Category: The South

Southern Baptists poised to elect a black president; is this significant?

The Rev. Fred Luter is running unopposed for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Here, he delivers a sermon during Sunday services at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
The Rev. Fred Luter

The Southern Baptist Convention is poised to elect its first African-American president.  Is this a big deal, or a cynical ploy?

Neither, really.

As this Morning Edition article makes clear, Fred Luter isn’t just a prominent African-American preacher; he’s a transformational figure who stuck with his New Orleans congregation when the sanctuary washed away with Hurricane Katrina.  Luter is that rarest of preachers, a man who rose from the streets, understands poverty, and spikes his call to conversion with a strong dose of compassion.

In other words, the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t just placing a token black man in an honorary position to deflect attention from the denomination’s racist past; Luter rose to prominence the hard way and deserves all the accolades he is receiving.

But there is another side to the story embodied in the passionate minority report filed by Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.  McKissic is as theologically conservative as a Southern Baptist can be.  He preaches against “the gay lifestyle” with notorious gusto, but he is even more passionate about racial injustice. 

Fred Luter notwithstanding, Rev. McKissic sees little evidence that the moral fervor of the overwhelmingly white SBC “messengers” who will attend this year’s convention extends to civil rights.  

This impression was reinforced in a particularly painful way when Richard Land, head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, launched into a racially tinged radio rant that made him sound like the reincarnation of George Wallace circa 1962. 

Land lost his radio program over his diatribe (largely because his racist comments turned out to be an unacknowledged quote from an obscure right-wing zealot), but he kept his post with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Land has apologized for dismissing prominent civil rights preachers as “race hustlers” and suggesting that Barack Obama only addressed the Trayvon Martin case in a desperate attempt to improve his standing with black voters. 

Is Richard Land truly repentant?  McKissic is hedging his bets.  And for good reason.

As law professor Michelle Alexander points out, New Jim Crow racism differs markedly from Old Jim Crow bigotry.  Richard Land has renounced his denomination’s support for Old Jim Crow segregation and the overt commitment to white supremacy that was part of that package.  But when it comes to the New Jim Crow realities associated with mass incarceration and the creation of a black male undercaste, the high-profile Baptist preacher is essentially clueless. 

As Michelle Alexander points out, you can’t understand the dynamics of the New Jim Crow unless you are willing to sympathize with the plight of poor young black men who are making all the mistakes Fred Luter made as a young man on the mean streets of New Orleans.  Luter loves these guys, even as he laments key features of their lifestyle.  So does Dwight McKissic.  White Baptists like Richard Land has come to terms with a long-dead Martin Luther King Jr., but isn’t ready to acknowledge the full human dignity of the pre-conversion Fred Luter.

For savvy black Baptists in the SBC like Dwight McKissic, that’s a big problem.

Southern Baptists See Their Future In A Black Pastor

NPR

June 19, 2012

The Southern Baptist Convention is expected to elect its first black president on Tuesday: Fred Luter, a former street preacher who turned a dying New Orleans church into a powerhouse. His election is a milestone for the 167-year-old denomination at a time when minorities make up a growing share of a shrinking membership.

Luter, who is running unopposed for president of the nation’s largest Protestant body, is a departure from his predecessors. He was the middle child of a divorced mother, and until a motorcycle accident landed him in the hospital at age 20, he had little interest in God.

Then God changed him, he told NPR earlier this year.

“I grew up in the ‘hood, and my mom worked two or three jobs. So I hung out with a lot of bad guys, did a lot of crazy things I should not have done,” Luter said. “And so, when I gave my life to the Lord and saw what God did in my life, then I wanted all those guys I ran the street with to experience what I was experiencing.”

Soon, Luter was preaching on the streets in New Orleans. In 1986, he was invited to take over Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. Under him, its congregation grew from a couple of dozen people to 7,000 — the largest Southern Baptist church in Louisiana. Then Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, destroying the sanctuary.

“It would have been easy for Fred Luter to have said, ‘I think God’s calling me elsewhere,’ ” says Russell Moore, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “And he could have gone to a very comfortable pastorate anywhere in the country.

“And yet, he stayed,” Moore says. “And he stood with the people of New Orleans and said, ‘We’ll be back, we’ll rebuild’ — and became a spiritual anchor.”

‘The Future Of The Country Is Urban’

Luter’s decision to stay, and his personal charisma, propelled him to national prominence in the Southern Baptist Convention, says pastor David Crosby.

Crosby leads First Baptist of New Orleans, which shared its space with Luter’s congregation while they rebuilt. He adds that Luter brings something else desperately needed to this denomination, which has seen its numbers drop: He understands how to reach the only growth area of religion.

