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Category Archives: African Americans and Religion

CARIBBEAN TECHNOLOGY NEWS SUMMARY for the week ending January 11th, 2013

CARIBBEAN-OWNED FIRM INTRODUCES AL 13 FOR IPHONES—01/06/12
A Caribbean-owned company based in Miami, Florida, designed by m, has announced the launch of its AL 13, which protects iPhones 4 and 5 without changing the way they look. Lester Mapp, design by m’s founder, says he has always respected the iPhone’s design and appearance and didn’t want to change its look. The AL 13 is made of aerospace aluminum, with a sleek finish that blends with iPhone design. It is lightweight and slides on and off the phones without a need for special tools.

CARIBBEAN CORAL PROTECTION GROUP LAUNCHED BY EPA—01/08/12
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the formation of an inter-agency attempt to protect the coral reefs off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Group will include the EPA and other government agencies that will combine and coordinate efforts to save the coral reefs and ensure that all resources are wisely utilized. Coral reef environments in the Caribbean are being damaged by overfishing, runoff, pollution, diseases, and climate change.

LIME PLANS NETWORK UPGRADE, SAYS MANAGING DIRECTOR—01/09/12
LIME Jamaica, the telecommunications company, has put out US$12 million to strengthen its network so that it can handle 150,000 new subscribers. The company plans to introduce cable television, along with a successor to its 3G network, according to managing director Garfield Sinclair. LIME gained 150,000 new subscribers in the past three months and has taken this action in order to provide appropriate service to all customers.

LIME WANTS NUMBER PORTABILITY—01/10/12
LIME, the telecommunications firm, is hoping that nothing will stop local number portability (LNP), which is scheduled for introduction in 2013. LNP lets users of mobile phones switch their telephone service providers and keep the same number. Garry Sinclair, LIME Jamaica’s chief executive officer, says the technology requires a common platform for LIME and its competitors. Such a system has been implemented in the Cayman Islands already.

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12 Reproductive Justice and Faith Victories of 2012

Nancy PelosiSOURCE: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reflects on the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Thursday, June 28, 2012. By allowing women to make decisions based on their conscience on key matters of family and health, the act was a monumental victory for both women’s health and religious liberty.

Rhetorical and legislative attacks this year on women’s health and reproductive rights—known as the war on women—have had real and dire effects on women and their families. These attacks have been waged across the country, whether through attempts to restrict women’s access to contraception or cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, through numerous state restrictions on abortion such as state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds and abortion waiting periods, or through prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their policies. Despite these challenges and setbacks, women and health advocates have made their voices heard, fighting hard to protect their health and their rights. Here are 12 victories faith leaders have helped win in the fight for reproductive justice for all.

1. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women have access to contraception at no cost, enabling them to make important decisions about becoming a parent according to their conscience. On August 1 a provision of the Affordable Care Act went into effect that requires women to have access to a range of preventive health services at no cost. All health care plans are now required to include annual well-woman visits; screenings for gestational diabetes and HIV; testing for the human papillomavirus, or HPV; and breastfeeding support, among other services. The new law also requires coverage for all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods and family planning counseling for women. It includes a religious exemption for houses of worship and related institutions that morally object to contraception, and it makes provisions for religiously affiliated institutions with similar objections by offering contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer. By allowing women to make decisions based on their conscience on key matters of family and health, the Affordable Care Act was a monumental victory for both women’s health and religious liberty.

2. Religious leaders and denominations defend their support for family planning. Although religious women and men have long supported and used contraceptive services in the United States, the onslaught of attacks from conservative politicians and leaders spurred many religious leaders to stand up and defend contraception as a moral choice. Leaders of national Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations released a public statement that affirmed the importance of access to contraception and their support for the Affordable Care Act provision. A coalition of evangelicals also voiced their support for contraception in a 15-page document that defended family planning on religious grounds and as important to the health of mothers and children. Polls show that almost all of America’s major religious denominations support contraception. Additionally, anoverwhelming majority of sexually active religious women who do not want to become pregnant are using a contraceptive method. Eighty-eight percent of evangelicals support contraception, as do 82 percent of Catholics.

