Thursday, February 22, 2018


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!

The Reverend Billy Graham moved from life in God among us to life in God beyond us on yesterday at the full age of 99 years.  Known and revered across the world as a congenial preacher of the gospel of Jesus, Reverend Graham’s passing has received the accolades and recollections appropriate for someone who worked so long and was acclaimed by so many.  Having been received by US presidents from both major political parties across the years, it is understandable that Rev. Graham is remembered in news accounts as pastor to presidents.  We should also, however, acknowledge that Rev. Graham was patriarch to his biological family.  As that family engages in the necessary efforts required to honor his life, ministry, and paternal influence, we should include them in our prayers.

Much has been written and said about Rev. Graham’s influence as a religious leader.  More will be said and written in the future about his influence on the evangelical Christian movement.  I have read tributes to Rev. Graham from faithful people I know who embraced the gospel of Jesus during one of his evangelistic crusades.  These people are sincere.  Their reflections are moving. 

Rev. Graham should also be remembered for refusing to accommodate racially segregated seating during his evangelistic crusades at a time when Jim Crow segregation was followed due to custom and the force of law.  That fact is noteworthy because it was a drastic departure from the practice of most white religionists in the US South.  Billy Graham Crusades included Ethel Waters singing along with his preaching when few US white congregations would allow black people to worship with them, let alone be featured as soloists.  We should not treat that fact lightly in our reflections about Rev. Graham’s ministry.

During his later ministry, Rev. Graham expressed regret that he had not devoted more attention to social justice in his preaching.  As one Catholic observer pointed out, “Billy Graham was asked once why he preached only personal salvation and not peace and justice. He said that as people become converted, they would be peacemakers and justice-seekers. He was pressed further. How come he’d been converted, and wasn’t more upfront about these things, then? From that day, to his credit, Graham included more of the dimensions of the Good News in his preaching. Following Jesus, we’re called to make visible the Good News, and that means both putting it into words and showing by our lives what it means in terms of justice and love.”  
If we are to think and speak accurately and honestly about Rev. Graham’s ministry, we must acknowledge that Rev. Graham’s pastoral ministry to presidents and his worldwide fame as an evangelist did not include much, if anything, about justice and peace.  This is not because Rev. Graham was not urged to include social justice in his public ministry.  Indeed, Rev. Graham was prodded to proclaim the gospel of Jesus as more than a religion of personal salvation during a visit from Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor when Dr. Proctor served as special assistant to Sargent Shriver in the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).  Dr. Proctor succeeded Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, was personal friend and mentor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was a pastoral neighbor and collaborator with Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, who served as pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY for many years.  Dr. Proctor was also president of North Carolina A & T College when Rev. Jesse Jackson was an undergraduate (and football quarterback), and was president of Virginia Union University when Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. was a seminary student at that school. 
In his book titled My Moral Odyssey (Judson Press, 1989) - which has a foreword written by Bill Moyers - Dr. Proctor recounted something he experienced while serving in the Johnson Administration as President Johnson was trying to garner support for the War on Poverty.   
Once President Lyndon Johnson asked me to visit a widely acclaimed evangelist to solicit his moral support for the war on poverty.  I did, and what a shock!  He lived like royalty and told me that he did not get involved in such things.  He only “preached the gospel.” When I reminded him of what the gospel said in Matthew 25 about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, visiting prisoners, and taking in strangers, he took refuge in some inane, insipid theological irrelevancies.  Without knowing it, he dismissed Jesus as a “liberal.”  (pp. 134-35, emphasis by Dr. Proctor)
            Dr. Proctor wrote more expansively about this encounter in The Substance of Things Hoped For:  A Memoir of African-American Faith (Putnam, 1995) as follows:
One day Bill Moyers called from the White House and asked me to leave fast, go to the airport, and fly to Charlotte, North Carolina, with Billy Graham.  We were helping a lot of poor mountain people near where he lived, and we wanted his support. 
All through the flight down we talked church, religion, and social change.  When we reached his mountaintop home, we had a delicious lunch and more conversation.  It all settled down to a stalemate:  Dr. Graham felt that his business was to preach the gospel and change the hearts of individuals.  Changed persons would then change society.
I countered with the teachings of Jesus in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, in which he admonished that at the day of judgment we would all be separated into sheep and goats.  One got to be a sheep by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty and clothing to the naked, visiting those in prison, and taking in the stranger.  The sheep entered into the Master’s joy.  Goats did not do such things and were consigned to a burning hell.
Reverend Graham smiled and said that I was making Jesus into a “liberal.”  It was odd, though, that while he officially avoided political involvement, he often boasted of advising several presidents. (p. 123)
                As a follower and preacher in the religion of Jesus, I join the rest of the world in acknowledging the long and wide preaching ministry of Rev. Billy Graham.  I join the rest of the world in praying for his family in this time of bereavement.  No one should deny that he influenced many people in ways that were personally profound. 

