Esther’s Call: faithful justice

As you work for justice may you:

Organize with the strategic wisdom of Ella Baker.

Preach with the revival passion of Evangelist Amanda Smith.

Write with the down home truth of Zora Neale Hurston.

AND

Worship God with the faith and exuberance of countless, unnamed women who throughout history have overcome because of the dignity they received from our savior. Know that you are indeed “called for such a time as this!”

June 19, 2012: Southern Baptist Elect First Black President

                                   Photo by Gerald Herbert, AP

On Tuesday June 19th the Southern Baptist Convention made history when 7,700 ministers unanimously supported the vote for Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. to become the first Black president of the predominately White denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention is the world’s largest protestant denomination and some would say the whitest. The vote is extremely historic in light of church history, because the Southern Baptist denomination became a separate denomination in 1845 after a regional split with northern Baptist over the issues of slavery. After the Civil War a second split occurred when most Black Baptists in the South separated from white churches and set up their own congregations.

To further distance itself from the history of slavery the denomination changed its name to Great Commission Baptists; this name change was endorsed by a 53% vote. These changes are extremely important and a good start but in order to move past it’s history of racism the Southern Baptist will have to do more than change its leadership and name, but it will have to create an environment where church leaders can truly repent of racism and prophetically preach that their congregants do the same. It should be noted that these large scale changes began with a 1995 apology the denomination made to African-Americans for its history of racism and supporting segregation.

It remains to be seen if these high level changes will trickle down to individual congregations where 11:00am Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week. These recent changes by the Southern Baptist Convention highlight the fact that globally the Christian Church will have to make serious adjustments as a result of the exponential growth of people of color in the pews. Many cathedrals in Europe are empty while in South America and Africa church membership is exploding, for example the two largest churches in the world are located in South Korea NOT the Bible Belt. In order to survive the Christian church will have to deal with racism and accept leadership from people of color, with these inevitable changes it remains to be seen whether White Christians will make the needed adjustments or leave the church unable to let go of the idolatry of racism.

Though the Southern Baptist have made two huge steps this week now the real work of healing the racial divide in its church begins, as we know from the historic election of President Barack Obama just because “our president is Black” does not mean that racism has come to an end and in fact it may rear its head in more insidious ways.

Mos Def-Niggas in Poorest Remix

Niggas in Poorest“Doctors say I’m the illest, I ain’t got no insurance, it’s them n-ggas in poorest, be them rebel guerillas”. N-ggas In Poorest

Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, may stir up some controversy with his new single “N-ggas in Poorest” which takes on the materialism of “N-ggas in Paris”. The single corresponds with the recent birthday of Malcolm X and even features a snippet of the activist speaking in place of the Will Farrell interlude. Yasiin goes on to rap about the economic reality of the average Black person and ends the song with the refrain “Don’t get caught-up in no throne, these devils out here lying, acting like the people ain’t dying, silver and gold ain’t never saved a soul…Allah in Control”, a vastly different message from Kanye & Jay-Z‘s ode to extravagance. This remix and video addresses the financial crisis and tries to turn the ear of the hearer to what is really important — honoring and protecting your people.

Though “N-ggas in Paris” may be an entertaining song one has to question how two of America’s top Black entertainers (one who is grew-up in a very poor community) can make in Kanye’s words: “Haute Couture Rap”. Some may say that by hearing Kanye and Jay-Z rap about the good life we are inspired to obtain it, but after almost 20-years of “bling rap” the Black community has grown poorer not richer. If rap artists really want to “lift as they climb” they will need to do more than showcase their “haute life” but will actually have to turn back and lift up the poor in our community through philanthropy (sorry Jay, $6,000 a year does not a philanthropist make) and activism.

To anyone who would say “well it’s their money, stop hating”, remember that it’s this same sentiment that allows Republicans to create a tax system where millionaires and billionaires pay little or no taxes, while the working poor pay plenty of taxes at every turn; it’s that same sentiment that blocked full healthcare reform and it’s that same sentiment that Bernie Madoff lived by while he ripped off not only rich individuals but religious, non-profit and corporate institutions, many of which were in his OWN Jewish community; sadly they trusted him so they gave him access. Could it be that since we as a Black community trust (and sometimes worship) our entertainers we give them access to ripping us off as well? If poor Black youth are supporting these artists shouldn’t they take some time to address the issues that are affecting our community? Remember that in the past when Black artist like Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes were in Paris it was because they were sharing the reality of the Black experiences via art. Baker even risked her life and was honored by France for spying on the Nazis during WWII, her time spent in Paris wasn’t just a vapid song and dance.

