Why Holder Did Not Have to Come, or Why We March and Protest

September 15, 2014 in Faith Matters, Guest Blog by André Johnson

An Open Letter to James Woods

I read with interest the article by Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas as she informed us of your series of tweets challenging Attorney General Eric Holder to come to Memphis to address the “Kroger racial hate crime.” You further challenge the Attorney General to “do the right thing” by coming to Memphis and to “address the cancer of ALL racism in America.” I guess since Holder went to Ferguson, in your logic, he should come to Memphis.

First, I would like to thank you for your concern. What happened in the Kroger parking lot Saturday night was not only awful, but down right wrong. To beat anyone as the group of youths did to those three people is indeed sad and speaks to how humans can treat other humans with total disregard to their humanity. As a pastor and professor here in Memphis, I too watched the video in disgust as I shook my head as yet another cell phone video captured another violent act. So thank you for your concern. Having someone of your statue and Twitter following advocating on the behalf of us here in the city of Memphis is indeed a good thing to have.

However, I do feel the need to inform you on your position challenging Eric Holder to come to Memphis and “do the right thing.” First, the incident did not constitute a “hate crime.” Now, I know how you came to believe that it did—our friends in the local media, especially television news coverage of the incident, initially framed it that way. They told us how this black mob indiscriminately just singled out unsuspecting white people and like a plague of uncontrolled rage, descended upon them viciously to beat them unmercifully. Just a cursory examination of the comment section of various media outlets and you would think we were readying ourselves for an all out race war.

Upon further inspection however, we discovered that one of the three people beaten that night—indeed the first one was an African American woman who was just getting out of her car to go into Kroger. Again, how would you know that if you only saw news coverage of the poor white Kroger employee who was unmercifully kicked, beaten, and left there at the door of Kroger?

However, Mr. Woods, I do believe your “Holder Challenge” comes from another misinformed place. First, many people, apparently including you, believe that there is some double standard when it comes to racism. This explains why in a recent study, white people actually feel they experience more racism than blacks do. Now, I do not have the time to explain to you the definition of racism. There are plenty of sources available if you really want to understand the insidious nature of racism.

Second, you are also misinformed about something else—on why Holder or officials from the Department of Justice would come and intervene anywhere at all. In short, Mr. Woods, there is no need for Holder to come to Memphis because within an hour there was a press conference held by the Mayor and Police Director to address the crime. Within 48 hours, there were arrests, charges and soon to follow indictments and convictions. In other words, the people we entrusted to handle this situation did just that. There is no need for Holder or any other DOJ official to come to Memphis because the authorities are actually doing their job.

In your attempt however to shame the Attorney General, you did expose something else that many of us have been trying to articulate.  In asking Holder to come to Memphis for the “racial crime,” you do at least acknowledge that there was some “racial crime” in Ferguson. It is good that you at least believe that a white police officer shooting an unarmed black person with his hands up (according to just about every eyewitness) is simply wrong and someone should do something about that.

On this, we agree, but I invite you to ask yourself not to ask why Holder will not come to Memphis, but why did he have to go to Ferguson? Moreover, while you are reflecting, ask yourself why they had to march, why they had to protest, why they had to yell, scream, and holler. Why did the people in Ferguson have to bring attention to the fact that Michael Brown laid on the hot pavement in an apartment complex, shot and dead for four and one half hours after Darren Wilson shot him? If you are honest in your reflections sir, I do believe an answer will come.

I believe you will look back at the “investigation” and see that it really was not an investigation. You will look back and see that there was no police report. You will look back and see that at the time of the writing, the authorities have yet to arrest Darren Wilson. You will look back and see that the officials do not take the citizens who witnessed the shooting and offered testimony seriously. You will look back and see that the entire government of Ferguson was indifferent at best to the plight of the family of Michael Brown. When you do this, then you will begin to understand why Holder had to come and why the DOJ is now conducting a Civil Rights investigation of the entire Ferguson police department.

In closing, I do appreciate your concern about the Kroger incident here in Memphis. We are continuing to have discussions around this incident. I will participate in upcoming vigils on the parking lot of Kroger and conduct forums to address not only this but also other issues and problems germane to Memphis.

However, as the investigation of the Kroger incident concluded, it was not a hate crime or a “racial crime.” It was a crime of youth “wilding out” and doing some great harm. Here in Memphis, our officials acted quickly and made arrests and indictments will soon follow. That did not happen in Ferguson, so we continue to march, protest, and massively resist—trying to get people like you to understand that the system does not work for everyone the same way. Maybe the St. Louis DA will bring charges against Darren Wilson and maybe there will even be an indictment, but until then, see you in the streets. I will even make a sign for you.





Stretching boundaries with Holy Yoga

March 1, 2014 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin

285824_t607BY KATHY L. MARTIN

Meet Jesus on your yoga mat.

That is the mission of Holy Yoga, a Christ-centered practice of yoga that came to Memphis at Independent Presbyterian Church almost two years ago.

