On Sunday, Louisville Faith Leaders Seek Healing And Justice Sunday, Jun 7 2020 

Amid widespread protests against police brutality, faith leaders across Louisville offered spiritual relief and renewed calls for justice on Sunday in a city deeply wounded over racial injustice.

From the pulpits of Black churches, to indigenous hymns in Louisville’s Central Park, to Muslim prayers at Waterfront Park, churches and other houses of worship across Louisville held services, virtually and in person.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Joins Louisville Congregation

St. Stephen Church in the West End marked the 11th day of protests in Louisville with a special guest: National civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson visited for a conversation about race and policing.

After the opening song, Jackson and his son Jonathan Jackson sat down with Rev. Kevin Cosby to talk about the police killing of Breonna Taylor this past March. In a nod to Jackson’s early work in the Civil Rights Movement, Cosby opened with three questions first asked by the Kerner Commission, formed by President Lyndon Johnson after riots rocked American cities in 1968:

“What happened, why did it happen and how do we prevent it from happening again?” he said.

Jackson answered first by illustrating the long history of racism in Kentucky.

“The states had to ratify the end of slavery. Kentucky ratified that in 1976, 111 years after slavery was over Kentucky had not ratified the end of slavery. That says a lot about the legislature in this state,” Jackson said.

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

He went on to speak about what he called the three pandemics facing America: a pandemic of racial violence by police, of poverty, and of COVID-19.

Jackson called on Gov. Andy Beshear to convene a special session to pass hate crime legislation and increase accountability for police shootings. He also called on Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to consider charges against the three officers involved in shooting Taylor.

‘Little Flock Strong’

At Little Flock Missionary Baptist Church in Shelby Park, Pastor Bernard Crayton echoed that call for more aggressive action from city and state leaders.

“We want to put Mr. Cameron on notice that we expect him to do the right thing, or we will be in Frankfort, amen, marching there at his office,” Crayton said. Crayton took the pulpit wearing a t-shirt that said “Little Flock Strong.” Early Wednesday morning, his church was shot up, reportedly by four white men.

“It was an evil thing that was done. I stand this morning not as an angry Black pastor, but one who is thankful to God that no one was killed by these stray bullets,” he said.

Louisville Metro Police and the FBI are investigating the shooting. LMPD said they have not ruled out the possibility that the shooting was racially motivated.

Police and the FBI are investigating the shooting of a historic Black Church in Louisville.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

Police and the FBI are investigating the shooting of Little Flock Missionary Baptists Church, a historic Black church in Louisville.

The 150-year-old church, founded by freed slaves, will not be deterred, Crayton said. And he hopes the protesters will not be either.

“In spite of all these things that are happening right now, we cannot get discouraged,” he said. “Watch what’s happening. We are at a tipping point of making a difference in the world!”

Crayton echoed Rev. Jackson’s message across town at St. Stephen: this fight won’t be won in a day, or a week, or even a year. But nonetheless, they said, it’s a fight worth fighting.

A Moment Of Silence For Victims 

At Louisville’s Central Park, hundreds gathered for a walking vigil to commemorate the Black lives lost to racial injustice. But with so many gathered, organizers instead called on people to stand or walk, in silence, amid the shade so that everyone could socially distance in accordance with health guidelines due to the coronavirus.

At the sound of a gong, hundreds fell silent for nearly nine minutes — the length of time an officer held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

Interfaith Paths to Peace and the Sowers of Justice Network invited leaders from diverse faith traditions to speak a few words. There were songs: familiar ones including “Amazing Grace” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”, and less familiar ones in Sanskrit and indigenous languages, and prayers in the name of Elohim, God and Allah.

Chandra Goforth Irvin with Interfaith Paths to Peace told the crowd it’s easy to stand together in unity on a beautiful day in the park with like-minded people. She warned the real challenge comes in conference rooms and dinner tables where Black lives are devalued and ignored.

“The real challenge will come when we must decide to retreat or to face the horrific truths of our past,” Irvin said. “The challenge to stand for love, justice, equity and peace, when a Black person asks ‘will you please listen to me this time?’ Or when they curse you when you haven’t.”

Solidarity In Prayer 

And as the sun set over the Ohio River, about a hundred people gathered on a tarp as part of a Muslim solidarity prayer service. A place, one speaker said, that is not far from the site of that persistent Louisville legend — where Muhammad Ali threw his Olympic medal in the river.