            Yet, as we reflect on Rev. Graham’s ministry in the world and the reception he enjoyed among presidents and other powerful figures in the US and elsewhere, it is fair to point out that Rev. Graham was not involved in the March on Washington in 1963.  Rev. Graham did not openly endorse the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed segregation based on race, sex, religion, and national origin.  Rev. Graham did not support the war on poverty.  He did not oppose the war in Southeast Asia. 

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for an end to US military involvement in Southeast Asia, Rev. Graham’s strong voice was strangely silent.  As indigenous people in India and Africa were struggling to throw off oppressive colonizers from Europe, Rev. Graham’s powerful voice was strangely silent.  When Africans were being slaughtered and Nelson Mandela was jailed for decades in South Africa, Rev. Graham’s voice was strangely silent.  When Palestinians were being thrown off their ancestral lands by Zionist Jewish settlers and the United Nations was adopting resolutions declaring Jewish settlements illegal, Rev. Graham was silent.

Rev. Graham was silent when the Reagan administration engaged in illegal gun-running by allowing drug cartels to smuggle cocaine into the US and accelerate mass incarceration through the hypocrisy of a war on drugs. He was silent about racial profiling, mass incarceration, violence against women and girls, and people who are LGBTQ.  One searches in vain to find Rev. Graham relating the struggles of working people to the gospel of Jesus, despite the fact that Jesus hailed from a working class family.   

            That strange silence about social justice, more than anything else, may be the most lasting effect of Rev. Graham’s long and wide ministry, for all its otherwise laudable contributions.  Whatever else one may say or think to commend Rev. Graham’s ministry, the recent words of George Will in the Washington Post are indisputably true.  Rev. Graham was “no theologian… Neither was he a prophet.”  

For if anything is obvious from the US presidential election of 2016, four out of five people who self-identify as “evangelical Christians” voted for Donald Trump, described in one BBC news article as “a thrice married casino-building businessman.”  As I wrote in The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017): “On November 8, 2016, 81 percent of the people who profess to be evangelical followers of Jesus in the United States refused to proclaim by their votes that God cares about people who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, frail, imprisoned, and unwelcomed”  (p. 141). 

            Perhaps their pastors are imitating Rev. Graham, whose understanding of the gospel of Jesus somehow did not move him to challenge US presidents, other powerful people, and the multitudes who attended his evangelistic events to see God in our hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, and immigrant brothers and sisters.  Perhaps that is why people are rejecting the term “evangelical” in their religious identity as followers of Jesus.  This is not comfortable or pleasant to contemplate as we reflect on Rev. Graham’s life and ministry, whether now or at any other time.  Most people prefer to not contemplate it at all, but instead limit their reflections about Rev. Graham to eulogies and platitudes. 

That discomfort and preference, however, does not change the truth we know.  Despite all that Rev. Graham did to proclaim the love of God, the evangelical movement that celebrates his legacy and that he represented is widely – and sadly – identified with and supportive of policies and practices that are racist, sexist, patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, economically dismissive or oppressive towards workers, poor and otherwise vulnerable and frail people and the creation, and xenophobic.   In that regard, the evangelical movement now lionizes Billy Graham while it pays lip service, at best, to Jesus. 