3. Several states have moved away from abstinence-only programs toward more comprehensive sex education. As Mississippi struggles with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, nearly half of the state’s school districts are taking advantage of a measure that went into effect this year. The measure allows districts to adopt “abstinence-plus” education that will add mention of some forms of contraception to the curriculum. In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) vetoed an abstinence-only bill that would have made all sex education classes “opt-in” instead of “opt-out” and that would have prohibited any discussions of contraception or homosexuality. Passing such a law would have made Utah the first state to specifically ban instruction about contraception. More than 40,000 individuals signed a petition urging Gov. Herbert’s veto of the bill, and 58 percent of poll respondents supported the teaching of contraception.

4. The Unitarian Universalist Association made reproductive justice a denominational priority. At this year’s national conference, the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to make reproductive justice their next issue for congregational action and study. Over the next four years, Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country will study, reflect on, and act on issues of reproductive justice. The church has already produced in-depth study and reflection materials on the issue.

5. The global United Methodist Church voted to support maternal health in the United States and around the world. At their convention this year, the denomination’s representatives voted to support a petition outlining the church’s role in reducing maternal and infant mortality and lowering health and cultural barriers to health services for women. The petition also called on congregations to support international and local health initiatives that provide information and services for women’s health and to urge policymakers to increase access to maternal health and family planning services.

6. Faith Aloud, a religious counseling organization, organized a prayer campaign to support women. In response to the barrage of verbal and legislative attacks against women, Faith Aloud created a 40 Days of Prayer to Stop the War on Women campaign, which called for women to be treated with respect and dignity and for compassionate religious voices to be advocates for women. Faith Aloud provides spiritual support to persons making reproductive decisions.

7. Congress worked to ensure that women in uniform receive the same insurance coverage as the civilians they protect. This year the Senate unanimously passed a National Defense authorization bill, including the Shaheen Amendment, which would allow the military’s health insurance plan to cover the cost of abortion for servicewomen and military dependents who are survivors of rape and incest. Women’s health advocates, faith communities, and dozens of military leaders, including former Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell, urged Congress to support abortion coverage for servicewomen in these cases and put the Department of Defense rules in line with other federal policies.

Reproductive health also achieved a number of victories in the 2012 elections:

8. Attempts to pass so-called personhood laws failed in all 11 states in which these laws were proposed. Health professionals, women, religious communities, and reproductive justice advocates stood up tooppose radical laws that would define personhood from the moment of fertilization and ban abortions in all circumstances. If they had passed, these laws could have also banned in-vitro fertilization and certain methods of birth control. Efforts to enact personhood laws through state legislatures or ballot initiatives failed in Arkansas,ColoradoCaliforniaFloridaKansasMontanaNevadaOhioOklahomaOregon, and Virginia. The legislation in Kansas didn’t even make it out of committee, and signature drives in states with ballot initiatives sometimes received fewer than half the signatures required.

9. Faith leaders publicly condemned politicians’ extremist views on rape. From Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) suggestion that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape” to Rep. Richard Mourdock’s (R-IN) statement that children conceived in rape were what “God intended,” candidates’ extremist views on abortion gained attention during the election season. Faith leaders spoke out against these inaccurate and cruel views, calling for compassion, care, and understanding for women facing difficult decisions—especially when they are victims of sexual assault. Ultimately, voters decided that Rep. Akin, Rep. Mourdock, and other like-minded candidates who voiced their radical theology on rape were simply too extreme, and they were defeated at the polls.

10. Voters in Florida rejected an extreme ballot measure that would have restricted a woman’s access to health care. Amendment 6 would have denied insurance coverage for abortion services and removed from the state constitution a woman’s right to reproductive “privacy,” thus weakening the state court’s ability to block potential abortion restrictions such as mandatory ultrasound laws or gestational bans on abortion. This would have paved the way for a full ban on abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned in the future. More than 100 clergy joined women’s health professionals and advocates in opposition to the “unnecessary and dangerous” amendment and instead called for laws that ensure access to health care and respect women’s decision making about their own health. Amendment 6 failed to receive 60 percent of the vote.

11. Women made their voices heard in the 2012 elections regarding health and reproductive issues.Women constituted a majority of voters in this year’s elections, and 55 percent of them voted for President Barack Obama, who openly campaigned as a pro-choice and health care reform leader. According to official 2012 exit polls, President Obama had a 10-point lead among women voters. Additionally, a Planned Parenthood postelection survey found strong support for the organization’s work, with 66 percent of voters disagreeing with candidate Romney’s proposal to end funding for Planned Parenthood.

