You may have seen the story on your social media feed: “Schoolboys grabbed suicidal man and refused to let him jump” blared the UK Daily Mail. That headline accompanied a picture of a serious Shawn Young, Davonte Cafferkey, and Sammy Farah, ages 12, 13, and 14 respectively, at the time.
The boys had been “loitering” on the way home from school, recalled Young’s mother, and as they were about to cross an overpass in Hertfordshire—about 30 miles North of London—a passing adult told them to go another way because a disturbed man was on the bridge.
Their sense of mischief and curiosity aroused, they proceeded across anyway. There they found a distraught 21-year old man with a rope. His face was red and he was crying quietly, but sweating and breathing heavily. He tied the rope around part of the bridge, tossed his keys and phone to the boys and told them not to answer if anyone called. He put the rope around his neck and climbed over the railing.
This pressed the boys into smart and aggressive “textbook” action,” said Carol Young. Cafferkey and Farah clutched the man for dear life while Shawn ran for help. The young man became dead weight there on top of that bridge, over the busy highway. He slipped in and out of consciousness while the boys yelled at him: “Don’t do this! Think of your family! You’re too young to die!”
Ultimately, two other passerby assisted the boys in bringing the man to safety and averting the loss of life.
“A few weeks after,” Shawn told Message recently, “he came to Devontae’s house to meet us. He brought us flowers and cards. He said he was grateful; he wasn’t really thinking properly.”
The kernel of truth buried in this story with a happy ending is what support for people living with mental illness is all about. That’s because when you rewind, you realize that it was an adult who told the boys to avoid crossing the bridge where a “crazy man” was up there doing some strange things. Instead, like the Bible’s “Good Samaritan” who risked his life to come to the aid of a person in need—all while other, qualified and seemingly spiritual people passed by—the boys stepped in anyway.
“Shawn was brought up as a child to attend church. His belief is there. He’s had training,” said his mother who took her children to work in the community “religiously,” and taught them to look after people who need looking after.
As a Seventh-day Adventist, for whom belief in the wholistic health message of the Bible is critical, I was taught early to “Trust in Divine Power,” a helpful, hopeful approach to well-being that most certainly includes mental wellness.
“Trust in divine power boosts positive emotions and helps neutralize negative emotions, serving both to enhance life and increase coping skills as negative life events are put into proper context,” writes Lillian Kent, in an article “The Adventist “Health Message” Unpacked, www.ministrymagazine.org. “Individuals with these beliefs have greater well-being, happiness, hope, optimism, and gratefulness and are less likely to experience depression, suicide, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, delinquency, crime, and marital instability.”
Yet, traditionally communities of faith and the faithful struggle with incorporating psychological and psychiatric support with religious or spiritual belief and practice. Longstanding suspicions widened the gulf between science and faith. That left many to struggle alone in stigma, or in anonymity, or in abuse.
“Most services of worship are silent about the mental and emotional problems among those present,” according to an article by Clark Aist, Ph.D, a former director of Chaplain Services and Rehabilitation Services Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, for Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C. “They are not lifted in prayer or sermons, nor mentioned in social hour conversations. This conspiracy of silence serves to perpetuate the stigma associated with mental health conditions.”
With mental illness affecting “tens of millions” of people in the United States, and only an estimated half of the people affected getting treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, there is room for more discussion, education, and intervention. In our houses of worship, cited Aist, it is estimated that one in four families has someone living with a mental illness. At that rate, we can no longer afford to stigmatize mental illness, or simply pray it away, but actually use a hands-on effort to look after people who need looking after.
This article is part of our 2019 March / April Issue Subscribe –>
Bryan Stevenson’s Monumental Task
HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE, DEATH PENALTY ADVERSARY, BRYAN STEVENSON
Sees healing on the horizon but not before we do the hard work of remembrance and. repentance
Lord, How Come We Here?
Election night, 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama. Sports bars, restaurants and hotels flickered with scrolling results on television’s Fox News. Downtown streets were quiet except for a lounge singer covering 80s hits on a hotel patio.
Confederate statues and the Confederate White House sat just a block away. Gentrified buildings and swank food joints inhabit the spaces under Montgomery’s famous archways and over its tunnels that used to accommodate slave trafficking. But, in the city where Rosa Parks sat down to take a stand, and Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, the lights at Equal Justice Initiative were on.
It was an act of Congress in 1994 that propelled EJI founder Bryan Stevenson to open the organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Alabama was the only state that failed to provide legal defense for people with death sentences.