As we remember Rev. Graham’s ministry to the world, his pastoral relationships with several US presidents, and the enduring effect of his ministry on people who call themselves evangelical Christians, one wonders how different and better the last fifty years might have been if Rev. Billy Graham had joined his voice with that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Moyers, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Rev. Gardner Taylor, and Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor.  One wonders as we ponder Rev. Graham’s influence on the people who occupy pulpits, pews, and voting booths.  And one wonders as we think of the issues and people Dr. Samuel Proctor urged Rev. Graham to advocate for and include in his preaching during the day they spent together over fifty years ago.

We may never know.  We who are followers of Jesus can only strive to embrace and embody a prophetic faith that is much deeper and wider than personal salvation, however much that was valued by Rev. Graham and is emphasized by his evangelical followers.  The religion of Jesus is not only about God saving individual souls.  It is about God saving the world.  Rev. Graham had many opportunities to make that plain to multitudes and by his personal ministry to the powerful and privileged.  Sadly, he refused to do so.

 We should not follow that example.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


A Pastoral Response to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Decision to Discriminate in Hiring Decisions Involving Married LGBTQ Followers of Jesus
Justice Is A Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2018

I sent the following email message on February 10, 2018 to more than seventy persons in response to a decision by the Governing Board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to discriminate against married LGBTQ followers of Jesus in hiring persons for missions field personnel and supervisory positions.  Because I serve as pastor of New Millennium Church, a congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) since it was organized in the spring of 2009, I am publishing the email message on my social media platforms.   


After engaging in an almost two-year process, yesterday the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship adopted a policy that bans married persons who are LGBTQ from being employed as missions ‎field personnel or in supervisory positions. This policy is unjust. It reinforces bigotry towards LGBTQ people. It violates the Great Commandment of Jesus that we love our neighbors as ourselves. As pastor of New Millennium, I denounce the announced policy as unworthy of our support.

I will request that New Millennium meet to discuss the CBF decision. Pat Griffen and I were involved in the CBF co-sponsored Conference on Sexuality and Covenant in 2011 that convened in Decatur, Georgia. Our congregation co-sponsored and hosted a conference in April 2016 titled "Embracing Diversity and Inclusion of LGBTQ Persons in the Black Church." We are in active fellowship with the Church Within A Church Movement, a voluntary association of followers of Jesus committed to LGBTQ equality and inclusion, and Pat Griffen and I were presenters during the 2017 CWACM gathering in Washington, DC.  We are the only Arkansas church in the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB). Our Holy Saturday seder observances intentionally include and reference solidarity with persons who are LGBTQ.  

Plainly, CBF and New Millennium Church disagree about  LGBTQ equality and inclusion. The Illumination Project process and the CBF decision on yesterday proves that CBF does not choose to be, plan to be, or desire to be walk with LGBTQ people and with us concerning this love and justice imperative‎. New Millennium Church now must decide whether to keep faith with our affirmation to welcome all persons in God's love, or walk away from our open and unapolgetic solidarity with Jesus and LGBTQ persons for equality and inclusion.

I will not support continued funding or involvement in CBF initiatives. CBF has chosen love of its purses above love of God's LGBTQ people. I am unwilling to follow that path as pastor of New Millennium Church. If our congregation is to keep faith with the love and justice imperatives in the gospel of Jesus, we should not be seduced by claims about following Jesus to carry out the Great Commandments and Great Commission by a body that consciously and proudly celebrates a decision to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status.

I am sending this message to our congregation, to persons with whom we have fellowship relationships in CBF, to leaders in the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, to local and national leaders in the Church Within A Church Movement, AWAB, and other faith leaders with whom I have been in dialogue and fellowship about LGBTQ equality and inclusion. I do this to make my pastoral position clear. Some people will disagree with or disapprove of my position. No one should be unsure about it.