State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville told the crowd that she does not feel that Black lives matter to Gov. Andy Beshear and Mayor Greg Fischer… at least not enough to treat protesters with dignity and respect.

“I was brought to my knees Friday when I’m was out in resistance, love, solidarity…and I was teargassed by the people we pay to protect us,” Scott said.

Sister Janene Shakir, too, gave voice to the anger, sadness and fear that’s overwhelmed Louisville residents in recent days, adding that “nothing is worth a human life.”

“We have to teach peace…you have to start with yourself, and that’s the hardest part,” Shakir said.


Correction: In a previous version of this story, Pastor Bernard Crayton’s name was misspelled. It has been corrected.

This story has been updated.

After Early Reopening For Houses Of Worship, A Church Relishes Its Victory Sunday, May 10 2020 

It’s a quiet Sunday morning in Bullitt County. Most church parking lots sit empty on this Mother’s Day morning, their services moved online due to coronavirus. But the sanctuary at Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview is filling up with people ahead of the 11 a.m. service. 

Maryville Baptist Church never stopped meeting in person, despite Gov. Andy Beshear’s March 19 executive order prohibiting mass gatherings. But this week, their Sunday service won’t be against the law. 

On Friday, a judge issued a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit filed by the Hillview church. The order allowed the church, and all religious services in Kentucky, to start meeting legally, and immediately. 

Maryville Pastor Jack Roberts is glad to have this legal victory. But he didn’t mind meeting in violation of the law. 

“It’s never proper to follow laws that are illegal,” said Roberts. “And basically, that’s what was going on.”

Beshear had originally said that houses of worship could reopen on May 20 if they followed strict social distancing and cleaning guidelines. He also encouraged worship leaders to choose recorded music over singing and congregants to wear face coverings. If they chose to sing, the state guidelines suggest they stay farther than six feet apart. 

In the wake of the court rulings, Beshear moved up the effective date of the guidelines to Friday instead. 

“I really hope that these rulings don’t have groups going back faster than they should, not doing everything that needs to be done, and causing the spread of this virus,” Beshear said during a press conference Saturday evening. 

Maryville Baptist Church posted a sign on the doors asking people to follow social distancing guidelines, and hand sanitizer was available in the back of the pews. A few minutes before the service began, a few dozen people were spaced throughout the pews. 

But no one wore masks, and some socialized in small groups in the center aisle and vestibule. Roberts himself doesn’t believe in the value of masks; he told a reporter, incorrectly, that wearing a mask if you’re infected makes you sicker.  

In his Sunday sermon, Roberts obliquely referenced the legal victory. But he directly addressed Beshear’s guidance that churches institute significant restrictions, including limiting singing to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“I’ve said our Governor’s never been to a Baptist Church,” Roberts said to laughter from the crowd. “I mean, really, singing is as much part of worship as anything we do. We’d just have to quit worship if we couldn’t sing.” 

The choir sang without masks for most of the first half hour of the service. Roberts preached for well over an hour. He criticized the governor for declaring churches “non-essential,” but said that some of the blame for that lay with the churches themselves — and the people who attend them.

“The reason that we’re not essential, folks, is we’ve made ourselves such,” he said.

He chastised churches that focus too much on showmanship, and people who go to church only sporadically. 

“Try that at home,” he said. “Disappear from home for about six months and show up and see what your wife thinks. You know what she’ll say: ‘You’re non-essential.’”

He got lots of cheers, laughter and amens from the crowd as he preached. Roberts avoided the topic of the virus in his sermon, but beforehand, he told a reporter that he thinks the concern is overblown. 

“My philosophy, if you’re interested, is that you shouldn’t be foolish,” he said. “But I’m 77 years old. I’m not going to stay in my basement for what little life I’ve got left.”

He said he thinks Beshear has been misled about the severity of the pandemic and that he overstepped with the executive order limiting in-person gatherings that included houses of worship. 

Maryville Baptist Church is one of several that sued Beshear over this executive order. On Friday, District Judge David Hale issued an injunction that allowed the church to meet in-person. The same day, another court issued a similar ruling in a separate lawsuit filed by Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville. That ruling noted it extended to all religious services in Kentucky. 

