African Methodist Episcopal

Black Clergy Walk a Fine Line Between Religious Liberty, Discrimination

Will Sterling of Sterling Photography / RNS

The Rev. Jerry Young, 18th president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Photo via Will Sterling of Sterling Photography / RNS

Since the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is constitutional, the Rev. Jerry Young has been in a quandary.

As the president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, a predominantly black denomination, he is grappling with a new reality: how to respond to the specter of discrimination against gays. While he doesn’t support gay marriage, the refusal of some religious bakers and florists to provide services to gays prompts memories of racially segregated hotels and restaurants.

“On the one hand, you have to be sensitive to the fact that you do not want people to be victims of discrimination — that’s just an absolute fact — you just do not want that to happen,” said Young, who grew up in Mississippi in the civil rights era and is developing a position paper to guide NBCUSA congregations on these issues.

“And on the other hand, there is this tension between what, as Christians, we believe God has called us to do, and what it appears to be, in some sense, what the culture seems to be doing.”

Black Churches Offer Scholarships to Students at Michael Brown’s Alma Mater

Photo via Empowerment Temple Church / RNS

Dr. Jamal H. Bryant, pastor and founder of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore. Photo via Empowerment Temple Church / RNS

They filed into the gym Jan. 12 for an assembly about graduation and applying for colleges — an intentionally vague description that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a senior class.

Instead, the seniors at Normandy High School learned that full-tuition scholarships would be given to 11 of them in honor of Michael Brown, who graduated just days before he was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer.

Ferguson’s death — and the subsequent grand jury decision not to charge the white officer with his death — set off protests and heightened racial tensions coast to coast, followed by a similar case of a unarmed black man on Staten Island who died in a police chokehold.

“The way we deal with this situation is we breathe life into you,” said George T. French, president of Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., which is offering two of the scholarships. “We believe in you, Normandy High School seniors.”

More than a dozen local and national church leaders sat in folding chairs on the gym floor, inside a high-poverty school south of Ferguson where opportunity runs short and paying for college doesn’t come easily for most.

D.C. Clergy Join Push to 'Change the Mascot'

Washington Redskins fans at training camp on August 13, 2012. Photo via RNS/courtesy Keith Allison via Flickr

The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign against the Washington pro football club’s team name picked up new supporters this week when more than two dozen clergy in the Washington region committed to taking the fight to their pulpits.

“Black clergy have been the conscience of America,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said to a gathering of roughly 40 people on folding chairs in the basement of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “This is not a fight we could do by ourselves, or should do by ourselves.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth, asked for a show of hands Wednesday to indicate which clergy members in attendance would be willing to preach against what he termed the “R word.” More than a dozen raised their hands. Hagler said that a different dozen committed to the cause at a clergy breakfast meeting Wednesday and that, all told, he has commitments from roughly 100 clergy members to talk to their congregations in coming weeks.

'Here is the Steeple:' Church Leaders Take on Sexual Violence Within Their Walls

 'Here is the Steeple' hand game, Anita Patterson Peppers / Shutterstock.com

'Here is the Steeple' hand game, Anita Patterson Peppers / Shutterstock.com

A movement of lay advocates speaking out against sexual violence is gaining steam in the faith communities. But are similar efforts happening inside church doors?

When it comes to leading denominational conversations on sexual violence, clergy across traditions express twin reactions: encouragement over the protocols already in place and the efforts of fellow advocates; and frustration with a culture of silence around sexual violence in the church. Despite strikingly different experiences across denominations — and church by church — the clergy, church staff, and seminarians who spoke with Sojourners are in agreement that addressing this issue in one’s own house is complicated at every level.

The result: a loss of potential by the American church to be a leading and vibrant institution of radical vulnerability and transformative healing.

Michelle Obama Addresses Leaders at the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Michelle Obama, Win McNamee/Getty Images

Today, as President Obama followed the monumental decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act, his wife, Michelle Obama addresses an assembly of 30,000 leaders and laity at the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. We're still waiting for the video to come, but meanwhile, browse through the transcript of her speech on faith, families, and what's next.

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