Charleston Clergy: Here For You

The “Holy City” sits in awe and disbelief as we try to bear the enormous weight of the knowledge that on Wednesday evening, June 17, 2015, the unthinkable happened. As a minister of the gospel, I am struggling to wrap my head around the heinous crime that took place just a few miles away from the church I pastor, the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Church. After talking with other members of the clergy in the area, I found that we are all at a loss for words. In fact as we try to make sense of something that makes no sense, the common conclusion was simply: He that shall come, will come!

As I stood before my own congregants that same Wednesday evening, a young man that did not look like me entered the sanctuary. I had no inkling of the events beginning to unfold at Mother Emanuel, and as usual, we invited him in with open arms. At the conclusion of our service, we sat in my office for about 20 minutes as I searched high and low to find the assistance that he needed. An hour later, chills ran down my spine as I realized the mirror image of my own experience, and that of Clementa Pinckney, and how similar our stories could have ended.
Although I did not work with Senator Pinckney often, the time we did spend together, most recently after the death of Walter Scott, (the unarmed Black man shot eight times in the back by a North Charleston Police Officer), allowed me to see and know that the words spoken of him in death were exemplified in life.

Since the deaths of the #Emanuel9, people began to gather immediately upon hearing the news of the shooting. Every day since has seen a surge of people, looking for solace, looking for hope and looking for answers.

One pastor, recounted his anger and angst, but remembered that people were counting on him to be strong even when it seems that our strength has been stolen. The general consensus is that we, as a community of many races, creeds and people, have been shaken to our core, but in spite of it all, there is still hope in love and power in prayer.

As I sit here and reflect on my own life, the reality of the matter is that I must face my own fears. I am speaking of fear as a man, as an African American in the Deep South, where the confederate flag still stands high above our state capitol building.

And as I come to grips with my reality, I am not overcome by fear that my life will be taken as much as I am overcome by the fear that there are still some that have not experienced God’s amazing grace salvation, the fact that we are living in the last days, and the necessity of putting one’s life in order to make Heaven their final home. I am afraid that even in the midst of this tragedy, there are still those that refuse to accept the right of decision given to them at the beginning of time, and using that same right to make Jesus their final choice. By no means should this tragedy be diminished; in fact, it is a stark reminder that we as the church triumphant have a work to do, hearts to touch, prayers to pray, and souls to win in order for our Lord and Savior to return. Charleston has been dubbed “The Holy City” because of the number of churches that line the city streets and call us to repentance. Clearly, the call must resonate louder, ring clearer and burn deeper in our hearts so that we go into all the world and share the love of Jesus Christ!

Sunday morning as I went to Mother Emanuel to attend the first worship service since the horrific scenes of the fateful night, the call to worship and pray reverberated with thousands. Some were greeted by members of various churches including Awaken Church, whose members wore orange tee shirts that read “HERE FOR YOU” and took pleasure in handing out water in the heat of 95-degrees.

Inside Mother Emanuel, the words of “Total Praise” could be heard as worship began. Joseph Riley, dubbed as the Nation’s Mayor, stood alongside Governor Niki Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, the Presiding Prelate of the Seventh- Episcopal District, along with other dignitaries as well as the congregants of Mother Emanuel Church.

As the thousands heard the song, “What shall I Render?” many searched their own hearts privately, wondering what service they could offer to unify a city touched so deeply by this act. Norvell Goff, the presiding elder of the Edisto District of the State Conference of the AME Church, took the podium and spoke eloquently of the nine lives taken, the deep wounds that have been created by this act, and the work that remains for the living. “The shooter intended a race war; today he got all races joined together in the one way that despite race and creed, we all could be united: prayer and love.”

So what do I take away from all of this? I am still trying to figure it out. Some days I’m in a daze and other days I am fielding calls from parishioners and community members that still want answers. Where do we go from here? Well as a city, as a community and as a church, we’ve made up our minds that we shall overcome. We will band together as one unit and continue to fight the good fight of faith.




Are You Mad Enough?

“Are You Mad Enough?”

I was saddened, disgusted, disturbed, but not surprised at the recent church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. The killing of innocent Black people is back en vogue. The slaughter of American citizens with darker hues of skin seems to be all the rage again.

While it may seem that I have arrived at a fatalistic viewpoint, this is far from the truth. Neither am I naive enough to be optimistic and think that things will just get better with time. Both fatalism and optimism lead to a “hands off” approach. I believe how we feel about these tragedies does not matter as much as what we are going to do in response.

While I am not surprised by these racially charged acts of domestic terrorism, I am surprised at the lack of response by the church, particularly when we espouse Jesus as our example. Howard Thurman remarked on the connection between the impotency of the Christian Church and the lack of our application to the social conditions people live in when he said, “to those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail.”

The Jesus we serve gave us a different example. It is recorded in Mark 11:15-17, that Jesus went to the Temple and witnessed something that disturbed Him greatly. When He saw the moneychangers and witnessed the sale of the sacrificial animals, He was disgusted. He was not just sad. He was mad. He didn’t suppress His discontent by simply sharing it with his disciples around a Sabbath lunch. Jesus was disturbed enough to do something.

He made a whip and physically overturned tables while evicting both the animals and the moneychangers. What would make Jesus do something so uncharacteristic of the Lamb of God?
This text has been used to talk about everything from irreverence in the sanctuary to the evils of the love of money. However, these issues are not why Jesus acted in such a visceral manner. Jesus overturned the tables because the religious elite was taking advantage of the poor travelers who had come to the city for Passover. Jesus was disgusted at the unjust treatment of the vulnerable and He could not remain unengaged.

full_jesus-turns-the-tables

Jesus was disgusted at the unjust treatment of the vulnerable and He could not remain unengaged.

