Tag: race relations

No more ‘us and them’: At 50th anniversary of Detroit riot, churches model unity

No more ‘us and them’: At 50th anniversary of Detroit riot, churches model unity

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

DETROIT — The boys — one black, one white — were 10 years old.

Ive Edwards lived close to where the chaos started. Smoke filled his nostrils as arsonists set his hometown ablaze. Looters ran by his window. Army tanks rolled down the street. The pop-pop-pop of gunfire pierced his ears. Afraid of stray bullets, he dove under his bed.

Greg Guymer witnessed the turmoil from Detroit’s outskirts. Helicopters whipped overhead, soldiers’ legs dangling out like a scene from Vietnam. Fear paralyzed him, but his grandfather admonished him to hide in the basement if the war zone approached.

Fifty years after the 1967 Detroit riot, Edwards and Guymer recounted their experiences as two congregations sought to model Christian unity in a nation that still struggles mightily with race — as illustrated by the fatal clashes between white supremacist groups and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va.

Even before Charlottesville, the predominantly black Oakland Church of Christ and the predominantly white Rochester Church of Christ — both north of Detroit — saw a need to bridge the divide.

“Love conquers hate because God is love,” said Edward Cribbs, minister for the 300-member Oakland church. “The Oakland and Rochester congregations are endeavoring to bring to the forefront the issue of race and reconciliation. The events in Charlottesville remind us that our efforts are long overdue.”

Read the full story.

Related story: The riot, in retrospect

These stories appear in the September 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

‘Join in with us to save Southwestern,’ prays new president of historically black Christian college

‘Join in with us to save Southwestern,’ prays new president of historically black Christian college

Terrell, Texas, institution works to overcome declining enrollment and beleaguered finances.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

After nearly half a century with Jack Evans at the helm, Southwestern Christian College — the only historically black higher education institution associated with Churches of Christ — has a new president.

Ervin D. Seamster Jr., senior minister for the 450-member Light of the World Church of Christ in Dallas, assumed the top post at the Terrell, Texas, college in January.

Seamster told The Christian Chronicle this week he’s praying that “all of our brethren across racial and cultural lines would join in with us to save Southwestern.”

In recent years, beleaguered finances and declining enrollment — which the new president said had fallen to just 43 students before he arrived — have threatened the college’s future. Less than a decade ago, enrollment stood at 227.

Seamster is a Southwestern alumnus who for nearly two decades has used an event called the Fab Five Revival to raise funds to support students.
From 1999 to 2002, he served as a special assistant at Abilene Christian University in Texas to the former president, Royce Money.

Besides his Bachelor of Science degree from Southwestern, Seamster holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Originally known as the Southern Bible Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, Southwestern Christian College moved to Terrell — 30 miles east of Dallas — in 1949.

Evans had served as president since 1967, after four years as academic dean. He helped Southwestern obtain its full accreditation as a two-year junior college in 1973. In 1982, the college began awarding four-year bachelor’s degrees in Bible and religious education.

In an interview with the Chronicle this week, Seamster discussed his new role at Southwestern and the opportunities and challenges facing his alma mater. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Read the full interview.

This interview appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

MLK Day reading: Black, white and Gray

MLK Day reading: Black, white and Gray

Civil rights attorney who once challenged Lipscomb University in court receives the Christian university’s highest honor.

First Place (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association

Second Place, News Story, Associated Church Press

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Forty-five years ago, civil rights attorney and preacher Fred Gray filed a lawsuit that exposed deep divides between black and white members of Churches of Christ.

The 1967 lawsuit challenged the transfer of more than $400,000 in assets from the closed Nashville Christian Institute — a school that trained hundreds of future black church leaders — to David Lipscomb College, a higher education institution with a history of racism.

On a recent Friday night, that same Christian college — now known as Lipscomb University — presented Gray with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, the highest award the university bestows on an individual.

“It is not every day that you file a lawsuit against an institution and that institution later sees fit to honor you,” Gray, 81, told a crowd of 500 that witnessed the ceremony in Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.

Who, Gray asked, would have thought such an honor would be possible for an Alabama boy who grew up in a shotgun house with no running water?

For a boy who rode segregated buses and witnessed the frequent mistreatment of black people?

For a boy who, before he became a lawyer determined to “destroy everything segregated” he could find, performed manual labor in the yards of Lipscomb professors?

“If each of us would be really honest … we would say that we never thought this would be possible,” Gray said of the Lipscomb honor.

Read the full story.

This story originally appeared in the August 2012 edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Tulsa officer charged in shooting still welcome at church

Tulsa officer charged in shooting still welcome at church


By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

GLENPOOL, Okla. — After a week in the national headlines, Betty Shelby received hugs and well-wishes from her church family Sunday.

Shelby, the Tulsa police officer charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed black suspect, offered to stay home from worship to avoid causing a commotion.

But leaders of the Glenpool Church of Christ — a 200-member congregation in this fast-growing community of 13,000, south of Tulsa — made it clear she was welcome to attend.

“She got a lot of hugs and a lot of words of personal support,” pulpit minister Benjamin Williams said. “Nobody here claims to be a law enforcement expert and to know how that part of it might play out. But we support her as a person.”

Shelby, 42, turned herself into the Tulsa County jail on Friday and was released after posting $50,000 bond. A conviction would carry a penalty of four years to life in prison.

In the opening prayer Sunday, elder Bill Path mentioned the turmoil in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city, and asked God to intervene and maintain peace.

“We want to again pray for the comfort of the Crutcher family during this loss,” Path said, referring to Terence Crutcher, the 40-year-old man who died, “but also pray for the strength of the Shelby family.”

Read the full story.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

After a deadly week, a somber Sunday for Dallas churches

After a deadly week, a somber Sunday for Dallas churches

Christians look to God for comfort and guidance after a sniper kills five police officers.

Third Place, In-Depth Reporting, Associated Church Press (part of a series of stories on police shootings, racial unrest and the church)

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

DALLAS — A young mother on her way into worship hugged a Dallas police officer providing parking lot security at the Prestoncrest Church of Christ.

Any other Sunday, the scene would not have seemed so poignant.

But on this Lord’s Day, emotions were raw. Anxiety was high.

“It has been a very rough week for us in Dallas, unlike anything we’ve had in a while,” Prestoncrest minister Gordon Dabbs told his congregation before leading a special prayer.

Members of Churches of Christ — like Americans in general — are trying to make sense of the violence and racial tension that have shaken the nation.

Last week started with outrage over the latest police shootings of young black men — this time in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Then on Thursday night, a protest over those shootings turned violent when a sniper opened fire, killing five Dallas officers and wounding nine other officers and two civilians.

After the massacre in downtown Dallas, ministers such as Dabbs scrapped originally planned Sunday sermons and came up with new ones. Dabbs decided to focus on “what it means to be salt and light for Jesus in the midst of a divided and angry culture.”

Read the full story.

Related story: As gunfire rang out, Dallas church member ran for his life (reporting from Dallas)

These stories appear in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Finalists named for Religion Newswriters Association national awards — and I made the list

Finalists named for Religion Newswriters Association national awards — and I made the list

By Bobby Ross Jr.

The Religion Newswriters Association has announced the national finalists for its “Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence.”

I am honored to make the list again this year.

My portfolio in the Magazine News Religion Reporting category includes these stories from The Christian Chronicle: “The broken soul of Baltimore,” “God, guns and keeping Christians safe” and “San Bernardino massacre puts focus on Muslims.”

Winners will be announced at RNA’s annual conference in September.