Category Archives: Race & Ethnicity

After Trayvon Martin case, churches say ‘stereotypes cost lives’

Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service


An umbrella group of Christian denominations committed to combating racism is urging churches to use the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as a “teachable moment” to speak out against racial stereotypes.

“It is a time to understand the burden that some of us have to live always facing the stereotypes of others and the danger that these stereotypes might cost us our lives,” wrote the 10 leaders of Churches Uniting in Christ in a statement released Wednesday (March 28).

“In humility, we invite the Body of Christ to join in serious self-examination about how our communities by our silence support racial profiling and stereotyping.”

CUIC called on churches to examine laws that may have contributed to the Feb. 26 death of Martin, a 17-year-old African-American who was unarmed. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, admitted shooting Martin in Sanford, Fla., but law enforcement officials have not charged him, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

“We cannot remain silent as our country once again struggles with the senseless killing of an unarmed young African-American boy,” the CUIC leaders said. “We write because we cannot remain silent at the continued ‘criminalization’ of black and brown peoples with laws that give license to people to shoot first and ask questions later.”

CUIC is composed of 10 mainline Protestant and historically black denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and others, with a special focus on overcoming racism.

Top leaders of the National Council of Churches also called for the aftermath of Martin’s death to be a time for introspection. “All of us — especially those who are white — must engage in urgent self-examination about the ways we react to persons we regard as ‘other,'” wrote NCC President Kathryn M. Lohre and Interim General Secretary Clare J. Chapman.

Some commentators have questioned whether white clergy took too long to add their voices to discussions about the case.

Although the Florida Council of Churches recently issued a statement about the case, “local white faith leaders have been missing from action in the movement for justice for nearly a month,” former Orlando Sentinel religion writer Mark Pinsky wrote in The Huffington Post.


Parting the sea of 2 faiths, the language that separates Messianic Jews

By Contributor Lace Williams-Tinajero

Lace Williams-Tinajero

One day Rabbi David D’Auria found a red Nazi swastika painted on the sign of his synagogue. Regardless, he answers with a firm “no” when asked if he has ever been targeted or persecuted for being a Messianic Jew. The leader of Kehilat HaMashiach, a Messianic congregation in Spokane Valley, says that anti-Semites, people who hate Jews, target all Jews. Even some of his fellows Jews are suspicious of him. For Christians the rabbi has to prove himself a true follower of Jesus. For Jews he has to prove he’s still Jewish.

At times, such “gross display of ignorance” makes living in Spokane difficult, D’Auria said. Larger metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Miami and Fort Lauderdale have higher populations of Jews and Messianic Jews. Not so in Spokane, which is mostly homogeneous.

“Spokane is not this international community with many different cultures,” D’Auria said. “When you have interactions between different cultural groups, you have more openness. Spokane feels resistant and non-accepting of different groups.”

One word sets all Messianic Jews apart, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus). The call for Messianic Jews is obedience to Yeshua while maintaining their Jewish identity. Yeshua is the center of their worship. Yeshua is also the eye of a storm of controversy that swirls around them.

“We are not part of what is traditionally considered Christian or Jewish because of our unique call; yet, we desire the unity in both groups of people — Christians and Jews,” said D’Auria.

As with any religious journey, it is difficult to walk a straight path. The difficulty for Messianic Jews is, “staying to the center of the road when there are two sides pulling you apart, Jews pulling you to be non-Yeshua, and Gentiles pulling you to be less Jewish,” he added.

Yeshua is the most descriptive word for Messianic Jews. It evokes hatred from some non-Yeshua believing Jews. D’Auria indicates for nearly 1,000 years, some ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews refuse to utter the name Yeshua. Instead, they spit on the ground and shorten it to Yeshu, interpreted as false one or traitor. Non-Messianic Jews regard Yeshua as a blasphemous word. They disregard Yeshua because of the harm that has come to Jews in the name of Jesus. In defense of Yeshua, D’Auria rejects this conclusion as sinat hinam (hatred without cause), stemming not from theological reflection but from emotional reaction.

To move forward, more open dialogue in place of emotionally charged reactions is needed. D’Auria answers “yes” to the question of whether it is possible to understand one another’s beliefs based on language.

