BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Guidelines for a Constructive Church

Image result for Guidelines for a Constructive ChurchIn honor of MLK today, enjoy this speech he delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on June 5, 1966. Like so many of his words, this address feels every bit as prescient today as it did then. The full transcript and a recording can be found here

I would like to preach from the subject: "Guidelines for a Constructive Church." Over the last several weeks now, we've been reading a good deal in our newspapers about guidelines. Now this word has been applied basically to the public school systems across our nation, particularly in the South.

The Supreme Court of our nation rendered a decision back in 1954 declaring segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. And that next year in 1955 it came back stating that every school district was to integrate "with all deliberate speed."

And yet we came into 1966 with the terrible realization that only 5.2 percent of the Negro students of the South had been placed in integrated schools, which meant in substance that we haven't made 1 percent progress a year. And if it continued at that pace it would take another ninety-six years to integrate the public schools of the South.

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And so the Department of Education decided that the process had to be speeded up on the basis of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. And this department decided to set forth certain basic guidelines that had to be followed. The guidelines stated in substance that the process of integration had to be speeded up; that all grades had to be integrated; that even faculties had to be integrated.

And this plan, or these guidelines, was submitted to every school district and that school district had to decide whether it would follow the guidelines. If it refused to follow the guidelines then federal funds would be cut off. If it complied with the guidelines then federal funds would be continued. And so today there is a great discussion all over the educational world and the public school system about whether a school district or a school board will follow the guidelines.

This morning I would like to submit to you that we who are followers of Jesus Christ, and we who must keep his church going and keep it alive, also have certain basic guidelines to follow. Somewhere behind the dim mist of eternity, God set forth his guidelines. And through his prophets, and above all through his son Jesus Christ, he said that, "There are some things that my church must do. There are some guidelines that my church must follow."

Image result for mlk ebenezerAnd if we in the church don't want the funds of grace cut off from the divine treasury, we've got to follow the guidelines. The guidelines are clearly set forth for us in some words uttered by our Lord and Master as he went in the temple one day, and he went back to Isaiah and quoted from him. And he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." These are the guidelines.

You see, the church is not a social club, although some people think it is. They get caught up in their exclusivism, and they feel that it’s a kind of social club with a thin veneer of religiosity, but the church is not a social club. The church is not an entertainment center, although some people think it is. You can tell in many churches how they act in church, which demonstrates that they think it’s an entertainment center. The church is not an entertainment center. Monkeys are to entertain, not preachers.

But in the final analysis the church has a purpose. The church is dealing with man's ultimate concern. And therefore it has certain guidelines that it must follow.

Now I wish time permitted me to go into every aspect of this text, but I want to just mention a few. Let us first think of the fact that if the church is following its guidelines, it seeks to heal the broken-hearted. Now there is probably no human condition more tantalizing than a broken heart. You see, broken-heartedness is not a physical condition; it’s a condition of spiritual exhaustion.

And who here this morning has not experienced a broken heart? I would say broken-heartedness comes basically from the trying experience of disappointment. And I don't believe there are many people here this morning under the sound of my voice who have not been disappointed about something.

Here is a young man or a young woman dreaming of some great career and setting out in school to try to make that career possible, only to discover that they don't quite have the mental faculties, the technical know-how, to achieve excellence in that particular field. And so they end up having to choose life’s second best, and because of this they end up with a broken heart.

Here is a couple standing before the altar in a marriage that seems to be born in heaven, only to discover that six months or a year later the conflicts and the dissensions begin to develop; arguments and misunderstandings begin to unfold. And that same marriage which a year earlier seemed to have been born in heaven ends up in the divorce court, and the individuals are left with a broken heart.

Here is a family, a mother and father striving desperately to train their children up in the way that they should go. Working hard to make their education possible; working hard to give them a sense of direction, praying fervently for their guidance. And yet, in spite of all of this, one or two of the children end up taking the wrong road, moving toward some strange and tragic far country. And the parents end up having to acknowledge that the children that they raised are prodigals lost in a far country, and they end up with a broken heart.

And then there comes life’s ultimate tragedy, that something that always makes for a broken heart. Who this morning hasn't experienced it? When you must stand before the bier of a loved one. That day when the casket rolls down the aisle. That experience called death, which is the irreducible common denominator of all men. And no one can lose a loved one, no one can lose a mother or father, sister, brother, a child, without ending up with a broken heart. Broken-heartedness is a reality in life.