This practice goes beyond the basics of traditional yoga, which focuses on physical postures, breathing and meditation toward unity with self, to physical worship of Jesus Christ and unity with Him, regardless of denomination.

Lucy Forrester, who has taken

Christian yoga classes for about five years, said that she was initially apprehensive. “I was very skeptical of the practice of yoga, mainly based upon plain ignorance and my own assumptions,” she said.

However, after trying a class, she was hooked.

Dealing with some muscular and flexibility issues, Forrester, who is also a five-year breast cancer survivor, said Holy Yoga helped her heal both emotionally and physically.

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American Guild of Organists is 100

February 3, 2014 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin

Organists, accustomed to being heard but not seen, note guild’s centennial


These musicians often go unnoticed as they perform behind the scenes without taking a bow or receiving a standing ovation. However, most Memphis-area church organists and choir directors prefer it this way and play for an audience of one.


“We perform for the glory of God; that’s our mission,” said Jane Scharding Smedley, longtime organist and choral director of St. Peter Catholic Church and historian for the Memphis Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.


722191_t607Most of the guild’s members are organists. Others serve as choir directors, professors and clergy, or they’re just passionate about the instrument. While the guild’s motto is Soli Deo Gloria (“Glory to God alone”), the nondenominational guild also serves to enrich lives through organ and choir music.


The local chapter is celebrating the organization’s centennial this year with concerts that took four years to plan.


The events, beginning last September and continuing with a concert every month until April, feature national and international artists as well as Memphis musicians. The next concert features the Christ Church Chamber Choir, Rhodes College choral ensembles and Dr. Jane Gamble on organ at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Wilson Chapel at Christ United Methodist Church.

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Super Bowl players and prayers

February 3, 2014 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Brown-Burnett

In 2007, one hundred million people saw Hunter Smith have a great day in the Miami rain.

His punts for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl pinned the Chicago Bears deep inside their own territory several times, helping the Colts win their first NFL championship in 36 years.

763793_t607“I had a really good day, but I know I didn’t do it by myself,” he said from his home in Indiana. “We were fortunate to be able to perform well on the biggest stage in the world.”

Smith and his fellow Colts, like so many members of so many other athletic teams, had girded themselves with prayer. They held a chapel service the night before the game and prayed together as a team just before kickoff.

“I think all teams have prayer as part of their routine,” Smith said. “I know the Bears did and I’ve never been on a team that didn’t.”

Of course, players such as Smith also prayed during the game.

“I didn’t specifically pray to put a punt inside the 5-yard-line,” he said. “But I remembered ‘Ye have not because ye ask not’, so I asked that I play the best I can play, as if the only person watching the game was the Lord.”

Smith, who retired from professional football in 2010, cites his former Colts’ coach, Tony Dungy, as being the main spiritual influence in his football life. Dungy was a head coach in the NFL for 13 years and coached that Colts’ Super Bowl-winning team. Dungy says spirituality permeates NFL locker rooms.

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Youth football takes God to gridiron

November 17, 2013 in Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin


“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

—Philippians 4:13

Malcom Rawls describes that as a Bible verse for life and for football.

Rawls, a former college football player, is a coach for the inaugural team of Memphis Gridiron Ministries, the Binghampton Bulldogs. Rawls coaches and mentors fourth-graders, who play for the Bulls. (Third-graders are the Dawgs.)

On a recent Saturday morning at The Hamp football field in Binghamton, Rawls stood on the sidelines to cheer for the team and the child he mentors, Matario Brown, a fourth-grader at Cornerstone Preparatory School.

As he spoke, Matario recovered a fumble. “Good job, Matario,” Rawls yelled.

“I have a love and respect for football and can see these boys building themselves into a team of young Christians.”

Both teams won their final games of their first season; the Bulls finished 2-6, the Dawgs 3-5. Read the rest of this entry →


Memphis Methodists launch first Hispanic church

October 28, 2013 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Brown-Burnett

By Brown Burnett – It took Ronal Rivas a few hours to fly 2,300 miles from his home in El Salvador to Memphis to start a new mission in 1998.

It has taken Rivas 15 years to turn that mission into the first Hispanic United Methodist church in the Memphis region.

Maranata Iglesia Metodista Unida (Maranata United Methodist Church) now meets in the old Jackson Avenue United Methodist Church.

The remaining members of 107-year-old Jackson Avenue congregation voted last summer to give their property to Rivas and his growing Hispanic congregation, which had been meeting inside the building for more than a decade.

“The people who were here when we arrived were good people with open hearts and let us use their facility, but we needed to have our own church building to do what we needed to do,”

said Rivas, who started Maranata with two families, including his own.

Local United Methodist leaders are taking note of Maranata’s success.

In May, Memphis-area Bishop Bill McAlilly joined bishops from around the world for a conference on the U.S.-Mexico border to plan more joint ministries in both countries.

In September, McAlilly took United Methodist leaders from the Memphis and Nashville area to Reynosa, Mexico, for more planning.

