Would God Call a Woman to be a Pastor?

Sign on now if you support women in ministry.

This week I’m taking a break from one important issue to address another.  I’ve just returned from a meeting of the American Baptist Women in Ministry Advisory Team–a small, highly talented and inspired national denominational group with a passion for supporting women in ministry. If you’ve read my “writings” page (see link above), you know that gender discrimination in our churches is an important justice issue for me. The mission of American Baptist Churches Women in Ministry (ABWIM) is to educate on behalf of women in ministry, advocate for full recognition of women in ministerial leadership, cultivate and nurture women who are called to ministry and celebrate women’s gifts for ministry.  Check out the ABWIM website for more great information about our organization and our work.

Some American Baptist churches have been supporting women’s ordination and full recognition for women’s leadership in our churches for many years. Others, not so much.  While ABC-USA has been supportive of women for many years, I am sad to report that women comprise only about 10% of the pastors in ABC local churches.

Baptist tradition historically gives high importance to individual religious liberty and freedom (local autonomy) of the local churches.  Many people don’t understand that because the most vocal of the baptist groups in the United States, the Southern Baptists, exercise more control over member’s beliefs and churches than is consistent with baptist tradition.  If you’d like to learn more about American Baptists, the ABC-USA website has a good short history. So, as baptists, we who celebrate the freedom of individual belief must deal with the intolerance of women’s gifts in our churches not by command or coercion, but by education and compelling persuasion.

It is also sad that the basis for this discrimination against women is generated by how the bible is interpreted.  I love the bible.  It is my source of strength, renewal, faith, and hope.  Without the biblical witness sharing who our God is and what God calls us to do, I don’t know how I would have come to love God so much.  It hurts my heart to see so many being misled by a human interpretation of the biblical word that is inconsistent, in my viewpoint, to the great love that God and Jesus share with women.

Having grown up in a church that did not discriminate against women (African Methodist Episcopal), when I felt God’s call to ministry, I had no clue that any person would try to tell me that my call was not true. Before I was called, I had joined a baptist church that thankfully was supportive of women’s calls.  So it took me a while to realize how deep was the prejudice against women, especially in the African American baptist churches.  Because that prejudice is biblically based, I had to dig deep into my understanding of the bible to be able to respond to it.  You’ll see some of that research in the article referred to on my “writings” page.  The ABWIM website offers more information on biblical support for women’s leadership in our churches.

So, because you’re reading my blog I’m hoping that you support women in ministry.  If you do, then what our team wants you to do is to sign on.  We’ve created a letter of support on which we hope to get 10,000 signatures in support of women’s ministry.  We’re doing this to encourage those who are unsure to seek further information.  All you have to do is to click on this link, sign on, and tell somebody else to do the same.

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…”  Acts 2: 17.

Who Profits From Imprisoning our Children?

 

Just today I received an email with this link to a Youtube video showing a street fight in my home town, Maywood, Illinois: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXhXmWDAeaY Associated with that link are links to other street fights.  I didn’t want to watch them, but apparently videotaping street fights and posting them is a thing with some people.

I couldn’t help but wonder what will be the future for these young people.  And I couldn’t help but wonder how they got to be like that.  Last week’s blog  (The Victims of Poverty) was about how tough it is to grow up healthy in impoverished neighborhoods. No matter how much these kids may celebrate their street gang lifestyle, it’s not healthy.  They are likely to end up in prison, having babies they can’t take care of, and dying too soon. And they won’t know how stupid it is for them to waste their lives like that until it’s too late.

There is a culture around them that encourages the gangster lifestyle.  This culture includes people who they don’t see, but who profit from their foolishness.  These are people who’ve invested in keeping the gangster lifestyle alive, an underground network of support for them, in a sense.  Like those who profit from drug sales.  I’m not talking about the sellers on the street, or even the local drug lords.  I’m talking about the ones who make the real money, from the producers to the shippers. I don’t know enough about how it actually happens to speak with authority on it, but I think it’s common knowledge that if there were not large profits being made by those who produce and ship the drugs into the neighborhoods, the drugs wouldn’t be on the street.