Jesus wasn’t just sad; no, He got mad. Mad enough to turn over “the tables of injustice.” I believe indifference is a close relative to inactivity. If we are to be true disciples of Christ, should we not do something about the exploitation of the vulnerable, defenseless, marginalized and disenfranchised? It is not enough for Christians to talk about, post about, tweet about, and sermonize about the evils of racism, and prejudice. It is time for action. I think it is instructive for us that Jesus does not give a sermon or speech to address the issue. He acts first and then explains why He acted. After Jesus cleans the Temple, He explains that His concern is for “all people” and their access to what God has provided for them.

Our reaction to these atrocities usually does not go past our talk. Jesus did not talk. He acted. There are a few ways we can be like Jesus in dealing with injustice.

Jesus acted against the attitude of superiority that had been permeating the culture of the Temple. When Jesus overturned the tables, He was addressing the fact that there was an atmosphere or a “permissive air” that allowed these acts of discrimination and inequality to take place. People do not just wake up and say they want to kill nine Black people in a Church. The environment that they grow up in, got to work in, or hang around in, allows them to think in a prejudiced and bigoted way. This young man who killed these innocent people was raised in dangerous societal maelstrom of hatred. We must overturn and expose the permissive air of racism wherever we are. There is a permissive air on our jobs, in our schools, and even in our own denominations.

If we are to be like Jesus, we all have to expose that permissive air of injustice around us. We cannot allow or laugh at racial jokes. We have to address the fact that many states in the South still have variations of the Confederate flag flying o’er the grounds of their State Capitals. We have to actively engage in challenging the racist cultures of our private schools and denominational offices. We need persistent protest against the racism and inequality in even in our denominational processes and decisions. If we do not challenge this culture, we allow the system to take advantage of more people.

Jesus also acted against a system that exploited poor and marginalized people. He did not just address the words and ideas that these religious elite had towards the poor. His overturning of the tables literally stopped the injustice that was going on. We have to do something to stop the injustice. While we work on the hearts of people, we have to stop the hands of those who are killing and destroying our communities. Our churches need to hold their local leaders and legislators accountable for the laws and policies that govern their communities. National elections must become secondary to local elections so that we can begin to determine who sits on our legal benches, who patrols our streets, and who makes policies for our local schools.
Every church in should have a Social Justice ministry. Does it not make sense that if we have a ministry that fights for people’s religious rights that we should also have a ministry that is dedicated to securing their human and civil rights? If we had a social justice ministry, we could coordinate our efforts to inform and equip our churches to engage our communities for systemic change.

Overturning these “tables of injustice” must involve our congregations getting involved in local politics. Politics is not inherently a negative practice. Dr. Martin Luther King understood that people of faith have to change the laws and policies of this great nation while working on the harder and larger work of changing the hearts of people. We must speak against injustice and we must also do something about injustice. If we want to be like Jesus, and we love the people that Christ died to save, we must overturn the tables so that all people have access to what God has provided.

Are you mad enough to do something? Jesus, our Savior did something. Will you?




The Flags We Fly

After the massacre of nine worshippers in a Charleston, S.C. church, amid questions and grief, the writer challenges the ideals of the flag.

Last year my wife and I took a trip to Eastern Europe for a ministry project. We bounced around to several countries preaching the gospel, serving the poor and seeing the sights. What really grabbed my attention on this trip was the flags that flew atop the buildings. Flying high all over Athens are the blue and white horizontal stripes with white cross that flap and fan the blue skies of Greece. In Istanbul it is the white crescent moon and the white star across a solid red background. I gained a deep sense of the great significance of a flag. They all bear the complex history of those countries. They tell the story of losses and victories, pains and struggles, sacrifices and injustices that the nation has celebrated and suffered.

Seeing all those foreign flags made me feel isolated and alone. I thought about how back home our American flag flies for us. For the moments that I circled their cities looking down on their flags I sensed appreciation for our American flag, momentarily.

Then I came back home where our flag has a very complex history too. It flies high above our capitol buildings and our schools, in our churches and at our homes with the same conflicted histories as flags do elsewhere. We pledge allegiance to that flag and to the republic for which it stands. But every time we say, “with liberty and justice for all” a large group of people roll their eyes and grumble under their breath for the lack of local satisfaction. For many there still seems to be no justice and for many liberty seems to be so elusive.

On Wednesday night, our local liberty and justice was threatened yet again, when an armed White male walked into a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, befriended the people, sat in on the Bible study for about an hour, and then opened fire on the congregation, killing nine people including the pastor.

This one hit close to home for me. Not only do I pastor in the inner city where this always possible, but I was also born and reared in Beaufort, South Carolina, an hour and a half from the site of this terrible tragedy. The pastor, Clementa Pinckney, also a state legislator was born and raised in my hometown. I remember seeing him around town and shaking his hand. As a young Black man he was like a distant mentor. He represented hope and promise and success. I looked up to him. I am still looking up.

But then I look up at our flag. I wonder about our flag. Is there liberty and Justice for Pastor (Representative) Pinckney? is there liberty and justice for the other believers who were slain? Is there liberty and justice for
Jonny Gammage, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Leon Ford, Oscar Grant, Jordan Miles, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Walter Scott and the countless others? Is there liberty and justice for Black people in America? Can we live and worship in peace? Can we trust that the government will protect us and avenge our fallen loved ones? Does the flag fly for us too?

When someone found the Facebook page belonging to the assailant Dylann Roof, we saw him in the surly South Carolina swampland, wearing a sadistic scowl and sporting across his chest two, extinct flags. In particular, they were the former flags of Rhodesia–now Zimbabwe and apartheid era South Africa. Both flags promote the painful past of white power. They remind us of the brutality and injustice of colonialism. They promote oppression and subjugation of people of color. South Carolina flies another flag that promotes some of the same ideals as apartheid era South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia. This flag flies in front of the state’s capitol building. It is the confederate flag.

