church leaders

Baltimore: How Do We ‘Seek the Peace of the City?’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

he bulletin board at Sharon Baptist Church asks for prayer for the family of Freddie Gray. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Image

I walked through ash and glass as neighbors and community members swept up the remnants of our neighborhood. The night before, flames touched sky in all corners of our city as news and police helicopters hovered overhead. The city was Los Angeles. The year was 1992, and it was the third day after the police who beat Rodney King were acquitted by an overwhelmingly white jury in Simi Valley.

That was the day I was introduced to the words of Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace you will find your peace.”

On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared a citywide curfew to quell violence that erupted in Monument City following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died a week after sustaining a nearly severed spinal cord after being detained by police on April 12. The reason for the stop? Gray ran after making eye contact with police. An investigation is ongoing — while the people of Baltimore and beyond demand justice.

The images of fires rising over the Baltimore landscape were eerie, as it was only a few months ago that the nation sat glued to television sets watching the small town of Ferguson, Mo., erupt. And I fear we are becoming numb to it. We turn the TV on to watch our favorite reality show. We see chanting, running black people, and we think: again? Then we turn back to The Voice.

Anxiety and Christian Leadership

KieferPix /

KieferPix /

When I began a Masters of Divinity program at Wesley Theological Seminary, I was convinced that my generalized anxiety would be a wrinkle I’d iron out as I became more competent in preaching and pastoral care. What I failed to recognize was that my aptitude for ministry in itself was not the issue. I already felt called to hospital chaplaincy and had had experience working with the sick and dying as a nursing assistant. However, despite all the practical knowledge I’ve continued to gain at Wesley, anxiety has remained a debilitating problem.

When my anxiety was at its worst this past spring, I often asked myself, what business do I have pursuing ordained ministry? How can I serve others if I can’t take care of myself? Last week, regarding the suicide of Robin Williams, I heard frequently: “How can someone so funny do that?” The best answer I’ve found is that even when we are in great pain and anguish, feeling isolated from others, we don’t stop doing what we do best. Even in times of depression, and drug and alcohol abuse, Williams never ceased to do what he did best — make people laugh when they most needed to. Likewise, despite my anxiety, no matter how I attempt to close out the world, I still feel called to the ministry of chaplaincy, to bring healing to others through my presence.

Skeptics Wonder if Ex-Clergy Should Lead Atheist Movements

Photo courtesy of RNS

Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher, came to be an atheist while still preaching in the pulpit. Photo courtesy of RNS

By definition, skeptics are pretty skeptical. They question what they see as unfounded claims or dubious motivations, whatever the source. Now, they are questioning some of their own leaders.

With the success of organizations such as The Clergy Project — an online community seeking to provide a safe place for clergy members who reject supernatural beliefs — numerous former ministers are joining the ranks of the publicly nontheistic.

Some have risen to the leadership of prominent atheist organizations. Last week, Teresa MacBain was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University’s Humanist Community after it was revealed she inflated her resume. The former United Methodist pastor claimed a degree from Duke Divinity School she did not have.

“Our society needs so much and thriving secular communities could make significant contributions, ” wrote Donald Wright, author and organizer of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, on Freethought Blogs. But, he added, “My unsolicited advice is to be skeptical of this new wave of leadership.”

Church Softball League Calls a Foul on Bisexual Pastor

softball photo via Mark Herreid / Shutterstock

softball photo via Mark Herreid / Shutterstock

"Three congregations said they were uncomfortable playing our team because I am their pastor and I am an out bisexual person," said the Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell, 27, "which is surprising because I don't even play."

Darnell called the pastors' reaction ridiculous.

"It seems like my sexuality doesn't have anything to do with how my congregation plays softball," Darnell said. "It's frustrating because this is who is representing Christianity in our community, and this is the message youths in our community are getting."

After Trayvon Martin Case, Churches Say ‘Stereotypes Cost Lives’

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Image

Rev. Al Sharpton bows his head as Rev. Jesse Jackson leads a prayer at a community forum. Photo Mario Tama/Getty Images

An umbrella group of Christian denominations committed to combating racism is urging churches to use the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as a "teachable moment" to speak out against racial stereotypes.

"It is a time to understand the burden that some of us have to live always facing the stereotypes of others and the danger that these stereotypes might cost us our lives," wrote the 10 leaders of Churches Uniting in Christ in a statement released Wednesday (March 28).
"In humility, we invite the Body of Christ to join in serious self-examination about how our communities by our silence support racial profiling and stereotyping."

From Sex to Satan, Some Churches Will Try Anything

The Devil Inside movie poster.

The Devil Inside movie poster.

This is a touchy subject for me, as I am a strong advocate of bringing cultural criticism and dialogue into the church, and I’m equally supportive of churches having frank forums where they deal with issues of sex and sexuality. But there is a distinct, if not fine, line between stretching a church to be relevant and jumping on the latest trend simply to draw attention to yourself.

Yes, I know religious institutions are collectively flipping out about the decreasing number of attendees and increased number of church closures. The fact is that some churches will do the world more good once closed than they’re doing today. This is not to say they’re doing active harm (though I’m sure some are), but rather that the tireless, copious use of resources – both human and financial – to prop up dying institutions is to point to one’s self rather than toward God. We get hung up on the idea that the former is a necessary means to the latter end, but not necessarily. Like a fallow field, sometimes it’s best to take what is left, turn it into the ground and allow it to be reborn into something entirely new.

Latin American Churches Criticize U.S. Budget Debate, Support 'Circle of Protection'

More than 140 prominent Protestant leaders from 12 Latin American countries have signed an "open letter to the Christian churches of the United States," asking American Christians to stand with "the most vulnerable members of US society" who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to the social safety net.

Citing the Circle of Protection as a positive Christian witness, the signers also expressed their dismay. "We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of US society," the letter read. It was signed by a broad array of Latin American religious communities, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the United Bible Society of Latin America, evangelical councils and alliances in Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), Micah Network, Indigenous Association of Peruvian Amazonia, and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.

Why Exclude Women from Ministry?

Lean and lanky, the 30-something teacher probed the congregation with a practiced eye as he wound down his presentation. Ezekiel, or "Zeke" (pseudonym), teaches at a secondary school in another country. Backed up by a carefully constructed PowerPoint presentation, Ezekiel shared his passion for sensitively pouring truth and grace into the lives of his students, particularly the girls. His blue eyes blazed as he asked if a woman in the Community Christian Church (not its real name) congregation would be willing to come forward and pray for the women of his host country.

No one moved.