Hope in Newtown

Hope in Newtown

INNOCENCE LOST: Flowers and gifts were left at the makeshift memorial outside the high school in Newtown, Connecticut, the location of the interfaith vigil attended by President Obama following the mass shooting of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. (Photo: Bill Shettle/Newscom)

In light of the recent tragic events in Newtown, our country has started asking questions. Could stricter gun control laws have prevented this and other tragedies? Has taking God out of school caused Him to go with the “hands off” approach, allowing evil acts to occur? What kind of impact do violent video games have on the psyche of young men and women? Is our nation appropriately dealing with issues of mental health? Where’s the national outrage when kids are killed on the south side of Chicago? All viable questions, but are we asking the right one?

How do we offer hope in a world that becomes increasingly hopeless? President Obama opened his speech in Newtown with a passage from the fourth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth:

“Scripture tells us ‘…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.’”

After looking at my Twitter and Facebook feed, one thing was for sure: His words touched a great number of people who tuned in to listen. The president offered words of comfort for a hurting nation. In my Berean zeal, however, I felt like something was missing — the object of our hope. I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not America is a Christian nation, though increased pluralism tends to suggest otherwise. I do know what hope looks like, though. Hope isn’t some abstract concept. Hope is real; it’s tangible. Hope was wrongly convicted and sentenced to an agonizing death. Hope is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. In fact, that building from God, that eternal house Paul talked about in Scripture the president quotes is built on the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. As sermonic as President Obama’s speech sounded, I don’t expect politicians to preach in these instances. But when Scripture is quoted to bring hope, especially in this season, we need to take the opportunity to remind everyone of the object of our hope.

Mr. President, I respectfully submit that a few verses earlier in the text would have helped immensely:

“… knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14, ESV).

That’s where our true hope lies: in Jesus’ death, burial, and Resurrection. The Scriptural language the president used must be contextualized, or the text loses its meaning. Paul was writing to a people who had experienced similar hurts, heartaches, and pains. As a Gentile nation, other gods the Corinthians served offered little solace. But the small community of believers at Corinth could tell another story. Those hurts and pains paled in comparison to the glory that awaited them in Christ Jesus. They had a God who had experienced the same thing. And THAT’S what brings hope. THAT’S why I don’t lose heart in tragedies like this. Regulations are fine. Dialogue on the danger of video games is probably necessary. But we can’t lose sight of this simple, yet profound truth. Jesus Christ is our only hope. He’s the hope of glory. In a season of Advent (i.e. waiting), I echo the words of John as he closes the canon of Scripture — Come, Lord Jesus!

Interrupting the Bloodshed

Interrupting the Bloodshed

A DIFFERENT PATH: Ameena Matthews, whose father is Jeff Fort, one of the Chicago’s most notorious gang leaders, was herself a drug ring enforcer. But having children and finding solace in her Muslim faith pulled her off the streets. (Photo: Courtesy of Kartemquin Films)

Youth violence in Chicago has reached epidemic levels, with gunfire plaguing neighborhoods across the metropolitan area. It is a disease that is responsible for claiming the lives of dozens of young people, many of whom were engaged in activities as innocent as walking to school or playing in their yards when their lives were cut short.

Each day innocent bystanders are being killed due to the incessant gunfire. In an effort to counteract the violence, a number of community activists have come together in a collaborative effort with hopes of “interrupting” the bloodshed in the city’s streets. Their stories are told in the award-winning documentary The Interrupters. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and produced by bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here), The Interrupters chronicles the lives of three Chicagoans who were once participants in the destruction but who turned their lives around to become “violence interrupters.” Now they are working to restore peace to their community.

Last month, a collection of community organization, including the South Side Help Center, CeaseFire, and the University of Chicago Medicine, partnered with the filmmakers of The Interrupters to host a movie screening and panel discussion on addressing the youth violence problem. UrbanFaith attended the event and chatted with the students, community leaders, and anti-violence experts who participated in the forum.

Check out the video below for an overview of the event, and then visit TheInterrupters.com and InterruptViolence.com for more information about this important grass-roots initiative.

