Mississippi Christians Respond to State Flag Issue UPDATED

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South Carolina, the first state to secede from our Union in 1860, voted through its General Assembly Thursday night to remove the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol grounds. After the tragic murder of nine African American Christians studying God’s word in Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, South Carolina is leading the nation to come to terms with the legacy of the Confederacy and what it means for millions of our fellow Southerners. This noble and symbolic gesture is good for both business and politics. Moreover, it is a glorious moment for those of us who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. What a testimony of justice and racial reconciliation, motivated by Gospel imperatives.

We, the undersigned, represent an interracial and interdenominational coalition of Christians here in Mississippi. We beseech Governor Phil Bryant, our brother in Christ, to do the right thing: lead our State in changing our flag. As Senator Roger Wicker wonderfully noted, now is our I Corinthians 8 moment: “The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissension rather than unity.”

Mississippi followed South Carolina in seceding from the Union. As Christians in the Hospitality State, boldly exemplifying the love of Christ, we too can lead the nation in the moral courage to remove the Confederate symbol from our state flag. We are proud to be Americans, we love Mississippi, and as Christians we are also blessed to be citizens of the heavenly Kingdom of God. May we now raise a flag that represents the best of our shared future. We trust that our Lord, by the Holy Spirit, will lead you in making the righteous decision.

Amazed by God’s grace,

Rev. Dr. Isiac Jackson, Jr.

President

General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi

Canton, MS

Russell Moore

President

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Southern Baptist Convention

Washington, DC

Rev. Dr. Joey Shelton

United Methodist

Jackson, MS

C J Rhodes

Pastor

Mount Helm Baptist Church

Jackson, MS

C M Lewis

Trustee

Mount Helm Baptist Church

Jackson, MS

Marvin J Johnson
Pastor
Abounding Grace World Healing Church
Jackson, MS

Kimberly L. Campbell, Esq.
State Legislator/Mississippi House of Representatives
Member/Pearl Street African Methodist Episcopal Church
Jackson, MS

Rev. Loye B. Ashton, PhD (United Methodist)

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Director of the Center for International Studies and Global Change

Honors Program Director

Tougaloo College

Tougaloo, MS

Reginald M. Buckley

Pastor

Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

Jackson, MS

Jefforey A. Stafford

Pastor

Pleasant Green Baptist Church

Vicksburg, MS

Janice Taylor Ellis

Choir Director/High School Sunday School Teacher

Greater Mt. Calvary MB Church

Jackson, MS

Rev. Dr. Wesley Bridges
CEO/ Bridges To Cross Outreach Ministries
Silver Creek, MS

Maria Bridges

Co-founder

Bridges To Cross Outreach Ministries

Silver Creek, MS

Rev. Kenneth M. Thrasher
1st Vice President
Hazlehurst Branch NAACP
Hazlehurst, MS

Horace McMillon
Pastor
Open Door Mennonite Church
Jackson, MS

Jesse Jackson

President

National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Erica Holloway, Pastor
New Zion Baptist Church/Ministry
Jackson, MS

Rev. Michelle Shrader
United Methodist Mississippi Annual Conference
Central Methodist Mission Cape Town, SA
Missionary Pastor

Audrey Hall
Pastor
Holy Temple Baptist Church
Jackson MS

  1. Artie Stuckey

Pastor

Restoration Baptist Church

Jackson MS

Willie J. Mott, Jr.

Elder

Agape Christian Fellowship

Jackson, MS

Lexie Elmore

Minister

New Zion Baptist Church

Magnolia, MS

Je’Tua Amos

Evangelist

Macedonia Ministries

Byram, MS

Maxine Evans Gray
Pastor
The Exodus Assembly
Jackson, MS

Tasha Dillon
Location Pastor
New Life Fellowship Church
McComb, MS

Derek T. Harris

Bishop

New Life In Christ / Embassy International Fellowship

Jackson, MS

Kimberly Hilliard, Ph.D.

Member

Faith4Life Church

Jackson, MS

Matt McGue

Pastor

One Church

Ridgeland, MS

Donavon Thigpen

Associate Pastor

One Church

Ridgeland, MS

Susan H Lunardini

Member

Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church

Madison, MS

John A. Wicks, Jr.

Pastor

Mount Nebo Baptist Church

Jackson, MS

Joyce Handy

Pastor

New Destiny Christian Center Church

Jackson, MS

Willie Tobias, Jr.

Pastor

Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church

Jackson, MS

Zachary Thaggard

Minister/Youth Leader

Lighthouse Ministries

Jackson, MS

Rev. Dr. Connie Mitchell Shelton

United Methodist

Jackson, MS

Cedric Morgan

Member

Cade Chapel M. B. Church

Jackson, MS

Chauncy L Jordan, Sr.

