Black Church

St. Louis Police Investigate Possible Racial Motive in String of Fires at Black Churches

Image via J.B. Forbes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / RNS

Police are stepping up patrols and trying to develop a profile of whomever has set six fires outside churches in predominantly black neighborhoods since Oct. 8, Police Chief Sam Dotson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Anti-Defamation League suggested a racial motive may be at play. In a prepared statement, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director, Jeffrey Mittman, called the fires “domestic terrorism.”

“It is a sad truth that, throughout our nation’s history, African-Americans often have been met with astounding violence when they demand equality,” he wrote.

“Those who commit this violence seek to instill fear. This is why arson against predominantly black churches has been a frequent tool of white supremacy.”

Spate of Fires at Black Churches in St. Louis Area

Image via Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

A reward of up to $2,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the culprit in a string of fires that have now hit six predominantly African-American churches in and around St. Louis.

Ebenezer Lutheran Church, at 1011 Theobald Street, is the latest church to report damage.

Capt. Garon Mosby, spokesman for the St. Louis Fire Department, said members of the congregation called authorities about 9:25 a.m. Oct. 18 after arriving for a worship service and noticing damage. The fire was already out by the time firefighters arrived, Mosby said.

Although he could not provide additional details, Mosby said that the damage was not extensive. But that the incident was being investigated along with the five other church fires that have happened in the area since Oct. 8.

Raising Children of Faith and Justice

Nolte Lourens /

Photo via Nolte Lourens /

What happens when the heart of God is broken?

What happens when, in spite of our best efforts, we are overcome by human frailty, we are assaulted by the reality of the sins of humankind, and it appears there is nothing we can do that will overcome the tragic pain of our fractured lives? Such are the questions that come upon us when we read of the tortured life of King David, the pain and agony of his personal sin, and the tragedy that befell the life of Absalom, his beloved son.

When God Can Breathe, We’ll All Have Air

The past 12 months of violence against unarmed black bodies continues to draw national attention to the ongoing challenge of police brutality in the United States. Under the collective action call of #blacklivesmatter, activists and concerned citizens across the country challenge the ideology of white supremacy undergirding our criminal justice system and demand an end to state violence against black bodies. Yet the #blacklivesmatter movement is about more than an end to police brutality; it is call for the health, wholeness, and vitality of all black communities and a world in which black lives are no longer systemically and intentional targeted for demise. This includes an account of the physical environment in which black communities reside.

We Are One Body: White Christians, Time to Get in the Game

Anita Patterson Peppers /

Anita Patterson Peppers /

I am grieving and lamenting and beyond angry over what feels like open season on the black community/church right now in the U.S. White Christians, this is the time to pay attention and be part of our nation’s struggle to understand and address the continual violence happening against our black sisters and brothers. When one part of the Body hurts we all hurt. When one part of the Body is repeatedly targeted, killed, not protected, pulled out of swimming pools, seen as threats when unarmed – and then misrepresented, silenced, or made small through ahistoric excuses, side-stepping through political mess, or any other form of evil – we need to stand up. We need to show up – loudly. We need to demand a different response – and start with our people in the church.

‘The New Black’ Opens New Dialogue About LGBT and Religion in Black Community

Photo via Sait Serkan Gurbuz / RNS

Students at Morgan State University in Baltimore listen to Rev. Jamie Washington speak. Photo via Sait Serkan Gurbuz / RNS

Is gay marriage a civil right like black equality? Or is it a sin African-Americans should condemn?

That’s the question at the heart of The New Black, a documentary by filmmaker Yoruba Richen that examines African-American attitudes toward LGBT people leading up to Maryland’s public referendum on gay marriage in 2012.

The film is now enjoying a new life as part of an initiative to get students at historically black colleges and universities to talk about a longtime taboo in the African-American community — sexual identity and the church.

Q&A: From Ferguson to Baltimore, Black America’s Faith Is Tested

Photo via REUTERS / Jim Bourg / RNS

Community members hold hands in front of police officers in Baltimore on April 28, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Jim Bourg / RNS

Douglas, author of the new book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, writes about the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the acquittal of George Zimmerman in his killing, and the deaths of other unarmed black people that followed.

Douglas talked about violence faced by African-Americans and the black church’s response. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

5 Takeaways from Tuesday's White House Celebration of Gospel Music

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

First lady Michelle Obama welcomes students to the White House on April 14, 2015. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

First lady Michelle Obama hosted a discussion with musicians and students on gospel music at the White House on April 14, praising gospel’s role as “a ray of hope” in American history.

“Gospel music has really played such an important role in our country’s history,” she told more than 100 students gathered in the State Dining Room, “from the spirituals sung by slaves, to the anthems that became the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, and to the hymns that millions of Americans sing every single day in churches all across the country.”

Here are some of the lessons learned during the 75-minute event, where Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli interviewed a panel of singers and songwriters ahead of a star-studded concert that will air on PBS on June 26 as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series.

1. Gospel music is personal for the first lady.

“I’m really thrilled that we’re really focusing on gospel,” Obama said of the series that has previously featured classical, country, and soul music.

“It’s something that I wanted to do since we started.”

Weekly Wrap 2.20.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Because Extreme Cold Always Brings Climate Deniers Out of the Woodwork … 
Bill Nye, yep, the Science Guy, offers the media this helpful prompting: “‘Let’s not confuse or interchange climate change with global warming,’ noting that when the climate changes, ‘some places get colder.’”

2. After the Copenhagen Synagogue Shooting, This Muslim Community Is Responding in the Best Way Possible 
“Islam is about protecting our brothers and sisters, regardless of which religion they belong to. Islam is about rising above hate and never sinking to the same level as the haters. Islam is about defending each other. Muslims want to show that we deeply deplore all types of hatred of Jews, and that we are there to support them.”

3Afghan Civilian Deaths Hit Record High
2014 was the deadliest year on record for civilians in Afghanistan, according to the U.N. Total civilian casualties jumped 22 percent from 2013.​

4. Ash Wednesday: To Be Seen
“… revelation does happen and ... we see. We see that we have always been seen by God. God holds us and beholds us even when it can be so hard for us to hold and behold God.”

Is the Black Church Shifting on Gay Marriage?: Q&A with Filmmaker Yoruba Richen

Sharon Lettman-Hicks and her husband, Alvin, are featured in Richen’s documentary. RNS photo:Jen Lemen, via Independent Lens/PBS

Yoruba Richen’s documentary “The New Black” airs this month online and on television through the PBS series “Independent Lens.” The film, which explores the intersection of race, religion, and sexuality, also has been screened at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and New York’s Union Theological Seminary. An African-American lesbian, Richen talked to Religion News Service about the new openness she sees in black churches around the issue of same-sex marriage.