Posted on: 06/13/12:
When the Church Fails Its Women: 7 Truths We Need to Tell About Creflo Dollar, Black Daughters and Violence
By Brittney Cooper
By Brittney Cooper
Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I walked out of church in the middle of service. I grew up in church; my stepfather of 15 years is a pastor; as recently as 2009, I led a ministry team at one of Atlanta’s Baptist megachurches. Thus, my choice to get up and walk out while the pastor was speaking defied every notion of decorum I have ever been taught.To read the rest of the article, click here
But when he stood to express his unequivocal support for Atlanta megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar who was arrested late last week for committing simple battery and cruelty to a child on his fifteen year old daughter, I had to go.
I have struggled in recent years to reconcile my long-standing faith, to my relatively more recent feminist commitments. And it is precisely because of the Black Church’s continued willingness to advocate problematic, violent, hierarchical stances against women and gay people that I continue to struggle.
According to the police report, Dollar told his daughter she couldn’t go to a party due to bad grades. From there the situation got real ugly. His daughter left the room, went into the kitchen and started crying. Dollar followed her, asked why she was crying, and when she indicated that she didn’t want to talk to him, she says that he “then charged her, put his hands around her throat and began to choke her, slammed her to the ground and began to punch her, and took off his shoe and started whooping her with it.” The victim’s 19 year old sister, who witnessed the altercation, backed up her sister’s story. Dollar, himself, admitted only to using a shoe.
In classic fashion, Dollar denied everything yesterday, as he entered his sanctuary to a standing ovation. “She was not choked. She was not punched….I should never have been arrested.” Elsewhere he said, “All is well in the Dollar household.”
Apparently, his daughters are bald-faced liars. Both of them. And apparently, they resent him so much that they would concoct this magnificently violent tale in order to have him arrested. If he thinks all is well, clearly he isn’t well.
So now let’s entertain the notion that his daughters are telling the truth or at least some truth.
What would it look like for our faith communities to be places where Black girls could testify about the violence they experience from the men in our communities and be believed?
What would it look like for Black women, the primary attendants and financial supporters of the Black Church, to demand accountability from the overwhelmingly male leadership in our pulpits?
The most troubling thing about Creflo’s statement was the overwhelming amount of support from his female parishioners. I can’t help but notice the admixture of fear and disappointment on the fifteen year old girls face in the above video (1:19) as her mother actively sides with Creflo for the cameras.
What would it mean for us to recognize that when we refuse to believe the testimony of other Black women and girls, it makes our own witness “for the Lord,” before the law, and before anyone else we need to believe us less credible?
Posted on: 04/29/10:
Ignoble Indifference invites Christians to do two things: 1) unequivocally condemn violence against gay and lesbian folks; and 2) charitably acknowledge that gay and lesbian Christians—a number of whom are conservative theologically, as Phillip Yancey notes in What’s So Amazing About Grace?—have theological reasons to account for their sexuality, an open and affirming church and so on.
To be clear, the second point is an invitation to charitable dialogue. One may or may not be convinced by certain accounts of Scripture, the Incarnation, creation, and so on—but let us be loving and intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that there is an argument concerning homosexuality (see Robert Gagnon and Dan Via w/ Zondervan’s "Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views" as an example of this), a debate over how to interpret Scripture, and fundamental questions about who we understand God to be and what it means to act ethically in the world.
Posted on: 03/01/10:
The Black Church Is Dead
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
The Black Church, as we've known it or imagined it, is dead. Of course, many African Americans still go to church. According to the PEW Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, 87 percent of African Americans identify with a religious group and 79 percent say that religion is very important in their lives. But the idea of this venerable institution as central to black life and as a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation has all but disappeared.To read the rest of the article, click here
Several reasons immediately come to mind for this state of affairs. First, black churches have always been complicated spaces. Our traditional stories about them -- as necessarily prophetic and progressive institutions -- run up against the reality that all too often black churches and those who pastor them have been and continue to be quite conservative. Black televangelists who preach a prosperity gospel aren't new. We need only remember Prophet Jones and Reverend Ike. Conservative black congregations have always been a part of the African American religious landscape. After all, the very existence of the Progressive Baptist Convention is tied up with a trenchant critique of the conservatism of the National Baptist Convention, USA. But our stories about black churches too often bury this conservative dimension of black Christian life.