“From a Messianic Jewish standpoint, belief in Yeshua breaks down some points of compatibility,” he said.

He stands firmly in his belief that Yeshua is God’s promised Messiah to the Jewish people. His sincerity and courage give insight into his character and why he continues on a path that others find so suspicious, even if it comes in the form of a red swastika.

Rallying for justice

By Tracy Simmons
Religion News Spokane

Click image for Audio Slideshow - Audio by Rev. Happy Watkins

Sharon Cowan faced the choir, raised her hands in the air and signaled singers to begin. Just like they do every year, the Spokane Community Gospel Mass Choir jump started the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March with its upbeat tempos. It only took moments for the crowd to surround the choir and join in the clapping and singing.

Thousands attend Unity March in Spokane/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

In 2011 Kevin Harpham, who had ties to white supremacists, tried to detonate a bomb at the Unity March. But that didn’t keep MLK supporters from attending this year’s event, as people came from all over the Spokane area and parts of Idaho to attend. The event drew in about 3,000 people, which, according to the Spokesman, is twice as many as last year.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) applauded the attendees for not backing down.

“We came here today to celebrate the best of America,” he said. “And given what happened last year, we also came here to stand up against what has become the worst of America.”

Gonzaga students march for MLK/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

He said residents don’t want this area to be known as a refugee for close-mindedness and intolerance, but instead as a breeding ground for justice and equality.

Ivan Bush, co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee, emceed the event and urged the crowd to fight injustices year-round.

“Let’s commit ourselves to extending this day to not just the third Monday of January, but let’s take this day throughout the year and let’s make a difference,” he said.

View photos of this event on our Flickr album.

MLK parade an opportunity to “re-claim the day”

By Tracy Simmons
Religion News Spokane

At last year’s Unity March Spokanites were reminded that white supremacy still has a pulse here.

Kevin Harpham

Kevin Harpham

Kevin Harpham, who has extensive ties to white supremacists, hoped to detonate a bomb at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. But his backpack was discovered, the parade was rerouted and the explosive failed.

In December he was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

The Spokane Police Department has beefed up security for this year’s march and hopes that Harpham’s actions haven’t scared people away.

“The annual MLK Day march is an opportunity for citizens to speak out against hate,” the police announced in a news release.

Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church, said members of St. David’s will be at the parade proudly waiving the church’s banner.

“It’s not that he [Harpham] succeeded in turning people away or scaring people off,” she said. “What he did was reinforce the perception that the Inland Northwest is a haven for white supremacist groups…and that’s why it’s important people turn out for this event and be a part of the parade.”

Wheatley-Billeter said she hopes people will take the parade as an opportunity to protest hate and show that Spokane’s equality-minded residents far outweigh the white supremacists.

“People who have faith in humankind need to stand there, we need to stand together and say that we are united and that we will not allow this to define us, will not allow it to define our community and that we support and want great diversity in this area,” she said.

King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Wheatley-Billeter said those words are relevant now more than ever and hopes the parade will be filled with Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims and people from other faith groups who will together celebrate King’s legacy.

John Shuford, director of the Institute for Hate Studies at Gonzaga University said this year’s parade is an opportunity for the community to take a stand.

“I see this as an occasion for justice-minded folks throughout the Inland Northwest to reclaim the day and push forward on the unfinished work of building a beloved community here and elsewhere,” he said.

The parade will begin Monday  at 10 a.m. at the INB Performing Arts Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Gonzaga to participate in Unity March, celebrate Black history

Monday marks the 26th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday honoring the civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The City of Spokane urges residents to consider this year’s holiday a “Day On, Not a Day Off.”

Gonzaga Universityfaculty, staff and students plan to honor King’s legacy and dream by taking part in the 10 a.m. March for Unity downtown and other related events afterward. Extra police security will be in place for the events. (Last year’s parade was re-routed after an explosive device was found near the parade route. Kevin Harpham admitted to placing the device, which was discovered and disabled before it could explode, was convicted and sentenced last month to 32 years in prison.)

Gonzaga community members will gather Monday morning at the INB Performing Arts Center (334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.) – under Gonzaga University’s banner – before the March for Unity begins.

Following Related Events on Monday:

11 a.m.-2 p.m. – Community Resource Fair, River Park Square, first and second floors, and Children’s Learning Resource Fair at the STA Bus Plaza, second floor.