The confederate flag was placed atop of the dome of the capitol in South Carolina in 1962. I was a student a Beaufort High School decades later when conflict over the flag became so heated that superstars began promoting a boycott of the entire state. It was moved to the front lawn on July 1, 2000. And today, while the flags all around the state were flying at half mast, the confederate flag on the front lawn of the state capitol was still flying high. South Carolina is my home state, but I’m ashamed of that flag. I left South Carolina years ago. And I’m reminded of that old saying, “This world is not my home.”

When I was a child they taught us a song in church, that says, “There is a flag flying high from the castle of my heart…and the King is in residence there.” I still love that song and I believe it. It is true, there is a flag in my heart. Every now and then I find myself humming that song. It is one that I sing to my son. That flag flying in my heart is closely akin to one that hangs in my
church. That flag is the Christian flag. We teach the kids the pledge to the Christian flag and it says that we are “one brotherhood uniting all mankind in service and in love.” I sometimes struggle with that flag, too. That is why I go to church.

As I was praying this morning, I caught myself praying for Dylann Roof. I stopped in my tracks. I did not want to pray for him. But the flag in my heart promotes peace and freedom, mercy and equality, love and justice. I was fixated on the justice. But the King of my heart overruled my selfish anger. He promised me that He will bring justice. Another King, Martin Luther King, Jr., said that “the arc of history bends slowly toward justice.” I’m anxious, yet hopeful. I’m angry, cynical and disturbed by all those flags. Yet, I’m steadied by the one in my heart. I await the work and the words of our Lord and King. He has the final say.




Vigil For Charleston

Churches in Charleston, South Carolina united in prayer Friday night, defying the evil that visited the community when a young, White gunman shot and killed nine Black worshippers during a prayer meeting at the historic Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The victims in Wednesday’s shooting, were identified by CNN as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59. The racially motivated mass killing is said to be the deadliest in a church for the last three decades according to Mother Jones contributor Mark Follman and is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Members of the church suspected nothing as 21 year-old Dylann Roof, sat in their midst for as long as an hour. The presence of a previously unknown, lone visitor was welcomed during Bible study and prayer.

The tragedy raises spiritual questions for some, and security concerns for others, yet, Friday evening, six Charleston area Seventh-day Adventist churches–Black, White and Latino–prayed together.

Eugene Hamilton, pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Church in North Charleston led out in the service. He said he was also conducting prayer service Wednesday when his church received an unknown visitor. “A White male came to church last night, sat in service until the end and asked for financial assistance,” said Hamilton. “I got home and saw the [similarity] with the shooting and said ‘wow, that could’ve been me.'”

It could have happened anywhere, in any church, notes William L. Winston, president of the South Atlantic Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. His administration serves churches in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. “Our pastors and leaders are cautioned to be watchful.”

Added vigilance, technical support and security expertise is the domain of James Vines, director of security for the Adventist World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Vines happened to visit Hamilton’s Charleston church not long ago and said he could imagine the chilling realization that such tragedy could have confronted them

“It certainly saddens me when I hear of these atrocities occurring all over the world and when it happens inside of the church,” said Vines, “I pray even harder for the Lord’s second coming!”

Whether united in tragedy, or just in the common bond of belief and human experience, the prayers that go up, are for those who suffered loss of their loved ones in yet another senseless act of violence. Hamilton’s prayer service will unite SDA believers in support.

“He also will offer, on behalf of Seventh-day Adventists throughout the region, any help needed in navigating our A.M.E. brothers and sisters through this time of pronounced grief” said Winston.




Forgiveness For America’s Original Sin

When I was in my mid-twenties, I decided to go to counseling to process through some of my issues. I decided to go because I didn’t have sustained joy in my life. I had happy moments, but they were just that—moments. Honestly, I was highly functional and to others, my life was the basic run of the mill existence that should be expected. However, that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted more, better, and something lasting. We talked about a lot of stuff in counseling—relationships, boundaries, my choices, not being bound by other people’s opinion and the like. Counseling really served to empower me to take control of my life and happiness. What I was looking for was not coming from an outside source. The validation that I needed wasn’t coming from other people. I had to be healed spiritually and emotionally and that was going to be an inside job.

Then it happened. I experienced this great breakthrough and I was happy again. I actually stayed happy. I remember going to my counselling session with this renewed vigor and zeal for life. My counselor longed to discover what had happened. I had forgiven. I took off the anger-painted glasses and stopped looking for others to fix my life. Forgiveness released the people who had screwed me over from the obligation to fix me. Truth is they couldn’t fix it. They couldn’t mend my heart, redeem lost time, or restore the trust. While plenty of people had a role in my brokenness, none of them were able to restore me. When I forgave them, they were released from the expectation to heal me. That made room for God through the Holy Spirit to repair as only He could. It made me a better woman ready for healthy relationships and prosperity because of it.

So, one of my biggest takeaways from counselling was that the people who broke you—abandoned, abused, lied, cheated, molested, or misused you—cannot actually fix you; they cannot undo what they have done. They can try, be remorseful, and even change their ways, but they cannot repair the damage. That is just the way it works and there is no way around it. If you want wholeness, peace, love, and joy, it has got to be an inside job. If you want to be free, you must release your abuser from the responsibility of fixing you.

So, it is 2015 and every time we hear of an unarmed Black man being killed at the hands of the police, it conjures up memories of America’s sorted past with her black citizenry. We remember America’s original sin—racism—that oppressed a nation of people. Black America has endured slavery, lynching, intimidation, Jim Crow, police brutality, mass incarceration, and systemic injustice at the hands of her own country. Today, there is a cry for justice and healing rising up in the Black community. Private citizens have taken up the call to police the police by recording every interaction with law enforcement. There have been marches and protest; the justice department is doing investigations. Yet, there is still a missing link in this path to renewal for the African-American community.