Second, African American communities are much more differentiated. The idea of a black church standing at the center of all that takes place in a community has long since passed away. Instead, different areas of black life have become more distinct and specialized -- flourishing outside of the bounds and gaze of black churches. I am not suggesting that black communities have become wholly secular; just that black religious institutions and beliefs stand alongside a number of other vibrant non-religious institutions and beliefs.
Moreover, we are witnessing an increase in the numbers of African Americans attending churches pastored by the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren or Jentzen Franklin. These non-denominational congregations often "sound" a lot like black churches. Such a development, as Dr. Jonathan Walton reminded me, conjures up E. Franklin Frazier's important line in The Negro Church in America: "In a word, the Negroes have been forced into competition with whites in most areas of social life and their church can no longer serve as a refuge within the American community." And this goes for evangelical worship as well.
Thirdly, and this is the most important point, we have witnessed the routinization of black prophetic witness. Too often the prophetic energies of black churches are represented as something inherent to the institution, and we need only point to past deeds for evidence of this fact. Sentences like, "The black church has always stood for..." "The black church was our rock..." "Without the black church, we would have not..." In each instance, a backward glance defines the content of the church's stance in the present -- justifying its continued relevance and authorizing its voice. Its task, because it has become alienated from the moment in which it lives, is to make us venerate and conform to it.
But such a church loses it power. Memory becomes its currency. Its soul withers from neglect. The result is all too often church services and liturgies that entertain, but lack a spirit that transforms, and preachers who deign for followers instead of fellow travelers in God.
Black America stands at the precipice. African American unemployment is at its highest in 25 years. Thirty-five percent of our children live in poor families. Inadequate healthcare, rampant incarceration, home foreclosures, and a general sense of helplessness overwhelm many of our fellows. Of course, countless local black churches around the country are working diligently to address these problems.
The question becomes: what will be the role of prophetic black churches on the national stage under these conditions? Any church as an institution ought to call us to be our best selves -- not to be slaves to doctrine or mere puppets for profit. Within its walls, our faith should be renewed and refreshed. We should be open to experiencing God's revelation anew. But too often we are told that all has been said and done. Revelation is closed to us and we should only approximate the voices of old.
Posted on: 01/08/10:
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to stand on that platform, not knowing what would come of being made to stand docile while your body was searched, tested, inspected by hands you only knew to bring death. Not knowing, I am sure there was still much fearing, because the last three months on the boat packed full of humans, yet with each day losing humanity, proved just how much a man can feel less than. How much a woman can hate her womanhood, because of the extra injustice it seems to bring her. And how much a culture can vanish, though all around you are your sisters and brothers.
The slave auction block was a place were the degradation of humanity and the birth of American capitalism met. An account of that time describes a scene that every American, conscious human being, should be ashamed of.
Whether in a city slave market or on a plantation auction block, the “traffic in human flesh” was a grim scene recounted by many former slaves. They tell of being greased for display, stripped for meticulous examination, forced to dance to look healthy, rejected if too intelligent or too inclined to run away, beaten if they didn’t “induce the spectators to buy them,” and perhaps most painful, being separated forever from family .And while we stand on the retrospect side of the unfolding of the history of African American’s in the United States and of the capitalistic foundation of that country, we still can witness the lingering affects of when humanity and ideology collided. It seems humanity is still catching up. Capitalism has only been affirmed, at times, it seems, without question; even by those who can recount and feel what man can create with this tool. By the hands of sinful man, slavery and subsequent segregation has left the African American community searching to understand what it means to be made in God’s image, how to live (or, rather, often, merely cope) in a fallen world, what is the responsibility of the individual as an agent of change, and where is God amidst all of these wonderings and realities.