Yet, the “War on Drugs” has focused mainly on arresting and imprisoning the end users and local suppliers, with a special focus on those who live in poor and Black neighborhoods.  In an op-ed article for Reuters entitled “The US Drug War and Racial Disparities,”  Bernd Debusmay shared this common knowledge:   “African-Americans make up around 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for 33.6 percent of drug arrests and 37 percent of state prison inmates serving time for drug offenses.” A Human Rights Watch report  on drug arrests and race analyzed data relating to drug arrests and prison admission, concluding that in 2003 “…blacks are 10.1 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses.” This has been consistent over the years, and our prison population has consequently exploded.

The music industry has also profited from the gangster lifestyle. It is well documented that the music industry has historically been involved with the mob.  I don’t know that much about it, but it is also clear that the mob mentality is what has fueled the success of the infiltration of rap music with gangster mentality. And those who profit from gangster rap include more than the gangsters like Tupac, Eazy-E and Biggie Smalls, who are likely all multi-millionaires.  The really big money makers include the recording companies and agents and others who’ve been involved in the music industry much longer than the gangsters.

There is a post going around the internet that someone who claims to have been a leader in the music industry was invited to a secret meeting by some investors in private prisons. In that meeting the plan was pushed to promote gangster rap in order to popularize criminal activity and thus create a need for more privatized prisons.  You can read the whole post here. Some debunk this theory, such as Michael Raine of the Huffington Post in “Gangsta Rap Conspiracy Theory Goes Gangbustas”.

Could it be true?  I wouldn’t be surprised, because of the money involved. And because the prison industry is in fact profiting from the gangster mentality.  Bernd Debusmay, in the above-referenced article on the Drug War and racial disparities, recognized that one of the difficult problems in attempting to reduce the number of people being imprisoned is the rise of the private prison system:  “The biggest obstacles for change are entrenched interests. By some estimates, getting the prison population back to where it was (in terms of percentage of the overall population) before the drug war began would cost the jobs of at least a million people working for the criminal justice system. Not to forget the damage reduced incarceration would do to the flourishing private prison industry.”

In my home state, the new prisons–although not yet privatized– are located downstate, far from where most of the prisoners come, and in a locale where the prison industry is one of the largest employers. The political will to lose those kind of jobs will be hard to find downstate, especially when it’s not their children who are being imprisoned. I sure hope that’s not the fate of the kids in that street fight.

With those kind of entrenched interests, it’s easy to see why imprisoning so many of our children has not received the attention it should in the highest levels of our justice system.  It’s easy to understand why it’s not one of the issues argued in political debates.   Isaiah tells us that God is displeased when  “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, and honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14), and that “God was appalled that there was no one to intervene.” (59:16).  Justice is failing our children, and truth is not being spoken on their behalf.  We need the prophetic voice of the Church to speak this truth to power until they listen and act.

A good source for more information on racial disparities in our system of justice: The Sentencing Project.  And you might want to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer.

The Victims of Poverty

I remember thinking, when my first grandchild was born, about how new babies bring with them so much new love into the world.  I felt that same love for my children and many other babies as well, but for some reason it was that first grandchild, over whom we profusely “ooh-ed and ah-ed,” who really connected me to the thought that this is one way God brings more love into the world. The thing about babies is that they are so beautiful and yet so very vulnerable.  What a great responsibility it is to care for a fragile, tiny being who cannot survive without our help!  It’s hard enough for a family with sufficient monetary means to raise a child, but for parents who struggle to make it in life, raising a child successfully becomes much more difficult.

As our society advances further into the information age, or digital age, as some call it, workers must compete more and more for professional jobs (engineers, doctors, teachers, etc.) or settle for low wage service jobs. And in the competition of a globalized economy, the wages for service jobs are no longer sufficient for raising a family. Many families are already left behind as the market has shifted from industrialization to information.  Education is the key for their children to compete successfully, but studies have shown that children born into poverty will need twice as much financial support to successfully compete with children born into more affluent families. That’s support these families can’t provide.