If racism is America’s original sin, Black America’s original sin is unforgiveness. We do not want to talk about it, but it is hard to ignore the fruit of this bitter root. Recently, during the Baltimore protest, I heard a refrain from the news commentators; “The young people here are angry.” I don’t deny that people have a reason to be angry, but never moving past our place of anger, only hinders the healing process.

No amount of legislation or even reparations can resurrect our dead, restore broken families or mend our hearts. There is a healing that must take place in the Black community that all America’s wealth cannot purchase. Congress cannot pass a bill that guarantees peace and wholeness for the Black community. We must take it upon ourselves to facilitate our needed healing. America cannot fix it; only when we release her from that responsibility can God come in and heal us. We must forgive.

Forgiveness is not a whitewashing of history. Nor is it sitting in a circle singing Kum Ba Ya. It is not denying our pain but recognizing it. It is time for Black America to get painfully honest. We should name America’s offenses one by one and name the effects it has had on us. But, this is not a list to be broadcast on every news outlet per se, but let it be spoken in our prayers. Let it be the list of things that we decide to forgive America for. Then, we should ask God to heal us from the residual effects of these offenses. And, while we are being honest, this would be a good time for us to repent of our own sins. Sometimes, the way we respond in our pain can be just as grievous as the origin of our pain. In our frustration with America, we have also let ourselves down a time or two by our own actions. We have allowed destructive behavior and ideologies to flourish in our communities. If we are calling people to the carpet for wrongdoings that have negatively affected our community, we must also call ourselves into accountability if we want to see healing and restoration in our communities. Then, we have to forgive ourselves, extending grace and forgiveness to each other.

Yes, America still has some work to do regarding her original sin of racism, but that does not prevent us from doing our work.

To see communities transformed, renewal must come from our own hands. Yes, America still has some work to do regarding her original sin of racism, but that does not prevent us from doing our work. Sure, protest and decry injustice in all its forms until righteousness washes over this great nation like the ocean’s tide. Refuse to believe restoration and validation lies in someone else’s hands. Choose to change, regardless of the actions or inaction of the rest of the nation. It is worth the effort and work it requires for our community to achieve wholeness. We must take up the cause of this inside job.




Giving Church Another Shot

“Nones” reject traditional, organized religion for real, Spirit-filled worship and loving people.

It’s all over Facebook, Twitter, CNN and more. The church is shrinking. Pew Research Center released a study that showed that the group of people identifying as Christians in the United States has shrunk by eight percent. This is a serious finding because it suggests that more and more people are leaving the church.

The study has the religious community in an uproar. Yet, this conversation has actually been going on for some time now. When speaking of non-church goers in his book Unchristian, Barna Research Group’s David Kinnaman says, “they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.” In a sermon series on the topic Pastor Michael Kelly commented saying, “While individuals are being gunned down, the church is worried about drums.”

There is so much discussion and debate on this issue and all types of statistics, but why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth? Why not ask people who do not go to church why they do not go?

Meet Marlon.

Marlon

Marlon is a 35 year-old musician from Bakersfield. He has been married for eight years, and he and his wife have three kids. He is a fourth generation Seventh-day Adventist Christian who rarely attends church, although he did two months ago for a family reunion event. He generally attends once every other month, but he does not go regularly because–brace yourself–“there’s nothing there.”

What’s missing, we asked? “[T]he Spirit of the thing” is gone,” Marlon said. The church has lost “the compassion for the people that come through the door.”

Meet Maurice.

Maurice[1]

Maurice is a 35 year-old construction worker from Pittsburgh. He is divorced, but lives with his girlfriend and their three kids. Having been a member of a Baptist church, then a Lutheran church, then another Baptist church, and most recently a Seventh-day Adventist Church, Maurice says he is “caught in the middle. I don’t know, but I know there’s a God.”

He has not been to church in three months and may go twice a year. When asked why he does not go he said, “I don’t feel the love…it’s more about what you got and what you don’t got more than a relationship with God.”

Meet Tamika.

Tamika

Tamika, a 31 year-old Community Organizer and Birth Worker (Doula) from Atlanta has been married for four years, and she and her husband have two kids. Tamika was raised in Baptist and Pentecostal settings, but said she stopped going to church in college when it became more about “getting” (referring to word of faith and prosperity theology) than God and developing a relationship with Him. On the other hand, she attended other churches that were “oppressive” and “judgmental.” She has not been to church in years, but did go for a funeral in 2012. She intimates that social and political consciousness is what she is missing from church, along with critical biblical and theological studies that empower people to improve their personal lives and make the world a better place.

What was strikingly similar was what they are watching on the news, how they get their music and how they describe their spirituality. All of them commented that they are paying close attention to stories of suspicious, unjustified deaths of Black males around the country. All of them receive the majority of their music from some streaming service like Spotify or iHeart Radio. And all of them describe themselves as devout seekers of God, spiritual understanding, truth, and personal growth. While their approaches differ, their quests are all authentic and vibrant.

The world is changing fast. Five years ago iTunes radio did not even exist. Five years later, people feel like they can not live without it. But it is not just the music that is streaming. Everything is streaming. The news is streaming. The NBA Playoffs is streaming. Even churches are streaming. And while the world is moving and streaming at such a rapid pace the systems of power and dominance are shifting all around us as well. People are not waiting for the little local church to figure it out. Young people all around the world are moving on to find the tools that will fit them for their journey, whether the church is willing and able to help or not.

What will the church do to respond to these serious seekers? Will we hold on to disjointed methods of communication while unlimited media can be streamed at the push of a button? Will we continue to stifle authentic cultural expression while our youth are flocking to the local cafe for open-mic night? Will we refuse to love the unlovable even though Christ stretched his arms wide to embrace them? Hopefully not for long because He’s coming back really soon to see how we treated the rest of his children.