12. The voices of faith-based groups were stronger than ever in speaking out for women’s reproductive health. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice worked nationally and in several states to connect faith, family, and reproductive rights. Catholics for Choice continued to be a strong defender of women’s reproductive health and rights, setting forth pro-Catholic and pro-women’s health arguments and pushing back against conservative Catholic leaders who claimed to be speaking for the entire church. The Religious Institute worked to educate clergy and the public about faith and sexuality, offering strong religious and moral arguments in its public campaigns around family planning, gay and transgender inclusion, domestic violence, and more. And the National Council of Jewish Women was a strong defender of women’s reproductive rights and was a co-founder—with Catholics for Choice—of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice, a group that defends religious liberty and reproductive health.

The Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute at the Center for American Progress has strengthened and raised the visibility of faith voices for reproductive justice. From testifying before state legislators to writing, speaking, and collaborating with others, our leaders are providing an alternative narrative to reproductive rights that emphasizes justice, conscience, and faith.

These leaders will continue to work with other people of faith in the new year to ensure that reproductive justice victories are championed and that we continue to advocate for women’s reproductive health and justice in 2013 and beyond.

Eleni Towns is a Research Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.

 

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Faith as Politics: The Religious Justification of Neglect

by Charles Gourgey, Ph.D.

It is not unusual today to find the language of religion mixed up with the language of politics. The Republican Party’s platform mentions God no less than 12 times, and Republicans have condemned Democrats for not mentioning God in theirs. Many Republican politicians do not hesitate to proclaim their Christian faith as a great motivator of their policies. So we have a right to expect that those policies will reflect godly values and honor the founder of the religion its adherents proclaim.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan insist that their tax proposals would not burden the middle class. However, the figures do not support this claim. According to the nonpartisan Urban–Brookings Tax Policy Center (Aug. 1, 2012), “A revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Gov. Romney has proposed … would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.”

The great transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, resulting from our recent financial crisis, will continue.

In addition to more tax advantages for the wealthy at the expense of others, the Republican plan will further shred the social safety net by virtually dismantling Medicaid. It will shrink the program drastically, replacing the current system with block grants to the states. To make up for the shortfall, families who are already struggling will be charged part of the cost of their elderly loved ones’ care.

Medicare, too, would change beyond recognition. People would receive a fixed amount from the government to purchase their own plan. Called “premium support,” this is really a euphemism for “voucher.” These Medicare vouchers will not keep pace with rising health care costs, which traditionally outrun inflation. Medicare as we know it will come to an end. And once again, the burden will fall on the poor and middle class.

How do they justify this? Paul Ryan actually refers to his faith. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (April 10, 2012) Ryan stated: “A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. … To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best.”

Ryan found a nice word to theologize his economics. The principle of “subsidiarity” was formalized in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, who in all likelihood never intended it to supersede the Gospel, or to justify a reverse-Robin Hood economics of taking from the poor to give to the rich. But Ryan sees dismantling the safety net for disadvantaged people as actually helping them, by teaching them “independence.” His “preferential option for the poor” means, in practice, cutting their benefits.

These positions are gaining popular support largely because they play on people’s fears and resentment. “If I am doing poorly in this economy,” one may be tempted to think, “it’s because there are so many lazy people who consume my tax dollars without giving anything back.”

But many of those who would suffer under Romney/Ryan economics are hard-working and do have jobs. I think of my friend who works long hours at a simple retail job that does not pay what her efforts deserve, and that gives her no health coverage. There are many like her. They work much harder than many who would judge them, including people who live off their investment income and don’t work at all. Yet under Romney/Ryan the latter would pay even lower taxes, while the rest would suffer more.

And many others, including older people on fixed incomes; people with severe disabilities (mental, physical, or both) who need government assistance; people who are homeless not by choice but due to mental illness; and people with dementia whose family members may give up their own lives and livelihoods to support them, cannot simply go out and get a job. Many are unskilled and unemployable. Age and disability discrimination are rampant, even though we deny it. Yet in spite of this we seem to have a new Republican Gospel: when Jesus said (Matthew 25:36) “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me” he was encouraging dependence. Better he should have said, “I was naked, I was sick, and you told me to get a job.”

This is the politics of resentment, of stigmatizing the poor as parasites who deserve to lose their benefits. In an offhand moment, Romney said it all: These are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” This resentment is self-justifying: “I have mine, and if you don’t have yours, it’s your own fault. So lower my taxes.”