“If social distancing is good enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection,” District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove wrote in his ruling on the Tabernacle case. 

Steven Grassman, a member of the Hillview church for more than 40 years, said he took a few weeks off from attending services. He said that’s because he was getting a lot of “untrue” information from the news about the risk of coronavirus. 

But the court ruling brought him back. 

“I’m pleased with it,” he said, “I understand it’s a constitutional right … and as long as we do abide by the guidelines, I think it’s perfectly fine.”

Roberts said he heard from “hundreds” of churches around Kentucky that said they also planned to meet on Sunday. But many others are slow-rolling their reopening plans. 

At Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Rev. Megan McCarty said she “panicked” when the governor announced the May 20 reopening date for churches, and when she saw the guidelines to safely reopen, she knew it would take some serious planning. Opening even sooner than that was not a consideration.

The church has formed a planning committee, but has not set a date to reopen. 

“Just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should,” said McCarty. “We are approaching it really slowly and trying to figure out how to do it the safest way that we can.”

She said Friday’s rulings and the governor’s guidance pushed the church to start planning in earnest. She’s hearing from people that are eager to get back to church, but they are trying to balance that with the public health needs of a community with many older people, as well as families with young children. 

For now, they’re sticking with the pre-recorded online services they publish every Sunday morning. 

Southeast Christian and Highview Baptist Church, two of Kentucky’s largest churches, are also both sticking with online services at this point. In a video devotional posted on Facebook on Friday, Highview senior pastor Aaron Harvie said they were planning a prayer gathering, likely outside, for May 20, but were not planning to resume full-blown Sunday services yet.

Even though some gatherings are now allowed, Harvie discouraged people from putting “post-pandemic expectations” on the next few weeks. 

“I know that the Lord is not in a hurry,” he said. “He is not in a rush and we are not going to be in a rush either.” 

That devotional was posted before the court rulings came down, but on Sunday morning, the online-only service started as planned.

Book On Early Christianity Inclusiveness Wins Grawemeyer Award Friday, Dec 6 2019 

Every Sunday morning during college, Stephen Patterson would drive to a church and deliver a sermon; then he’d go to another church and deliver another sermon; then, one more sermon at one more church. It was during this time in divinity school, while he was delivering these sermons to pay his tuition, that he figured out he didn’t want to be a minister. He wanted to study Christianity, going deeper into history.

Which is what he did: he teaches religious and ethical studies at Willamette University in Oregon. And now Patterson has won the Grawemeyer Award for Religion from the University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for his book, “The Forgotten Creed: Christianity’s Original Struggle against Bigotry, Racism and Sexism.” In it, Patterson dissects a passage from the apostle Paul.

Patterson said apostle Paul was the first one to write down a common sentiment by early Christians: “For you are all children of God in the Spirit; there is no Jew or Greek; there is no slave or free; there is no male and female, for you are all one in the Spirit.”

Patterson said this sentiment, of togetherness, would have been something common and known to followers of Christ at that time.

“He was quoting to them something that they would have recognized as central to their identity and to their self-understanding,” Patterson said. “The book is about how over time, racial or ethnic division, and patriarchy and classicism — how these things reasserted themselves in Christianity.”

He said the sentiment apostle Paul wrote down for the first time, and a sentiment that early Christians believed, can provide home and guidance for today’s Christians and churches.

“It’s a very, very powerful statement of human solidarity — to begin to reimagine Christianity as a force for human solidarity, rather than a force for division — is an important thing,” Patterson said.

Patterson’s other books — there are nine total — explore the teachings of early Christians that aren’t included in the Bible.

“I’ve always been interested in what you might call the hidden histories of erroneous Christianity: the stories that are not highlighted in the texts themselves, the stories you have to dig out of the text. And also stories that were left out of the biblical text,” Patterson said.

Patterson will receive a $100,000 prize, and visit Louisville in April to receive the award and deliver a free public lecture on his work. U of L has announced the other four Grawemeyer winners this week in music composition, world order, psychology and education.

What If Jesus Healed America? Friday, Jul 7 2017 

What would happen if Jesus were to suddenly appear at the base of the Statue of Liberty, wave his arms and proclaim “I’m here to heal the sick in America” and suddenly every sick person in America was healed? What … Continue reading →

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