The Invitation

People often say, “Don’t look at people. Look at Jesus.” I will be the first to say that is a cop-out too readily used to absolve people’s bad behavior. Nevertheless, we are still left with the alternative. And whenever I look to Jesus, I am always convicted and inspired. It makes me think of this text:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. (Luke 4:16-20 NIV)

What many people forget about this text is that right after this scene, the church leaders and longtime members actually tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (see verse 29). I am certain we have never seen that level of anger and drama in our churches! It has not become that bad! But, the drama did not deter Jesus. He saw the church as it should be, not as it was. Even though He went to church regularly, He was careful to do the things that truly represented the Spirit and love of the Father. And thus He established a new church based on these principles.

Even though He went to church regularly, He was careful to do the things that truly represented the Spirit and love of the Father.

The church I joined is the church that Jesus described: committed to serving the poor, liberating people from prison (internal and external), healing people’s brokenness and blindness, and promoting equality in our world. That is the church Jesus established, and that is the church I joined. We do not always look like it. We do not always act like it. But I am not the least bit distracted or deterred from what Jesus sent us to do. I want all of my friends to help me with this amazing mission. I cannot possibly do this by myself. After all, every journey is so much more fun with friends.




Hope And Justice For Baltimore

Finally the possibility for justice.

I was signally moved on this morning as I watched the state attorney for the city of Baltimore charge the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. My heart has been heavy for this season of upheaval in Charm City, but as I watched CNN and heard the indictment read, I fought back the tears. For the past several days I watched as the city where I pastored for eleven years, went up in flames. People reached a boiling point for the years of police brutality that have been unaddressed and unchecked.

What was so frightening was that Freddie Gray simply made eye contact with the officers, who saw that as enough of a reason to pursue and arrest him. He was not committing a crime, he was not selling drugs, or robbing anyone, and there was no probable cause for all the commotion that led to his arrest and untimely death. It is the symbol of legalized thuggery that irresponsible law enforcement officers engage in that mimics gangers who you dare not look at in the wrong way, lest you loose your life.

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The unparalleled outcry was not just about what happened in Baltimore but about what has been happening to Black people at the hands of law enforcement and where it appears that we are animals to be hunted. The law, which promises equal protection for all, has somehow evaded our communities. Blacks families who have lost loved ones while in police custody have not seen anything remotely resembling justice.

The big picture shows Blacks being incarcerated at a higher rate that any other race. It shows Blacks serving major time on death row for crimes thy did not commit, several now being released with new DNA evidence. Blacks who are stopped, harassed, and arrested by law enforcement for no apparent reason. What we saw in Baltimore over the past several days is a major statement from a community who had seen enough and had enough of bad policing.

Now I must say, that I have met with commissioner Batts at police headquarters and he is a good man with tremendous leadership skills. He has a heart for justice and a proven track record for solid leadership. His task is to reform the police department and revamp their perception within the community. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake visited my church on several occasions while I pastored in Baltimore and is a woman of high integrity. She does not just rest on the laurels of her father who was a highly respected, beloved, renown career politician in Baltimore city. But she stands on her own feet as a woman passionate and loyal to the people of Baltimore. These leaders will need our prayers as they move to create reform in a city that desperately needs it.

The truth of the matter is that the impoverished communities within Baltimore need a ray of hope. When we consider 75% of children are being raised by single mothers and 80 to 90% of third graders are reading below grade level, the future seems bleak. Hope is lost because there seems to be no way up or out. I have been in homes in south Baltimore with single mothers raising six children with all manner of behavioral issues related to Hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), and for them there seems to be little to no hope. When people loose hope they loose everything. When their environment is infested with crime, poverty, abandoned homes, low test scores, and then that is exacerbated by pervasive police brutality, the proverbial top will be blown of the can and we see what we just witnessed in Baltimore.

But here is the hope that we have and we must give to Baltimore and every major city that is a factory of hopelessness and despair: Jesus Christ. He is the only hope we have. He offers hope for justice in an unjust world. His message was and is still, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). Jesus was passionate for justice and that is one of the reasons He threw the money changers out of the temple. These money changers had conspired to defraud the people who came bringing their sacrifices to God. People were forced to pay inflated prices for animals in the temple courts because the sacrifices they brought from home were disallowed by the system. Jesus is always on the side of justice. He fights for the oppressed and downtrodden.

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Ultimately when we join the protest against injustice on earth we join the fight with Jesus.

Kudos to the pastors in Baltimore who stood up for justice and against tyranny and anarchy at the same time.

Ultimately our world being sinful will always create enclaves of injustice. We will always have a cause to march for or fight against, and we dare not faint in the face of it. But let’s be clear, the only place where justice will reign unopposed is in heaven, when our Lord shall come and vanquish all the broken systems of humanity and He shall reign forever and ever. This is our ultimate hope for the people of Baltimore and every place else.




On The Scene In Baltimore

Reginald Anderson-Exum, armed in faith, moved in the power of the Spirit to embrace burning Baltimore’s hurting and unheard people.

April 27, 2015 is easily the most heartbreaking day of my short 30 year life. I am a native Baltimorean. Reared at Berea Temple SDA Church and attending Baltimore Jr. Academy, this city is part of the makeup of my very being. More than any other place our city has influenced my integrity and work ethic. Members of my community insured that I saw more 12 countries around the world and received a Christian education. When they hurt, I hurt.

The death of Freddie Grey is devastating to me. Seeing his situation unearthed my own painful personal memories of when I was chased, slammed to the ground, and handcuffed without cause. I was just 13 years old walking home from school with my uniform and backpack.

Now, witnessing the flurry of activity between police and citizens caused me to weep openly. I saw teenagers, small children, women, and men that needed to be heard.