Since then the Harvard Law School graduate successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to give children 17 years-old and under life without parole—basically a sentence to die in prison. And, in 2016, the court decided it should apply the rule retroactively, giving more than 2000 people who grew up in prison, a chance at review and release.
The organization’s most lauded cases helped spring innocent men, at least 125 of them, from death row. He captured his life story and early work with EJI in the acclaimed 2014 bestseller, Just Mercy, which makes it to the big screen in 2020 starring Michael B. Jordan.
Like the mythical Sisyphus, Stevenson finds himself in a punishing, uphill struggle for justice. Because systemic problems such as policing bias and lack of representation result in mass incarceration, disproportionately affecting black and brown people, he has found it necessary to address the myth of racial differences, white supremacy and the enduring effects of enslavement. To do this, he sought funding for and built the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.
The memorial’s visually arresting and massive iron monuments, suspended from the rafters, “bleed” in the rain. The museum in a small, but powerful U-shaped exhibit, hammers the point home: this isn’t over yet.
“Even in our communities we haven’t wanted to talk about it,” Stevenson said for an exclusive interview with Message. “We felt as if our survival required us to be silent in our coping with this. That’s where our fore parents made the biggest difference. They taught us to stand up, when people said sit down. Speak up when people say be quiet. You have to find the courage to tell our truths.”
From the time one walks into the Legacy museum, Stevenson’s point is easy to access. The museum starts with a short walk down a dark hallway, the end of which confronts the spirit with ghostlike figures whose eyes peer through history and whose voices sing the question on everyone’s mind: “Lord, How Come We Here?”
Stevenson draws a straight line from genocide of Native peoples to our history of enslavement, racial terror, Jim Crow, voter suppression, the “war on drugs” to today’s racial profiling and racially imbalanced mass incarceration. We’re here because we haven’t dealt with the consuming disease and public health threat of racism.
“We gotta talk about the fact that we live in a post-genocide society: that what happened to native people when Europeans came to this continent was a genocide. And we didn’t deal with it as if it was genocide. We said ‘no, those Native people are savages.’ We used this rhetoric, that’s rooted in race, to justify that violence. And that’s why, for me, the great evil of American slavery wasn’t involuntary servitude. It wasn’t forced labor. It was this ideology that we created that black people weren’t like white people. It was this myth, this narrative of racial difference.”
Old South Romanticism
The corrupt narrative makes romanticizing Old South history possible, while ignoring the effects of domestic terror, and the Great Migration of black people away from it. The narrative ignores the trauma and humiliation of “White” and “Colored” iconography that cemented the ideas of racial differences in the psyche.
“And today, we still live in a country [where] this infection, this disorder, this disease continues to manifest itself,” said Stevenson. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a person of faith, doesn’t matter whether you’re a bishop, minister or elder, a kind person. [It] doesn’t matter if you’re a great student; doesn’t matter if you’re an architect; doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer or doctor. If you’re black or brown, you go places in this country, and you’re going to have to navigate presumptions of danger and guilt. We unconsciously are doing things all the time to manage these presumptions that we have to overcome, and it’s exhausting.”
Observe the 59 markers to the confederacy in Montgomery, two high schools named for Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, and a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., shared with Lee. This is a far cry from the remembrance and attempts at healing, visible across the landscapes in South Africa, Rwanda, and Germany. One cannot be there without being confronted by chilling, shameful results of hatred.
“There are no Adolf Hitler statues in Germany. There are no swastikas. But, in this country, we haven’t talked about slavery. We haven’t talked about lynching. We haven’t talked about segregation. We have confederate symbols everywhere.”
Confession—not punishment, not guilt-mongering—leads to repentance and redemption.
“There’s something that comes after that—that is cleansing, that is emerging. That’s how redemption happens. And we haven’t done that as a society. So yes, we want to talk honestly, directly, about the pain, shame, and the heartache and the brutality of enslavement. We want people to see these monuments and understand the trauma and terror and the taunting and the menacing that people of color had to go through. And then we want them to tell the truth. I really do believe after truth comes redemption, comes reconciliation.”
Old Rugged Cross
Speaking of a “come to Jesus moment,” it is time for the faithful to revisit the “fixation and fascination with the death penalty.” And, though the Bible permitted capital punishment, Stevenson argues, Biblical principles of fairness and humility must also be applied, and in doing so, people of conscience cannot support the death penalty today.
“For me, it’s not about the morality of the death penalty, the propriety of the death penalty. I think, at least in this country, the threshold question is not do people deserve to die for the crimes they’ve committed; I think the threshold question is do we deserve to kill?”
