Category Archives: Race & Ethnicity

BRIEF: UNCW lecturer to speak about N.C. eugenics and Nazi eugenics Thursday

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from ...

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from a 1921 eugenics conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist Edwin Black will speak about eugenics programs used against blacks and mentally disabled people in North Carolina as well as the eugenics programs of the Nazis at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 26) in the School of Nursing McNeil Auditorium, Room 1005 on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

His speaking tour is based on his book War Against the Weak and is sponsored by UNCW’s History department, the Block & Rhine Fund for Jewish Studies in association with The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Details: 910-962-3308.

– Amanda Greene

Southern Baptists to probe Richard Land’s Trayvon Martin remarks

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, preaches Nov. 11 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master's degree and met his future wife in the 1970's. Land often acts as a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, articulating the denomination's positions on issues such as abortion, same-sex unions, bioethics and race relations. Photo by Bryan S. Berteau.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Southern Baptist leaders will investigate whether their top ethicist and public policy director plagiarized racially charged remarks about the Trayvon Martin case that many say set back the denomination’s efforts on racial reconciliation.

Richard Land, who leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, was accused of lifting remarks for his radio show that accused Democrats and civil rights leaders of exploiting the case of the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.

Even though Land has apologized for both the remarks and not attributing their source, the commission’s executive committee said it was obligated “to ensure no stone is left unturned.” An investigatory committee will “recommend appropriate action” to church leaders.

“They need the Travyon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them it’s always Selma Alabama circa 1965,” Land said on his radio program, speaking of civil rights activists.

Those comments, included in a partial transcript published by Baptist blogger and Baylor University Ph.D. student Aaron Weaver, were previously written by Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner.

While conceding that talk radio has different attribution policies than traditional journalism or academic scholarship, “we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area,” the Executive Committee stated.

In a statement, Land said he serves “at the will of the trustees,” and “I look forward to continuing to work with and under the oversight of my trustees.” A commission spokeswoman said Land was not commenting beyond his statement.

The commission trustees, along with other Southern Baptist leaders, noted Land’s role in the passage of the 1995 resolution in which Southern Baptists apologized for their past defense of slavery. They also credited him for “engaging the culture and our political leaders on matters of religious conviction.”

Yet others have criticized Land, including the Rev. Fred Luter, the New Orleans pastor who’s expected to become the SBC’s first African-American president, who called the remarks “unhelpful.”

Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist researcher who blogged about Land’s comments without mentioning him by name, said the firestorm threatens to undo progress made by the overwhelmingly white denomination.

“The Southern Baptist Convention still must earn a better reputation for racial inclusion and justice,” Stetzer wrote. “As such, perhaps SBC denominational leaders are not the best persons to speak into racially charged situations, critiquing the actions of African Americans or African American leaders.”

Atheists’ slavery billboard raises tempers in Pa.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating the destruction to this billboard put up in one of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) The billboard is down, but the issue’s not gone.

A billboard erected in one of the city’s most racially diverse neighborhoods featured an African slave with the biblical quote, “Slaves, obey your masters.” It lasted less than a day before someone tore it down.

Now, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating and is meeting with both the atheists who sponsored it as well as leaders of the NAACP who found it offensive and racially charged.

The atheists behind the sign said they were trying to draw attention to the state House’s recent designation of 2012 as “The Year of the Bible” — an action by lawmakers that the atheists have called offensive.

But there were concerns that erecting such a billboard is playing with fire.

“If this had been Detroit, there would have been a riot,” said Aaron Selvey of Harrisburg, who visited the billboard site last Wednesday (March 7), the day after the sign was put up and later torn down.

“We don’t want things to escalate into violence or community tension, so we try to address situations like that right away,” added Shannon Powers, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. “We would not recommend tearing down because it could lead to escalation. It hasn’t, and we’re tremendously thankful for that.”