My love for them would not allow me to sit in front of my television and do nothing. Saying a word of prayer, I put my suit on and kissed my family goodbye. The situation was dangerous and I did not know if I would be seriously hurt. I entered the city on North Avenue, the area seen by helicopter on TV and it was a complete “war zone”. There were no traffic laws being followed. The streets were filled with every type of debris. Complete anarchy could be felt in the air. I knew, at that point, this was much bigger than me. On behalf of the people of Baltimore I quoted Romans 10:13 (NET) “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.

Teaming up with the other clergy of Baltimore City was powerful. Each man and women called out to God to save our city as we marched arm in arm. Old and young, small and large congregation, White and Black stood as one. Reaching the epicenter of the tension you could feel the mood change. The hardened eyes and clinched fist of frustrated community members begin to visually soften. They let us through without delay. It was clear the Holy Spirit was at work.

As we approached, the city’s police force–dressed in full riot gear–had a different feel. In their eyes I could see anger mixed with fear, a deadly combination. We knelt and began to pray aloud. When I looked up several officers removed their protective face mask out of respect for God and the clergy. Did I mention the Holy Spirit was working?

As I directed traffic at a busy intersection I began to hug and shake hands with people standing on the corners. I asked the small children to return home, and they did. An SUV with about seven young men pulled up. They had gang colors on. They were indignant. And they had been given the orders to kill any police officer they could. Lord, what can I do? I opened my arms and physically embraced the most vocal member. We both cried. The devil intended lives to be loss. God had mercy our community because He controls the affairs of men.

My purpose for sharing this experience is three-fold. First, Jesus loves Baltimore. Each person represents an investment of His priceless blood. Second, because Jesus loves Baltimore, we should too. Third, the Adventist church in Baltimore is active in relevant ministry. Our church, Edmondson Heights SDA Church has this mission: “Being Encouraged by Christ, Educating our Church, and Embracing our Community”. Embracing our neighborhood that we view as “Edmondson Village” is a core value of our congregation.




Do Black Lives Really Matter To The Church Triumphant?

As yet another Black man’s death comes at the hands of a White police officer, and the mysterious injuries that led to the death of a Black man in Baltimore after his arrest, reap headlines, a largely unpublicized, but highly significant dispute over the use of deadly force—mostly in minority communities—simmers out of sight.

Unlike the horrific scenes caught on cell phones in North Charleston, South Carolina, or in Baltimore, Maryland, very few media are focusing on the controversy regarding unjust, brutal policing between Franklin Graham, the son of the internationally famous evangelist, Billy Graham and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and a leader in the Christian social justice movement. Nevertheless, given the national prominence of both men, the dispute has broad social, economic and political implications for the society at large.

The younger Graham, who directs Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid organization based in Boone, North Carolina, ignited the controversy with a Facebook post that shocked a large number of Evangelical ministers, lay leaders and many in the wider faith community.

“Listen up,” he commanded, “Blacks, Whites, Latinos and everybody else. Most police shootouts can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.

“If a police officer tells you to stop,” he continued, “you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong–You OBEY.”

“Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority,” the statement went on. It concluded, “Mr. President, this is a message our nation needs to hear and they need to hear it from you. Some of the unnecessary shootings we have seen recently might have been avoided. The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority “because they keep watch over you as those who must give account.” Graham’s post drew more than 200,000 “likes” and 83,000 “shares.”

James Wallis, the nationally regarded White clergyman who founded Sojourners, responded to Graham’s Facebook post in writing.

“Dear Franklin,” his letter began, “the real issue here goes much deeper than obedience to the police or lack thereof. We all need and should obey good police officers whose important mission is to serve and protect—but that must be done equally and without racial bias. Most African American men, in particular, could tell you their own, personal stories of mistreatment by White police officers, which had nothing to do with not obeying them. Many Black women and other people of color could tell you stories too. You should be listening to them.”

The reality, he said, “is that there are two policing and legal systems in America; one for Black and Brown people and one for White people—and that is now well documented, showing it is most stark for Black men and especially young Black men.”

Wallis directed Graham to “please read the Department of Justice report clearly proving strong racial bias in the Ferguson police department and the report of Presidential Policing Commission (with six police commissioners on the task force), which shows that this is a national problem.

Why do you speak only of the Bible’s command to submit to authority and not to the many Scriptures which challenge the sin of racism?

Remember, in ‘Christ there is no Jew or Greek.’ Also, the Bible does not say that the law is always right. Jesus challenged the laws of his day when they were unjustly applied or interpreted and the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistles from prison.”

The accomplishments of the Civil rights Movement, Wallis recalled, “were only possible because many brave Americans, including many Christians, non-violently disobeyed unjust laws and the authorities who sought to enforce them.”

Wallis told Graham that “its time to listen to, and learn from, Americans of color, including our Black brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to why all Black parents have to have “the talk” about White police with their sons and daughters. Your Facebook post makes you seem, at best, oblivious to the racial inequity in this country’s policing and criminal justice system, which is also still deeply embedded in our American society. At worse, your post reflects your own racial biases—unconscious or conscious. It makes me sad to read such things coming from a leader of your position. So until you are equally willing “to listen up,” please stop making such embarrassing and divisive statements.”

Some 31 other Evangelical ministers—Black, White, Asian and Latino—in “An Open Letter” reinforced Wallis’ admonition with several of their own. Graham’s words “hurt and influenced thousands,” said the ministers, who noted that their action was guided by “the spirit of Matthew 18.”

Therefore, they advised, “we must respond publicly, so that those you hurt might know you have received a reply and the hundreds of thousands you influenced might know that following your lead on this issue will further break the body of Christ.”

“Are you also aware,” they asked, “that your commentary resonates with the types of misinterpretations and rhetoric echoed by many in the antebellum church?” Are you aware that the southern slavocracy validated the systemic subjugation of human beings made in the image of God by instructing these enslaved human beings to “obey their masters because the Bible instructed them to do so?”