Please share this message with anyone in our sphere of ministry I may have omitted. I will reprint it on my personal blog and social media platforms, and ask that it be posted to the church website and social media platforms.


Wendell Griffen
Author, The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope
Pastor, New Millenium Church

Monday, January 15, 2018


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
January 14, 2018
Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

Luke 16:10-15, 19-31
10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’*
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.* The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.* 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

        We worship God today on the Sunday before the US national holiday to honor the life, faith, and fellowship of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Followers of Jesus have long viewed Sunday as our worship day because the New Testament Gospel accounts about Jesus report that his resurrection happened on that day of the week. 

Next to Easter (Resurrection) Sunday, the Sunday before the King Holiday may be the Sunday cherished most by followers of Jesus who believe in social justice.  This is because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., unlike other persons for whom a US holiday is named, is remembered for his devotion to social justice.   Dr. King never sought nor held any public office.  He did not serve in the military.  Dr. King was not financially wealthy based on the standards of his day.  Yet, his fierce and nonviolent advocacy for social justice has left a more lasting and profound impact on life in the US and the rest of the world than did the careers of the presidents and generals of his era, or even since then for that matter. 

We do Dr. King a disservice, however, if we ignore or forget that he always labored, agitated, demonstrated, spoke, and protested based on his identity with and ministry in the religion of Jesus.  In that sense, Dr. King not only rose above the politicians of his time and ours.  He rose above the religious leaders of his time and hours in the US and across the world.  Rev. Billy Graham was welcomed by and held evangelical rallies in cities across the US, and he was hosted in the White House by several presidents.  But Rev. Graham’s ministry is seldom – if ever – remembered for having challenged the conscience of people in the US and around the world concerning the evils of inequality, war, racism, greed, and the suffering people experience because of those realities.   

Followers of Jesus also do Dr. King a disservice if we do not view the conditions, situations, and experiences of our time as he did, through the lens of the love and justice ethics of the Hebrew Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus preserved in the New Testament.  We should take avoid the common mistake of remembering Dr. King as “a civil rights leader.”  Dr. King was a prophet from God and disciple of Jesus. 

Dr. King was a preacher.  He served with his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  And, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became co-founder and the chief theologian for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  In all these roles Dr. King functioned as a prophet in the tradition of Jesus.  If we do not remember Jesus and his ministry when we honor Dr. King, we not only do a dis-service to Dr. King’s life and ministry; we do a dis-service to the love and justice ethics of God that Jesus lived, taught, and for which Jesus (and Dr. King) ultimately died.  

The lesson Jesus taught in Chapter 16 of Luke’s Gospel is strikingly relevant concerning our thinking about God, faith, and prosperity in 2018 as we reflect on the life and ministry of Dr. King.  Many people are familiar with the saying that “no one can serve two masters.”  I suspect that few people, however, associate that saying with the lesson Jesus issued and that Dr. King often mentioned about God, faith, justice, and prosperity.  In proclaiming the lesson about the rich man and the pauper named Lazarus, Jesus was expounding on the fundamental moral, ethical, theological, and social view that knowing and loving God involves becoming one in fellowship and peace with our neighbors, including persons whose situations are different from our own.  In doing so, Jesus issued a scathing condemnation about the idolatry of wealth under the guise of prosperity.

Jesus set up the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus with the following statement:  “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much…No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”  We then read these words.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.  So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for that which is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:10, 13-15)  We find the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus after reading that the Pharisees – described by Luke as “lovers of money” – ridiculed Jesus for saying “you cannot serve God and wealth” (mammon in KJV). 

Nothing in the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus suggests that the rich man did not believe in God.  Neither the rich man nor Lazarus is identified as religious in this lesson.  What the lesson emphasizes is that the rich man idolized wealth with complete disregard for Lazarus and his miserable plight.  That point is highlighted when the lesson mentions how the dogs showed compassion toward Lazarus licking his sores while Lazarus was unable to even depend on table scraps from the rich man. 

