Black

From the Archives: July 1987

[W]hen I was in junior high, I decided I wanted to become the first black woman ordained in the Lutheran Church. ... At Wesley I enjoyed being a student again, until one of the black seminarians asked, “How can you be black and be Lutheran?” I didn’t know. I had never thought about it. The Lutheran Church is predominantly white, ethnically German and Scandinavian. It is highly structured and without the display of lively emotions most blacks are used to in their religious experiences. The Lutheran Church was the only church I had ever really known, and yet suddenly I was thrust into an identity crisis that really rocked me. ...

I am still learning who this black woman pastor is. I am still learning how to use who I am as a black person and as a woman to provide a strong witness for the church. I have no doubts that being black and a woman are important and integral to who I am, and yet for me those factors are not the issue in ministry.

The issue is sharing together the sacramental moments of our lives, the times when heaven and earth touch—holy communion, baptism, worship, touching people, and being touched by them when we celebrate joys and huddle together in pain. The issue is that we share a relationship with God and with each other, and it takes many talents and a variety of people to populate our church. 

Laura Griffin was the second black woman to be ordained in the American Lutheran Church.

Image: Mosaic of resurrected Christ,  / Shutterstock ">

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July 2015
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She’s Black, Gay, and Soon You Can Call Her ‘Rabbi’

Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times

Sandra Lawson. Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times / Sandra Lawson / RNS

Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything, except maybe fitness. She wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism or any other religion.

And she certainly never aspired to be one of the first — if not the first — black, openly lesbian rabbi.

But this spring Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia with the help of an online GoFundMe campaign. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination in 2018.

The Criminality of Blackness

Dabarti CGI/Shutterstock.com

A core spiritual lie keeps us from seeing what is because we only see what we expect. Dabarti CGI/Shutterstock.coA

There is a moment in John Steinbeck’s classic, East of Eden, when readers witness the transformation of a stereotype into a human being.

Set in Salinas Valley, Calif., around the turn of the 20th century, Samuel Hamilton picks up Lee, his friend's Chinese servant. Lee wears a queue and speaks Pidgin English. Moments after meeting him, Hamilton learns that Lee was born in the U.S. and asks why he still can’t speak English.

Lee’s face and eyes soften and he speaks perfect English, explaining that he speaks Pidgin for the whites in town to understand him. Lee says, “You see what is, where most people see what they expect.”

Did you catch that? Lee plays the role of the foreigner in order to be seen and understood.

Prophet in a Cracker Dress

Nora Howell modeling her dress made of crackers

ONE RECENT WINTER day, Nora Howell stepped out of her house in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore and took a walk down the street. People in the predominantly black community did double takes as this white woman promenaded past them in a sundress made of saltine and oyster crackers. Some stared in disbelief. One man doubled over laughing. In the corner coffee shop, one of the regulars warned Howell not to walk by any homeless people because they might just eat her up.

Later Howell, a community artist and director of the neighborhood Jubilee Arts program, set the video footage taken during her walk to Mister Rogers’ classic refrain, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The piece, which emerged out of Howell’s ponderings on what it means to be white living in a black neighborhood, became another part of her answer to a call: to use art to address systemic racism and bring about the kingdom of God.

From Race Riots to White Suburbia and Beyond
In 2001, Howell was an eighth grader living in a biracial community in urban Cincinnati. When race riots erupted after a young black man was shot fatally by a white police officer (sound familiar?), her family took to the streets on a prayer walk through the riots. Howell remembers being shocked and terrified, thinking, “Why do we still have race riots? Cincinnati is so far behind the times.”

In the aftermath, Howell talked with peers at school on the reality of racial tensions and observed with curiosity how white and black churches throughout the city responded. She realized race riots weren’t just a relic of the ’60s. “When you lived in a place where different racial groups interacted daily, [racial tensions] could no longer be denied or ignored,” she said.

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American Jews Say Others Face More Discrimination

pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Commuters on subway on June 28, 2012 in New York City. pio3 / Shutterstock.com

American Jews say they face discrimination in the U.S., but they see Muslims, gays, and blacks facing far more.

This and other findings from the recently released Pew Research Center’s landmark study on Jewish Americans help make the case that Jews — once unwelcome in many a neighborhood, universitym, and golf club — now find themselves an accepted minority.

“While there are still issues, American Jews live in a country where they feel they are full citizens,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism.

At the Door of the Church

It is not very difficult to understand why there is a black church and a white church in America today, or to realize that this structure will not change in the near future. The religious atmosphere created by the coming together of blacks (who were slaves) and whites (who were masters) tended to negate any possibility of developing the true unity and oneness that scripture proclaims for the church. The agendas of the slaves were vastly different from those of the masters. Unfortunately, conflict over agendas, both stated and unstated, continues to be one of the reasons that blacks and whites do not come together to worship.

Southern Baptists Push for More Black Missionaries

Photo courtesy International Mission Board

Fred Luter, left, visits with villagers in Uganda on May 28. Photo courtesy International Mission Board

Fred Luter had a lot of firsts in the last year: first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention; first time chairing the denomination’s annual meeting, this week, in Houston; and recently, first-time missionary.

“It was inspirational, but also very humbling in a lot of instances, just to see how some people are living,” Luter said, days after returning from Ethiopia and Uganda.

Struck by the poor living without running water and by missionaries willing to “leave the comforts that we have here in America,” Luter wants more members ofhis New Orleans congregation — as well as more of the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists — to take overseas missions seriously.

In particular, he wants more of his denomination’s relatively small black population to serve as missionaries.

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