Dajae Coleman Had a Reason to Live

Dajae Coleman Had a Reason to Live

MODEL STUDENT AND CITIZEN: Dajae Coleman, 14, was walking home from a party with friends when he was gunned down. Police say he was not the intended target. (Family photo)

Chicago-area residents were reminded once again of the senselessness of gang violence when 14-year-old high-school freshman Dajae Coleman was shot and killed as he walked home from a party with friends on Saturday night in Evanston, Illinois. It’s an all-too-familiar story: a “model citizen” and “well-mannered” young man’s life needlessly taken. (Police say he was not the shooter’s intended target.)

Making the story even more poignant was news today that Coleman’s school and family released an essay that he had written two days before his murder. Titled “My Belief Statement,” it’s a heartfelt expression of his love for his family and community. “My mom pushes me to do better, she always tells me to never settle,” Coleman wrote. “I think the kids that are on the street not doing anything with their lives don’t get the type of support they need from their family. They probably don’t have anyone to look up to.”

The tragic irony is that Coleman did have positive influences and a bright future. But in a culture of ever-increasing violence and disregard for life, that didn’t matter.

Still, people are finding hope in the life-affirming message that Dajae Coleman left behind. In a Chicago Tribune video, a visitor to the makeshift memorial site for Coleman described the young man’s essay as “prophetic, profound, and part of [Dajae’s] legacy.”

We can only hope that other young people — and adults — will read the essay and be inspired to pursue a more positive direction in life. Just like Dajae.

You can read Dajae’s essay here.

Creflo Dollar Incident Shines Light on Domestic Abuse

Creflo Dollar Incident Shines Light on Domestic Abuse

THE SUNDAY AFTER: After being arrested for allegedly beating his teen daughter, megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar appeared before his Atlanta congregation to deny the charges. "Raising children in our culture of disrespect is a challenge," he said.

Pastor Creflo Dollar did the expected during his first sermon after being booked on charges of simple battery, family violence, and cruelty to children. He repeated his denial of his daughter’s accusations that he choked, punched, and slammed her down during an argument.

You can view the address here, but in short, Dollar read from a prepared statement that was likely signed off on by his legal defense team.  Dollar said:

• He is the true victim, not his 15-year-old daughter.

• He should not have been arrested.

• The police are irresponsible for photographing an eczema mark on his daughter’s neck.

• The news media and other accusers are evil and blowing things out of proportion.

• “The enemy” is trying to discredit him in order to block his message of grace.

Dollar concluded by quoting Psalms 35 to explain his situation and the likely result: “Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about…Take up my case my God and my Lord…”

The most revealing part of his address was when he seemed to go off script a bit.

“I’m a human being and, you know, I’ve had to do a lot of praying and my family has been very supportive,” he said. “Because when I feel like an injustice has been done, I get angry. And yet I respect the law.

On some levels, I can surely appreciate where Pastor Dollar is coming from. As I’ve written previously, rearing teens can be very difficult. Depending on their personalities, they often have a sense of entitlement, they think they know everything, and with hormones raging they can be outright nasty. My wife and I have been there with our three children, of which the youngest is our 19-year-old daughter. As a dedicated father, I know rearing a daughter can be particularly challenging. You worry about them being harmed even more than you do your sons. You have to be more careful and sensitive when correcting them.

Even when correcting my sons physically, my point was to calm them down and show them that if I really wanted to hurt them I could. Being an athletic 6-foot-1 inches and more than 200 pounds, I often needed to think twice before dispensing any sort of physical punishment. And if one of the kids deserved physical correction, it was often safer for them — and better for the parent-child relationship — for their mother to do it, especially if it was our daughter. Still, regardless of their gender, your teens can make you snap, but as a parent you MUST maintain control, lest you cross the line.