Those who practice this resentment seem not to mind that in the richest nation on Earth, millions of people go without health care. “Are there no emergency rooms?” they ask, much as old Scrooge asked “Are there no workhouses?” But emergency rooms only stabilize you until you can receive some other form of care – which you won’t if you lack insurance. If you have a chronic, degenerative disease, you are on your own. This inequality is criminal, but it is so easy to justify by playing on resentment.

This is the opposite of what Jesus stood for. So those who try to turn him into their political partisan may find themselves in for a shock. When we focus on what Jesus actually taught, we may be quite surprised that he does not share our party affiliation.

Charles Gourgey is a licensed creative arts therapist and author of Judeochristianity: The Meaning and Discovery of Faith (available at Amazon.com), which explores what faith can mean if we restore Jesus’s teachings to their rightful place of central importance.

 

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The Other Believers: Patricia Gore, a black Scientologist

By Erin Williams

What is it like to be an African American who doesn’t praise Jesus Christ or Allah? Or one who doesn’t ascribe to a denomination of Christianity, such as Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal, that’s part of a historically black church?
Patricia Gore applies Scientology teachings to her daily life. (Marlon Correa – WASHINGTON POST)

2009 Pew Research analysisfound that 59 percent of African Americans were members of black Protestant churches, but there were others — many others — who fell into the category of “Other.” Five out of the 59 percent were grouped as an Other Historically Black Protestant. Two out of 15 percent of black Episcopalian Protestants fell into the category of Other. Then there are Buddhists, Scientologists and yes, atheists, who fall into their own realm of Other. They ascribe to a way of life or belief system that is outside the mainstream of religions often followed by African Americans.

What are the others like? How do they fit into a society that skews to mainstream Christians, and a culture in which so many black gatherings start or end with a gospel brunch, prayer breakfast or Christian church service?

In The Other Believers, we spoke with five African Americans about their lives outside of mainstream historically black religions. Here are their stories.

Patricia Gore, 63, is the director of community relations for the Washington Church of Scientology. She has been a member for nearly 30 years. Her story is below:

“I guess I consider myself a Christian Scientologist. A friend of mine introduced me to Scientology. I had been looking for answers that could help me in a more practical way. When he told me about Scientology, I thought, “Hmm.” I remember him telling me that the word [Scientology] meant “knowing how to know.” And I thought, ‘If you know how to know, instead of guessing at how to know, instead of thinking you might know and not know, but you know how to know, that could be pretty amazing.” I actually picked up the phone and called and said, “Where are you located? Could I come in and see what you guys do?” And they said, “Sure, come on in,” and I did.

I think, initially, just the reception was pretty nice, and I appreciated that the people were warm and they were friendly. I had been growing up in a Christian background, and I told them that, and I never heard them say anything negative about that or try to tell me I should be something else, which made me sort of put down some of my walls. They showed me some of their information, and they said, “You might want to do a course. What are you trying to figure out?” And at the time, I was very much the head of the family. My mother had some mental illnesses, and my dad was not there, so I ended up pretty much taking care of my mom and my four younger sisters, which was a big job for me. And I needed some help.

I wasn’t quite sure how to help my mom. I wasn’t quite sure how to help my sisters. I wasn’t quite sure how to keep the family going and everybody happy and the income in. I was trying to get some answers that I didn’t have, and I think someone suggested a course that might be beneficial, and I thought “Sure.”

Scientology is an applied religious philosophy, so it’s ‘How do you use this in your daily life?’ It’s not a belief system. There were things I could do, and after I started doing it, I could see the results. I think I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that there were so many white people, and so few black people, as I saw it. I still had my antennas up just to see how this could relate to me. I kept looking for [racism], and I kept expecting it … but I didn’t [experience it], and that was kind of weird ’cause I grew up with it, and here were these happy people that were treating me very, very nicely, and I was like ‘Okay, what do they want? They’re still being nice to me…’ So it was pretty cool…

I think it was maybe a year or two when I considered ‘Wow, this is really what I’ve been looking for, and I want to continue to study more and more and more of this, and maybe this is a religion I’ll hang out with for the rest of this lifetime.’ My mother has done some courses or services here. I have two kids, and they’ve done a lot of courses and services, one of my sisters. But they don’t consider that they are Scientologists. They’re Christians, and they use some of the tools that we have in their lives.