“The future of the country is urban; the future of the Southern Baptist Convention is also urban,” Crosby says. “We’ve got to learn how to operate and do our mission and thrive in the urban environment. And Fred brings that. He knows it instinctively.”

The SBC has made some progress in that area. Two decades ago, the denomination was “as white as a tractor pull,” as one critic put it. Now it’s 20 percent minority. Richard Land, who heads the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says Luter’s election shows how far the Southern Baptists have come from the days when they supported slavery.

“It’s as historic a moment as Southern Baptists have had,” Land says, “because the president of SBC is not just an honorific — it is a position of real power.”

Maybe — and maybe not, says Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of the largely African-American Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

‘A Historic Moment’

“This is a great job, but it’s somewhat symbolic and ceremonial,” he says.

McKissic says the two-year presidency is a good first step. But he says African-Americans are absent from all the real positions of power.

Some say there’s a latent racism in the denomination. And many were troubled by a recent broadcast on Land’s radio program in which he said President Obama and black leaders were using the death of Trayvon Martin for political purposes.

“This is being done to try to gin up the black vote for an African-American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election,” Land said on the air.

“It was like someone took a knife and stuck it in my heart,” McKissic says. “It validated suspicions that many black Baptists have had all along, that this is how a good number, if not the majority, of Southern Baptists felt.”

Land has apologized and asked for forgiveness.

“I don’t want anything I’ve said, or any mistakes I’ve made, to detract from — in any way — from what is going to be a truly historic moment — a historic moment in which I rejoice,” he says.

Luter has forgiven Land; he says it’s time to look forward. He notes that if he’s elected, it will be because white Baptists voted for him.

“It won’t be because of the handful of black folk that’s going to be there,” Luter says. “So, it will say something to the country and to the world — that the Southern Baptist Convention is not just talking this thing, we’re actually walking this thing.”

The “unbelievable brutality” at Walnut Grove

Michael McIntosh

In 2010, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility located near Jackson, Mississippi.  Earlier this year, a settlement in the case required the state of Mississippi to remove all youth from the Walnut Grove facility. 

Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

One of the kids at the facility, Mike, suffered from severe brain damage from youth-on-youth violence incited by a prison guard.  Dozens of other kids at the facility were also severely injured.  Last fall, Friends of Justice had the opportunity to meet with Mike’s father, Michael McIntosh, during a trip to Mississippi.  He told us the tragic story of his son’s experience at Walnut Grove.  You can read more about Mike’s story in the article below.  MWN

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons

By Booth Gunter

Michael McIntosh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had come to visit his son at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., only to be turned away. His son wasn’t there.

“I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”

Thus began a search for his son Mike that lasted more than six weeks. Desperate for answers, he repeatedly called the prison and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. “I was running out of options. Nobody would give me an answer, from the warden all the way to the commissioner.”

Finally, a nurse at the prison gave him a clue: Check the area hospitals. (more…)

Police arrest 6-year-old in Georgia

In case you missed it in the news last week, police in Georgia handcuffed and arrested Salecia Johnson, 6, for throwing a tantrum at school.  The girl, a kindergarten student at Creekside Elementary, was taken to a local police station in a squad car.  She was later released and the charges were dropped.  This story is an unfortunate example of how zero-tolerance policies can lead to extreme discipline practices and the criminalization of youth.  Salecia’s case highlights school-to-prison pipeline issues and the need for more positive discipline practices in schools.  Check out the Washington Post article below for more details.  MWN

Just as Fairfax County schools is considering major changes to its much-maligned disciplinary policies, a story about a Georgia 6-year-old suggests that zero-tolerance policies remain entrenched across the country — and can lead to evermore bizarre scenarios.

In this instance, a little girl named Salecia Johnson had what seems to be a torrential tantrum in her elementary school class. She apparently threw books and toys, tore at wall hangings and threw a shelf that hit her principal in the leg, according to the Associated Press.

A school official called the police. Yes, the police.

The police arrived. An officer pulled out a pair of handcuffs. He snapped them on the girl’s pint-sized wrists.

Police later told the AP that policy mandates they handcuff everyone who is arrested, regardless of age.

Those policy-following police then put Salecia in a squad car and drove her to the local police station. There, they gave her a soda and decided against not charging her with a crime.

Oh, the humanity. (more…)

Richard Land’s Trayvon problem deepens

By Alan Bean

Update: Richard Land has issued an apology for the remarks referenced in this post.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land says he is the victim of a media mugging.  First the Nashville Tennessean characterized Land’s incendiary comments on his own radio show as a “rant”.  Now a Baylor-based blogger claims that the Baptist ethicist’s rant was plagiarized.