What set most people off in this Pastor Dollar case is the accusation that he choked punched and slammed his daughter. Child abuse is “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

Only the Dollar family knows if this situation rises to the level of abuse. However, watching his well-meaning congregation give him a standing ovation, and reading the many comments here on UrbanFaith misinterpreting the scripture “spare the rod, spoil the child,” I wonder about a dangerous message being sent to people who are truly victims of domestic abuse: The church isn’t much of a sanctuary for help.

Domestic child abuse is a serious problem in America. According to the Administration for Children and Families, there were 3.3 million child abuse referrals involving 5.9 million children in 2010.

Some published reports estimate 25 percent of churchgoers have experienced domestic abuse. This means that among those clapping vigorously in support of Pastor Dollar, there were sufferers of domestic violence. There are people suffering in my church and your church. YOU may be suffering in silence.

I know personally teen girls who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of men in their homes. One in particular attended church religiously, but felt no one in the church would believe her because her stepfather was respected in the community. So she suffered in silence. Girls in these types of situations often become women who enter abusive relationships. Even when married to men who are not abusers, these women have wounds that scar their marriages. They need counseling.

As this situation with Pastor Dollar unfolds, what message are true victims of domestic abuse hearing?

Perhaps this unfortunate incident will provide Pastor Dollar and other church leaders around the country the opportunity to offer a word of grace to the silent sufferers in their midst.

Wil LaVeist will discuss this article and the topic of domestic abuse on his radio show tomorrow, Wednesday June 13, from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Listen to the live stream on Hampton University’s WHOV here: www.whov.org.

Southern Baptist Leader Accuses Obama of Race Baiting in Trayvon Martin Case

Southern Baptist Leader Accuses Obama of Race Baiting in Trayvon Martin Case

RACE BAITING?: Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land. (Photo: Baptist Press News)

Just when the Southern Baptist Convention is making strides in its efforts to make black folks feel more at home in the denomination, along comes Richard Land, president of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to throw an obstacle onto the road to racial harmony by accusing President Obama of the worst kind of race baiting.

On his March 31 radio show, Land said the president is “aiding and abetting” “race hustlers” like the Revs. Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, and Jesse Jackson in fomenting violence in response to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“This situation is getting out of hand and there’s going to be violence. And, when there is violence, it’s going to be Jesse Jackson’s fault, and it’s going to be Al Sharpton’s fault, it’s going to be Louis Farrakhan’s fault, and to a certain degree it’s going to be President Obama’s fault,” said Land. “It was Mr. Obama who turned this tragedy into a national issue. He should have learned from the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police incident to stay out of these issues until the facts are clear, but he urged Americans to engage in soul searching, and then he said, ‘If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.’ The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus.”

In an interview with The Tennessean, the Rev. Maxie Miller, “a Florida Baptist Convention expert in African-American church planting,” said he had never before been embarrassed to be a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist. “I’m embarrassed because of the words that man has stated,” said Miller, who reportedly lives 90 minutes away from Sanford, Florida, where Martin was shot.

“I think the convention is doing a great job with diversity … but Land’s comments definitely will make my work harder — encouraging African-Americans to be a part of Southern Baptist Convention life,” Miller said.

Land’s critique wasn’t only directed at President Obama. He said it will be U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s fault if violence breaks out in response to $10,000 “Wanted: Dead or Alive” bounty flyers for alleged shooter George Zimmerman’s “capture.”

“Until Mr. Holder and the justice department do something about this, they’re going to continue to do it and when they end up killing somebody, it’s going to be Mr. Holder’s fault,” said Land.

He identified the group who distributed the flyers as “The Black Panthers,” but Mediaite reported that a group calling itself the New Black Panther Party is responsible. “The New Black Panthers are not affiliated with the original Black Panther Party in any way. In fact, leaders of the original Panthers have denounced the NBPP, even suing them for use of the name, and stating that the New Black Panthers operate on ‘hatred of white people.’ The NBPP has been designated a ‘hate group; by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League.”

Land also said a “failure of leadership on the part of African American leadership in this country” is to blame for inflaming the situation and said “the media” has “shamelessly exploited” it.

What do you think?

Should Christian ethicisit Richard Land take a hard look in the ‘race baiting’ mirror or is there some validity in his critique?