And Sunday after Sunday, week after week, people come to God’s church with broken hearts. They need a word of hope. And the church has an answer—if it doesn't, it isn't a church. The church must say in substance that broken-heartedness is a fact of life. Don’t try to escape when you come to that experience. Don't try to repress it. Don't end up in cynicism. Don't get mean when you come to that experience.

The church must say to men and woman that Good Friday is a fact of life. The church must say to people that failure is a fact of' life. Some people are only conditioned to success. They are only conditioned to fulfillment. Then when the trials and the burdens of life unfold, they can't stand up with it. But the church must tell men that Good Friday’s as much a fact of life as Easter; failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment. And the church must tell men to take your burden, take your grief and look at it, don't run from it. Say that this is my grief and I must bear it. Look at it hard enough and say, "How can I transform this liability into an asset?"

This is the power that God gives you. He doesn't say that you're going to escape tension; he doesn't say that you're going to escape disappointment; he doesn't say that you’re going to escape trials and tribulations. But what religion does say is this: that if you have faith in God, that God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain. So let not your heart be troubled.

"If ye believe in God, ye believe also in me." Another voice rings out, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden." As if to say, "Come unto me, all ye that are burdened down. Come unto me, all ye that are frustrated. Come unto me, all ye with clouds of anxiety floating in your mental skies. Come unto me, all ye that are broke down. Come unto me, all ye that are heartbroken. Come unto me, all ye that are laden with heavy ladens, and I will give you rest."

And the rest that God gives is the rest that passeth all understanding. The world doesn't understand that kind of rest, because it’s a rest that makes it possible for you to stand up amid outer storms, and yet you maintain inner calm. If the church is true to its guidelines, it heals the broken-hearted.

Secondly, when the church is true to its guidelines, it sets out to preach deliverance to them that are captive. This is the role of the church: to free people. This merely means to free those who are slaves. Now if you notice some churches, they never read this part. Some churches aren't concerned about freeing anybody. Some white churches face the fact Sunday after Sunday that their members are slaves to prejudice, slaves to fear. You got a third of them, or a half of them or more, slaves to their prejudices. And the preacher does nothing to free them from their prejudice so often.

Then you have another group sitting up there who would really like to do something about racial injustice, but they are afraid of social, political, and economic reprisals, so they end up silent. And the preacher never says anything to lift their souls and free them from that fear. And so they end up captive. You know this often happens in the Negro church. You know, there are some Negro preachers that have never opened their mouths about the freedom movement. And not only have they not opened their mouths, they haven’t done anything about it.

And every now and then you get a few members: "They talk too much about civil rights in that church." I was talking with a preacher the other day and he said a few of his members were saying that. I said, "Don't pay any attention to them. Because number one, the members didn't anoint you to preach. And any preacher who allows members to tell him what to preach isn't much of a preacher."

For the guidelines made it very clear that God anointed. No member of Ebenezer Baptist Church called me to the ministry. You called me to Ebenezer, and you may turn me out of here, but you can’t turn me out of the ministry, because I got my guidelines and my anointment from God Almighty. And anything I want to say, I'm going to say it from this pulpit.

It may hurt somebody, I don’t know about that; somebody may not agree with it. But when God speaks, who can but prophesy?The word of God is upon me like fire shut up in my bones, and when God’s word gets upon me, I've got to say it, I’ve got to tell it all over everywhere. And God has called me to deliver those that are in captivity.

Some people are suffering. Some people are hungry this morning. Some people are still living with segregation and discrimination this morning. I'm going to preach about it. I’m going to fight for them. I’ll die for them if necessary, because I got my guidelines clear. And the God that I serve and the God that called me to preach told me that every now and then I'll have to go to jail for them. Every now and then I’ll have to agonize and suffer for the freedom of his children. I even may have to die for it.

But if that’s necessary, I'd rather follow the guidelines of God than to follow the guidelines of men. The church is called to set free those that are captive, to set free those that are victims of the slavery of segregation and discrimination, those who are caught up in the slavery of fear and prejudice.

And then the church, if it is true to its guidelines, must preach the acceptable year of the Lord. You know the acceptable year of the Lord is the year that is acceptable to God because it fulfills the demands of his kingdom. Some people reading this passage feel that it’s talking about some period beyond history, but I say to you this morning that the acceptable year of the Lord can be this year. And the church is called to preach it.

