Tag: social issues

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.

In this Bible Belt state, Democrats call hot-button issues a ‘smokescreen’

In this Bible Belt state, Democrats call hot-button issues a ‘smokescreen’

Even some Republicans in GOP-run Oklahoma say that abortion and transgender bills are a distraction.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For The Washington Post

Some public schools are starting summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March.

But instead of addressing a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services, Oklahoma lawmakers have been busy debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students’ access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama.

With more painful cuts to come, Democrats are accusing the GOP-controlled legislature of creating a “smokescreen” to distract the public from an estimated $1.3 billion shortfall caused by declining oil revenue and years of big tax cuts. Even some Republicans have criticized the focus on social issues as frivolous.

“They run this stuff out there because it excites the base,” Keith Gaddie, a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said of the social-issues bills. “But nobody ever banked on the public also looking up and saying: ‘You know, we like schools. We like hospitals. We like roads. We like to have stuff that works.’ ”

Oklahoma is among eight states facing serious budget shortfalls after a two-year drop in oil prices that radically curtailed revenue from the oil industry. Also contributing to Oklahoma’s budget crunch are years of income-tax cuts and corporate tax incentives, especially for oil companies. Last week, Reuters reported that oil industry lobbyists secured one of the lowest tax rates in the country, a tax break that deprived the state of $470 million last year alone.

Read the full story.

This story appears on Page A3 of The Washington Post.

In a red state, the culture war shifts

In a red state, the culture war shifts

Voters still care about traditional values, but there is growing anger over underfunded schools and crumbling infrastructure.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

EDMOND, Okla. (RNS) In one of the reddest of the red states, appeals to traditional values have long resonated with many voters.

But while lawmakers in this Bible Belt state of 3.9 million have been debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students’ access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama, Oklahomans are increasingly concerned about a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services.

The crisis has led some public schools to start summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March.

State Sen. David Holt, an Oklahoma City Republican, said he was “ashamed” of the hours spent debating transgender restroom use at the expense of his constituents’ real concerns.

“Oklahoma is a very socially conservative state, and I have always supported the types of bills that have come to the legislature, because my constituency largely wants me to,” Holt said. “But while students in my district were quite literally marching in the streets to the Capitol to plead with the legislature to do something about how the budget shortfall will affect their schools, we were addressing something that virtually no one had contacted me about and that was arguably not a pressing issue.”

About the same time lawmakers considered the bathroom bill that drew Holt’s concern, a group of pastors pushed for the adoption of legislation that would make it a felony to perform an abortion.

“God’s word tells us very clearly that he’s for life, that he knit us together in our mothers’ wombs,” said one of the clergymen, Blake Gideon of the 4,000-member First Baptist Church in this affluent suburb north of Oklahoma City.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

God, guns and keeping Christians safe

God, guns and keeping Christians safe

Pistols in the pews make some feel more secure, but others are leery.

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

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

At many Churches of Christ across the nation, Christians bring more than their swords — as some refer to their Bibles — to Sunday worship.

An untold number also carry concealed handguns into the assembly, church leaders told The Christian Chronicle.

As mass shootings make all-too-frequent headlines in America, some see pistol-packing church members — and even preachers — as protection, the Chronicle found in interviews with dozens of ministers, elders and deacons in 15 states.

“I do not believe that Jesus — or even the old law — taught members to cower in the face of danger,” said Chris Gallagher, minister for the Gadsden Church of Christ in Alabama. “It was Jesus who told his apostles to take a sword in Luke 22.

“A gunman coming into our services to cause harm to men, women and children through his evil desires should be stopped,” added Gallagher, noting that he usually locks his own Ruger .380 pistol in his office when he preaches. “Shall we let the evil of one man injure and harm a collection of God’s people?”

Four months ago, a gunman opened fire at a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and killed nine people before fleeing unharmed. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested the next day in North Carolina.

Read the full story.

Related stories:

• Christian universities review crisis plans after Oregon rampage 

• Abduction makes Arizona church secretary more cautious

• ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Christian universities debate allowing firearms on campus 

These stories appear online and/or in the November 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Boy Scouts’ gay-friendly policies draw mixed responses

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Boy Scouts’ gay-friendly policies draw mixed responses (reporting from Piedmont, Okla.): Some Churches of Christ maintain ties with BSA, while others align with a new national scouting organization. 

PIEDMONT, Okla. — Ken Richter loved the Boy Scout life.

Starting as a 7-year-old Cub Scout, Richter embraced the outdoor adventure, the leadership training and the character development.

“I loved to go camping and canoeing, and I made a lot of friends,” said Richter, now 46 and minister for the Soldier Creek Church of Christ in this suburb of 6,500, about 25 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

Later, his son, Caleb Richter, now a student at Oklahoma Christian University, advanced through Boy Scouts and earned an Eagle Scout award. Throughout his son’s time in Scouting, Ken Richter served in adult leadership roles.

But now, the preacher oversees Troop 24:7 of Trail Life USA.

That alternative national organization formed in 2013 after the Boy Scouts of America changed its youth membership policy to state that no youth may be denied membership based on sexual orientation.

This story appears in the October 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

A church for the broken and hurting

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A church for the broken and hurting (reporting from Fort Worth, Texas): In urban Fort Worth, a 123-year-old congregation enjoys a spiritual revival as it ministers to wounded souls. 

FORT WORTH, Texas — Some in the group have been sober for years. Others measure recovery in days, not weeks.

A few still smell like alcohol.

To measure the heartbeat of the Southside Church of Christ, go to the HOPE class.

HOPE — which stands for Heavenly Options for Pain and Emptiness — meets right after the Sunday morning worship assembly.

Part adult Bible study, part 12-step Christian recovery group, the class draws a ragtag collection of addicts, ex-convicts and street people — all focused on the healing power of Jesus Christ.

“When you go to the hospital, you don’t have to confess you have a disease, do you?” group leader Dan Leaf asks the more than 60 struggling souls. “The church is a hospital for sinners.”

His words inspire an enthusiastic round of clapping and amens.

“Falling down is not as bad as not getting up,” Leaf assures the group. “It doesn’t matter how many times we fall down — God is walking us home.”

This story appears in the May 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Christians battle human trafficking in the U.S.

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Part of a special package tied to the abductions of 270 girls in Nigeria.

Christians battle human trafficking in the U.S. (reporting from Dallas): Across the nation, individuals and ministries associated with Churches of Christ bring hope and freedom to victims. 

DALLAS — Think of Katie Pedigo as a modern-day abolitionist.

A Church of Christ preacher’s daughter who grew up to become an attorney, Pedigo wages a daily battle against sex slavery — in the heart of the Bible Belt.

It’s a fight that surprises some Christians.

“A lot of people think that if it’s sex trafficking, then it’s happening overseas, it’s happening in India or Thailand or somewhere else,” said Pedigo, executive director of New Friends New Life, a faith-based nonprofit that works to restore and empower victims. “So it’s important for us to realize that it’s happening right here, in every city in our country.”

Once known as Amy’s Friends, New Friends New Life grew out of a grassroots ministry that started 16 years ago when a woman in the sex industry became involved in a women’s Bible study at the Preston Road Church of Christ.

“The average age that a girl enters the sex trade in America is between 13 and 14 years old,” said Pedigo, who has a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. “It’s not OK for your daughter, not OK for mine, to have to endure that trauma and the abuse that comes with that.”

Across the nation, individual members and ministries associated with Churches of Christ increasingly are taking up the fight to bring hope and freedom to trafficking victims, The Christian Chronicle found.

This story appears in the July 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.