The Prosperity Gospel, also referred to as the Word of Faith movement, has sought, though primarily unintentionally, it seems, to answer these questions for the Black American Christian. This reality should seem unsurprising initially, for the Black church has always wrestled with what it means to be Black and Christian in America. But what is interesting is the pervasive materialistic element of this theology, the very element that aided in the oppression of the Black culture. To isolate this despairing truth as the whole truth concerning the Word of Faith movement in general, and in the black church specifically would be to unfairly caricature the movement and the people in it. This contextual theology provides many life-reaching, truthful answers to the questions that Blacks have asked in this country, mentioned previously. The prosperity gospel is all at once the realization and the retardation of Langston Hughes’ vision,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes,
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”.....
I, too, am America .
I’ll be at the table
When company comes,
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”.....
I, too, am America .
Before looking more closely at this contemporary freedom song of the Black church, it is important to understand some general truths concerning it.
Posted on: 10/08/09:
At the age of ten, I graduated from elementary school. During the ceremony, many peers spoke of their future vocation. They said things like, “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman.” When my turn came, I too spoke of my future vocation: “I want to be a pastor.” Today, as a licensed minister and student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I still desire to bring a pastoral dimension to my work. Looking back, it surprises me that God endowed me with the spiritual vision to perceive a glimpse of my future at such a young age.
These spiritual insights notwithstanding, I also experienced another problem: my natural vision was deteriorating. I went to the eye doctor expecting to have my condition assessed and remedied. The eye doctor—my mother—informed me that I needed a pair of glasses in order to see properly. As a doctor she possessed the expertise to pick out the right pair of glasses. Just as a near-sighted person cannot wear the glasses of a far-sighted person, the converse is also true. If the lenses in the glasses are too sharply or loosely focused, the vision of the patient will be obscured. Therefore, the task of the doctor in our scenario is twofold: accurately diagnose the patient and select the proper pair of glasses.
My fellow ministers, let me suggest that all of us need to take to a visit to the doctor. We already see through a glass darkly, but we, like much of hip-hop culture, possess a case of gender glaucoma that dims our spiritual vision. In Matthew 7:3-5, the Great Physician offers this diagnosis: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Considering the sexist setting of many of our sanctuaries, could it be that black clergy have taken a hypocritical stance with respect to our oratorical neighbors—hip-hop rappers? In response to this query, let us briefly set hip-hop in historical context, and then ponder three aspects of Jesus’ diagnosis for our spiritual vision.
Posted on: 09/17/09:
On the Road to Refuge
By Pete Muller
A radical church reaches out to queer communities.
By Pete Muller
A radical church reaches out to queer communities.
“You, and everything about you, is welcome in this house of God,” Pastor Kendal Brown declares as he removes thick-framed glasses to wipe sweat from his brow. “Welcome home.”To read the rest of the article, click here
His outstretched arms wave before him, palms open and extended toward a crimson crucifix at the front of the church. Members moved by the Holy Spirit run circles around pews filled with teary-eyed worshipers. Organs and drums invade the air with deafening force as members cry out in Pentecostal tongues.
Each Sunday, in the desolate town of Lanham, Maryland, north of Washington, Brown preaches the controversial doctrine of Radical Inclusion, an emerging trans-denominational philosophy that aims to provide safe, affirming space for those wounded by “oppressive,” traditional religion. His church, the City of Refuge, reconciles this concept of GLBT-focused, “affirming” worship with Pentecostalism, a branch of Christianity known for a conservative doctrine as well as intense worship styles, like speaking in tongues.
Under Brown's bold words, the church's wooden pews are growing warmer every week.