Fact: for every 10 people sentenced to die in the United States, one of them is innocent, Stevenson said. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty clarified this statistic a few years ago. “As of October 2015, we have executed over 1,414 individuals in this country since 1976. 156 individuals have been exonerated from death row—that is, found to be innocent and released —since 1973. In other words, for every 10 people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S., one person has been set free.” ( http://www.ncadp.org/pages/innocence )
What Does The Lord Require?
Such a high error rate leading to death would not be tolerated in any other setting. Further, the historical track record of racially motivated policing and prosecutions, and a lack of access to sound representation also creates unfairness. “And,” said Stevenson, “we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty, then if you’re poor and innocent.”
What does the Lord require? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God, (Micah 6:8). Yet, in a system of justice that fails so often, it is arrogance to continue to exact life as a penalty, Stevenson argues.
Of Hymns and Hypocrites
Further, and better, the prophet’s message supports lives of the vulnerable and at-risk populations if the faithful internalized it. That’s what Stevenson thought while listening to strains of the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross,” while sitting across the table from a condemned man. The man was completely shaved and prepared for the electric chair.
I couldn’t help but think, ‘yeah, where were they when you were three and your mom died? Where were they when you were six and you were being abused? Where were they when you were nine and you were being sexually assaulted? Where were they when you were 13 and you were experimenting with drugs? Where were they when you came back from Vietnam and were traumatized from that injury? I know where they were when you were accused—they were lined up to execute you.
Not only does mercy say, ‘No,” mercy understands that each individual—including those condemned in the system—is worth more than the worst thing he or she has ever done.
Bryan Stevenson doesn’t look like what he’s been through. Fit and trim, youthful and well-rested just isn’t how one pictures a tireless, overworked CEO and legal advocate. It is not how one imagines a person burdened with the task of saving people from death row, and uplifting humanity. As Rosa Parks once told him, “You’re going to be tired, tired, tired.”
Stevenson grew up in poor, rural Delaware, and attended “colored” schools until Brown v. Board of Education made it possible for him to access public school education. He excelled in his academics and sports, even playing the organ and singing with the church choir. Yet, to Stevenson, his social consciousness—developed partly through hearing the constant struggle of the men and women during testimony time at their African Methodist Episcopal Church—found no outlet in his Harvard Law School experience.
Stevenson turned to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and resigned himself to being a policy wonk, or, yet another unfulfilled dreamer in a dreary law career. It was when he worked as an intern for the Georgia Southern Prisoners Defense Committee that Stevenson met a man condemned to die. Nervous, and fearing he could only disappoint his client with his inexperience, he sat down for what would have been an hour interview. That hour turned into a three-hour life-changing experience.
Seeing himself in that young black man, Stevenson bonded over the conversation, learning about the case, the man’s family, and his life. When guards burst in to end the session, angry because it had gone on so long, they grabbed his client. They pushed and shoved, chained and shackled, and pinched his flesh with handcuffs, leaving Stevenson stunned at the violence.
“Bryan,” said his client, “don’t worry about this. You just come back.”
“And that young man closed his eyes, just put his head back and started singing: “I’m pressing on, the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day, still praying as I’m onward bound, and he said, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground. . .”
Stevenson knew then he found his mission, one he says now animates his life and engages his heart, and that is to help condemned people to find higher ground.
“When you are mission-aligned, when you actually get to do the thing that fulfills you and makes you feel like you’re serving the way you’re supposed to serve, you wrestle, but you don’t wrestle with God. You wrestle with the challenges, the obstacles and complexities of what it means to be as effective as you possibly can.”
Remembrance: bring a marker and memorial to a county near you.
Watch for the movie Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan
Carmela Monk Crawford, editor of Message, with David Person the owner of David Person Media, LLC. Since 1986, he has been working as a broadcaster, journalist, documentary director, and media consultant.
2019 January / February Issue
BRYAN STEVENSON’S MONUMENTAL TASK
BRYAN STEVENSON BELIEVES IN TRUTH, REDEMPTION, AND RECONCILIATION IN THAT ORDER.
13 Grab Hold of Your God, Your Provider
by Ruthven Philip / Work this program of faith and financial freedom.
14 Monumental Task
by Carmela Monk Crawford and David Person / Author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson on remembrance and repentence.
17 Racial Facts and Fictions
by Jean Emmanuel Nlo Nlo / Celebrate the truth that sets us free from myth of colonial Christianity.
20 1619 Redux
by Malcolm Luther / It’s 2019; are you really free?