See the lyrics and video below:

“These young bloods is looking scary at the mall
They wearing pants, you can still see they drawers
They rob a nigga in the bathroom stall
They took his life cause he ain’t want to take it off
Poor so hard, that sh-t cray, ain’t it, Bey? Diabetics, fish filet
Poor so hard, your house so cold, ni–a, it ain’t spring
Every winter landlord f-ckin’ with my heat again
Bougie girl, grab your hand, show you how to do this ghetto dance
F-ck your French, we ain’t in France, I’m just saying
Prince Williams ain’t do it right, if you ask me
If I was him, I’d put some black up in my family
Fake Gucci, my ni–a, fake Louis, my killa
Real drugs, my dealer, who the f-ck is Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest, I ain’t got no insurance
It’s them ni–as in poorest, be them rebel guerillas, huh”

[Interlude: Malcolm X]
“I don’t worry. I tell you, I am a man who believed that I died 20 years ago
And I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.”

Voices from Human Circles of Protection: New York City

On Wednesday November 16th at 12:00pm people of faith across the nation joined hands to encircle organizations that are facing budget cuts due to the super committee and appropriations processes. In NYC we encircled Friendly Hands Ministries in East Harlem. Below is a link to a Sojourners Blog post that I co-wrote with Sarah Rohrer, Regional Director for Bread for the World.

Voices from Human Circles of Protection NYC

Bread for the World Coverage of NYC Human Circle

Bread for the World Nationwide Human Circle Coverage

Here is a link to the Union:inDialogue Blog: A New & Unsettling Force and the post I wrote for it:

Walmart in East NY: Desperation Exploitation

2012 National Prayer Breakfast Speeches: Eric Metaxas & President Obama

During this year’s controversial National Prayer Breakfast Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and former Veggie Tales writer gave a prophetic call to “true faith”. I was really impacted by his Bonhoeffer biography and though we may not see eye to eye on everything politically I do agree that when people of faith” play” religion it can have dangerous consequences.I have been meaning to make it out to one of Metaxas’ Socrates in the City lectures.

AmeriCorps Public Allies NY Alumni Profile

From September 2004-June 2005 I did a year of service with Public Allies NY an AmeriCorps Program. My year of service had a great impact on my life and I am still involved as an alumni. Check out my interview for the Alumni Newsletter:

PANY Alumni

Onleilove Alston ’05

Taking Initiative

2005 Alumna Onleilove Alston notes her time as a Public Ally as challenging, transformative, and fun. Her placement was at W!SE (Working in Support of Education). While there, she learned a great deal and made lifelong friends. She was able to gain clarity on her vocation. One of her most valuable moments at PANY was the encouragement to take initiative. Not only did she learn practical skills such as working in a team and conference planning, but also attributes her learning from the lives and work of her fellow Allies. This experience has inspired her to seek faith based social justice work. With the help of the PANY program managers, Onleilove applied to Columbia University School of Social Work. She recently graduated from Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work with a M.Div/MSW and upon graduation she was hired by her internship of two years. She now works at The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies as the Faith Based Organizing Associate where she engages clergy (of all faiths) in doing social services and advocacy for their faith communities. The Full Interview after the Jump

Podcast: The Complex Relationship Between Immigrant Blacks and African Americans on College Campuses

My friend Martha St. Jean interviewed myself and others on the divide that may exist among African-Americans, Africans and West-Indians on University campuses. Check out the article and podcast on Feet in 2 Worlds: The Complex Relationship Between Immigrant Blacks and African Americans on College Campuses.

FaithStreet: Leaders Speak Feature

I was featured on FaithStreet an a great resource for New Yorkers searching for a spiritual home, this site also features church profiles and events. Check it out below:

FaithStreet sat down with Onleilove Alston, a recent graduate of Union Theological Seminary, regular contributor to Sojourner Magazine and member of Metro Hope Community Church here in New York. We discuss whether Jesus would be a Democrat or a Republican, how Black Liberation Theology inspired Onleilove to pursue ministry, how to find a church in New York City and Christian Intentional Communities.

FS: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

OA: I was born and raised in East NY, Brooklyn and I now live in a Christian Intentional Community in Central Harlem.

FS: Can you tell us more about what a Christian Intentional Community is?

OA: A Christian Intentional Community is basically sharing an apartment or house with other Christians and the levels of commitment vary from community to community. The most famous Christian community may be the Catholic Worker or the Simple Way in Philly. In my community we kind of have a loose commitment to meeting and praying together and having Christian roommates. Some communities do service to the neighborhood that they’re in, some have a common purse where they share their income. We don’t have a common purse, so it varies from community to community. More after the jump.

SEX, RACE, & MONEY: Rolling Away the Stone in the Beloved Community

During Eastertide 2011 I was apart of the first Hosanna! Communities Initiative learning/teaching circle, SEX, RACE, & MONEY: Rolling Away the Stone in the Beloved Community, convened online. In this four-part liberation training, program participants began dreaming together what would make for missions of mutual liberation, that is those built on Lila Watson’s invitation: If you have come to help me, go home. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, let us work together. Eda Uca-Dorn facilitated while Chelsea Collonge presented research on sex-positive community building and I presented research on race and class dynamics in Christian mission. Visit H!SP to listen to the presentations and download session transcripts.
“The Iconocast is a twice-monthly podcast exploring the anti-imperial implications of Jesus’ teachings within our modern imperial context. It is the work of a number of collaborators, separated by hundreds (even thousands) of miles each engaged in thoughtful praxis.