The acceptable year of the Lord is any year when men decide to do right.
The acceptable year of the Lord is any year when men will stop lying and cheating.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when women will start using the telephone for constructive purposes and not to spread malicious gossip and false rumors on their neighbors.
The acceptable year of the Lord is any year when men will stop throwing away the precious lives that God has given them in riotous living.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when people in Alabama will stop killing civil rights workers and people who are simply engaged in the process of seeking their constitutional rights.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will learn to live together as brothers.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep their theology abreast with their technology.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep the ends for which they live abreast with the means by which they live.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep their morality abreast with their mentality.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when all of the leaders of the world will sit down at the conference table and realize that unless mankind puts an end to war, war will put an end to mankind.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: and nations will not rise up against nations, neither will they study war anymore.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will allow justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when we will send to Congress and to state houses of our nation men who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with their God.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain will be made low; the rough places would be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will do unto others as they will have others do unto themselves.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will love their enemies, bless them that curse them, pray for them that despitefully use them.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men discover that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.
The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess the name of Jesus. And everywhere men will cry out, "Hallelujah, hallelujah! The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah, hallelujah!"

The acceptable year of the Lord is God’s year.

These are our guidelines, and if we will only follow the guidelines, we will be ready for God’s kingdom, we will be doing what God’s church is called to do. We won’t be a little social club. We won’t be a little entertainment center. But we’ll be about the serious business of bringing God’s kingdom to this earth.


It seems that I can hear the God of the universe smiling and speaking to this church, saying, "You are a great church because I was hungry and ye fed me. You are a great church because I was naked and ye clothed me. You are a great church because I was sick and ye visited me. You are a great church because I was in prison and ye gave me consolation by visiting me."

And this is the church that’s going to save this world. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to heal the broken-hearted, to set at liberty them that are captive, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

Monday, January 8, 2018

Be the Light

Related imageSometimes it feels like everything is just awful. Like things just can't get any worse.
All around, we see division, anger, hatred. So much brokenness. So much injustice.

Yet the Church has an opportunity in this moment. We have a chance to cast a vision of God's restored Kingdom. To embody a Holy dream. To lead.

Too often we focus on the brokenness, the violence, and the injustice. That's what get's the most attention, and riles people's emotions.

It's good to point out what's missing in this world. It's good to identify the things that break God's heart. But too often we just stay there. The the world is good at pointing out what's wrong. God's people are called to shine on what is right.

I am reminded of a recent MennoNerds conversation I had with Osheta Moore, author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World. She observes, "I am surrounded by people who are so eager to notice the brokenness in the world." Doing the work of shalom is not about "camping out in the broken," Osheta continues, "because we don't have to go too far to find the broken. The broken is as close as our Facebook feed. Our job is to say, yeah that's broken, but God's dream for it is this picture of wholeness. God's dream for it is this being restored."
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Osheta reminds us that a call for true shalom is a call into a vision of something whole, something just, something greater than what the world proposes.

It's not that we should ignore the injustice and the brokenness. We know the issues are real, with devastating consequences for ourselves and for our neighbors. But what if, because we know these issue are real, what if we framed the issues around what could be, and not just what isn't?

The world already spends too much energy denigrating our communities, telling us what we don't have and what's wrong with us. And too often our churches are the first to contribute to the barrage of negativity and shame, pointing out everything that is wrong and how far we have fallen.

We do it because we care. Because we know it's not what God would have for us. We do it to provoke change. But we end up missing the Imago Dei in the very people we are trying to champion.

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Instead, if we will allow God light of hope, of wholeness and shalom, to be our focus, we will inspire each other into truly living into our call as the hands and feet of Christ on this earth. The energy will shift, and we will realize that we are already equipped to achieve the change we are seeking. We will move out of our guilt and into redemption. We will no longer be paralyzed in heartbreak and despair, but will mobilize our communities into something better.

The world looks around and sees darkness, despair, and disillusionment. But that's not who God is. "God says there is more. There is beauty, there is flourishing, there is hope. There is the Holy Spirit. There is good." God says "let there be light!"

We believe in a world filled with equity and with justice. We believe that everyone deserves to live. We believe every culture is beautiful and worthy. We believe children can be fed and healthy. We believe that every vote should count, and that laws should be fair. We believe schools can be safe and healthcare can be affordable. We believe all neighborhoods can be prosperous and all people can be truly free.

The world will tell us it cannot be done. But Jesus says, "yes it can."