“For centuries, the church has been an integral aspect of African-American culture,” Brown explains. “Throughout our history, the church has served as a place of worship, community and organization.” For Black people of alternative sexual orientations, however, the conventional church, and many of its followers, pit faith against self-acceptance.
“There are so many congregations across the Washington, D.C. metro area where GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] persons are forced to check an essential part of their being at the door, while their gifts and talents are exploited Sunday after Sunday,” he says. In the City of Refuge, his passionate weekly sermons indicate that this ain’t your granddaddy’s Pentecost.
The City of Refuge's doctrine of Radical Inclusion casts a wide net around the castaways of conventional churches. On a typical Sunday, the turnout reflects the church's targeted base: the poor, same-gender-loving and transgender people, people living with HIV and AIDS, recovering drug users, and the formerly incarcerated. Many members arrived in Lanham only after years of painful searching for a place that fit.
“Pentecostalism, the notion of holiness and living in strict codes of behavior, [does] not have a lot of flexibility for same-gender-loving persons,” says Associate Pastor Cedric Harmon, a spry and energetic St. Louis native. City of Refuge's progressive concept of “being affirming” he adds, “was a watershed for many people who never thought that they could be part of a Pentecostal environment and yet remain true to who they are.”
The City of Refuge leadership actively reaches out to local Black communities, many of which trace their roots back to historical migration from the Deep South, where traditional cultures of worship prevail.
“Most affirming churches... don’t offer the celebrated forms of worship that are grounded in the African-American tradition,” says Brown, referring to the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and gospel-singing that define Sunday services at the City of Refuge. Brown believes that many same-gender-loving Black Christians would feel out of step without “participatory” worship. “Affirming churches that lack traditional African-American worship,” he says, “set up yet another dynamic where [Black] GLBT persons have to leave another part of them at the door.”
Posted on: 05/21/09:
This is a fascinating story to follow for so many different reasons.
Growing up in a black, Pentecostal family in Cleveland, Alysa Stanton never imagined the day when she would be preparing to be ordained as a Jewish rabbi.To read the rest of the article, click here
But that day will come June 6 for the single mother who will be ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, becoming the first African-American female rabbi in the world.
"Ten years ago, if someone said I was going to be a rabbi, I would have laughed," Stanton, 45, told ABCnews.com. "Me, a spiritual leader?"
Soon-to-be rabbi Stanton and her daughter Shana, 14, whom she adopted when she was 14 months old, will move to Greenville, N.C., in August, where Stanton will take her spot behind the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom, which is both conservative and reform.
First Female Black Rabbi
Stanton, a reform Jew, said that her mother encouraged her to explore different religions as a young child and that, at the age of 9, she was already asking her priest to teach her about Kaballah, which focuses on the mystical aspect of Judaism.
Then, at age 10, she received her first Hebrew grammar book from her devout Christian uncle who made it a habit to attend Jewish ceremonies, as well as his own. By her early 20s, Stanton said she'd decided to convert.
"Most people convert because they're marrying or dating someone who is Jewish or for another reason other than just picking that spiritual path," Stanton said.
"I did so because it was the path for me," she said. "Not only from a religious standpoint but from an ethical and social and communal standpoint, it was important to me."
Stanton Garners Mixed Reaction from Jewish Community
Twenty percent of the U.S. Jewish population, or about 1.2 million people, are diverse, meaning black, Asian, Latino or mixed race, according to the Institute for Jewish and Community Outreach in San Francisco.
"What's important here is not that this is the first black woman rabbi but rather that it's a symbol of a great change in the American Jewish community, which is becoming much more diverse because of things like conversions, intermarriage and adoption," said Jonathan Sarna, an expert on U.S. Judaism at Brandeis University in Boston.
"That is a change that is really significant," Sarna said. "That a community that even 50 years ago was rather monolithic, so much so that people thought they could look at someone and see if he 'looked Jewish.'
"This is a reminder that the chosen people, so to speak, is not one race or another race but are in fact a range of races," he said. "While Jews remain united by a bond of peoplehood as well as religion, that bond is not characterized in racial terms."
