The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us.
They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance, a man of service, who persevered knowing full-well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, to Jennifer, his beloved wife, Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters, to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina. Read the Post Watch It Again: President Obama’s Eulogy For Clementa Pinckney
In this entry from the Racialigious series, we examine the struggles of women of color in religious communities — and how they’re often ignored in discussions about faith.
By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; excerpt from “Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels” (Feb. 2013); originally published at the Feminist Wire
The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus. They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, and the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing. My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band. She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent, gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school. Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles. In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe; only a small minority go on to four-year colleges and universities.
Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual-abuse scandals. The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%). (Italics added.)”[i]
By Guest Contributor Sarah Gladstone, cross-posted from Ravishly
Twix, zebra, reverse Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, mulatto, milano, Oreo, Uh-Oh Oreo, blewish, I’ve heard them all. People always want to talk to me about being black. Or Jewish. Or black and Jewish. Or when they hear me talk about my racial identity, they want to share their own racial experiences. I know that in a lot of ways I am a cultural and ethnic enigma. But in all honesty, it can get old. Like, real old, real fast.
By now you’ve no doubt heard that reality “star” Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty “fame” was suspended from the show — or, in snake-oil TV-speak, placed on “indefinite hiatus” — after glibly engaging in some concern-trolling homophobia in a GQ interview while painting his show and his family’s public embrace of its Christian faith as some sort of antidote for whatever it believes ails America.
Thirty-five years ago, on November 19, 1978, 73 year-old Hyacinth Thrash awoke to a nightmare in the jungles of Guyana. Nine hundred and eighteen people from her Peoples Temple church lay dead before her eyes, poisoned by a lethal cocktail of cyanide and fruit punch. The images from this gothic scene of carnage have become indelible. Bodies stretch into the distance in rows, face down on the ground. They are overwhelmingly black bodies, clad in simple workaday clothing. Rendered “anonymous”, they represent complex extended families of children, elderly women, young women, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and nieces. They came to Jonestown, Guyana from communities all across the U.S., drawn by the utopic promise of life in a communal settlement envisioned by a charismatic white messiah as a socialist refuge from American racial apartheid. One of the most haunting scenes from the massacre’s aftermath is that of an adult with their arm around a child, protective in the throes of death. Thrash was the sole survivor on the premises.
Although the gruesome final snapshot of Jonestown is burned into the American popular imagination, the prelude to the massacre is not as well known. Founded by the Reverend Jim Jones in the 1950s, Peoples Temple was a multiracial Pentecostal congregation with roots in Indiana. Over the course of two decades the church would establish operations in Ukiah, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the late 1970s Jones relocated the bulk of the congregation to Guyana, ostensibly to avoid government persecution for its radical views. The Jonestown massacre has been dubbed one of the largest murder-suicides in world history. About 75% of Peoples Temple members were African American, 20% were white and 5% were Asian, Latino and Native American. The majority of its black members were women, while its core leadership was predominantly white. As per the cultural cliché, black women like Thrash were “the backbone” of People’s Temple, the primary victims of Jonestown, and the population with the deepest investment in the philosophy, ethos and mission of the church.
It is troubling that of the scores of book length personal accounts, critical analyses and sociological appraisals on Peoples Temple and Jonestown only a few are by black women (the best of these have been compiled at the “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple” site). Thrash and Leslie Wagner–Wilson are currently the only two black women survivors to publish books on their experiences. Wagner-Wilson managed to escape Jonestown before the massacre with several of her family members. As early African American members of the church when it was based in Indiana, Thrash and her sister tithed 20% of their income to Peoples Temple. Thousands of dollars in property sales, Social Security, disability, and welfare benefits from Temple members were funneled into the church’s empire. Despite being elderly and infirm, Thrash and her sister followed Jones from Indiana to Ukiah, San Francisco and Guyana. Eventually Thrash became disgruntled with the divide between Jones’ rhetoric of racial equality and the white-people-first reality of church leadership but stayed put nonetheless.
Unpacking why so many black women died in Jonestown requires taking a critical look back at the racial underbelly of the Jonestown age. It demands confronting hard truths about the dangerously gendered seductions of organized religion; especially given the global appeal 24/7 prayer movements and charismatic Pentecostalism have for women of color.
According to a 2012 Kaiser Foundation/Washington Post poll, black women are among the most steadfastly religious groups in the nation. Only 2% said that being religious was not important to them at all (compared to 15% of white men), while 74% said that it was extremely important. Numerous surveys have touted the decline of American religiosity within the past decade. Yet, in an era of black economic depression, the need to be devout or churched up has not diminished for most African American women, despite the patriarchal, heterosexist orientation of the Black Church.