This is the work of the Church--the work of hope. Let us reclaim our place as prophetic witnesses to God's vision for the world. And then let us partner with God in bringing about that Kingdom "on earth as it is in Heaven"

It's a new year. It's the season of Epiphany.
Let's us be the Light, Church.
Be the Light. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rise Up...and Build!

The following is adapted from a brief address given at the 2017 All People Conference in Columbus, OH. The theme for the event was based on Nehemiah 2:18--"Rise Up...and Build!"

UM Church for All People (C4AP) grew out of the relationships formed in the Free Store. It is through these diverse relationships of mutually and accompaniment that we believe we will come to know God better

And it was out of these relationships that the church was formed. Folks began praying together, and worshiping together. And so in 2002, C4AP was born. And it grew.

We host the All People Conference over a Sunday on purpose so that you can get take a deep dive into experiencing the palpable energy of the koinonia in this place. Our pastor is a bit of a Greek scholar so he uses words like that when describing C4AP. Best I can tell though, the literal translation of koinonia must just be “holy chaos,” because that sure can be what it’s like around here.

If you get a chance, I invite you to experience C4AP on a Sunday morning…and you got experience it to believe it. But I want to describe it a little bit for you here, in the meantime.

One of the other ways that’s reflected is in the worship music. We have an excellent band that can play hymns, Black gospel, CCM, Appalachian bluegrass, and much more. We worship with all kinds of music because we want to represent the full range of who we are, and indeed who we are yet to be become…either for the next visitor that walks through the door, or for when we join together with the heavenly chorus.

And this comes with it’s challenges. Rev. James Forbes notes that “a truly diverse congregation where anybody enjoys more than 75% of what’s going on is not thoroughly integrated.” If everyone’s always comfortable, that’s not integration…that assimilation. That’s cultural hegemony disguised as unity.

Too often the multicultural church owes its success to the people of color in the congregation simply willing to 'take it for the team' and give up their own beautiful heritage for the sake of white folks being comfortable.

So what are the rest of us willing bring as a sacrifice of praise?

This also means that if I’m doing my job as minster of music, no one is happy with me all of the time, but everybody is happy with me some of the time.

We are a Church for All People. But not all people like all people.
But we have to move from tolerance to acceptance, to affirmation, yes even to love.
We have to take these elements into ourselves and learn and grow from them.

The world will teach us tolerance…and that’s fine, there’s a place for that.
But the cross calls us to so much more.

When I come home at the end of the day I do NOT what my husband to say “baby, I tolerate you.”
Maybe that’s the truth. Sometimes tolerance is a good place to start.
But’s not what scripture says.

"Tolerate your enemies"
"Tolerate your neighbor as you tolerate yourselves."
"Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you."

No. Christ calls us to love.
But sometimes loving is hard. It’s uncomfortable.
Nobody said church was supposed to be comfortable.
It sooths, it nourishes, it comforts…but it’s not comfortable!

Here’s another distinctive element that sometimes makes our guests uncomfortable at C4AP: the sharing of joys and concerns. That’s right my friends, brace yourselves, we pass the mic! And that can bother our middle-class, and time-oriented culture friends in the room.

But let me tell you, it’s the high holy moment of the service. More than the sermon, sometimes even more than communion. It is a moment when folks that do not often get their voices heard. And they’re not voiceless...just unheard. But its a holy moment where those voices are lifted together in prayer.

It matters that someone can stand up and share that her gas is cut off, and winter is coming, and she's scared. And's she's not necessarily asking anyone to fix it, but asking for us to pray with her about it. And then the very next person may stand up and tell us that their last kid just went off to college, and their excited, but their also sad because now they're empty-nesters. And they know no one can fix it, but they're asking for us to pray with them about it. It matters that these two prayers are lifted equally before the ears of God.

And every week we also pray the Lords Prayer. That's not so special, lots of churches do that. And we, like you, pray “give us this day.” But I have to tell you tell you I don’t really believe that prayer. I never have. I believe I went to school, got a degree, got a job. I get a paycheck and go to the grocery store. I give me my daily bread. But it matters that I'm in a pew next to someone who doesn't necessarily know where dinner is coming from tonight, but for a fact that it's God that is providing it. And they're teaching me that it's just as true in my life as well.

I sit next to folks in worship that are diligent and practiced in relying on God, when all I know how to do is rely on myself. We worship with folks that know how to listen for God’s still small voice, and how to wait upon the Lord.