I don’t think they ever once asked me how come you’re not gonna be just only a Christian anymore, because I think that the bottom line was I was doing well, and they loved me, and they’re family, so they wanted that to happen. And I never once tried to tell them, ‘You should not be a Christian. You should be only a Scientologist.’ I believe that truth exists where it does, and has no owner, and you hear truth in Christianity and Buddhism and Islam and Scientology. You get it where you want it and where it works best for you.

Some [black people] go, ‘Ooh, tell me what that is!’ I had a very high-level official one time say, ‘Girl, I didn’t know they had blacks in Scientology. Come here and talk to me,’ or I have people go, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ We’re a very open organization. We want people to find out about us.

Get a book … find out for yourself. You can come and do a course. You can come to the information center, day in, day out. We are into helping people, and we do a very, very good job at it. We have very sophisticated tools and technology and we have a very caring group of people that work very hard to help people. Come see for yourself, and then decide.

 

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For black Mormons, presidential race brings new attention

 

by Donna Owens | July 10, 2012 

 

It’s a bright Sunday morning inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near downtown Baltimore, and Brittany Stevens is standing in the pulpit, testifying about the goodness of her “Heavenly Father.”

Stevens, an African-American woman in her early 20′s, is telling this diverse congregation how faith and prayer helped her cope during an East Coast storm that claimed lives, destroyed property and left millions without electricity. Her family lost power in their home, but was otherwise fine.

“I’m so thankful,” she said.

Stevens grew up Baptist, but was recently baptized as a Latter-day Saint. She joined a church with some six million followers in the U.S., and where black members comprise about 3 percent of its body, according to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

With the presidential election close at hand, Mormons, and particularly African-American Latter-day Saints, have been increasingly thrust into the spotlight.

The expected contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has raised inevitable questions about the intersection of faith, race and politics.

 

Obama, of course, broke barriers and made history by becoming America’s first black president. Romney, a fourth-generation Mormon,  is the first Latter-day Saint in history to garner the presidential nomination of a major political party.

Church officials stress that none of this matters when it comes to its official stance on the campaign.

“We are politically neutral,” explains Lyman Kirkland, a Latter-day Saints spokesman based at its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Candidates are not allowed to campaign in church.”

Still, the topic of politics isn’t taboo among Mormons when they’re not worshiping.

“I voted for President Obama in the last election and I’m about 95 percent certain I will again,” says Jerri Harwell, a Utah college professor and member of The Genesis Group, a church-sanctioned fellowship group founded by black Mormons in 1971. “I haven’t completely closed my mind to Mitt Romney, but I do have many questions about what type of leader he would be.”

 

Harwell, a longtime Mormon and onetime church missionary, says she’s baffled by Romney’s rejection of president Obama’s health care legislation, when in her words, it was “modeled on his own health care plan in Massachusetts.” She’s also concerned by recent media reports that Romney has Swiss bank accounts and other off-shore assets.

To her, both issues raise larger questions.

“Martin Luther King said we should be judged not by skin color, but the content of our character,” says Harwell. “For someone who wants to run the country, I’m not seeing strong character traits in Romney.”

Those views stand in stark contrast to her husband of 25 years, however. Don Harwell is a black Mormon and an ardent Romney supporter.

“I got to meet him and liked what he had to say,” says Harwell, a Mormon convert since 1983, and the current president of Genesis. “I did phone campaigns for him in the last election.”

Mr. Harwell, who noted he isn’t a Republican but has conservative political leanings, says he is  “disappointed” with economic and social policies espoused by Obama and the Democratic Party.

“I was raised in a time when people were responsible and accountable for self,” says Harwell, a 66-year-old retiree who previously worked in sales. “People had respect for themselves, and they didn’t expect welfare or anything for free.”

Still, Harwell says he’s respectful of whatever political opinions that his wife and other Latter-day Saints may have.

“The church can have a lot of influence, but we make up our own minds. No one can pitch us a presidency,” he said.

Nationwide, thousands of Mormon congregations (called wards) have African-American members in large cities such as New York, Chicago, D.C. and beyond.

While there are famous black Mormons (among them Gladys Knight and the late Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver), the church has long battled perceptions that it is racist—traceable to controversial scriptures about black skin being cursed, and a period up until 1978 when black males couldn’t serve as priests or bishops.

When asked to clarify the position of Latter-day Saints regarding race relations, church spokesman Kirkland said Mormons believe that “the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone.”