“As one who understands human depravity, your statement demonstrates a profound disregard for the impact of sinful individuals when given power to craft systems and structures that govern millions. The outcome is oppression and impoverishment—in a word, injustice,” they declared.

“Finally,” they concluded, “if you insist on blind obedience, then you must also insist that officers of the justice system obey the Constitution, which protects the right of all to equal protection under the law. Yet (numerous) reports confirm unconscious racial biases in policing, booking, sentencing and in return, racially disparate outcomes within our broken justice system.” The letter ended by quoting James B. Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation: “First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

For this article, two nationally recognized religious leaders, an often-quoted authority in policing and a nationally regarded civil rights attorney, were asked to comment on Graham’s post. They are: C. Garnett Henning, a retired bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dr. Norman S. Johnson, Sr., a former executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC/LA), Diop Kamau, the founder of Policeabuse.com, which represents victims, most lacking for their defense and Philip J. Kaplan, who practices law in California and Louisiana.

Graham’s post, said the bishop, “showed no Christian humility. Instead, his simplistic response to the historic and contemporary killing of Black and Latino youth sounds too much like ‘slaves be obedient to your masters’—to which he adds, ‘whether they are right or wrong.’ In offering his solution to the many senseless killings, he ignores the many who obeyed, but were killed anyway.”

Johnson said Graham’s post ” does not reflect reality or historical awareness, but a lack of socio-political thinking of how the words of clergy, particularly someone with the name Graham, challenges or confirms the views of conservative Christians.

“Graham’s use of Hebrews 37 is curious,” Johnson noted. “The text refers to ‘those who watch over your souls. Police officers are clearly not ministers or prophets who watch over our souls. That he would even imply that the function of law enforcement is to watch over our souls is unconscionable, if that is the Scripture he is referring to.”

For nearly two weeks, repeated attempts to reach Graham for comment for this article were unsuccessful.

Attorney Kaplan, in searching to identify the underlying causes of police abuse and violence, said, “in the same way that we now can’t question the reality of climate change, we really can’t question whether there is discord between many police departments and the communities they serve. The real question is, why is that? I don’t pretend to be a sociologist, yet I believe we must not see this as an isolated issue, I believe this reflects a deeper social problem.”

“You can’t deny that there is a divide, a rift. It’s a deeper issue that needs to be examined, said Kaplan, who has represented police officers as well as victims of police abuse.

“There are lots of really good police officers who would never think of abusing anyone and really good police officers who have chosen to be silent, for reasons I can understand,” he said.

“I believe in good policing, have represented officers in excessive force situations and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in representing them in all sorts of situations, so I know something about what they do and what their jobs entail,” he said. Moreover, Kaplan said, “there ought to be more scrutiny of command staff and chiefs of police.”

“I have a lot of empathy for rank and file officers; they’re taking directions, or lack of direction, from the command staff. The debate ought to include scrutiny of police departments, command staff and chiefs of police. If any discussion leaves them out and just focuses on rank and file officers–patrol officers, then we’re missing something very important,” Kaplan cautioned.

Kamau, an expert investigator and highly decorated undercover officer, focused on Graham’s apparent lack of due diligence before posting his opinion.

Graham, said Kamau, “cited no evidence that grossly discriminatory enforcement patterns are tied to the behavior patterns of the Black and Latino communities they serve. Unfortunately, Kamau added, “there is a lack of evidence to demonstrate that large numbers of whites are treated similarly on displaying similar behaviors.”

When Graham “can find a population of Whites who are similarly mistreated by police, he might have a point. There is no evidence, however, that Whites, in large numbers, risk similar misconduct and abuse in similar encounters and circumstances,” Kamau said.

If Graham “were to analyze payouts by major cities to settle police misconduct lawsuits since 1985, he would see that the victims were not compensated for an alleged lack of cooperation. In fact, just the opposite was the case,” Kamau said.

Indeed, Kamau continued, “African Americans, especially men, cooperate with police officers more than most people, yet are often harmed by the use of very draconian measures. In employing ‘stop and frisk’–it shouldn’t be be called ‘stop and frisk,’ instead, it ought to be called, ‘stop and humiliate’–far too many officers attempt to strip Black men of their dignity.”




The Essential Gardner C. Taylor

The death of Gardner Calvin Taylor, the nation’s iconic preacher/orator, has shone a radiant spotlight on his preaching.

Taylor, often described by highly regarded theologians and ministers as “the Prince of Preachers,” died on Easter Sunday, at Duke University Medical Center. He was 96.

Hailed by the Christian Century as “the Poet Laureate of American Protestantism,” Taylor graced the pulpit of Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church for 42 years, from 1948 to 1990. According to Newsweek, he was “one of the 12 greatest preachers in the English speaking world.”
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The National Visionary Leadership Project, on its website, noted his “use of metaphor, dramatic timing, dynamic construction and scriptural truths to weave a seamless narrative in his sermons, which exhibit his mastery of the technical aspects of preaching.” With at least 15 honorary degrees, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Union Medal, his place among the most stunning speakers of all time is secure.

Without hesitation, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, Martin Luther King’s first chief of staff and the author of 27 volumes on African American sacred music, asserted that “Gardner Taylor is the greatest preacher on the planet, living, dead, or unborn.”

Although many preachers were much more well known throughout the larger society, Taylor would not promote himself, which frustrated his admirers. Attending to his parishioners’ needs and the welfare of African Americans citywide consumed most of his time and energy.

