This was a busy year for those of us who follow issues relating to black religion, politics, and popular culture. It seemed as though every other day some news worthy story shot out into the public square begging to be commented on or in my case “criticized”. Now that the year has practically come to an end, I feel it is fitting and somewhat necessary to recap the top stories (at least as I see it anyway) of this fleeting year. As I was composing the list I realized what a crazy year it was and all. I found myself feeling glad I was alive to experience 2008 but yet, even more glad to see it go.
Anyway, I hope you don’t experience to much nostalgia. Enjoy
Black MegaChurch pastors ambivalent about embracing King’s Message
Ten days after many Americans reflected on the past 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, CNN posted an article as apart of its “Black in America” series titled “Modern Black Church Shuns King’s Message”. This article written by John Blake suggested that while most contemporary Black Mega church pastor’s view King as a hero, they nonetheless reject his essential message. The article highlighted pastors such as Bishop Paul S. Morton, Creflo Dollar, and T.D. Jakes as examples of those who have embraced a message of personal responsibility, prosperity and self help in oppose to King’s message of social justice, equality, and freedom. Black Church Scholars Jonathan Walton and Raphael Warnock weighed in on the matter being quoted in the article as stating that “prosperity preaching is not just a distortion of Jesus' message but a betrayal of the black church's heritage” and that “We (the contemporary black church) likes to identify with Dr. King in theory, though we emulate Rev. Ike in practice.” CNN coverage caused so much of a stir that Bishop T.D. Jakes wrote a response to the article in his defense.
Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell Enters the Church Triumphat
On Thursday, November 20, 2008, Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell transitioned from time into eternity. Dr. Ella, as she was called by many, was a teacher, preacher, wife, mother and outstanding author. Dr. Ella was the first woman Dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College and also taught at the American Baptist Seminary of the West and the School of Theology at Claremont. Dr. Ella graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1943. The second African-American woman to graduate from Union Seminary, Dr. Ella was licensed into the ministry in 1943 by the Church of the Master in New York City, where she served as Minister of Education for two years. She is survived by her husband Dr. Henry H. Mitchell and three children. Dr. Ella will be missed by many, particularly those of us in the African American religious community.
A.M.E Zion elects their first woman bishop Mildred Bonnie Hines
At around 12:00am, Saturday morning on July 19th, it was made official that the Reverend Dr. Mildred “Bonnie “ Hines would be elected to the Episcopacy of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. As the first ever female to be elected to the Episcopacy in the AME Zion Church, it was evident, that truly this year represents the start of change that is sweeping this land. This was truly a historic moment in Black Methodism and a seeming watershed moment in AMEZ church history.
Economic Crisis causes congregations to financially tighten up or pack up!
2008’s economic firestorm hit many hard, some very hard, so hard in fact some divorced couples decided to live together to cut cost. Well, apparently Megachurch pastors Paula and Randy White and Juanita and Thomas Weeks did not get the memo since both Randy and Thomas ran into substantial financial trouble this year. Both Weeks and White experienced foreclosures on church properties. Pity. Congregations large and small all across the US experienced and are experiencing budget cutbacks as a result of the nation’s economic perils. Greater Grace Temple in economically hard hit Detroit even had an automobile altar bailout prayer service. Lawd, what is your church coming to?
Father Michael Pfleger Talked Loud and Drew a Media Crowd
Well, I’m sure those of us who were glued to the T.V. or hellevision during the presidential primary season remember Father Michael Pfleger’s proclamation during a sermon that Hilary Clinton suffered from “white entitlement”. In case you forgot Pfleger proclaimed “I really believe that she just always thought ‘This is mine’ (laughter, hoots). ‘I’m Bill’s wife. I’m WHITE. And this is mine. And I jus’ gotta get up. And step into the plate. And then out of nowhere came, ‘Hey, I’m Barack Obama.’ And she said: ‘Oh, damn!’ WHERE DID YOU COME FROM!?!?! (Crowd going nuts, Pfleger screaming). I’M WHITE! I’M ENTITLED! THERE’S A BLACK MAN STEALING MY SHOW. (SOBS!) SHE WASN’T THE ONLY ONE CRYING! THERE WAS A WHOLE LOTTA WHITE PEOPLE CRYING!” Needles enough to say, these comments incited a media firestorm. A firestorm that would lead to Pfleger’s removal as pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago.
Lifeway Bookstore pulls Gospel Today magazines from the shelves because of the women pastors displayed on the cover.
This fall the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article about the Southern Baptist Church ordering all copies of its September issue of Gospel Today, which had women pastors on the cover, to be pulled from the shelves of its Lifeway Bookstores because the denomination does not affirm women in pastoral ministry or in any leadership over a male. This action incited much consternation and outrage from various sectors of the African American religious community. Scholar Renita Weems comments come to mind during which she called the Southern Baptist denomination a bunch of “Miscreants! Plebeians! Barbarians! Jackals! Toads! And Knaves!” You gotta love that Dr. Weems.
Conservative Churches succeed in proposition 8 amendment on the ballots in California.
On the heels of Barack Obama’s historic Presidential victory the gay community was delivered a devastating blow when California voters ratified Proposition 8, which amended the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Left wing media and blogs everywhere lambasted so-called conservative churches for their open support of Prop 8. This became a big issue in black religious media because black Christians were targeted as being hypocritical for affirming civil rights but denying gay rights.
Obama chooses Rick Warren to give invocation at the inauguration
Obama’s recent selection of Rev. Rick has generated a heaven of a lot of controversy over the last few weeks. Many are upset that Obama chose a conservative evangelical who is against women’s equality, against gay rights, anti-choice, and anti-stem cell research. To be clear, most of the opposition has come from so-called progressive media outlets that feel Obama’s selection is a betrayal of his progressive campaign platform and promises, particularly to the gay community. The Obama camp has responded by affirming the choice of Warren as an accentuation of Obama’s commitment to cross-ideological fellowship and dialogue. We still have not seen the end of this story.
Pastor Jamal Bryant and Divorce Controversy
On February 16, 2008 columnist Sumathi Reddy of the Baltimore Sun published article about the divorce controversy surrounding Pastor Jamal Bryant and his wife Gizelle Bryant. My former blog Souljonz was one of the first blogs to comment on the article. Since then, the controversy surrounding the flashy, marriage beleaguered popular pastor has become the talk of everyday black Christendom. Much of the controversy has centered around those who think Bryant is an example of the out of control environment of Christian superstardom that is plaguing the black church, and others who think the morals of Bryant and by implication “all men of God” as they say, are off limits to public discourse, they prefer we pray for wrongdoing not speak against it. Clearly, I fall on the side of those who choose to speak against it. Whatever the case, this issue continues, much to my chagrin, to stimulate controversy and as result is number 2 on my list.
The Jeremiah Wright/Obama controversy
It should come as no surprise that my number 1 religious story of the year is the Jeremiah Wright/Barack Obama controversy. I don’t think I need to recap the events of the primary and Rev. Wright and his God damn America sermon which became the mother of all religiously related media stories in 2oo8. As a result of Rev. Wright’s comments black theology and prophetic preaching became the center of public discourse. What a painful experience this was for me! I have never been more disheartened by the lack of sophisticated public discourse concerning black religion as I was during the Wright/Obama controversy. That not being withstanding, it was the top religious story of 2008.