I was interviewed for the Jesus Radicals Iconocast program on my Critical Race Theory & New Monastic/Christian Intentional Communities research, check it out below:

My Interview with Iconocast: Critical Race Theory & Intentional Communities

Podcast: The Complex Relationship Between Immigrant Blacks and African Americans on College Campuses

My friend Martha St. Jean interviewed myself and others on the divide that may exist among African-Americans, Africans and West-Indians on University campuses. Check out the article and podcast on Feet in 2 Worlds: The Complex Relationship Between Immigrant Blacks and African Americans on College Campuses

Read this Book: Mobilizing Hope by Adam Taylor

I met Adam as a Beatitudes Society Fellow at Sojourners in Washington, DC. Below is a description of his book, which I highly recommend to young people seeking to do justice. I felt privileged to be highlighted in the book. Adam and his beautiful wife are both veteran freedom fighters and great examples of to people of faith seeking to work in politics.

“Martin Luther King Jr. read the words of the apostle Paul to the church in Rome–”Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”–as a call not to retreat from the world but to lead the world into the kingdom of God, where peace and justice reign. In King’s day the presenting problem was entrenched racism; the movement of God was a revolution in civil rights and human dignity. Now Adam Taylor draws insights from that movement to the present, where the burden of the world is different but the need is the same.

Jim Wallis writes in the foreword, Mobilizing Hope “is a story of how Adam and many of his cohorts are shaping the next strategies for faith-based social change; a theology for social justice; a spirituality for young activists; a handbook for those who want to experiment with activism and search out their own vocation in the world; and a strategy manual that draws lessons from past movements for change.See what today’s transformed nonconformists are doing at home and abroad to keep in step with the God of justice and love, and find ways you can join the new nonconformists in an activism of hope.”-InterVarsity Press

For more information including an interview with Adam Taylor visit the InterVarsity Press Mobilizing Hope Page.

NYC Human Circle of Protection

On Wednesday November 16th at 12:00pm I joined people of faith across the nation to encircle organizations that were facing budget cuts due to the super committee and appropriations processes. In NYC we encircled Friendly Hands Ministries in East Harlem. Below are links to blog post about this action:

Voices from Human Circles of Protection NYC

Bread for the World Coverage of NYC Human Circle

Bread for the World Nationwide Human Circle Coverage

Pastor Prays for worker justice in the face of Intimidation

“Workers are human beings, they are people, they are NOT disposable, they are children of God…” Rev. Powers of Light Street Presbyterian Church praying for ESPN Zone workers.

On Wednesday June 30th former ESPN Zone employees, Baltimore Inner Harbor workers and allies held a press conference with United Workers a group that represents low-wage workers. The workers decided to have a press conference after forming a human rights committee to address the manner in which the Baltimore ESPN Zone closed on June 15th, 2010. ESPN Zone which is owned by Disney violated the WARN Act (a federal law) by closing without giving workers at least 60 days notice. In other cities ESPN Zone employees showed up to work to find the restaurant closed. The only reason the employees in Baltimore had even one week’s notice is due to a news leak and facebook status. Standing in front of the closed restaurant workers courageously shared their stories and demanded a face to face meeting with ESPN Zone executives. For the workers the issue is not just financial retribution but dignity. Rev. Powers of Light Street Presbyterian Church opened the press conference with a prayer for worker justice but during his prayer a guard from Cordish (which is the developer ESPN Zone rented from) attempted to stop the prayer. Rev. Powers continued to pray and did not get angry. As he was leaving the press conference Rev. Powers displayed great humility by telling me the guard was only trying to do his job. It was empowering for the workers to see a faith leader stand alongside them with such grace and courage.

Rev. Powers Prays for ESPN Zone Workers:

ESPN Zone Worker Testimonies:

Vintage Post-University of Puerto Rico Students Strike! 6-18-10

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. -From Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

There is no victory without a fight and we don’t fight unless we have to”.-Quote from UPR Student Protest Art

On April 21, 2010 students at the University of Puerto Rico went on strike to oppose budget cuts. The strike continues and has spread to 10 out of the 11 campuses in the UPR system. Furthermore, our own state and city universities face budget cuts and tuition hikes. Without affordable tuition it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain the higher education that is so desperately needed in our changing economy. We are in danger of going back to the not so distant past when higher education was for the elites of our society. Sadly our job market is not going back to the industrialized age but will continue moving forward into the information age where higher education is a necessity.

Please pray for the safety of UPR students and that as a global society we would value our future enough to educate it.