Concord, shepherded by Taylor’s sensitive spirit and sharp administrative acumen, grew from 5,000 members to more than 14,000. With Taylor at the helm, the church sponsored the first senior living facility sponsored by an African American congregation. Along with Christ House, which each year outfitted thousands with new and virtually new shoes, suits, shirts and skirts, Concord created a thriving credit union, a million-dollar community endowment fund and an elementary school, among other ground breaking ventures to uplift Brooklyn’s Black neighborhoods.

In the tradition of his father, Washington Taylor, senior minister of Mount Zion Baptist Church, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the first Black vice-president of the World Baptist Convention, Gardner Taylor was a powerful spokesman for civil rights. Appointed by Mayor Robert Wagner to the New York City Board of Education in 1958, he was the second Black member in its history.

Several years later, Taylor, an influential leader in Brooklyn’s Democratic Party and president of the New York Urban League, wanted to bring the conservative National Baptist Convention into the action-oriented civil rights advocacy then sweeping the nation. With seven million members, the Convention, led by J. H. Jackson, was America’s largest Black Protestant denomination. Taylor hoped with a run for president, he could rouse the giant and equip it for independent economic and political empowerment. His defeat was bitter. Even some of his “friends,” he later discovered, had voted for Jackson.

Taylor answered the loss by joining forces with a group that included Dr. King, Marshall Shepherd, Jr. and Thomas Kilgore, of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, respectively. Together they founded the Progressive Baptist Convention.

In the years following that activism, Taylor, a trenchant theologian, taught homiletics to aspiring ministers at Harvard, Yale and Rochester-Colgate. In 1975 and 1976, he was the Lyman Beecher Lecturer at Yale Divinity School, the second African American so honored to that time.

Told by his wife, Laura Scott Taylor, that his preaching had “gotten a little thin,” he re-focused on his greatest strength, the oratory that distinguished his ministry and guided him into national prominence.

For decades, Taylor’s oratorical style, sermons and their depth have been used as models at Catholic, Protestant and Jewish seminaries.

Dr. Edward Lorenza Wheeler, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, told Message that he agrees with much of Walker’s bold assertion.

“Yes,” he said, “in many ways I agree with him–and for three reasons: first, Dr. Taylor was a master of the English language; he painted pictures with words to create imagery everyone understands, to tell us what, through Christ, we (African Americans), can become.” Next, Wheeler explained, “he had profound insights into scripture, which made the texts come alive for present generations.” Perhaps most profound, however, Wheeler said, “he preached out of his conviction that Jesus is Lord, but with a humility that humbled even the most arrogant.”

Wheeler recalled a captivating example of that unshakeable conviction. “In one of his most memorable sermons, I heard him say, ‘I loved my mother probably as few men have ever loved theirs. And, after all these years, I still miss her. When I get to Heaven, I’m going to look her up–but after I spend the first 1,000 years praising God!’”

Elder Charles E. Bradford, 90, who knew Taylor well, remembered the occasion in 1948, at Southern University, in Baton Rouge, where Taylor had been invited to speak to the city’s Black intelligentsia. “He came at a very difficult time for us in Louisiana,” Bradford said, when African Americans were locked in a struggle with White officials over equal pay for Black professors and teachers.

Born in Baton Rouge, Taylor returned to the city with a message of calm assurance. Said Bradford, “he used Hebrews 11, verse 40, as his text: “They, without us, shall not be made perfect.” The audience, Bradford said, was electrified. “Even though they did not shout or say amen–which in those circles, most people don’t do–they quickly understood that he was speaking to them, as Black people–and to the nation as well.” The word “perfect” means “complete,” Bradford continued.

Taylor, “realized that this text can be applied to Blacks in the United States,” Bradford said. To be “complete,” Taylor was saying, “this nation must eventually come to terms with, and acknowledge, the enriching, but long-denied genius of African Americans and their seminal contributions to its life and culture.

But, Bradford was asked, “was he, the greatest preacher on the planet?
“Oh sure,” he replied.

Dr. Cain Hope Felder, Professor of Biblical Studies at the Howard University School of Divinity, was uncomfortable with Walker’s assertion. “He doesn’t need hyperbole,” he said of Taylor, “his record speaks for itself.”

What is that record? Dr. Felder was asked.

“He was a distinguished and eminent statesman for Black preachers across the nation,” Felder replied, “irrespective of denominational ties, they looked to him for guidance, given the way he conducted himself, and, of course, his sermon preparation and execution.”

Felder, who has taught at Howard Divinity School for 33 years, continued. “He wasn’t just a pulpit minister, he was a leader; he spoke with the authority that people identified with. . . .You cannot find an African American preacher who would not say that he was not the most distinguished preacher of our time. His legacy is singular,” he said.

While Felder was concerned over what he feared was hyperbole, he, with Wheeler and Bradford, were in
solid agreement on Taylor’s humility.

“When I was a student at Rochester Colgate,” Wheeler said, “I always picked him up at the airport. He could have ordered a limousine, but he was humble enough to want to ride in my 1965 Ford station wagon with artificial wood panels. He could have had dinner anywhere, but he took the time to come to our little, one bedroom apartment, on campus, to share the dinner my wife had prepared for us. Afterward, he complimented her as though she was the chief in five-star restaurant!”

In Concord’s Sunday worship services, Taylor, in his robe and red stole, projected quiet dignity and towering, spiritual strength. Thousands of members and visitors sat in hushed silence, straining to hear his messages.

Riding the wave of the Hymn of Meditation, Taylor would rise, without haste, from his chair on the pulpit. As the choir eased toward the end of a favorite, “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross,” he would release a deep breath. Then, approaching the lectern, be would begin. Starting slow, then “striking fire”, he soared at the peak of sermonic power for 20 to 25 minutes and was then ready to “come home”.

After a gentle tug on the cord to turn off the lectern’s soft, white light, he walked down the steps to give his call to discipleship. “God is calling you, tenderly calling you, why wait? Come and bask in the peace, joy and sunshine of His love!”