Black Churches

Caleb Gayle 4-10-2017

Image via Ms Jane Campbell / Shutterstock

But more deeply than that, framing Terence’s last gasp of life in the texture of local challenges shows the frailty of black Tulsa’s dream of equal treatment. We need to ensure Terence does not become another note on a scale of the pain felt by countless black and brown lives. It’s only been seven months and the voices of those affected by this history have been diminished.

Image via RNS/Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

With ashes on their foreheads, sackcloth draped around their necks, and the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop, Christians leaders used the words “evil” and “immoral” to describe the federal budget cuts President Trump has proposed and many Republican lawmakers favor.

“It is a time for lamentation,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, explaining the symbols of grief the clergy brought to Capitol Hill on March 29.

Alaura Carter 3-24-2017
Image via Bradley Siefert / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Image via Bradley Siefert / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

PEOPLE OF COLOR in the United States are exposed to 38 percent more asthma-producing nitrogen dioxide than are white people. People of color are twice as likely as whites to live without potable water or modern sanitation.

The “big green” environmental movement often focuses on national issues and federal policy, dividing people along partisan lines of red or blue. But churches and low-income communities focus on people and their daily lived experiences. Though both are fighting for just causes, because the environment affects us all, the big greens sometimes overlook the people on the ground or do not represent them accurately.

“We have a moral and spiritual obligation to look at the impact of climate change in general and how it impacts people, including our constituents,” said Rev. Leo Woodberry, pastor of Kingdom Living Temple, an independent African-American church in Florence, S.C.

Woodberry’s church takes a robust approach to local environmental issues, including looking at climate change, air quality, and environmental justice for communities that are over-burdened and vulnerable, particularly communities of color. They also look at “environomics,” said Woodberry. “That’s where the economy and environment meet and allows corporate polluters to come into communities and dump toxins because it’s profitable for them,” he said.

Image via RNS/Adelle M. Banks

Crying out “no justice, no peace,” crowds joined the Rev. Al Sharpton in a weekend march towards the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, vowing not to let President-elect Donald Trump turn back strides made by the civil rights leader.

The mostly African-American throng — smaller than the thousands expected, due to the steady rain — heard from civic and religious leaders about key areas of concern: health care, voting rights, economic equality, and police brutality and reform.

Jennifer Pinckney. Image via Megan Mendenhall/Duke University/RNS

The first lady of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church offered two enduring images: her late husband’s smiling face lying in a casket, and the bullet holes that riddled the church walls when she went to clean out his office a week later. “Clementa was a peaceful person,” said Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of the late preacher and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, during a visit to Duke University to talk about gun control, race, and faith.

Rick Jervis 7-01-2015
REUTERS / Clarendon County Fire Department / RNS

Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this June 30, 2015 handout photo. Photo via REUTERS / Clarendon County Fire Department / RNS

Although arson is blamed for at least three fires over the past two weeks at several predominantly black churches in Southern states, a blaze that destroyed Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina was not deliberately set, according to a federal source, the Associated Press reported July 1.

Churchgoers had feared the worst because the church in Greeleyville, S.C., was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995. The latest fire broke out June 30 during a night of frequent storms and lightning strikes.

the Web Editors 6-30-2015

In two weeks after Dylann Roof shot nine people at Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, S.C., six church buildings in the south housing predominately black congregations were burned. The Southern Poverty Law Center suggested the string of nighttime fires “may not be a coincidence.”

Rosalyn Priester, Pat Owens and Adrienne Wynn at an Earth Day display. Photo courtesy Trinity UCC Photography Ministry. Via RNS

At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver.

They recycle their church bulletins, plan to renovate their building with a “green” roof and have purchased 27 acres for a community project that will include an urban farm.

“By any greens necessary,”  the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s pastor, likes to say.

When it comes to African-American churches and a focus on the environment, Moss and his congregation are the exception rather than the rule.

Moss said many of his black clergy colleagues are less interested in conservation and tell him: “That’s your thing.”

Black congregations have tended to focus on their members’ basic needs — getting jobs, rearing children, pursuing higher education.

With the Southern Baptist Convention poised to elect its first African-American president at its meeting next week in New Orleans, the mostly black congregation at Colonial Baptist Church is equal parts excited and astonished.

“The denomination has come from 180 degrees,” said Vernon T. Gaskins, 83, after the Sunday morning service at the church outside Baltimore. “I am quite shocked to see it, but I’m glad to see it.”

The small band of black members in the overwhelmingly white denomination isn't expecting wholesale changes in the expected election of New Orleans pastor Fred Luter next Tuesday (June 19). And Luter, for his part, is also trying to keep expectations low.

“I don’t think it will change drastically but I do think there will be a change, where African-Americans who really never considered being part of the SBC will now look at it,” Luter, 55, said in a phone interview from his Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

 RNS photo courtesy Lonnie Tague for the Department of Justice

Attorney General Eric Holder, RNS photo courtesy Lonnie Tague for the Department of Justice

Attorney General Eric Holder and other legal experts strategized with black religious leaders May 30 about new restrictive state voting laws that could affect their congregants by reducing early voting and requiring identification.

“I would argue that of all the freedoms we have today, none is more important or more sacred than the right to vote,” Holder told about 200 people gathered for a meeting of the Conference of National Black Churches and the Congressional Black Caucus.

He acknowledged concerns about new voting laws and said his department has launched more than 100 investigations about racially discriminatory voting practices.

Jim Wallis 10-28-2011

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

Ruth Hawley-Lowry 7-27-2010
I am grieved and angry that Glenn Beck is going to be on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 (the anniversary of the historic civil rights March on Washington on August 28, 1963) -- and
Jim Wallis 3-10-2010
Glenn Beck says Christians should leave churches that use the word "social justice." He says social justice is a code word for communism and Nazism.

Jarrod McKenna 12-17-2009
What if? What if Obama's speech had not simply referenced Gandhi and King but followed them in following the way of Jesus?
Becky Garrison 9-08-2008

[continued from part 1 and part 2]

Back in 1961, Gurdon Brewster was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary, training to be an Episcopal priest. When this Northern [...]

Becky Garrison 9-05-2008

[continued from part 1]

Back in 1961, Gurdon Brewster was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary, training to be an Episcopal priest. When this Northern liberal raised his hand to volunteer as a summer intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had no idea what lay in store for [...]

Becky Garrison 9-04-2008

Back in 1961, Gurdon Brewster was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary, training to be an Episcopal priest. When this Northern liberal raised his hand to volunteer as a summer intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had no idea what lay in store for him. He tells this story in

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