For more information and to hear a first hand account of the protest listen to:
Democracy Now Student Protest at University of Puerto Rico

The Global Emergence Won’t Be Televised

In response to the April 2010 dialogue about the emergent church and race Sojourners asked me to offer my perspective. The Global Emergence Won’t Be Televised is a reflection I wrote about this conversation.

Election Night in Harlem! Imagine if We Worshiped Together!

I co-wrote this post with a wonderful singer, writer and  friend Jamie Finch  right after spending a historic 2008  election night in the Bronx & Harlem. Though much has transpired over the past 4 years I still think we can not deny the history we have been blessed to live through, but we shouldn’t let history cloud our political thinking. This was one of my first blog post.

Elder Testifying about closing the polls!

Jamie: Last night I had one of the most beautiful, redemptive, and awakening experiences of my life. At the same time, however, I do not remember a time when I have felt more heartbroken, verging on hopelessness, over the words and attitude of the American Christian Church.

Onleilove: Last night I witnessed Harlem and Columbia come together for the first time. I experienced dancing in the streets, and witnessed the political engagement of citizens across New York City, regardless of race, class or sexual orientation. I am hopeful, yet I know that our work was just beginning.

Jamie: I have recently become acquainted with a very wonderful group of people here in Brooklyn that live intentionally in a community together called Radical Living. When I arrived last night, one of the housemates named Sharaya asked me what I was doing and if I wanted to go to Harlem with her. She said she wanted to be “somewhere historic for this historic event”. Little did I know at the time all that was wrapped up inside of that statement.

Onleilove: I began my day voting on the Upper Westside of Manhattan; unfortunately unlike my friends who live in Union Theological Seminary housing I did not have the blessing of voting for the first Black president in the historic Riverside Church. It was in this church that Dr. King preached one of his last and most controversial sermons-Beyond Vietnam. I met my friends at Riverside Church and they were so excited and some even stood in line to cast their ballots with Black Liberation Theologian Dr. James Cone! Later that evening my friend Danielle and I joined Lisa Sharon Harper and other members of NY Faith & Justice (a non partisan organization) for an election night party in the Bronx. When Obama won Pennsylvania, I could have cried remembering my first year of anti-racism protest at Penn State. The protests took place after members of the Black Caucus and football team received death threats, which culminated in the death of a Black man from New York. Pennsylvania has many great aspects, but sadly, also has an enormous amount of hate groups. Needless to say, I was shocked at this outcome.

NY Faith & Justice Election Night Party in the Bronx

Jamie: We took a puzzle system of trains for about an hour or so until we finally ending up getting stopped on the tracks, just feet from the platform of 125th street- our stop. As our train was pulled to an unexpected stop, we waited impatiently to find out why. Minutes passed and finally at 11:13pm, the conductor came back and told us he would have us exit onto the end platform, just barely out of the tunnel. We came up out of the train and felt that on this night there was brotherhood in the air. We ran to the bus and as we rode, we noticed the honking start; and then the cheering, and then the dancing. We suddenly became aware of what had just happened. The bus pulled to our stop and Sharaya and I shot out the doors like lightening, into the street, to be caught up in the rapture of the procession. This was a feeling I cannot even begin to describe. Do you understand the weight and magnitude of the fact that I, as a young 20 year old white girl, was able to run… literally RUN… in JOY through the streets of Harlem… in the midst of crowds and crowds of people that the systems of this world tells me I should fear? Harlem was united. Now, did you really hear what I just said? The streets of Harlem in New York City… were united.

Terri, Onleilove, Jamie and Sharaya in Harlem Rejoicing!

Onleilove: As we entered the outdoor screening at Harlem’s Adam Clayton Powell building my friend Danielle Parish (a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary) and I heard an elderly African-American woman giving her testimony about being the last one to vote at her polling station. A group encircled her, and I thought of the tradition of testimony in the Black Church. I also thought of Lisa Sharon Harper sharing pictures of her ancestors with us at a New York Faith & Justice election party in the Bronx earlier that evening. The ancestors of many African-Americans served as a “great cloud of witnesses” that were testifying this night. I looked down the block and could see Hotel Teresa where Malcolm X died. I looked in the opposite direction and saw the Apollo Marquee where James Brown was celebrated in a memorial service- a man who is most remembered for his brave song: “I’m Black and I’m Proud!” Standing in front of the Adam Clayton Powell building I remember the politicians who paved the way for Obama. Harlem is full of these witnesses and their testimonies.

Danielle, Terri, Aaron, Shelly, Onleilobve, Jamie & Sharaya-In front of the historic Apollo Theater-"God is good all the time!"

Jamie: We arrived at the public square and met up with Sharaya’s friends, one of which I had met before, named Onleilove. I began to listen as they each individually poured out their hearts and souls to me of the struggle of the black community. I saw their tears and held their hands as they spoke of future dreams, overcoming oppression, and what this moment meant not only to them, but to the memory of the ones they love and represent that have gone before. Those ancestors had been ones who spoke out against violence and slavery and injustice, just as they are now. It moved me beyond words and it was then that the gravity of this situation- the election of a black president- hit me. Years and years and years they have worked for this. And now, it is no longer just a dream. It is here!