Often when I talk about the need for schools to provide stronger support systems for poor children, the response I get is that the family needs to do more.  I agree that families should be involved in their children’s education–they should help the children with their homework and participate in school activities and work alongside the teachers to help their children succeed.  But too often they just don’t, or they won’t, for reasons that run the gamut from never having had that role model in their own lives, to working more than one job to bring the food into the house, to having some kind of health problem or being caught up in drugs or some form of addiction that disables them.  These are the children whose parents either will not or can not help them succeed, no matter how much they may love them.

The result is that children who do not receive the additional support are likely to  drop out of school.  And they will end up in jail. Nowhere is this seen more blatantly than in the lives of black boys born in inner-city poverty stricken neighborhoods. The Schott Foundation for Public Education publishes data on the outcomes for Black males in public education, called “The Urgency of Now.”  They report that in 2009-10 the national graduation rate for Black male students was 52%. This sadly low number is a new high, and for the first time was more than half.  These numbers include a higher graduation rate for black students who are in more affluent high schools, which indicates that: “…Black males, on average, perform better in places and spaces where they are not relegated to under-resourced districts or schools. When provided similar opportunities they are more likely to produce similar or better outcomes as their White male peers.” You can access their latest report here:  http://blackboysreport.org/national-summary/preface

Tavis Smiley produced an excellent documentary, recently broadcast on PBS, on the problems many of our inner city black boys face, entitled “Too Important to Fail.”  These children come from impoverished families and broken school systems, where “zero tolerance” and juvenile detention feeds too many of them into the prison system.  He interviews several educators who have dedicated their lives to helping black boys succeed, as well as several of the boys.

Here is a bit of the information he provides:

  • We begin to lose students in school around the 3rd Grade, when they move from learning to read to reading to learn. If children don’t master reading by the 1st grade, they will have less than a 20% chance of graduating high school.
  • The children are victims of societal problems that they have no control over, such as drugs and violence in their neighborhoods and lack of health care, and the schools must provide social services to bring stability in their lives if they are to succeed.
  • Extracurricular activities that keep the children off the streets are extremely important.
  • The children need teachers who care, and show it, and who fully expect the children to succeed.
  • They need curricula and teachers they can relate to.
  • They need role models, because, as one of the children in juvenile detention put it, “Without a role model, you just keep on doing what you’re doing.”
  • For some of these children, prison is what’s normal in their neighborhood.

You can see the show online at:  http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/

If “prison is what’s normal” for these children, then they are achieving what is expected of them.  I would hope that we would expect so much more.  Yet, states are less willing to spend more money on schools, while spending more and more money on prison systems. When school budgets drop, services for students are dismissed first. The saddest thing about this is that investing in the children while they are small is clearly much more economical for states than putting and keeping our young men in prison.

The Church needs to use her prophetic voice to speak the truth about this to those in power, in order to save these children’s lives.

I’d love your comments!  Next week:  Whose making money by putting our children in prison?

Is Poverty Inevitable?

I’m a Star Trek fan. Yes, I admit it. I wouldn’t actually call myself a “Trekkie,” wouldn’t dare dress like Lieutenant Uhura or attend a Star Trek convention. But I’m a fan. I love to watch the tv series and movie reruns. My all-time favorite Star Trek quote is made by an alien, beautifully made of pure crystal. When the crew is finally able to decipher what the angry crystal being is saying, it calls the humans: “You ugly bags of mostly water.” I can see how a crystal alien would see us like that.

I like shows that help us to imagine the future. To do that you have to pay attention to what’s happening now and imagine how the now might become better, or worse. Many of the futuristic technical ideas on shows like Star Trek have become reality, like laser technology. Maybe one day we’ll say “Beam me up, Scottie” and get transported!

The reason I’m going on about Star Trek is that in the future envisioned by the writers of the show, there is no longer any poverty. There also isn’t any more war or any use for money, either. But the idea that at some point we could actually become such a progressive society that we could eliminate poverty is quite intriguing to me. Poverty seems to be so ingrained in the fabric of our society that most people don’t think about a future without it. Poverty just seems to be an inevitable fact of life.