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Church’s youth leader also rival’s football star

October 21, 2013 in Guest Blog by Bill-Sorrell

jwWHITEVILLE, Tenn. — Be true to your school or your church’s youth minister?

That was the predicament facing the youth group here at First Baptist Church when their high school, Bolivar Central, played Jackson Christian School on Oct. 11.

Jackson Christian’s star senior running back, Johnny Williams, is also the youth group leader here at First Baptist.

“He’s our youth minister, and you’ve got to support him,” said Stephen New, a Bolivar senior.

“I’ll be glad if we win, but I’ll be happy if Johnny has a good game,” said Cayle Pinner, a youth group member and a Bolivar cheerleader.

As it turned out, 17-year-old Johnny had a great game, leading Jackson Christian to a 54-32 victory. He scored a career-high five touchdowns, rushed for a career-high 247 yards, caught three passes for another 55 yards, and returned two kicks for 18 yards. He also played linebacker on defense, intercepting one pass and recovering a fumble.

“I wanted to do good for them,” Johnny said of his fellow church members after the game. “All have been accepting. It helps me to be more accountable to God because of my responsibility. Everybody has told me that they are proud of me.”

Johnny has been doing good for some time. Jackson Christian’s coach Matt Underwood allows his all-district and All-West Tennessee star to leave practice early on Wednesdays to make the 45-minute drive to Whiteville to lead the youth group meeting. Attendance has doubled since Johnny became the leader.

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Calling parents to responsibility

September 30, 2013 in Guest Blog by Dwight Montgomery

By the time you read this, you probably will have seen at least one article about crime in our city. More than likely, the crime has involved a young person.

As a minister and community member, these stories affect me deeply. They call attention to the growing challenge we face in our community, where teenagers and even those younger get involved in criminal behavior.

I commend Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich for their efforts to help prevent crime. Their officers are constantly leading community meetings and hosting activities to help young people steer away from criminal behavior.

And yet, as we all know, law enforcement agencies can only do so much. I well remember the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” One of the most important resources in the “village” is the faith-based organization.

Because churches are a primary meeting place for community initiatives in many of our neighborhoods, I’m calling on fellow ministers to help me as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Memphis unveil our “Parental Responsibility Plan.”

We recently discussed the idea with 40 local pastors at a luncheon hosted by the Memphis chapter of the SCLC. The pastors endorsed it and have agreed to organize special meetings for parents, guardians and youths in their congregations. Neighbors and other concerned citizens will also be invited to the sessions.

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Christian bookstores find refuge in churches

August 26, 2013 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin

By Kathy K. Martin – Lisa Albert used to be the assistant manager of the United Methodist Church’s Cokesbury Bookstore in a shopping center in East Memphis. Now she’s a home-based consultant for the denomination’s Nashville-based retail division.

Cokesbury closed all of its 57 stores this year to focus on online and phone sales, including one in Memphis. Company surveys showed that fewer than 15 percent of customers shopped exclusively in its bookstores.

Like their larger secular counterparts, brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores are giving way to the growth in online sales. Five years ago, the Christian Booksellers Association claimed 2,400 members. Now there are fewer than 1,000. Earlier this year, CBA ended its annual Christian Store Week event.

“If bigger (book) stores such as Borders close, just imagine how hard the business is for a not-for-profit like Cokesbury,” said Albert.

But while Christian bookstores are declining, they aren’t close to disappearing. The Yellow Pages list more than 30 Christian or religion-focused bookstores, many of them small outlets located inside larger churches.

In recent years, church bookstores have become the fastest growing part of Christian retailing.

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Faith-based ministries fill counseling gap

August 20, 2013 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Molly Okeon

By Molly Okeon – While he was serving as an assistant pastor many years ago, Greg Askew went back to school to earn a master’s degree in counseling. Soon, hundreds of churchgoers were seeking his help.

“Once they saw there was a safe place they could actually be (helped), the doors opened for a lot of issues that I didn’t think was going on, especially in the church community,” said Askew, then an assistant pastor at 5,000-member Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ.

“Fighting drug-using issues and other (mental) illness-based problems like bipolar and schizophrenia. A lot of them go to church to try to pacify why they’re hurting mentally, but they don’t want to tell anybody.”

The experience highlighted for Askew the largely hidden need and desire for professional counseling, especially among lower-income people.

“People have always needed counseling, but a lot of times they will go without because it’s not available,” said Askew, now pastor of Jubilee Church of God in Christ in Bartlett, which serves 600 members in the Raleigh-Bartlett area. “They’ll substitute it with doing other things. I saw the need to be formally trained.”

Askew and other faith-based health professionals say the need for more affordable, accessible and professional counseling has grown in recent years. They cite the 1998 closing of Midtown Mental Health Center and the 2006 closing of the Memphis Mental Health Institute at Poplar and Dunlap (it later reopened Downtown on Court Street).

Pastors say the need for mental health counseling is particularly acute.

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