The billboard was quickly replaced with an ad for the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

Ernest Perce V, the Pennsylvania state director of American Atheists, said he won’t press charges against whoever damaged the billboard he designed, and said he, too, is a victim after receiving death threats.

“We hope people can see just a little bit of discrimination we get,” said Perce, who offended local Muslims last year when he dressed as a “Zombie Muhammad” in a Halloween parade.

Perce and the atheist sponsors of the billboard said they are dismayed that people were offended by the image instead of what he called injustices in the Bible and legislators naming 2012 “The Year of the Bible.”

Perce said he will proceed with a 25-billboard statewide campaign against the Bible and the legislation.

“We ask that you turn your anger toward the (state) House of Representatives,” he said, adding that his group does not support or condone slavery while the Bible, which he called “evil,” does.

Brian Fields, president of the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, understands the image was provocative.

“I want to say that I’m truly sorry that many people have misunderstood this billboard. It was never our intention to use race as our message itself,” Fields said.

“I don’t know if that would have had the impact, the same meaning if it wasn’t tied into something visceral. The picture shows the consequences of the statement that the Bible makes.”

Andrew Rebuck, general manager of the Lemar Advertising office in Lemoyne, Pa., said his firm will review all images from the atheists before posting any new billboards.

“We don’t endorse the message,” he said. “That is not my intent to have the community upset.”

Stanley Lawson, president of the Greater Harrisburg Branch of the NAACP, said his group didn’t advocate taking the sign down, “but, boy, was I pleased it was done.”

“It caused a lot of hurt and a lot of pain in the community. I’ve gotten more phone calls about this than I have about any issues in the past three or four years. It wasn’t just elderly people, it was young people, across the board.”

Selvey, the man who visited the billboard site and made the comparison to Detroit, called the billboard a hit to his soul.

“That image, that was my ancestors. That represents their struggle and all the pain they went through,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people understood how offensive that is. Schoolchildren will just see that black face and the words. They don’t understand the context.”

(Diana Fishlock writes for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Staff writer Matthew Kemeny contributed to this report.)

Second leg of N.C. NAACP Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty coming to Wilmington and Brunswick County this weekend

Wilmington Faith and Values

The state’s NAACP is continuing its bus tour across the state this weekend in the Wilmington area.

The Truth and Hope Tour, Putting a Face on Poverty in Southeastern North Carolina has been touring the state in the past month pointing out housing inequities and extreme poverty.

North Carolina NAACP president the Rev. William Barber, II will speak at 9 a.m. Saturday (March 3) at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, 3701 Princess Place Drive in Wilmington.

Then his tour continues into Brunswick County with a stop at about 11 a.m. in Navassa and on to Supply at noon to the Royal Oak Community.

For site directions, call 631-806-9677.

Two updates from two bishops on both sides of North Carolina’s marriage amendment

Wilmington Faith and Values

On Thursday (Feb. 23), Bishop Michael Burbidge, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, released the second in a series of four planned videos to Catholics in North Carolina. The videos have banners that prompt citizens to vote for a marriage amendment on the May 8 primary ballot. Incidentally, Sunday (Feb. 26) is National Prayer for Marriage Day.

In the video, Burbidge outlined “four core beliefs about marriage, based on church doctrine.” He encouraged Catholics to act on those beliefs. The video was released through Catholic Voice NC, which calls itself “the nonpartisan voice of North Carolina’s bishops.”

Bishop William Barber II, president of North Carolina’s NAACP, speaks out

After an earlier Wilmington Faith and Values article on how the state’s faith-based groups are mobilizing in advance of the marriage amendment vote, I received a response from Bishop William Barber II, the state’s NAACP president.

“It is true the N.C. NAACP is opposed to Amendment 1. But what is important is the context of this position,” he wrote in an email. “Many of  the same people trying to codify discrimination and hate in our constitution have also attacked voting rights, economic justice and educational equality and are themselves married to the extreme ultra-right regressive agenda. This cannot be lost in the debate.”

