Donate to RNS

Weekend Plug-in: June 12, 2020

Guns at church, the rituals of dying and other top headlines from this week in religion news.

In 1957, protests erupted in Little Rock, Arkansas over nine black students integrating at Central High School.

Editor’s note: “Weekend Plug-in,”  featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced by Religion Unplugged.

In 1957, the white mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, showed courage by standing up for nine black students trying to integrate Central High School.

Defying segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus and an angry white mob, Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann urged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send U.S. soldiers to quell the violence.

“Situation is out of control and police cannot disperse the mob,” Mann said in a telegram to Eisenhower. “I am pleading to you as president of the United States in the interest of humanity, law and order and because of democracy worldwide to provide the necessary federal troops within several hours.” 

To enforce the school’s desegregation, Eisenhower sent 1,200 members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and federalized the Arkansas National Guard.

But Mann paid a steep price.

He endured hate mail and death threats. White supremacists burned crosses on his family’s lawn. He lost his insurance business and any hope of a political future in Arkansas.

Sean Richardson, youth minister for the Bammel Church of Christ in Houston, recalled Mann’s experience as he preached on the Sunday after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

“See, typically in history when people have chosen to side with those who are oppressed, they themselves get treated as those who have been oppressed,” Richardson said in the video sermon, which came amid national outrage over Floyd’s death and coast-to-coast protests against racial injustice.

The black youth minister’s mention of Mann, who moved to Houston in 1961 and lived there until his death in 2002 at age 85, was no mere historical footnote.

Richardson traced the late mayor’s lineage to the present day — to an 18-year-old Bammel youth group member named Trevor Mann.

No doubt, Trevor’s place in American history — at least at this point in his life — pales in comparison to that of his great-grandfather, whom he met as a baby. 

But Trevor, too, showed courage in the face of racial prejudice.

Read the rest of the story.

Power Up: The Week’s Best Reads

  1. God and guns: In a multimedia report for Religion Unplugged and Newsweek, Paul Glader and Michael Ray Smith delve into how “American churchgoers are packing heat and opening a new era in Christendom.”

The fascinating deep dive opens with a dramatic scene from a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado as a “life safety team” trains to avoid falling victim to a shooter.

  1. The last anointing: “This is a story about ritual,” tweeted New York Times religion writer Elizabeth Dias. “About its power. About its denial. And about the raw, intimate, and often spiritual way humans process death.”

The front-page Sunday story — about Catholic priests anointing the dying with oil in the midst of a global pandemic — is exquisitely told by Dias with equally remarkable photography by Ryan Christopher Jones.

  1. The songs and Scriptures of George Floyd’s Houston funeral: Much news coverage of Floyd’s funeral seemed to be all about the politics, as noted by GetReligion’s Terry Mattingly.

But if readers knew the right places to look, there was exceptional coverage of the religion angle to be found, including Kate Shellnutt’s spot-on piece for Christianity Today.

And of course Religion Unplugged was on top of the spiritual messages with Jillian Cheney’s report on the service’s biblical calls for justice.

More top reads: More Christians are saying black lives matter. But faith-based support for the police runs deep, Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News As coronavirus restrictions loosen, congregations grapple with including older adults, Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service … Is there a religious left? Casey Cep, The New Yorker How to feed crowds in a protest or pandemic? The Sikhs know, Priya Krishna, New York Times When churches reopen, don’t sing or shake hands, do make sermons short, says new guide, Adelle M. Banks, RNS … How New York’s Haredim are responding to George Floyd protests, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt and Molly Boigon, The Forward Churches, once crucial to the civil rights movement, face a new ‘challenge’ after George Floyd, Robert Downen, Houston Chronicle Wilton Gregory, America’s only black Catholic archbishop, goes from diplomat to detractor in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post Kentucky pastor spars with Beshear after 18 church members test positive for COVID-19, Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier-Journal Floyd’s death spurs debate on how immigrants should run stores in black neighborhoods, Aysha Khan, RNS. 

Inside The Godbeat: Behind The Bylines

“He’s a photojournalist, pastor, police department employee and mentor to young Black and Latino men.”

Yep, I’d say the Rev. Kenny Irby might make an interesting interview.

Enter the Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark with a thought-provoking Q&A of Irby.

Charging Station: In Case You Missed It

Here is where you can catch up on recent news and opinions from Religion Unplugged.

The Final Plug

Periodically, I like to remind readers that the religion beat is never boring.

This week’s case in point comes courtesy of Holly Meyer, the full-time Godbeat pro for The Tennessean.

Read Meyer’s full story for all the details, but the gist is this: A dude started a new church so he’d qualify for absentee voting in Tennessee.

The name of his new religious body: The Church of Universal Suffrage.

(Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor in chief of The Christian Chronicle. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)