Lazarus was conspicuous in poverty and misery; the rich man was conspicuous in luxury and comfort.  The rich man only noticed and named Lazarus in the afterlife, when his situation was defined by agonizing misery while Lazarus was at peace and comfortable.  Then, the rich man who refused to offer table scraps to relieve Lazarus from the agony of starvation when they were neighbors wanted Lazarus to provide a drop of water to relieve the agony of his thirst. 

The rich man idolized wealth during his lifetime.  He enjoyed the comforts of wealth.  Nowhere does the lesson suggest that the rich man paid any regard for Lazarus and the clear inequality of their situations.  In this regard, Jesus used the rich man in this lesson to condemn the Pharisees, religious folks who “were lovers of money.”  This is the way Jesus expounded on his teaching that “you cannot serve God and mammon.”   The lesson about the rich man and Lazarus was how Jesus tried, in the way of Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, to “make it plain” that idolatry of wealth is “an abomination in the sight of God.”[1]

What Jesus made plain is that the Pharisees, like the rich man in this lesson, justified themselves “in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).  That point is profoundly made in the teaching about the rich man and Lazarus.  While the formerly sick and starving Lazarus is envisioned in the afterlife feasting in blissful fellowship with Abraham, patriarch of the Hebrew faith and people, the man who idolized wealth is envisioned in everlasting and agonizing separation from God and from the faithful community. 

The figure of speech “Abraham’s bosom” in the lesson indicates that Lazarus had a place of safety and security in the afterlife.  This figure of speech is drawn from the ancient banquet custom of was reclining on couches during a meal so that head of one person would reach the chest of the next person.  To engage in conversation with that person, one would lean his head back against the person’s breast.  It was a sign of high honor to be seated next to a celebrated guest at a banquet, and to be seated next to the host was a sign of the highest honor. 

So, in proclaiming this lesson, Jesus dramatically not only showed the great moral, ethical, and social distance between the rich man and Lazarus.  Jesus declared that the rich man was eternally out of fellowship with the entire community of the faithful. 

This lesson was a powerful condemnation of the Pharisees, religious folks who loved wealth, as being hypocrites.  Remember what Jesus said:  Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.  Jesus termed religion that loves wealth dishonest (Luke 16:10) and “an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).  And Jesus used the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus to drive that point home!

More than any other person in recent memory, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exposed the abominable (meaning morally detestable and despicable) dishonesty (hypocrisy) and idolatry to wealth of religion and culture in the United States.  Unlike the current president of the United States, Dr. King did not see or speak about poor and unprivileged people in vulgar terms.  Unlike the self-professed “religious conservatives” who have been the chief supporters and defenders of the current president of the United States, Dr. King spoke up for poor people, sick people, oppressed people, and people who suffered from the effects of wars.  We do Dr. King’s life and ministry a tremendous injustice by allowing his memory to be defined by anything less than the love and justice imperatives found in the religion of Jesus that he preached and lived. 

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will do much more than engage in annual daylong acts of service.  We will join voices and forces to denounce, condemn, and resist the idolatrous religion of empire and greed that traffics in fear, hypocrisy, and violence.  We will denounce, condemn, and resist policies, politicians, and other powerful actors that marginalize and threaten people across the world like Lazarus, people who live in conspicuous misery while others celebrate conspicuous consumption. 

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will denounce President Trump and every other person who thinks and speaks about any child of God as being from a “shithole” country.  We will not only cringe about people who, like the rich man, live with callous disregard, outright disdain, and hellish hypocrisy towards our neighbors who suffer, we will confront and challenge them. 

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will confront and challenge our imperial lust for wealth while refusing to share with people in Haiti, El Salvador, across Africa, and elsewhere in the world.  And we will prophetically challenge President Trump and anyone else with the truth that idolatry to wealth inspired the white supremacy and racism responsible for so much of the poverty, disease, and other suffering in Haiti, El Salvador, Africa, and other black and brown areas of the world. 