Noon-1 p.m. – “I Have a Dream,” Holy Family Hospital, 5633 N. Lidgerwood St., Health Education Center, lower level. The Rev. Percy Happy Watkins’ delivery of Dr. King’s famous speech.

3-4 p.m. – “I Have a Dream,” Providence Sacred Heart Hospital, 101 W. Eighth Ave., Mother Joseph Room. The Rev. Percy Happy Watkins’ delivery of Dr. King’s famous speech.

Gonzaga to Celebrate Black History Month in February

Gonzaga plans to celebrate Black History Month in February with the following events scheduled:

  • Tim Wise, a prominent and articulate social-justice writer and educator, will speak at 8 p.m. Feb. 1 in the Cataldo Hall Globe Room; free and open to the public. Wise was recently named by Utne Reader as one of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” He has spoken at more than 600 colleges and in Canada and Bermuda on issues of comparative racism, race and education, racism and religion, and racism in the labor market.
  • The movie “Mooz-Lum” (2001) will be shown at 7 p.m., Feb. 10 in the Foley Center Teleconference Room. In the movie, Tariq (Evan Ross) – raised in a strict Muslim household – enters college confused. New peers, family and mentors help him find his place, but the 9/11 attacks upon the United States force him to face his past and make the biggest decisions of his life. After the film, Vik Gumbhir, Gonzaga associate professor of sociology, will lead an open discussion. Snacks and beverages will be provided. The event – sponsored by Gonzaga’s Unity Multicultural Education Center, the Student Wellness Resource Center and Professor Gumbhir – is free and open to the public.
  • UMEC, and Gonzaga student clubs the Black Student Union and the Young Democrats will sponsor “The Melding of Spiritual Activism and Social Justice” at 7 p.m., Feb. 13 in the Jepson Center’s Wolff Auditorium. The event features Ericka Huggins, an activist, poet, professor and former Black Panther leader and political activist. The event is free and open to the public.
  • Gonzaga’s Black Student Union will present its Annual Dinner, “Back to the Roots,”  at 6 p.m., Feb. 18 in the Cataldo Hall Globe Room. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for all others. For more information, contact the Black Student Union via email.
  • UMEC will present a Crafting Unity event, “African Art Showcase,” noon — 2 p.m., Feb. 22, main floor of Crosby Student Center.
  • UMEC also will sponsor a Cultural Awareness Night featuring a Sironka African Art Workshop at 7 p.m., Feb. 24 in the Jundt Art Center and Museum’s Art Studio. This event also is free and open to the public.

Welcoming the stranger

Blogger Mark Kadel

Today we will examine the Christian church’s compassionate and informed role as we “Welcome the Stranger” to our land.

How is the issue of immigration affecting the church?
Demographers tell us that immigrant churches are the fastest growing segment of evangelical churches in the U.S. In fact, some researchers predict the immigrant and ethnic church will be the largest evangelical body of believers in the U.S. by 2025.  Increasingly, when we talk disparagingly about “those people,” we are talking about ourselves because the Church is one body of which each of us is an interdependent part. When one part suffers, as many undocumented brothers and sisters do, every part suffers (1 Cor 12:12-26).

What should our church do?
I suggest several steps:

  • Prayer — for wisdom as your church engages with this issue, for immigrants in your community, and for your political leaders
  • Listening — to immigrant brothers and sisters’ experiences, as well as to what the Bible has to teach us about how to interact with the foreign-born.
  • Education — help others in your congregation to understand the issue. Some churches have dedicated a sermon or Sunday school class to the topic, or created opportunities for interaction between immigrants and non-immigrants within the church
  • Advocacy — your legislators need to hear the moral voice of churches and their leaders. Some churches have created or signed a statement in support of immigration reform. Others have visited, written to, or called their legislators to share their opinion.  Most white evangelicals regret the way that, for the most part, we sat out on the Civil Rights Movement, leaving our African-American brothers and sisters on their own as they struggled for what we now readily affirm was biblically-mandated justice.  This time around, we have the chance to stand with our Latino, Asian, Mid-Eastern and African brothers and sisters as they struggle to start their lives over again in a country that prides itself in being a land of opportunity.
  • Evangelism — While many immigrants bring a vibrant faith with them, others will encounter the transformative message of the gospel for the first time in the U.S.  Immigration provides a missional opportunity to make disciples of all nations—right on our doorstep.
  • Invite a Speaker — World Relief would be happy to send a speaker to your church, Sunday school, cell or growth group, women’s or men’s meeting, or a mission club to talk about immigration issues and the biblical response.
  • Become involved — World Relief Spokane has a volunteer program that provides cultural orientation, training and tools to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.  If this message pricks your heart a little, makes you think you should maybe be a little more neighborly, or just excites you with possibilities, check out our website at   nd click on the “Get Involved” tab for a list of ways you can become an advocate for the vulnerable.