Onleilove: As the results were announced, my friends and I hugged each other as Harlem erupted into cheers! It was like a parade! We cried and hugged remembering ancestors past who sacrificed for this day, like my ancestors who toiled on the America’s largest plantations as slaves for the Alston family. I honestly never thought I would live to see the day an African-American man was elected as the president of the United States! My friends and I started to call out the names of ancestors and incidents in Black history as we hugged. Terri Baxter, a fellow MDiv student at Union, mentioned the middle passage-where millions of people were transported from Africa to live and die as slaves; never to return home again. This night was for all of them.

In front of the Historic Adam Clayton Powell Building in Harlem

Jamie: After some NYC elected officials spoke, and Obama had given his speech that we all watched on the large screen together, the crowds began to disperse and I walked among and was embraced by a community of people unlike anything I have ever seen before. Every single color, background, orientation, race, age began to celebrate this occasion. But hear me, people, when I saw that it was not WHAT they were celebrating about that moved me to tears, but rather that they were celebrating TOGETHER. The fact that tonight, the streets of Harlem were the safest they have probably ever been and probably would ever be again. The fact that there was this beautiful BEAUTIFUL bond between all of these people and that FEAR was the last thought in their minds!

Onleilove: Our friends Shelly and Aaron met us in front of the historic Apollo Theater. They also attend Union Theological Seminary and we shared more rounds of hugs. We took pictures in front of the Apollo. As we walked home, Shelly started to repeat the common African-American Christian saying, “God is good!” as people passing by answered “All the time!” As we ran into more Union students-some of whom I had never before seen in Harlem, I was proud that for once Union and Columbia students, were actually in the community. A cop drove by and showed us a gesture of solidarity and celebration. In New York City after last November’s police shooting of an African-American man on his wedding day 50 times, seeing a cop and the community interact in a positive way was an unusual sight! As I observed my classmates and neighbors of all races, socio-economic statuses, and sexual orientations I could not believe that I was witnessing a celebration that brought everyone from the Ivy league student to the public housing resident together.

Jamie: We walked back to Union Theological Seminary, which is where most of the girls attend school, and a small group of us began to enter into a time of worship. Together with my black brothers and sisters, we sang together and prayed together- giving God the glory for just for being God. The Holy Spirit was indeed there and all the glory and praise was given to GOD… NOT a man. There were thanks, there were petitions, but mostly, there were prayers for UNITY, prayers for PEACE, more cries for reconciliation… like the reconciliation we had just seen. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and as I was accepted and embraced into it, I found myself incredibly moved.

Onleilove: As we walked into Union, a classmate from Black Woman’s Caucus ran up to us and invited us to pray. We all agreed to go into a classroom for an impromptu praise, worship and prayer session. In this prayer group there were people from middle class and poor backgrounds, gay, straight, biracial, black, and white. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, people hailing from the West Coast, East Coast, Red States, Blue States, Episcopalians, and everything in between sung praises to God and then offered prayer requests for our country, our schools, and our communities. We also prayed for a movement to begin with us. We all know that Obama is not the Messiah-JESUS is. We were all very aware of this. We also know nothing will change without us working to mobilize a movement that will fight for justice. This prayer meeting was special for many obvious reasons, but also because Union Theological Seminary is known for its liberation theology. Prophetic Christian voices such as: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr and Dr. James Cone are connected to Union’s legacy of justice. Additionally, as an institution we have a new historic president of our own: Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, Union’s first biracial woman president! This prayer meeting was in the liberation tradition of the seminary and speaks to a “Greater Awakening” happening in the church universal.

Jamie: As quickly as that hopeful feeling of restoration and unity came, it sadly vanished with that dreaded beast: Facebook statuses. Honestly, the things that people were saying and the attacks that they were throwing were reminiscent of a little child who has a tantrum when they don’t get their way. It was truly heartbreaking. Church, I expected more from you. My heart was deeply hurt and I was extremely disappointed with the language that was being used and the interaction between people who, at the fundamental core of WHO THEY ARE, are brothers and sisters! Regardless of political party! I witnessed this, and even received a good amount of it as well.

Onleilove: Though I was extremely happy to see unity and celebration I am eager to see this translated into long-term political action. I am saddened that the church may be more fractured after this election. I am sorry to say that for twenty and thirty something Christians, Facebook and the internet in general, has become a battleground. Christians feel comfortable making comments on social networking sites, and blogs that if said face-to-face would be categorized as gossip, slander or malice. As Christians, we should speak with Love regardless of the medium. Even if you did not support Obama, Romans 12:15 says, “to rejoice with those who are rejoicing”. The majority of African-American Christians were rejoicing when Obama won. As Christians, instead of being critical of this, we must realize that this was a historic moment that some of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King were martyred for.