Barber continued to say that since same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, “we must examine the deeper motives of this extremist agenda and the dangerous legal and social precedents they are attempting to set.”

Blacks say atheists were unseen civil rights heroes

African Americans for Humanism have erected billboards in several cities featuring black icons, including Langston Hughes on this billboard in Atlanta, alongside African-American atheists. RNS photo by Bob Mahoney.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Think of the civil rights movement and chances are the image that comes to mind is of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leading the 1963 March on Washington.

But few people think of A. Philip Randolph, a labor organizer who

A. Philip Randolph, U.S. civil rights leader, 1963

A. Philip Randolph in 1963. Image via Wikipedia

originated the idea of the march and was at King’s side as he made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Why is King, a Christian, remembered by so many and Randolph, an atheist, by so few? It’s a question many African-American nontheists — atheists, humanists and skeptics — are asking this Black History Month, with some scholars and activists calling for a re-examination of the contributions of nontheists of color to the civil rights movement and beyond.

“So often you hear about religious people involved in the civil rights movement, and as well you should, but there were also humanists,” said Norm R. Allen Jr. of the Institute for Science and Human Values, a humanist organization based in Tampa, Fla.

“No one is discussing how their beliefs impacted their activism or intellectualism. People forget we are a diverse community. We are not monolithic.”

Allen has promoted recognition for African-American nonbelievers since he founded the group African Americans for Humanism in 1989. This year, more than 15 local AAH chapters are expected to highlight Randolph and about a dozen others as part of their observance of a Day of Solidarity for Black Nonbelievers on Sunday (Feb. 26).

The hope, Allen said, is that highlighting the contributions of African-American humanists — and humanists in general — both in the civil rights movement and beyond will encourage acceptance of nonbelievers, a group that polls consistently rank as the least liked in the U.S.

“So often people look at atheists as if they have horns on their heads,” Allen said. “In order to correct that, it would be important to correct the historical record and show that African-American humanists have been involved in numerous instances in the civil rights movement and before.”

AAH is also promoting black humanists in a billboard campaign in several cities, including New York, Dallas, Chicago and Durham, N.C. Each one pairs a local black nontheist with a black nonbeliever from the past. “Doubts about religion?” the billboard reads. “You’re one of many.”

A billboard in Los Angeles pairs Sikivu Hutchinson, a humanist activist based in Los Angeles, with Zora Neale Hurston, a folklorist of African-American culture who wrote of being an unbeliever in her childhood.

Zora Neale Hurston Photographer: Carl Van Vech...

Zora Neale Hurston in 1938. Image via Wikipedia

Hutchinson, author of the forthcoming “Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels,” links blacks’ religiosity with social ills such as poverty, joblessness and inequality.

“To become politically visible as a constituency, it is critical for black nonbelievers to say we have this parallel position within the civil rights struggle,” she said.

A strain of unbelief runs across African-American history, said Anthony Pinn, a Rice University professor and author of a book about African-American humanists. He points to figures like Hubert Henry Harrison, an early 20th- century activist who equated religion with slavery, and W.E.B. DuBois, founder of the NAACP, who was often critical of black churches.

“Lorraine Hansberry, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes — they were all critical of belief in God,” Pinn said. “They provided a foundation for nontheistic participation in social struggle.”

But they are often ignored in the narrative of American history, sacrificed to the myth that the achievements of the civil rights movement were the accomplishments of religious — mainly Christian — people.

Add in that black nonbelievers are a double minority — polls show African-Americans are among the most religious U.S. group — and it becomes even more difficult to discuss the atheism of heroes of black history.

“This is a country that loves the rhetoric of the belief in God,” Pinn said. “And think about how things currently stand. You can be socially ostracized and lose all sorts of connections by voicing one’s disbelief. If it raises these sorts of questions now, what were the consequences of doing it during the mid-20th century when everything about black life in the U.S. was in question?”