Thank you again for looking into the issue of immigration with me these past four weeks.  I realize there is much, much more on this subject that we could explore and many more scriptures that talk about welcoming the stranger and a lot more angles of looking at immigration that I have not touched on in these four posts.  I welcome comments, opinions and different viewpoints so please comment on this post or email me at

Looking at immigration from a biblical perspective

By Blogger Mark Kadel

Blogger Mark Kadel

Welcome back!  I hope the previous posts have helped clear some misconceptions about immigration policy in the United States.  Today we are looking at answer to some common Biblical questions about immigration.What does the Bible say regarding the way that we think about immigration issues?

First of all, there is a strong biblical mandate to care for the immigrant and refugee.  God repeatedly tells the people of Israel that the law he is giving them “applies to the native-born and to the alien among you” (Ex. 12:49).  God sets for his people the standard that immigrants to their land should be treated equally, with the same rights and the same responsibilities.  He did so not just through a sentimental statement of love, but by legislating systems that would ensure that these vulnerable groups’ needs were met, telling the Israelites to go over their grain, grape and olive harvests just once, leaving the gleanings for the alien, the orphan and the widow (Deut. 24:19-21).

In the New Testament, Jesus, who as a child was forced to flee as a refugee to Egypt, makes clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that God’s command to love our neighbor includes, specifically, migrants in need (Luke 10:25-37). He instructs us to welcome the stranger, for in doing so we are welcoming Christ himself (Mt 25:31-46).

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it,” Hebrews 13:2, NIV.
Others have comments about the biblical responsibility to help the foreigner in our midst.

“We show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and the desperate as if they were Christ Himself,” said Francis Chan, author of “Crazy Love.”

“The church must always show compassion, always… A good Samaritan doesn’t stop and ask the injured person. ‘Are you legal or illegal?’,” said Rick Warren senior pastor of Saddleback Church.

But what about the fact that these people broke the law?

The fact that these individuals are present unlawfully is a big problem for a lot of Christians.

Romans 13:1-4 makes very clear that Christians are to submit to the governmental authorities that God has established. While there may be situations when “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), we should not lightly brush aside this biblical command.  However, we can uphold the importance of the rule of law without necessarily deporting 10.8 million people; we could insist upon other penalties, such as a significant fine, for entering or overstaying a visa unlawfully.

It is also important to recognize that the government and the church clearly have very different roles.  There is no conflict between the submission to authority mandated in Romans 13 and serving undocumented immigrants: We can minister to immigrants’ physical needs, help to teach them English, share the good news of the gospel, and advocate for just policies that would better their situation—all without violating the law (at least in most states).

Christians can disagree on which response is right, but I hope we can all agree it’s tragic that our system forces people to choose between those two, equally biblical commands of following the law and providing for one’s family. We can advocate for the government to reform the immigration laws so that illegal immigration is very, very difficult and legal immigration—not without limit, but sufficient to keep our economy growing and families united—is much easier.  And then we need to find some mechanism that recognizes that those who are undocumented have broken the law, but which also recognizes our own government’s complicity in creating a morally hazardous, dysfunctional system and avoids the incredible expense of deporting 10 to 12 million people.
Since we live in a democracy, we can advocate for immigration policies that are both welcoming of immigrants and maintain the importance of the rule of law. We can also seek justice—as God commands (Micah 6:8)—by addressing the structures of poverty that create the situations from which immigrants feel they must flee.

Our next and last post on this subject will examine the role of the Christian church that is both compassionate and informed as we “Welcome the Strangers” to our land.