Posted on: 04/21/09:
Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems on religious fundamentalism:
Twenty-five years ago when I was a young zealous seminarian studying to be a minister I slipped an unsigned piece of paper under a professor’s door that read MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN (roughly translated “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting”). I slipped the Aramaic portent of doom under my professor’s door because I believed the position he’d taken on a particular issue on campus at the time proved that he was unsaved, racist, and evil. I was wrong.
I was wrong for wrenching those words from Daniel 5:25 and using them to repudiate someone I disagreed with.
I was wrong for thinking I knew God well enough to know what plans God had in store for my professor.
Whether my professor was unsaved, racist, and evil, as I believed, or not, I had no business doing what I did. I was wrong for trying to get back at him in that militant sort of way that Christians have for settling scores, namely by hurling random passages from the bible at someone I perceived an enemy.
Worst of all, I was wrong for fanatically believing somehow that I was doing God’s will in slipping that unsigned note under my professor’s door.
Karen Armstrong, a celebrated historian of religion, is someone I turn to when I want to understand why religious people do the things they do. Especially religious fundamentalists. Armstrong focuses on the rise of religious fundamentalist movements in the 20th century in her book, The Battle for God which is a great way for describing what fuels fundamentalism whether it’s Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, or Islamic fundamentalism.
Writing about all three fundamentalist movements, says Armstrong: “They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil.”
I certainly saw myself as in a battle with my professor for the soul of our campus. I was convinced, along with other students who shared my religious beliefs, that the battle we were in with the administration was larger than the parties involved, that it was a battle between the forces of God verses the forces of, well, the “un-God.” It was “us” vs. “them,” and, believe me, it feels intoxicating to believe it’s you and God against the world.
However imperfect the word “fundamentalism” may be for describing such a complex phenomenon, it’s as good as any when it comes to trying to capture a position that sees modernity as a threat to God and that urges a return to some idealized past and set of doctrines steeped in a world that’s long gone.
Here’s what I know for sure as a former fundamentalist.
It’s a short bus ride from fundamentalism to fanaticism.
What I mean is that fundamentalists love reading tea leaves. Tragedy and misfortune are a specialty. In fundamentalism, all adversity is a test. Every disagreement is a battle. Every difference of an opinion has cosmic implications. Which explains why fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were quick to get on the news and proclaim that the collapse of the World Trade Center was God’s judgment for the sins of the secular humanists in the U.S.
Whether it’s flying planes into buildings, gunning down medical personnel who work in abortion clinics, strapping on bombs and detonating them in synagogues and mosques, assassinating heads-of-state and toppling governments, brandishing guns and bats at church meetings, labeling those whom you disagree with theologically as evil or the devil, slipping notes of condemnation under a seminary professor’s door, or dashing off long, rambling emails filled with bible verses masquerading as prophecies (of doom) – fanatics are not only convinced that they know God’s will. Fanatics convince themselves that they are doing God a favor by the cruel, unloving acts they commit “against the enemies of God.”
Thinking back on it now, when I wrote my third book, Listening For God, I was not, as the jacket cover says, writing simply about the waxing and waning of the faith. I was writing about the death for me of a particular kind of faith. I still believed in God. I just no longer believed in the kind of God I once believed in. I still read my bible, I just stopped asking it for answers it was never meant to yield. I still believed myself to be a Christian. I just no longer believed there was only one way to be a Christian. That is a hard realization to awaken to when you’re a young black girl from the Protestant south. Things were no longer either black or white, so to speak. And that was a kind of death for me. I still loved and longed for God, and still do. There’s just no place in my heart for a particular sort of belief anymore.
Instead of demonizing him, I should have made an appointment with my professor and talked to him about our differences. I should have risked hearing him out. I should have tried to find common ground. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to see the world through his eyes. I didn’t want to understand him. Above all, I didn’t want him to see how scared I was of him. I wanted to be in the right, and in order for that to happen, someone had to be wrong.