Jamie: Last night, I saw for myself a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and I will never be the same. It was not because of any certain or specific man elected, but rather because of the hearts of all kinds different people who come from different places had decided to join together to dance and sing! You could almost see the swords being beaten into plowshares, and the spears into pruning hooks! You could feel the coming of the captives being set free! And by no work of man! But rather because the work of our God was alive and well, regardless of whether the people acknowledged it, knew it, or credited it to Him or not! I am not a black American. I will never truly understand their stories and struggles, but I know that now, at least, I understand so much more than I did before. I rejoice with them in this victory that they have sacrificed and even died for, for so many years. Onleilove and I were talking on the train the next morning and she said something that I had never fully realized until last night- just how much American Christianity has been politically captured by white America. It was then that I realized that the truth of the matter is that there are injustices and evils that plague not only the black community, but other minority and inner city communities as well that must be redeemed and must be changed. If you want to talk about lives being lost, let’s talk about poverty. And gang violence. And welfare. And homelessness. And suicide. Not just abortion. There is so much more to the work of our Lord than we can even begin to realize!

Onleilove: We only saw a glimpse of what Shalom and the Kingdom could look like and though no political party in this American Empire will usher in the Kingdom (in fact empires do the exact opposite), what we experienced on election night encouraged our spirits and gave us hope that “another world is possible”. What would it look like if Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University students got to know their neighbors in Harlem’s housing projects? What would it look like to be truly inclusive in our prayer circles? What would it look like to rejoice with those who are rejoicing? What could the Kingdom look like if we truly wanted God’s will to be done on earth everyday as it is in Heaven? This is not up to the Obama or any other political leader, but it is up to us. Let’s move from excitement and celebration to an organized movement in our communities, seminaries, churches and society.

A Poem by Jamie Finch

Where does our first allegiance lie? Where is our true citizenship? We are not Americans before we are the Beloved of God, the Bride of Christ. I am not a republican or a democrat, a liberal or a conservative. I am a child of Something More! An adopted and beloved daughter of the Almighty Yahweh! That is Who I answer to and that is where my first allegiance lays. And as others who have been claimed by the very same blood of Christ, the same goes for entire body of His church, whether they have the same skin color as us or even speak our language! We are a global citizenship, not a white American one. We have been called to something higher than any allegiance to any specific man, party, or even NATION. We are citizens of a coming Kingdom and we have been called to bring it here! That Kingdom is one of the principles of Jesus, NOT the politics of empire, and the King of that Kingdom COMMANDS us to love… So what shall we do with it? My heart is heavy, but my spirit is hopeful. I saw a glimpse of His Kingdom last night. And I pray that the actions and attitudes of the Church that I so dearly love becomes those of unity, peace, and love, instead of hatred and division, as we continue to seek to bring that healing and restorative Kingdom, that redemptive eternal World to this temporal one. Unless we start acting like true citizens of Heaven, we cannot bring Heaven here.

I love you, Church. I am thankful for you, brothers and sisters.

The New First Family!

Reverend Michael A. Walrond Jr. of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem Sunday November 9th : “We saw what could happen when we voted together now imagine what would happen if we worshiped together!”This blog is dedicated to the memory of Professor of Hebrew and Greek: Dr. Wyn Wright of Union Theological Seminary who passed away in 2007. She is in our “Great Cloud of Witnesses”.

Holding President Obama Accountable by Reigniting Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign

As we come upon another election year what will it mean to hold President Obama accountable for dealing with the growing rates of poverty in our country? I wrote the reflection below shortly after the Inauguration of President Obama.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence
Delivered April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City

On Tuesday January 20th, 2009 I was blessed to be in Washington, D.C. to witness history. As a descendent of one of the largest slave holding families (the Alstons of North and South Carolina) it was surreal to realize that less than 200 years after the Emancipation the first African-American president was sworn in on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible. I have been overwhelmed with emotion and still cannot believe that the new first family looks like my own. I am very proud of how far African-Americans have come towards freedom and though a major part of Dr. King’s dream was realized we are still not at the Promised Land. Many leaders from the Civil Rights movement have alluded to fact that it has been 40 years since Dr. King’s assignation. This fact has made me think about the Exodus story which has given African-Americans encouragement and a framework for their experience in America. The Exodus story is the foundation of the Black Church and I think it can provide important insights for how we as an American people can make it to the Promise Land Dr. King preached about in his Mountain Top sermon given the night before his death.

