2011 News Highlights

2011 News Highlights

POLITICS

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.

INTERNATIONAL

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.

CULTURE & SOCIETY

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.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

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).

CHURCH & FAITH

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?

UrbanFaith’s 2011 Hit List

UrbanFaith’s 2011 Hit List

TOP READS: Stories about Father's Day cards for black moms, the mysterious death of Zachery Tims, and the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi all found their way into the most-read list of 2011.

Readers don’t always leave comments, but they do quietly let us know which posts capture their attention. For sheer volume of readers, these were the most popular UrbanFaith articles of 2011.

10.

All My Single Ladies: Before you give your heart away, check out these priceless pearls of wisdom for women who want to put God in charge of their love life.

09.

Is Gadhafi a Martyr? Some wonder whether the late Libyan ruler was unjustly overthrown — and whether the United States is complicit in the offense.

08.

Detroit’s Future: From Blight to Bright: How a grassroots movement of young entrepreneurs and faith-based leaders are kick starting the Motor City’s urban renewal.

07.

Venus William’s Toughest Match: Her withdrawal from the U.S. Open because of Sjogren’s syndrome brings attention to the plight of autoimmune disease sufferers.

06.

Steve Jobs’ Passion for Diversity: “Can you help us hire black engineers?” That unexpected question marked the beginning of Andrew B. Williams’ unique friendship with Apple’s late co-founder. His life, his students’ lives, and the life of Apple Inc. would never be the same again.

05.

Is That Hair Killing You? According to the U.S. Surgeon General, some women are jeopardizing their health in order to protect their hairstyles — and black women are at the top of the list.

04.

Man of God, But Still a Man: The tragic death of Pastor Zachery Tims reminds us that even our most gifted and passionate Christian leaders are imperfect human beings.

03.

Rick Perry and the “Rainbow Right”: Could a coalition of “Rainbow Right” supporters be key to victory for presidential hopeful Rick Perry?

02.

Zachery Tims Found Dead: A popular Florida pastor’s mysterious death in a Times Square hotel leaves unanswered questions, and friends and followers in shock.

01.

Single Moms Are Not Fathers: Contrary to a new cultural campaign by Hallmark and others, Father’s Day is not a holiday for black single moms.

What do you think?

Were these 10 the most compelling posts of the year or did something else we published capture your attention?

Man of God, But Still a Man

Man of God, But Still a Man

LARGER THAN LIFE: Pastor Zachery Tims' mysterious death sent shockwaves through the faith community.

On Friday night in Apopka, Florida, hundreds of people waited in line for more than an hour to pay their final respects to Rev. Zachery Tims. The 42-year-old megachurch pastor, who was found dead in a New York City hotel room on Aug. 12, will be laid to rest on Saturday morning.

Of all the things to be said about Tims — some great and perhaps not so great — one thing will almost certainly be true: he was a man.

Knowing nothing about this man, I heard “Pastor. Dead. Hotel. New York City,” and my imagination conjured the most depraved of possibilities that could validate the combination of those words. The scattered details following reports of his death, including that of a white powdery substance found on his person, only made my internal speculation worse.

Soon after media confirmed the news, Facebook and Twitter exploded with condolences, expressions of shock, and, in some cases, blame directed at Tims for his own death. He wasn’t new to controversy, after all. Long before his move to Florida, he’d battled drug abuse but said on the church website that he was “miraculously saved, instantly delivered … and called into ministry.” In 2008 he admitted to an affair, and he and his wife later divorced.

Drug abuse and marital problems unfortunately fall into the tragic categories of normal life for normal people. It’s only abnormal when it’s public and it involves the pastor.

How could someone bearing that title and the spiritual responsibility of thousands, commissioned by God with the Spirit upon him to preach the gospel, heal the brokenhearted and preach deliverance to the captives be in the bondage of sin himself? The answer is simple: even the man of God is still a man.

We frequently lose that fact in the face of pastors and other church leaders who appear to have arrived at the place people stake their lives on trying to go.

Many are the best dressed, driving the nicest of cars, and living in houses that look like they’re straight from MTV Cribs. And even for leaders with more modest incomes, preaching every Sunday, they appear smart, confident and even fearless. Their holiness is apparent; their anointing is strong, the words they speak prophetic. They stand over hundreds, thousands, and — thanks to online worship — maybe millions of people, continually holding attention and commanding respect. And if you miss that it’s the Spirit of God holding that man or that woman up, you’d think he or she holds power that no ordinary person does.

Throw in a sense of humor, a certain “swag” (like my pastor), and the good looks of Tims (who was often likened to Will Smith), and you’ve got a larger-than-life superstar who’s everything to everybody every hour of the day.

When this is all we choose to see, we inevitably make titans of our teachers and hold them to a supernatural standard. The pastor becomes our idol — no longer a man of God but, instead, a god of man.

And we know there is only one God, who is God all by Himself. All other manmade gods eventually fall — just as all humanity does, just like any man or woman would. Regardless of his or her position in the church, every believer has the challenge of walking through the struggles of this fallen world in pursuit of God’s truth and the life that comes with it.

Victory over the sin struggle sometimes isn’t so easy, particularly for church leaders who, though surrounded, are isolated physically and spiritually. They cover entire  flocks but live uncovered themselves. With little to no support, accountability and the weight of others’ burdens, perhaps anybody would do anything just to endure — even the pastor. Maybe your pastor. Maybe even the late Zachery Tims.

Following the announcement of his death, I read of Tims’ encouraging words, his amazing testimony, and the altruistic work he did as pastor of New Destiny Christian Center. Though I didn’t know him, I’m convinced he probably was a great man, even an anointed man of God — but a man nonetheless.

Zachery Tims Found Dead

Zachery Tims Found Dead

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: Pastor Zachery Tims' body was found in a NYC hotel in Times Square.

Investigation into the death of megachurch Pastor Zachery Tims, 42, continues as mass online condolences accompany few details of his Aug. 12 passing in a New York City hotel room. Police reportedly found Tims, pastor of the 8,000-member New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla., near Orlando, unresponsive on the floor of his room in the W Hotel in Times Square early Friday evening. As of Sunday night following his death, reports said police did not suspect foul play. Even as they awaited autopsy results Monday afternoon, police reportedly had no plans for a criminal investigation.

Many had heard of Tims’ death through Facebook and Twitter postings before mainstream media began reporting additional information Monday morning. By noon, tweets expressing grief over Tims’ death flooded Twitter at about 25 tweets per minute, trending in Orlando. Beyond shock, other posts mentioned the impact Tims had even beyond the walls of his church.

“I know the word, but I am still stunned over the death of Pastor Zachary Tims,” tweeted Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill. “He texted me encouragement every Sunday.” Other nationally known church and gospel music personalities posting their sentiments included CeCe Winans, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Fred Hammond and Jonathan Nelson. Commentator Roland Martin informed followers of the latest information, even though little was available beyond initial reports. The latest news reports claim a white powdery substance was found on Tims’ body, leading authorities to suspect that his death was drug related.

Originally from Baltimore, Tims earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Towson State University and another in theology from Maranatha Baptist Bible College, both in Maryland. He founded New Destiny in 1996 with six members. As church membership grew, the congregation continually expanded its facilities to ultimately hold its 8,000 members. He is survived by his ex-wife and four children.