I’ve been in lots of other ideological scuffles since I slipped that note under my professor’s door. I’ve even lived long enough now to become the professor who walks in to find anonymous slips of paper under her door and anonymous emails filled with God talk in her box. When I’m feeling charitable, I smile and remember. I remember what it feels like to be zealous for God. I also remember what it feels to use God to mask your fears.
What made you change? someone wants to know right now. If only, there were simple answers. What makes anyone change? Life. And being open to mystery. As well as being open to contradictions and being wrong, I suppose.
A few years after I slipped that note with the words MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN under my professor’s door, his wife got sick and died a slow painful death. A short time after that, so did my mother
Posted on: 02/27/09:
Jonathan Walton’s new book, Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism, is a much-needed contribution to African American religious scholarship. I suspect many on “the left” will be surprised and “the right” more nuanced for having engaged Walton’s research and analysis. Way to go, Dr. Walton for this courageous undertaking!
Here's an interview with Dr. Walton about his book:
What inspired you to write Watch This?To read the rest of the article, click here
My interest in African American religious broadcasting came from what I perceived to be the gaps in the fields of African American religion and Religion, Media, and Culture. For the most part, scholars of African American religion in general and black theology in particular theorize about Afro-Protestantism in America according to a particular historiography that privileges liberal Protestantism in general, and civil rights motifs in particular. But the prevailing narrative of the freedom-fighting “black church” is in many ways inconsistent with a number of African American Christians whose view of the faith is informed by Trinity Broadcasting, the Word Network, and Streaming Faith.com. Just the same, for sociologists and communication theorists who have examined the world of evangelical religious broadcasting, it is predominantly framed as the domain of the white, religious right.
This book, then, is my attempt to illumine, unpack, and interrogate the theological and social orientations of prominent black religious broadcasters in order to understand them as a source of attraction and ethically evaluate their dominant messages.
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
The world of religious broadcasting cannot be reduced to an arena of hucksters and snake-oil salesmen. Nor should we reduce viewers and participants to passive, uncritical spectators; folks are not mere “suckers” trapped in a cage of Marxian false-consciousness. Black religious broadcasters convey a message of self-love, self-determination and personal transformation that many find empowering. This is not to suggest that deceit and manipulation are not part of the game. The huckster image is not completely unfounded. But we cannot deny the moral agency or critical posture of participants who turn on the television, purchase a DVD, or attend these megachurches who bring possess their own spiritual aims, interests and concerns. While researching this book I came to discover that many persons are able to “eat the fish, yet spit out the bones.”
Posted on: 07/28/08:
From USA Today:
Churches nationwide are fretting and sweating to reel men into their sanctuaries on Sundays.To read the rest of the article, click here
Women outnumber men in attendance in every major Christian denomination, and they are 20% to 25% more likely to attend worship at least weekly.
Although every soul matters, many pastors say they need to power up on reaching men if the next generation of believers, the children, will find the way to faith. So hundreds of churches are going for a "guy church" vibe, programming for a stereotypical man's man.
"I hear about it everywhere I go," says Brandon O'Brien, who detailed the evolution of the chest-thumping evangelism trend this spring in Christianity Today.
IDEA CLUB: Is manliness next to Godliness?
One church, 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, outside Dallas, was even designed with dudes in mind, from the worship center's stone floor, hunter-green and amber decor and rustic-beam ceilings to woodsy scenes on the church website.
No pastels. No flowers. No sweet music. No sit-with-your-hands-folded mood. Women are welcome, but the tone is intentionally "guy church" for a reason, says Ross Sawyers, founder and pastor of 121.
"I have read that if a child comes to Christ, 12% of the time the whole family will follow," Sawyers says.
"If the mom comes, there's a 15% chance the family will. But if the man comes to church, 90% of the time the family will come along behind.
"That's the reality, and that's why we do this."