Having come of age during the 60’s, I remember well as a young black girl how racism felt inevitable. In our suburb outside of Chicago, the African American children all were assigned to one school and we all lived within a few designated blocks. When a few of the families moved out of our area and had to attend “white” schools, we cried. I was called the “n” word more than a few times by people who didn’t like my skin color. I went to a summer camp and the white girls wouldn’t do activities with me. The “black” night at the skating rink was on Mondays. And so on…

Racial hatred was just a part of the way things were, and we learned to deal with it. It never occurred to me that things could change until segregation was challenged by Dr. King, the civil rights movement, and all those brave souls who stood up against the injustice of it all. I imagine that slavery must have felt inevitable like that, too, until brave souls saw it as an abomination and stood up against the injustice of it all.

We’re not all born with equal capabilities, but we are all born as beautiful children, all loved equally by God. For us as a people to believe that we should try to eliminate poverty, we have to embrace the idea that all people are beautiful children of God, all worthy of our true love. We have to believe that every child born has a right to live safely, to adequate medical care, and to an education that will nurture their gifts. We have to believe that gaining more and more material wealth for ourselves while others go hungry or don’t have a place to live is an abomination, as abhorrent and backwards as racial hatred and slavery.  We have to believe that poverty is a tragic waste of human resources and gifts that hold the potential to benefit us all.

To eliminate poverty we’ll need some brave souls to take the kind of radical actions that will make others pay attention and stand against the injustice of it all. Radical actions, kind of like Jesus taught us when he told us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and give to others whenever they ask. Would Jesus accept poverty as inevitable? Some people think so, because He said to the disciples “You will always have the poor with you.” That’s the topic of next week’s blog.

A Must See

Have you seen the recent film The House I Live In?  If you care at all about poor children of color in this country, you should see it.  It’s by award-winning documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Danny Glover is one of the producers, and John Legend has been promoting the film as well.

In the film, Jarecki shares a comprehensive and heart-wrenching look at how the war on drugs has fueled the prison population in America.  The higher sentences for non-violent crimes involving crack cocaine, which is used more frequently in minority and poorer communities, than for powder cocaine, used by the more affluent, has not only increased the prison population, it has torn apart families and neighborhoods, fueled the increase of prisons as a business industry, and flooded the “poverty to prison pipeline.” But it hasn’t made a dent in stemming drug usage.

Some of the information shared in the film:

  • The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
  • Today, more people in the United States are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses than were incarcerated for all crimes in 1970.
  • One in eight state employees today works for a corrections agency.
  • About 14 percent of drug users in the United States are African American, but 56 percent of those incarcerated for drug crimes are African American.

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Growing up in faith and action

Throughout my life as a lawyer, pastor and author, I’ve always had a heart for the underdog.  I’ve always felt compassion for people who face difficult struggles. I used to think that this was just a part of my personality.  When I was a little girl with five older brothers, I’d share a drink of my pop (yes, I’m from the Chicago area!) with all of them if they didn’t have any….leaving me with little for myself.  But sharing with them made me happy, because they were happy.

I recently was reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs….you know, the one you studied in school that identifies the basic needs of humans in a pyramid, beginning at the base with physiological needs, with the higher needs at the apex.512px-Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

According to Maslow, only when you’ve satisfied the basic needs can you focus on achieving the highest of human needs, which is self-actualization.  The pyramid shows that self-actualization includes, at the very top, morality. Every human has a need to fulfill a sense of what’s right and moral in their lives. The human heart that hasn’t been corrupted yearns for goodness and justice, not just for self, but for all.

Self-actualization to me means that you’ve been fortunate enough to have your other basic needs met to such an extent that you can focus on the higher desires of your hearts.  When you reach that point, you’re able to figure out that it’s not all about you.  When you self-actualize, you can stop focusing on your own needs and think more about what purpose you will serve to others in this world.

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