Pastor

Hill of Zion M.B. Church

Bolton, MS

  1. F. Robertson

Pastor

Asia Baptist Church

Lexington, MS

Carlyn Hicks

Christian

Jackson, MS

Larry W. Ware

Pastor

Bethlehem MB Church

Coffeeville, MS

On-line signatures as of 11 a.m. 7/10 Paul Brent Church of God in Christ
Billy Knight Catholic
Ozie Thomas baptist
Vera Bassett AMEZION
Shelia Handy A.M.E
Charles Williams None
Mohamed Jah Baptist
Willie Mannie Baptist
MaryJordan Smith Baptist
Benny Garraway United Methodist
Frederick Haskin Non-Denomination
Helen Govan Voie of Calvary Fellowship
Qualyshee’ Leggette Baptist
Felicia Scott Full gospel
Dorothy Stennis baptist
Waurene Roberson Methodist
Mackey Wright NonDenomination
Addie Jones bapist
Edgar Powell Non-Denomination
Claude Simpson Episcopal
James Powers Episcopal
James Simmons Baptist
William Gullette Baptist
Lawanda Bry Bapti
Betty Robinsob Methodist
Monica Miller Methodist
Otha Robinson Baptist
Henry Stewart Methodist
Phyllis Louie AME
Mary LeBlanc Baptist
Liza Rodgers Baptist
Willie Baker Baptist
Marha Walker Baptist
Fredrick Summers Baptist
Edna Forch Baptist
Brittany M Robbins Non-Denomination
Ray Wozniak Non-denominational
Clara Dancer United Methodist
Shelia Watson Baptist
Edward Whitfield A.M.E.
Marcia Weaver Lutheran
Oliver Ruff Baptist
Tracy Beals Methodist
Glenell Lee African Methodist Episcopal
Sylvia Blake Baptist
Clifton Marvel Sr. Baptist
Alonzo Lewis II Pentacostal
Jimmy Pruitt Baptist
Lottie Leaks Baptist
Mildred Hall Baptist
Jessie Pamplin Baptist
Charles Latham AME
Willie Porter Baptist
Jessie King Baptist
Florence Gaines Baptist
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#BlackChurchesMatter

 

June was a tragicomic month for black churches. The racially motivated terrorist attack at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine saints dead and countless others in mourning. Soon thereafter reports of church arsons throughout the South flooded social media. Though some of these church burnings were allegedly ignited by electrical fires, there is still the eerie sense that black churches are under attack. Then, again in South Carolina, women pastors of AME churches received death threat letters. All of these events happened within days of each other. The last two weeks of June were tragic for black churches.

But these tragic moments have renewed interests in defining and defending the history and contemporary significance of churches predominated by black Christians. For one, the fact that so much attention has been placed on AME churches should remind us of how that denomination was established. Free blacks praying at the altar of St George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were thrown out of the sanctuary because of the color of their skin. Prior to that experience these freed blacks engaged with religious zeal in helping their people with spiritual, social, and material welfare through the Free African Society. That zeal was greatly emboldened after the loveless scene that occurred at St George’s. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was born praying on its knees and called Christian Africans to stand up for “God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit our Comforter, humankind our  family” in the face of idol of racism.

The AME tradition wasn’t alone in reforming the Church in America. Movements like the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., and the Church of God in Christ contributed to protests against racism and religious drift. Sometimes these movements were formed to address missionary and educational needs for Africans in America and in the Motherland. Others came into being as protests within the black church tradition, calling churches to holiness of life even as they fought for justice in the nation.

To be sure, the term “black church” is grossly misleading. Though it’s shorthand for those churches and collection of churches led, founded by and largely serving black communities, the term can obscure the intrinsic, inherent, and dynamic theological, cultural, and social diversity within and between churches so called. For instance, a Church of God in Christ in rural Mississippi may be very different from an urbane AME church in Connecticut. Together these churches exist in creative tension, offering the Body of Christ accents and distinctives that nourish the global Church’s identity and mission.

Usually these debates happen within the holy nation within the nation. The black church is often seen as a subculture maybe relevant during Black History Month. But since running for and being elected to the office of President, Barack Obama has brought the black church debate into the mainstream at least twice. During his 2008 campaign then Senator Obama had to respond to a soundbite from his now former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. The black church and black liberation theology were taken up in discourse around the dinner table and in front of the TV scene following Wright’s 15 minutes of defamation and Obama’s initial defense of and later distancing from Pastor Wright. The uninitiated questioned the theological integrity of black churches and the validity of their Christianity. Others still defended the black church’s social and political witness during the Civil Rights movement, giving little attention to the pastoral and spiritual dimensions of the church that are seemingly irrelevant for those who don’t have time for old time religion. Though fruitful in many ways, the national debate around the black church that extended from 2008 to about 2010 was reactionary, stereotyped, and in many ways unhelpful.

Most recently President Obama has again stepped into the conversation about black churches with his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney. The funeral itself and the President’s garce message (along with his extemporaneous singing of “Amazing Grace”) were seen voyeuristically by cable news pundits and black academics alike. Everyone tried to interpret the moment without actually asking the people present, especially the bereaved family, how they received that moment in time. Nevertheless, once again the nation tried to sort out the unique liturgical and theological content and context of a black church and its slain. I’m not sure if we did any better in 2015 than we did in 2008. But I am glad that through the tragedies of June has come a brighter sun shining light on black churches and why they matter still.

Hopefully the ensuing months will reinvigorate our appreciation and challenge of the black church tradition, in all its diversity, so that present and future generations can know the God of our weary years through it. We indeed need revival and reform so that God may be glorified through us and that the nation receive again, as always, our prophetic witness. And as we check the nation, let’s also call ourselves to repentance.

We cannot miss this moment to remind ourselves and to tell the world that #BlackChurchesMatter.

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