Many of the words that he uttered during his radio show were taken VERBATIM – yes, WORD-FOR-WORD – from a Washington Times column penned by conservative commentator Jeffrey Kuhner. Kuhner’s column titled “Obama foments racial division” was published on March 29.

Land has apologized for failing to give proper attribution, but continues to lash out at the liberal media.  This brief excerpt from an article in the Nashville Tennessean will tell you what the Southern Baptist spokesman is so upset about.

Some consider statements made Saturday by the convention’s top policy representative on his national radio show a setback. On Richard Land Live!,Land accused black religious leaders — whom he called “race hustlers” — and President Barack Obama of using the shooting death of an African-American teen in Florida for election-year gains.

“This will be vetted in court, not in a mob mentality that’s been juiced up by Al Sharpton, who is a provocateur and a racial ambulance chaser of the first order, and aided and abetted by Jesse Jackson,” Land said on the show.

And, on Obama’s statement that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim, Land said: “The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires.”

The Rev. Maxie Miller, a Florida Baptist Convention expert in African-American church planting, was incredulous when he heard about the comments.

“At no time have I been embarrassed of being a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist,” Miller said. “But I’m embarrassed because of the words that man has stated.”

Richard Land claims he should be immune from charges of racial insensitivity because he had a large hand in drafting the SBC’s official apology for slavery and Jim Crow.  According to the Associated Baptist Press, the 1995 statement read in part: (more…)

Were the Tulsa shootings racially motivated?

By Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

As of yesterday, two suspects have confessed to the Tulsa, Oklahoma shootings that left two injured and three dead over the Easter weekend.  The two suspects — Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32 — were arrested Sunday morning and confessed shortly after their arrest.

Late Thursday, According to the New York Times, England wrote an angry post on his Facebook page about the deaths of his father and fiancée:

Mr. England’s father, Carl, was shot on April 5, 2010, at an apartment complex…and the man who was a person of interest in the case, Pernell Jefferson, is serving time at an Oklahoma state prison.

Mr. England is a Native American who has also described himself as white.  Mr. Jefferson is black.

“Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” Mr. England wrote, and then used a racial epithet to describe Mr. Jefferson. “It’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head,” he added, referring to the recent suicide of his 24-year-old fiancée, Sheran Hart Wilde. “RIP. Dad and sheran I Love and miss u I think about both of u every second of the day.”

Hours later, England and his roommate, Watts, drove a pickup through a predominately black neighborhood in Tulsa and started to randomly shoot pedestrians.  Mr. England admitted to shooting three of the victims and Mr. Watts admitted to shooting the other two.

Many within the Tulsa community believe the actions of England and Watts were racially motivated.

The city of Tulsa has a history of racial tension.  In 1921, the city was the site of one of the deadliest race riots in U.S. history.  The riots began when a young black man was arrested after he was accused of sexually harassing a white woman.  His arrest sparked a violent confrontation between the black and white communities.  According to documents from the Tulsa Historical Society:

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters.  Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa.  Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned.  Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.

Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased.  In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins.

Historians estimate that over 300 people were killed in the riot and more than 8,000 were left homeless.

Now, 91 years after the deadly riot, race relations in Tulsa remain rocky.  Many, including the Tulsa NAACP chapter and Tulsa City Council member Jack Henderson, want the gunmen to be prosecuted for a hate crime.

“Somebody that committed these crimes were very upset with black people,” said Jack Henderson, “That person happened to be a white person. The people that they happened to kill and shoot were black people — that fits the bill for me.”

Police officials and prosecutors, however, say it is still too early in the investigation to call the shooting rampage a hate crime.

Santorum meant exactly what he said

By Alan Bean

Rick Santorum has raised eyebrows with a comment about President Obama’s “phony theology”.  According to the surging presidential candidate, Obama’s worldview is driven by “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.”

Aked to explain this remark on Face the Nation, Santorum said he was referring to the president’s environmental views.  According to an AP article:

The former Pennsylvania senator said Obama’s environmental policies promote ideas of “radical environmentalists,” who, Santorum argues, oppose greater use of the country’s natural resources because they believe “man is here to serve the Earth.” He said that was the reference he was making Saturday in his Ohio campaign appearance when he denounced a “phony theology.”

But when reporters asked for an explanation of the “phony theology” remark immediately after it was uttered, the candidate made no reference to environmentalism, explaining instead that the president practiced one of the various “stripes” of Christianity.

So where does Mr. Santorum stand?  Does he think Barack Obama is a genuine Christian or doesn’t he? (more…)