And so when my back’s against a while and I’m in my troubled times, I know who I’m turning to to ask for prayer. Every single person that walks through these doors is poor...some of us are just so poor that all we have is money.

So some folks come to C4AP because they don't feel welcome through the doors of any other church. That’s a travesty, friends. Some folks come out of deep desire to be of service for an under-privileged community. Which is good too.

Confessionally, I came for more selfish reasons. I have not come to serve the poor. I have come to sit at the feet of those that can show me the face of Christ. I come to C4AP out of a conviction that isolating ourselves among believers of similar backgrounds only deprives our own souls of God's majesty.

Rich, diverse community is how we will know who God is.
In that regard, I am really spoiled at C4AP.

Every Sunday morning, I have the privilege of worshiping with a beautiful body of believers.
We worship with old folks, young folks, wealthy, unemployed, folks who’ve done time, PhDs, GEDs, physical illnesses, mental illnesses, addictions, many races, many nationalities, many sexualities,
many backgrounds…And a whole lot of joy in the Lord. It’s holy chaos.

And I am convinced that in doing so, we draw nearer to God.
In a time when mainline denominations are wringing their hands about declining membership
and aging…buildings. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the answer is simple. I joined this church because it was a church actually, doing, the work of a church. Being what the church was supposed to be

In Rev 7:9 we see a picture of what heaven will be like someday, that "every tribe, every tongue, every nation" will worship before the thrown. So why not start now? Indeed, don’t we also pray each week, "let it be on earth as it is in heaven."

And our Triune God is our model: diverse, and unified as One. Isolation within our own groups is not what God would have for us.

My husband and I moved onto the block in a hard-living neighborhood on the South Side of Columbus to be in relationship with the surrounding community. And we adopted a value of downward mobility, not as a charitable endeavor, but as one fundamental to our own souls. And it is fundamental to life of Christ’s church on earth.

As Christians, we should be on the forefront of inclusively, not limping along in the rear.
What message does it send the world when we will not unite together to worship our Jesus?
What witness does it give when someone is more welcome on a street corner than they are in a pew?
What does it say about Christ if meth dealers are less discriminating than our churches?
What does mean when hate groups run better outreach campaigns?

As Christians, we all love Jesus.
But maybe we need to relearn what that means.
Are we Christians that love Jesus…as long as He sticks to our social norms, and knows how to behave? And knows how to put on a good face? And knows how run a meeting using Roberts Rules of order.

What about when Jesus smells funny, or speaks with a slur? Do we love him then?
Or when his music too loud, his clothes are too baggy, or his body is pierced….oh wait, it was.

Do we love Jesus when it puts our own egos is at risk?
When he ask us to lay down our own self-importance, our own desire to save the day?
Sometimes we just like to fix things, more than we actually like to love.
Do we love Jesus if we’re not called to fix it?

You may serve food at a soup kitchen, but have you eaten at the table as well?
You may pray for the poor, but do you ask for their prayers as well?

What I hope to convince you of before you leave the All People Conference this weekend is that community development is congregational development. Too often we separate service and salvation, as though that 'love thy neighbor' is something to do in the Church's spare time.

If your church disappeared tomorrow, would your neighborhood notice that you were missing?

It matters that nearly 1,000 people walk through the doors of our church each week. And it matters that we sit in in the pews together as we pray about what God has next for our community. It matters that it’s those same folks that are serving produce in our Fresh Market, and shopping in our Free Store, and working in our bike shop.

In a church where most folks make less than $20,000 per year, we see the widow’s mite go into the offering plate every single week. And it’s out of those pennies, and nickels, and dimes that we’ve done $60 million in affordable housing. We absolutely believe that. We just do.

We take the relationships that we have formed and we invest them in building the inclusive body of Christ, which then has an energy and a momentum, a holy chaos, that we are able to invest in whatever God is doing next.

We contend that we will draw nearer to God when we are in fellowship with the fuller range of God’s people. And when you draw nearing to God, powerful things start to happen.

Don't talk to me about the dying church. All this wringing of hands is driving me crazy. Let us live, and live abundantly! Isaiah 61:4 says "they will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

We’re at a critical moment in this neighborhood, indeed in this country. We’re being told it, can’t be done. That’s people cannot come together, cannot bridge the divided.
This is a moment for the Church

Th church can cast the vision for the diverse and inclusive body of Christ and then boldly live into it as a beacon to the world.

We can build a Church for All People, we can build a Columbus for All People, and dare I say it…an America for All People. Let us rise up...and build!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Local Elections: Vote!

