that baby against a rock.

I’m sorry, was that too strong a metaphor? I was just looking for a psalm reference that Mark Driscoll wouldn’t think was effeminate.

Inauguration Prayers, Black History, and the Homosexual Agenda

Inauguration Prayers, Black History, and the Homosexual Agenda

Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, speaks to students during the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Awards Public Forum at Temple Deliverance. (Photo: Mike Brown/Newscom)

Last week, I was excited to read the Washington Post article stating that Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, was going to deliver the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration later this month. This was a historic announcement, since Evers would be the first female who wasn’t a clergy member to deliver what has been deemed “America’s most prominent prayer.” Add to that the fact that she’s a black woman and you can sense the pride I felt reading those words. In a month that marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, to deem this a special occasion wouldn’t do it justice. Not to mention that this is just the second time that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has fallen on Inauguration Day. Later this year we’ll also mark the 50th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In a matter of weeks, an African American man will be sworn in for a second term as the president of the United States. For me, there’s a sense of divine providence in the events leading up to this day. Ms. Evers will stand atop the same steps on which King stood to decry our nation’s treatment of African Americans in this country.

Today, I received some disheartening news. Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was removed withdrew as a participant in Obama’s inauguration program. According to an inaugural planner, he withdrew over remarks about homosexuality he made in a sermon he preached in the mid-’90s. The sermon was titled “In Search of a Standard—A Christian Response to Homosexuality.” Man, it must have taken a Herculean Google effort to find that one. But that’s how the public vets people nowadays. Google searches produce “little nuggets” about people that others may use against them. President Obama didn’t have to Google Pastor Giglio, though: He had become aware of Giglio’s work combating human trafficking last year after students at the annual Passion Conference in Atlanta raised millions of dollars for the cause. This year the campaign raised over $3.3 million dollars.

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I attended Giglio’s church for over a year when we lived in Atlanta. We loved it. Giglio was genuine, Christ-centered in his preaching, and humble. Today, he’s been called everything from an unrepentant bigot to a pastor on the outlier of mainstream religious thinking (which might not actually be a bad thing). My dream of seeing a representative of the Civil Rights Movement share the platform with someone who genuinely cares and is doing something about modern-day slavery was crushed today. With more people enslaved today (approximately 27 million) than any other time in human history, this monumental occasion could have had a significant, visceral impact for African Americans. Most of these modern-day slaves are “people of color.”

Instead, we revisit an issue that cropped up in 2009 when Rick Warren was selected to give the benediction—a similar outcry that yielded different results. The difference? The President hadn’t expressed his evolving view on homosexuality at that time. But is this really a civil rights issue? I need not go into the matter of civil rights. I think Voddie Baucham does a pretty good job of addressing the issue here. Dr. Russell Moore suggests that what we may have is a de facto establishment of a state church.

As Moore points out:

The problem is not that [Giglio] wants to exclude homosexuals or others from the public square or of their civil rights. The problem is that he won’t say that they can go to heaven without repentance. That’s not a civil issue, but a religious test of orthodoxy.

The truth is that politicizing prayer is the first essential step to creating a state religion. We’re starting to enter the politically correct season of public prayer. So what’s the new standard? What’s the prerequisite when vetting someone to pray for our nation? Offending no one? We know from Scripture that’s impossible. Someone will always be offended. In fact, held to this standard, Jesus Himself would have been disqualified. Were that the benchmark, we’d have an empty podium on January 21st.

Giglio released this statement today:

I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.

Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.

Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.

My greatest desire is that we not be distracted from the things we are focused on…seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.

In my opinion, a grace-filled response to critics. In the coming weeks, the nation will be watching intently. Forget the replacement refs controversy last fall with the NFL—Giglio’s replacement will likely get tons of attention from the faith community, and the nation in general. Not because this person prays more eloquently than Giglio. Not because there’s a symbiotic relationship between this person’s prayer and Ms. Evers-Williams’ prayer. But because the selection will likely represent the evolving ethos of our pluralistic society. Disheartening? Yes. Unexpected? No. When it boils down to it, the words of Robert Godfrey ring true: neither the Republican Party or Democratic Party care about the cause of Christ. But I’m glad there are people like Pastor Giglio in this world who do.