22 Sabbath Rest
by Alicia Jones / When your spirit is weary as the mother of a newborn, a good Sabbath rest is what you need.
In 2018 Alabamians voted decisively to change their state Constitution to allow for the display of the Bible’s Ten Commandments in its schools and courthouses. Not since their Constitution was put in place in 1901, has there been this kind of push for something that seems so, unconstitutional.
“Displaying the Ten Commandments on public property, like Christmas Nativity Scenes, is constitutional when it has a secular context only and/or when it is joined in a display of secular patriotic symbols or objects,” says Greg Hamilton, President of the Northwest Religious Liberty Association. “But it is not constitutional as a stand-alone display or symbol on public property.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I still believe in the Word of God. I still believe in His commandments. In His law, is the way of life (see Proverbs 6:23, and compare with Romans 8:2 and Galatians 3:21). But, with this vote, the damage has already been done.
Dean Young, a long-time supporter of former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy E. Moore, and recalcitrant advocate of the Ten Commandments display, was the single highest donor for the Ten Commandments Amendment. Young contributed $27,000 to continue the fight. He, though, erroneously implicated the conscience on two fronts.
First, he characterized the addition of the Constitutional Amendment as a vote for God, and by implication and conversely, a vote against this amendment as a vote against God.
Second, Young also mischaracterized the very people who fight to preserve religious freedom.
“The bad guys are coming: Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the ACLU,” Moore said in a video advertisement released last spring before the vote. “Fake teachers, fake preachers, because they don’t want our children being taught that there is a right and there is a wrong. They don’t want our children being taught that the 10 Commandments were given to us by God, the creator, the same God that’s acknowledged four times in our Declaration of Independence.”
Will our records in heaven reflect our support of this issue? What is the balance required of our consciences, while allowing others who may believe differently to do the same?
Get straight. “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men[.]” Isaiah 29:13.
God’s word is so on point: 1. Follow Him more than just with words. Let your dedication be seen in your life according to His word. 2. Mere humans don’t prescribe what it means to honor God. He does. If you believe in His commandments, follow them. All of them, including the seventh-day Sabbath, the only commandment humans substituted out.
As Democratic Representative Berry Forte told Al.com, “It’s not important to display the Ten Commandments, but to live by them. The devil can display the Ten Commandments.”
Give Caesar what is his, and to God what belongs to Him. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? The religious teachers sought to define the parameters between church and state in Jesus’ day. Unfortunately, their inquiry was not for information sake, but to set a trap for Jesus. Three of the gospels capture the moment in which Jesus skillfully neutralizes them. His answer still stands. Decide: is this a heart and mind area reserved for God’s direction, or is this an area of life, governed by the laws of the land? Is there a conflict between the two? How will you resolve it? (Acts 5:29)
Are you helping God by using methods in contravention of His will?
The Bible tracks the stories of two people who thought they could help God. Uzzah tried to catch the ark of the covenant as it almost tumbled to the ground. For that, he was summarily killed. Harsh? God allowed no one to touch the ark of the covenant. Judas thought he would advance the kingdom of God by selling out Jesus. Why didn’t the three years of Jesus’ teaching arrest his own ambitions?
Religious freedom will be a central issue in the hearts and consciences of God’s people before the Second Advent. Take your stand now, and always, by being and reaching.
This article is part of our 2019 January/February Subscribe –>
2018 November / December
THE STATE OF CHURCH AND SEX
13 Five Fine-Tuning Tips for Your Finances
by Ruthven Philip / Everyday course corrections and strategies to protect your bottom line.
When comedian Bill Cosby wentaway for three years mediaplayed up the meal for his first night in the Collegeville, Pennsylvania SCI Phoenix. With great interest we learned that the man America once considered its favorite dad was served mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, meatballs and rice for dinner. Make no mistake. One of the richest and celebrated men in the world, didn’t order from a menu. He had no choice.
The Cos taught us so much about family, responsibility, success and achievement. Yet he apparently missed the transcendent value and moral absolute of choice. For that, a stint in a place with no choices, is more than appropriate.
The overarching and underpinning critical value of personal choice, and the ability to determine one’s destiny is a spiritual non-negotiable. God respects our choices. Why shouldn’t we?
As painful as it was to watch and hear, respect for personal choice is why now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s background and experience had to be examined. No family name, prep school access, or stellar performance should cancel out disrespect for personal choice.
This is why a 30 year-old accusation of attempted and unwanted sexual contact was relevant. Any credible account would place him at fatal odds with claims of loyalty and adherence to the moral law. It even goes against the American value of self-determination that cries defiantly “Don’t tread on me!”