Tuesday is another election day.
Are you registered? Do you know your polling place?

I've always made it a point to vote in all elections, local and national, that were available to me, just on basic stubborn principle. Recent years have emphasized to me how truly important local elections are, even as a matter of life and death.

In Ferguson, Police Chief Thomas Jackson was appointed by the elected mayor (via city manager). The St. Louis County Chief of Police, Jon Belmar, was also appointed by elected officials (county executive and city council).  In Beavercreek, the Ohio city where John Crawford was killed, the elected city council members, city manager, and city mayor were the ones to appoint the Chief of Police Dennis Evers and the ones who determine police budgeting allocations. These are the folks overseeing the police force chains-of-command that establish protocols, that train their officers, that give the orders, that the lead internal investigations, and that buy military equipment for their departments.

And state-level elections matter too. The special prosecutor for the Crawford shooting, Mark Piepmeier, was appointed by State Attorney General Mike DeWine. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was elected to office in 2008 before famously failing to convict George Zimmerman of murder, even while prosecuting Marissa Alexander to the fullest extent of the law. And it was Florida Governor Rick Scott who first assigned Corey to the Zimmerman case.


County executive? Attorney General? City Council? County Sheriff? State Attorney? When is the last time you paid close attention to who was elected to these offices? But these are the elected positions that had direct influence on the most prominent racial cases of recent history.

Though the narrative is sometimes convoluted, it's the local ballot elections that are at the center of most racial justice issues today. They determine who will be prosecuted under New Jim Crow laws, which legislatures might propose a new Kill-At-Will bill or a mandatory sentencing law. It's the county commissioners, governors, and state officials that determine how your local taxes are spent, whether on police militarization or on public transportation. It's the school board members that decide whether to feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline or to actively reverse systemic educational disparity. It's also these local elections that regulate housing affordabilityenvironmental justice, and discrimination laws--all decisions made at the local level, and with immediate consequences for racial justice.
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But as important as off-year voting is, it's not always made easy. Municipal elections are often held during odd-numbered years (as is the case in Ferguson and Beavercreek), those without major national elections, and thus with lower expected voter turnout. States may enact restrictive laws that reduce voter participation (see post: The Trouble with Voter ID Laws). While Ohio, like most states, allows for early voting, the law is getting more prohibitive, the Supreme Court having recently eliminated all evening voting hours and reduced weekend voting from 24 to 16 hours.

Clearly, laws such as these disproportionately affect working-class folk who hold one or more jobs to make ends meet. Of note, it is also elected local officials, like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who regulate the elections themselves.

Shouldn't we laud an increase in voter turnout rather than trying to suppress it? Shouldn't we want more citizens to become engaged in electoral proceedings, not fewer? How does decreased participation enhance the democratic process?

Perhaps there is a fear of allowing more people to vote in a democratic society. But if a political party makes gains from voter suppression, what does it say about that party’s platform? Clearly not that it is formed with the benefit all citizens in mind.

Years of disenfranchisement leads to a foundation of legal precedent and accumulated power that perpetuate disparity and injustice. It’s no coincidence that that the Senate is still 94 percent white. As Christians, we know God says to “choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13), but some groups are still embarrassingly absent from our leadership.

Christians have a legacy of electing leaders, and we have a responsibility to protect this right for all of our sisters and brothers. The early church decided that it would be good for them to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3). Indeed, we are to “select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). When we exercise the right to vote, we participate in a history passed down to us from both our political and spiritual forebears.

This year, make plans to ensure that you cast your ballot for local elections. Most states allow no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which means you can vote in your pajamas from the comfort of your couch (allowing you to research each of the names and issues that appear on your ballot as you go). As mentioned above, most states also allow for early in-person voting, which means you can find a time to vote that is convenient for your schedule. No excuses this year.

So, check yourself: are you registered? Is your registered address current? Do you know the ID requirements in your state? If you're all set personally, help ensure that your friends and neighbors also understand their voting rights and the importance of local elections. Organize a trip with your church to go vote together, or volunteer to help shuttle voters to the polls on election day.

As Christian voters we have an obligation to “discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good” (Job 34:4). We tend to pay attention to the Office of the President more than any other elected official. But our voices have the most influence on our own lives, and the lives of our neighbors, when we make sure to vote locally.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Fruit (11/3/17)

Image result for Altar de Dolores" , Maria IzquierdoOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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