Juan Floyd-Thomas, a religious historian and professor at Vanderbilt University and author of a book on the origins of black humanism, agrees with Pinn, and called the traditional view of the civil rights movement as an inevitable extension of American Christianity “a mythology.”

Wright’s and Randolph’s critiques of organized religion, Floyd-Thomas said, “would not be too far out of step with the New Atheists” — best-selling atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But he laments that most African-Americans and even many nontheists are unaware of this history.

“One of the things that can be gained from shining a bright light on the contributions of nontheists to the broad sweep of the civil rights movement would have to be integrity,” he said. “These people had a moral core and that’s something that is sorely needed, whether you are a theist or a nontheist.”

“Our destinies are tied together.” Wilmington’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecumenical Service

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Religion News Wilmington

The Rev. Robert Campbell wasn’t sure who prompted the close to 350 people to attend Sunday’s interfaith Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecumenical Service at First Baptist Church in downtown Wilmington.

But the pastor of New Beginning Christian Church said he was sure they all came because they wanted to see social change in their communities.

“What we need to recognize is our destinies are tied together,” he said. “Moses, Isaiah, Martin Luther King, Jr., you and I are anointed, empowered, sent, ordained to make a difference.”

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image via Wikipedia

Campbell was the keynote speaker at the annual service sponsored by the Wilmington Ministerial Roundtable and the Wilmington Interfaith Ministerial Alliance to honor the legacy of social ministry and change embodied in the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. The services are housed at a different Wilmington church each year. The groups began meeting about 15 years ago to improve race relations, cooperation and fellowship between area parishes, synagogues and mosques.

Before Campbell spoke, spiritual leaders from local mosques, synagogues and churches read Bible and Koran passages. The audience recited parts of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Blue-and-white-robed teen girls from New Beginning Christian Church’s dance ministry performed a liturgical dance for the crowd.

“We invite you, as Martin Luther King did, to light a candle in this world, and do what is right, and call out what is wrong,” said Imam Abdul Rahman Shareef, spiritual leader of Tauheed Islamic Center.

Campbell’s thoughts focused on empowering the audience to make a change.

“One of the things greatly impacting our community is our young black men are getting in trouble, getting a record, and when they come out of prison, they can’t get a job, and the cycle starts all over again,” the pastor said. “Anyone here ever need a second chance? We need to make a difference.”

Rabbi Robert Waxman, spiritual leader of B’nai Israel Synagogue, gave the parting words for the event.

“This is an election year, and in November, we must respond and vote to say, yes we can. Yes, we can make the former Virgo Middle School a center of learning again,” he said of a predominantly black school New Hanover County Schools closed last year because of low membership numbers and test scores. “Yes, we can make a difference.”

Annual Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. worship service Sunday to feature local pastor

Religion News Wilmington

The Ministerial Roundtable of Wilmington’s and the Wilmington Interfaith Ministerial Alliance’s joint Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Worship Service will feature a local pastor this year.

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image via Wikipedia

The Rev. Robert Campbell, pastor of New Beginning Christian Church, will preach the interfaith sermon in honor of King at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15 at First Baptist Church on the corner of Fifth and Market streets in downtown Wilmington.

The service will include music from area churches.

Details: 763-2471 or 763-2220.

Beloved hymns carried King through troubled times

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Courtesy of Religion News Service

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Printed with permission

(RNS) At 87, the Rev. C.T. Vivian can still recall the moment, decades after the height of the civil rights movement.

As he stood to conclude a meeting in his Atlanta home, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. joined his activist colleagues in song, his eyes closed, rocking back and forth on his heels.

“There is a balm in Gilead,” they sang, “to make the wounded whole.”

As the nation pauses Monday (Jan. 16) to mark King’s birthday, those who knew him say hymns, spirituals and other religious songs helped carry him through troubled times.

The spiritual fit King’s unique circumstances, said Vivian, who recently was named vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization co-founded by King.

“The average Christian doesn’t have to pick up his phone when it rings and think about somebody killing him or his children,” said Vivian. “The average Christian didn’t have any of that.”