This would provide an attack on “a woman’s choice” in more ways than one.
Question authority when you find that your choice, your choices, are curtailed in the name of morality and goodness.
Closer to home, we read, with great disappointment of a loved and trusted church school teacher, who made a devastating choice to start a sexual relationship with his teenaged student. In his case, what appeared as a consensual (albeit ill-advised and adulterous) liaison will be forbidden by law. That’s called statutory rape. The law provides protection for people, who can’t really choose. Whether because of a mental disability, or because of youth, the overmastering influence of a teacher, a priest, or a family friend (as examples), would be too much to resist. We, therefore, deem them unable to give consent. They cannot, by law, make that choice.
While it is not my intent to create a treatise entry here for the concept of consent and choice, I do want to highlight a spiritual dimension we should examine. Bible believers remember that God thought so much of choice, that even in the face of devastation, He made provision for it.
The Eden account shows an Omniscient God creating perfection, harmony, beauty and communion with Him. Yet, this same Omniscient God, left the window open, the back door ajar. Humanity could, and did, walk right through it (Genesis 3:2-6). We’ve had to pay the price ever since.
Since, Jesus died on the cross that is. But, read how Jesus honored choice in His death. “One of you is going to betray Me,” He said while dining with His closest companions. Some were introspective. One, Judas, determined to make his choice anyway, and was left to his own devices (Matthew 26:25).
Then, look at what Jesus did while hanging upon the cross. He, who was at the fulcrum of faith and destiny, in the crosshairs of Satan’s devising, when offered the comfort of a sip of sour wine, small as it was, refused it (Matthew 27:34). His capacity to choose and His ultimate destiny could not be compromised.
Knowing that He endured this torture, with a clear head, to make a way for me to choose Him and choose life makes my heart beat. It sends a life-syncing probe into the richness of His supply where I am filled with His love and security. That is my choice.
Red flags have to go up when people minimize personal consent, or such violations because of one’s record, standing, or religious orientation. We didn’t do it for Cosby. It won’t happen for that church school teacher. When a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll reported that forty-eight percent of the white evangelical Christians polled thought that Kavanaugh should be confirmed, even if the allegations against him were true, we remembered another interest at play, however. The longstanding desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the ability of a woman to choose an abortion, tipped the scale. Kavanaugh would presumably vote to do so. How much were we willing to compromise? Ironically, many would be willing to negate the critical value of personal consent to overturn “choice.” It’s consistent, at least.
We challenge believers to critically examine their positions of morality. Question authority when you find that your choice, your choices, are curtailed in the name of morality and goodness. Seems to me, to choose is Divine, and a place with no choice is hell.
This article is part of our 2018 November/December Subscribe –>
Giving Tuesday and our Hope For The Forgotten campaign for people who are incarcerated and their families. Together when can share something of lasting value, a message of ultimate mercy and justice. #GivingTuesday #messagemag
You’ve heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you ever participated in Giving Tuesday?
What’s Giving Tuesday? Excellent question! In the midst of the holiday season, where so much of the activities in our society centers around material possessions, Giving Tuesday is a day to shift our focus onto how we can help others.
Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to donate towards a specific organization or fund that serves the community. Here at Message, we’re focusing our Giving Tuesday efforts on maxing out the campaign to send subscriptions to 100,000 incarcerated people or their families. This will help us reach the oft forgotten with the light of the gospel.
So far this year, we’ve helped thousands through this fund and have the goal of serving more. Go to www.messagemagazine.com/donate and help us reach our goal! God will bless you for it, and He’ll bless the reader!
2018 September/October Issue
FIGHTING FOR OUR FAMILIES
13 Payday Loans and the Fight for Economic Justice
by Ruthven Philip / Welcome to the cycle of hell where ends don’t meet.
14 Separating Children at the Border: What’s at Stake
by Alva James-Johnson / They quoted scripture, yet the Bible clearly provides for “people on the move.”
16 Flipping the System
by Patti Thomas Conwell / Meet Madeline McClenny-Sadler, an advocate for Restorative Justice.
18 Putting Up Guardrails: Keep our kids out of jail
by Patti Thomas Conwell / Focus on these techniques to hold them safe and close.
20 Five Teachings Your Family Needs for Spiritual Preparedness
by Sonya and Derrick McCollum / Start here. Start now. Reach your own family for Christ.
22 Got Guilt?
by David Defoe / It’s been too many years, and you’ve shed too many tears. Time to live free.