He also directed a reporter to the church website and a fact sheet which noted the Church’s official teaching. The Book of Mormon states, “Black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”

At the Mormon chapel in Baltimore, a converted office building situated unobtrusively near public housing projects and a municipal office complex, its members run the gamut in terms of race, gender, age, and socio-economic backgrounds.

After morning service,  conversations centered around faith, not politics. When a reporter brought up the presidential election, there was nervous silence.

“We don’t talk about our political opinions here,” said Bishop Patrick Crompton, an unpaid lay clergyman charged with leading weekly services, aided by members who have `callings’–i.e. assignments that range from offering prayers, to giving personal testimonies during the service.

“If someone does [talk politics], we gently steer them back on track,” he added.

Among the African-Americans who worship here, there’s ample diversity, too. Shirley Kimball, a school cafeteria dietician, is one of several interracial couples in the congregation. Lawrence Gray, a 32-year-old biomedical scientist with long locks, grew up in Louisiana. And Tyrone Garner, a tall, strapping retired Marine in his fifties, hails originally from Georgia.

Many of the “brothers” and “sisters”—as Mormons call each other—noted that they’d been raised in or introduced to other faiths, but in the words of Garner felt  “spiritually unfulfilled” at the time of their conversions.

Mormons believe in Jesus, and that Christ’s original church in the New Testament has been restored in modern times, with living apostles and prophets, starting with their founder Joseph Smith.

Beyond doctrine, many of those interviewed said they were attracted to the church’s emphasis on family.

Brittany Stevens was married and baptized in June along with her longtime love, Jesse.

“My fiancé and I had children out of wedlock and we never thought it was a big deal,” said the retail manager, who noted that she hadn’t been to church in 10 years until a neighbor who is a Mormon reached out to her husband. “We talked with the elders, and until then, no one had ever suggested how God looks at families and the importance of marriage.”

Stevens said some of her relatives have reacted poorly to their conversion, influenced by misperceptions of Mormonism being a cult or allowing polygamy.

The newlyweds are ignoring the naysayers. “Things fell into place when we joined this church,” she said. “It has strengthened us and we feel so blessed.”

For Kimball, converting some 15 years ago after stints in AME, Baptist and Apostolic churches, meant giving up cigarettes; Latter-day Saints pledge to abstain from smoking, alcohol, and drugs, as well as coffee and tea.

“It was hard,” she admits. “I was stuck on those last two cigarettes,” she chuckles. “But I decided, what did I want more, a bad habit or a relationship with Christ? I had to make a choice.”

Today, Kimball helps coordinate the church’s onsite clothing and food exchange. “We help our members and those in the community who have needs,” she says proudly.

With missionaries around the globe, and more than 14 million members worldwide in Europe, Asia, Africa, parts of the Caribbean and beyond, the ranks of Latter-day Saints are rapidly growing.

For that reason, Gray — the scientist — said it’s nearly impossible to predict the way African-American Mormons will feel about the Obama vs Romney match-up, or anything else, beyond their shared faith.

“We’re African-Americans and Mormons, but we’re all diverse,” he said. “We come from different backgrounds and social situations. We hold our own individual beliefs about society, government and how it should be run.”

 

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Black Mormons appreciate choice

 

 

RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty years ago, who would have predicted the 2012 U.S. presidential race would pit a black incumbent against a white Mormon?

“I’ve been black my whole life and a Mormon for 30 years and never thought either of these (candidacies) would happen in my lifetime,” said Utah attorney Keith Hamilton.

“This is a day that all Americans should take some solace in — that things are changing.”

Darius Gray, former head of Genesis, a support group for black Mormons, sees this historic choice between two members of traditionally outsider groups as evidence of a “marked change for this nation, a maturing too long in coming. You can take joy that both groups are now players on the scene.”

Unlike white Mormons who lean Republican, African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Black Mormons find themselves caught between two political perspectives: Many still lean liberal, others have switched parties, and some find themselves going back and forth.

Not so long ago, there were few black Mormons even to consider.

Until 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints barred blacks from its all-male priesthood. After that landmark shift, missionaries found some success winning black converts, but African Americans still represent only about 3 percent of the Mormons’ 6 million U.S. members.

While few people cast their votes primarily on race or religion, many weigh whether a candidate’s personal story, politics and perspective match their own.

“Having President Obama in the White House has done so much for race relations, which anyone who knows me is aware that this is one of my greatest passions,” said Marvin Perkins, the Mormon co-author of the “Blacks in the Scriptures” DVD series. “In the last election, I voted for Obama, not because he was African American but because he was clearly the better candidate.”