Although King had other favorites, his widow, Coretta Scott King, wrote in her autobiography that it was “Balm in Gilead” that “my husband quoted when he needed a lift.”

The first stanza she cited in “My Life With Martin Luther King Jr.” reads:

Sometimes I feel discouraged

And think my work’s in vain

But then the Holy Spirit

Revives my soul again.

King also was comforted by “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” a hymn sung by Mahalia Jackson at his 1968 funeral and by Aretha Franklin at the dedication of the new King memorial in Washington last year. “Through the storm, through the night,” it goes, “lead me on to the light.”

Accounts of King’s life say it was the last song he requested, moments before he was shot on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn.

Lewis Baldwin, a religious studies professor at Vanderbilt University who has written on King’s cultural roots and prayer life, said the song addressed some of the helplessness the Baptist minister must have felt as he constantly faced threats and attacks.

“I think that song spoke of that,” said Baldwin. “Give me courage, give me perseverance.”

Beyond music that encouraged him, Baldwin said King particularly appreciated songs such as “If I Can Help Somebody” that moved people toward the goal of creating King’s “beloved community.”

“He cherished the great hymns of the church, particularly those that spoke to the ethic of service,” he said, “and to be involved in changing the quality of life of human beings.”

Music such as the movement’s iconic theme song, “We Shall Overcome,” and others that King favored incorporate timeless values, Lewis said. “Those are not songs that have meaning confined to the 1950s and ’60s,” he said.

King particularly enjoyed Jackson’s rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Vivian said. After she sang the spiritual “How I Got Over” at the 1963 March on Washington, Baldwin said, King later wrote her to say she set the tone for his “I Have a Dream” speech.

His love for a range of music was reflected in his sermons, where he sometimes recited lines or whole stanzas of sacred songs. In a 1957 sermon, he said the Easter message was reflected in such hymns as “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “In Christ There is No East or West” as well as words from the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah.”

In that way, lyrics became more important than the musical notes that accompanied them, helping King deliver his message, said James Abbington, who teaches church music and worship at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

“King was a trained theologian,” he said. “Music becomes the platter or the handmaiden for theology.”

But in a life steeped in hymns, spirituals and other music of black culture, the question remains: Could King sing?

Friends and scholars say he often would sing with a group but seldom as a soloist. In her autobiography, his widow recalled that he once ended up singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as an unintentional solo and had to overcome “real stage fright” as he sang the whole song by himself.

“I never really told him he couldn’t sing,” wrote his widow, a trained classical vocalist, in her 1969 book. “He had a good voice for a choir.”

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King, laughed off the question.

“I refuse to comment on the grounds it might make me sound nasty,” he said. “His gift was speaking more than singing, but he loved music.”

What to expect in 2012 from Religion News Wilmington

Dear readers,

Thank you for reading Religion News Wilmington in 2011!

In 2011 we gave you:

  • Non-sectarian news of faith issues through the winter holiday seasons
  • 15 community contributors on many areas of faith including Catholicism, Judaism, evangelical Christianity, Humanism, world faiths and more

But hold on to your seats, folks, because 2012 is going to bring amazing things to this venture.

In 2012, get ready for:

  • A spiffy new magazine-slick site launching in the spring (our national template from Religion News LLC) with daily quotes, featured stories and bloggers, a community religion calendar, community church/faith organization listings, opportunities to advertise, fund-raising events and so much more!
  • At least 30 community contributors writing about the faith issues and intersections of public life and religion today
  • More media partnerships in radio, online and more
  • More local faith news (I hope to get to write much more frequently as the new site launches.)
  • A community speakers bureau. Need an interesting speaker about the faith news of today for your next community organization meeting? Call on Religion News Wilmington.
  • More multimedia slideshows and locally-produced videos of faith events and views in the Wilmington area

So please keep reading and *Like* us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @iwritereligion.


Amanda Greene, Editor