Though the Exodus account ends with the Children of Israel entering the Promised Land, not everyone was able to enter. Moses himself had to be left behind, and some from the older generation passed without entering the Promised Land. As a nation if we truly want to enter into the Promised Land Dr. King preached about, we have to continue to challenge the three ills Dr. King discussed: Poverty, Militarism, and Racism. We have to hold our president accountable to addressing these ills through his policies. In my opinion we need to have a revolution of values, a revolution that places the least of these at the top of our agendas. The time has passed for the Greed is Good ethic that has characterized the last twenty years, the time has passed for patronizing charity, and the time is now to reignite Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign. The Poor People’s Campaign brought poor African-Americans, Whites, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans together to converge on the nation’s capital to challenge our government to address the needs of the poor. As people of faith we must challenge this new administration to deal with the scourge of poverty once and for all. With the current economic crisis the ranks of the poor are growing to include not just the homeless or the welfare mother, but to include the former Lehman Brothers employee, or our suburban neighbor. Now that the issue of poverty is at the forefront we can begin to address issues of sexism, racism, and militarism; which all feed into poverty. Now is the time to challenge President Obama to continue the unfinished work of the Poor People’s Campaign, least we are left behind like Moses and the Children of Israel who did not completely yield to God’s call and missed entering into the Promised Land. Will we yield to Christ’s call to “preach good news to the poor” or will we be left behind?

Organizations dedicated to ending poverty:

The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary: www.povertyinitiative.org
Sojourners Mobilization to End Poverty: www.sojo.net
Micah Challenge: www.micahchallenge.org
New York Faith & Justice: www.nyfaithjustice.org
Domestic Workers United: www.domesticworkersunited.org
Christian Community Development Association: www.ccda.org

Vintage Post: Building the Beloved Community: 40 Years After MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign

As I attended Pentecost 2008 (Sojourners annual conference) I was reminded that Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign is celebrating its 40th anniversary. On Friday, Mary Nelson (Board Member of CCDA) and I facilitated a workshop on “Building the Beloved Community.” Building the Beloved Community was one of the central messages of Dr. King’s ministry. The Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 serves as a tangible example of what the Beloved Community looks like when lived out. In November of 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. and SCLC met to discuss what direction the movement should go in after the passage of civil rights legislation and the urban riots of the previous summer. SCLC decided to launch the Poor People’s Campaign in response to the economic injustice that plagued many Americans of all races. The Poor People’s Campaign was to be a widespread campaign of civil disobedience. The poor from across America would come to Washington, D.C. to challenge the government to pass an anti-poverty package that would include a commitment to full employment, a guaranteed annual income and increased construction of low-income housing.The Poor People’s Campaign included poor whites from Appalachia, poor African-Americans from rural and urban areas, poor Hispanics and Native Americans. This group all came together to build Resurrection City which became the headquarters of the campaign. This “city” consisted of shacks built by conference participants and included a school, an arts and cultural program, and a medical clinic staffed by volunteer doctors. In this community African-Americans shared gospel music with Appalachian whites who in turn shared their bluegrass music. This Resurrection City was a place of Beloved Community. Sadly, the goals of the Poor People’s Campaign were not accomplished due to the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy, bad press, and days of constant rain.The unfinished work of the Poor People’s Campaign is now our responsibility. For forty years we have been wandering in the wilderness of economic injustice but if we can unite regardless of our differences to create the Beloved Community we can get to the promised land of economic equality

Vintage Post: Madoff, Antisemitism and Galatians

Since December 2008 when Bernie Madoff turned himself over to authorities for pulling a massive $65 billion ponzi scheme I like most of you have read the countless stories of victims and reporters trying to make sense of it all. In my reading of the Madoff story I have noticed a very disturbing trend of playing into anti-Semitic and class stereotypes implying that Madoff’s ethnic group and humble beginnings in Queens were the cause of his scheming.

As much as things change, they stay the same….

In New York Magazine’s Bernie Madoff, Monster Mensch cover story the question is posed: What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolution Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history?(Steve Fishman, pg. 18 New York Magazine March 2nd 2009). Some of the reasons given were: “His grandparents had made their lives on the Lower East Side. He lived with them for a while, and that evening, he recalled how poor and rundown their neighborhood had looked”. He still had, as one observer put it, a whiff of Queens about him. He didn’t look like a leader of Wall Street…. Bernie Madoff’s story begins as that of the classic Jewish outsider, storming Wall Street gates in pursuit of fortune. He entered the financial business through a dirty disgusting outback” (Steve Fishman, pg. 18 New York Magazine March 2nd 2009). Entitling the article Monster Mensch is a play on the Yiddish (A Jewish Dialectic) term. One Vanity Fair author reported that: “Bernie was poor and from Queens…She said Bernie and Ruth (his wife) still had a Queens’s accent, adding playfully you could tell they weren’t from Switzerland” (Mark Seal Vanity Fair April 2009, pg. 129). When Palm Beach Post reporter Jose Lambiet started writing Madoff stories “the anti-Semitic messages started immediately” (Seal Vanity Fair, April 2009, pg 134).