Today, Perkins is not so sure that remains true, particularly in light of Obama’s recent support of same-sex marriage, which his LDS church opposes. Perkins is likely to vote the other way, not because of Romney’s Mormonism, but because they share the same values.

Not every black Mormon connects with Romney — or Obama, for that matter. Hamilton said he cannot relate to either man’s biography. He voted for Obama and likely will again, despite the president’s position on same-sex marriage.

Rob Foster, the first black student-body president at LDS church-owned Brigham Young University, rejects single-issue or identity voting.

“My social views are probably different from (Romney’s), due to my personal experience,” he said. “With President Obama, we might have similarities when it comes to things socially, but we can be different in other areas.”

Foster will base his vote on policy, chiefly health care.

Many black Mormon women back Obama.

Bryndis Roberts, a member of the Atlanta LDS Ward for example, didn’t convert her politics when she joined the church in 2008. The lifelong Democrat has never voted Republican.

 

 

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Southern Baptists elect 1st African-American president, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. of New Orleans

 

(Gerald Herbert/ Associated Press ) – Fred Luter, Pastor of the Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans reacts as he is elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, at the convention in New Orleans, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Luter is the first African-American to be elected president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS — At the end of the day Wednesday, the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention will pass to an African-American pastor for the first time.

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination voted Tuesday to elect the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. to lead them, an important step for a denomination that was formed on the wrong side of slavery before the Civil War and had a reputation for supporting segregation and racism during much of the last century.

 

In a news conference after the vote, Luter said he doesn’t think his election is some kind of token gesture.

“If we stop appointing African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics to leadership positions after this, we’ve failed,” he said. “… I promise you I’m going to do all that I can to make sure this is not just a one-and-done deal.”

Faced with declining membership, the SBC has been making efforts to appeal to a more diverse group of believers.

Some Southern Baptists also believe a proposal to adopt an optional alternative name, Great Commission Baptists, will bring in believers who have negative associations with the current name. The results of a vote on that proposal was to be announced Wednesday.

Luter was unopposed when he was elected by thousands of enthusiastic delegates Tuesday at the SBC annual meeting in his hometown of New Orleans.

He spoke about the decline in SBC membership and his own efforts to grow his church, which included intensive outreach to men, and his concern that men in his inner-city neighborhood were not taking responsibility for their children.

He began to cry as he recalled growing up with a divorced mother and no father in the house, saying he asked God, “Let me be that role model to my son that I didn’t have.” And he recounted how his son followed him into ministry and asked Luter to be his best man at his wedding.

Luter described what he hopes to achieve for the convention, saying he has always had the ability to get along with everyone. He plans to use that skill to bring denominational leaders together to discuss how they can leave aside their differences and work together to spread the Gospel.

Pastor David Crosby of First Baptist New Orleans nominated Luter, calling him a “fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor” who “would likely be a candidate for sainthood if he were Catholic.”

Crosby said the SBC needs Luter at the head of the table as it increasingly focuses on diversifying its membership.

“Many leaders are convinced this nomination is happening now by the provenance of God,” he said.

Luter wiped tears from his eyes as he accepted the position. Two female ushers from the Franklin Avenue congregation embraced, swaying and weeping with joy.

“I think I’m just too overwhelmed by it right now to speak,” said another member, Malva Marsalis.

A minister from Luter’s church, Darren Martin, said the SBC’s past support of slavery and segregation are well known, but Luter’s election was “a true sign … that change from within has really come. …Christ is at the center of the SBC.”

The proposal to adopt an alternative name was more controversial than Luter’s election. The Tuesday vote was too close to call by a show of hands so paper ballots were cast.

Those who supported the alternative name argued that “Southern Baptist” can be a turn-off to potential believers.

They said adopting “Great Commission Baptists” as an optional name would help missionaries and church planters to reach more people for Christ.

An online poll by the SBC’s Lifeway Research of 2,000 Americans found that 44 percent said knowing a church was Southern Baptist would negatively affect their decision to visit or join.

Those who opposed the alternative said Southern Baptists should be proud of the denomination’s name and reputation.

The “Great Commission” refers to Matthew 28:16-20, in which Jesus instructs his disciples at Galilee to go forth and make disciples of all nations.

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Online:

Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc12/default.as

 

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