Each racial or ethnic minority group has stereotypes that they have been striving to overcome. Jewish people have had to struggle against stereotypes related to money. Sadly, Madoff has hurt his own people the most; he stole from mostly Jewish charities and institutions. A Palm Beach resident who lost millions due to Madoff stated “what Hitler didn’t finish, he did! (Seal, Vanity Fair April 2009, pg. 134)”. An area hardest hit by Madoff was the Jewish Palm Beach Country Club, some in the area were resentful of Jewish people moving in. Palm Beach Post writer Lambiet stated: “It took decades for the Jewish community to get past this thing, and now…The anti-Semites are ecstatic, said one resident. Supposedly, there was a crack made at a local club: This is terrific now maybe we’ll get our land back. These people were not pleased at the way Jewish wealth has come into this community…” (Seal Vanity Fair pg. 134 April 2009). Sadly the Madoff case hasn’t just brought to light anti-Semitic sentiment but has shed light on Hispanic prejudice and classism as well-in the same April 2009 issue of Vanity Fair there was an article about a Swiss Brazilian family that worked closely with Madoff and the stereotypes abounded: “loud Brazilian Women in the family, brash, new money, inconsiderate, hugging and kissing everyone…” and it appears that there is a “logical” conclusion being made that of course this Latino, new-money family would work with a thief like Madoff. What can we expect when we let “those people” in our neighborhoods and financial firms?

I do not think a certain ethnic group or class is to blame for the Madoff scandal I think that out of control free market capitalism is to blame. As Christians we cannot play into anti-Semitic stereotypes realizing we worship a Jewish savior. We should pray for the Jewish community and everyone who has been hit by this crisis. I am a student at Columbia University and the law school lost 7 million to Madoff. Elie Wiesel famous Holocaust activist and author of Night was robbed by Madoff as well. Let us pray that prejudice does not lead to the scapegoating of minorities and the poor for this crisis. As minorities our greatest desire is “to be judged not by the color of our skin (or our religion or class) but by the content of our character” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a Christians we know that Galatians 3: 28 states: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Let us remember this as we speak out and pray against stereotyping and scapegoating.

Vintage Post Christian and Democrat: Can You Be Both?

For many Christians the 2008 Presidential Election was the first time they voted for a Democrat. Recently I heard a NYC pastor discuss the belief he held that to be Christian meant you were Republican, but while attending The Sojourners Mobilization to End Poverty in Washington, D.C. (a non-partisan gathering of 1,000+ Christians from around the country who came together because their faith inspired them to fight against poverty) he realized that a Christian did not have to be Republican and he resigned from the party. With a focus on abortion and marriage (two very important issues) many Christians are bound to the Republican Party and do not question this allegiance. This summer Christian author, inner-city minister and activist Shane Claiborne admonished Christians to “pledge allegiance to the Lamb” instead of either political party on his Jesus for President nationwide tour. As Christians I think we should align ourselves with politicians and policies that most reflect the message of Jesus Christ who proclaimed in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me, to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind and to release the oppressed…”

Worship at The Mobilization to End Poverty

I am currently a fellow for Faithful Democrats an online community of Christians who are members of the Democratic Party. I know some might find this sacrilegious but there have always been dedicated followers of Christ who we also Democrats. As an African-American Christian my community of faith has overwhelmingly been members of the Democratic Party because Republican policies do not speak to the needs of our community, yet African-Americans are also overwhelmingly pro-life. You may ask yourself how this paring can exist, well for me to be pro-life means I support life from the cradle to the grave. I work towards ending poverty because I know many poor women are pushed into abortions for economic reasons. I do not support the death penalty or war. I think it is interesting that Christians can advocate for children while they are in the womb but once children are born we do not advocate for them to have equal educational opportunities, or a life free from hunger, sickness and disease. Mother Theresa once said “I am so pro-life that if a woman does not want her child she can leave the child with me”; hence so many Children were given to her that she received the name “Mother Theresa”. She is an example of not just holding onto arbitrary pro-life or pro-family values but actually living them out in practical ways.

Christians Lobbying in D.C.-Holding their elected officials accountable.

I am critical of both major parties and personally want to see our country move past the two party system that dominates because more choices will ensure that we have a true democracy. At the end of the day if a candidate is dedicated to those who Jesus calls “the least of these”, than that person will get my vote whether they are a member of the: Democratic, Republican, Green or Independence Party. As Christians we cannot let our dedication to a political party, or even the American flag surpass our dedication to the Gospel of Christ. Our true citizenship is in the Kingdom which includes: Black, White, slave, free, male, female, rich, poor, American, Mexican, undocumented, citizen and anyone else who is born-again. I think Lisa Sharon Harper author and co-founder of NY Faith & Justice put it best when she stated: “Evangelical Doesn’t Equal Republican or Democrat”.

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One thought on “Esther’s Call: faithful justice

  1. Pingback: Looking Back to Organize Forward! | Wholeness 4 Love

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