Idolatry of wealth motivated white European versions of President Trump to plunder, rape, and commit violence in black and brown societies across the world.
Idolatry of wealth drove white colonizers and imperialists to steal land from and kill indigenous black, brown, and red people in Africa, India, and throughout the Western Hemisphere.    

Idolatry of wealth inspired white religionists to disregard the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus in order to justify trying to exterminate indigenous people.

Idolatry of wealth inspired white religionists who, like the Pharisees who ridiculed Jesus, were lovers of money rather than God, called the entire hellish slavery empire organized and operated in this society righteous. 

Idolatry of wealth inspired white religionists to sanction slavery and manifest destiny, sanction discrimination against immigrants, and support laws and policies that legalized discrimination, bigotry, and abuse of people like Lazarus.

Idolatry of wealth inspired those white religionists to call resistance to slavery and anti-discrimination and anti-poverty advocacy evil.   

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will remind President Trump and anyone else what the Psalmist declared long ago at Psalm 24:1:  The earth is the LORD’s and all that there is in it, the world, and those who live in it…  We will remind President Trump and anyone else who idolizes wealth that God became incarnate as a colonized child in a poor family.  We will remind President Trump and anyone else who idolizes wealth that when the child Jesus was threatened by a maniacal ruler named Herod an angel directed Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt, a nation in Africa.    

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King lived and preached, we will declare that President Trump’s spirit resembles that of the rich man Jesus spoke about.  We will proclaim that the idolatry of wealth that President Trump has worshiped across his personal, professional, and political career is enabled, supported, defended, and even championed by people who call themselves “evangelical Christian conservatives.”

Then we will, in the spirit of Jesus and Dr. King, position ourselves with the Lazarus people of our society and world.  We will do this because we refuse to turn our backs on the love and justice imperatives in the Great Commandment that we love God wholeheartedly, intentionally, and courageously, and that we love our neighbors – including our neighbors who suffer from the effects of poverty, abuse of power, income inequality, sickness, violence, racism, nationalism, imperialism, sexism, and other wickedness because of human idolatry of wealth. 

Finally, we will warn President Trump and the current version of the Pharisees who idolize wealth how idolatry to wealth works to separate them from what is real prosperity.  Biblical prosperity is never self-centered; it is always communitarian.  A prosperous person, community, and society is one that protects, provides, supports, and nourishes people like Lazarus, not one that belittles, marginalizes, and oppresses people like Lazarus. 

By refusing to protect, provide, support, and nourish Lazarus during his lifetime, the rich man came to a dreadful and tormented end.  Jesus prophetically warned anyone who shares the idolatry of wealth illustrated by the rich man in this lesson that God does not condone and will subject to severe judgment the idolatry of wealth that President Trump and his self-proclaimed religious conservative sycophants represent.

Why?  “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
Why?  “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”

Why?  “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Jesus said it.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived, preached, and died in obedience to those love and justice imperatives.  Let us honor Jesus and his prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by proclaiming those love and justice imperatives with steadfast courage and fierce hope.  This is how we can challenge and condemn the idolatry of wealth demonstrated by the current version of Pharisees and President Donald Trump, their “rich man.”  


[1] Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr. is Pastor-Emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, California, Emeritus Professor of Homiletics, American Baptist Seminary of the West, and a former President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
November 15, 2017

Like many other people in the United States and elsewhere, I have observed the daily events and controversy surrounding the candidacy of Roy Moore for election to the U.S. Senate from the state of Alabama.  Like many other people, I do not know why people would elect a politician to higher office who has consistently dishonored his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and who has twice been removed from judicial office for doing so.

I do not know why people who say they care about decency would support a middle-aged candidate whose former co-workers confirm allegations that he repeatedly engaged in questionable – no, predatory – conduct toward teenaged girls.

I do not know why I should believe people who profess concern for women and girls to be sincere about that concern when they now support Roy Moore after having previously overwhelmingly endorsed, supported, voted to elect, and now continue to defend Donald Trump, a known and serial misogynist.

And I do not know why I or any other follower of the gospel of Jesus should believe white evangelicals are followers of Jesus who support Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and the policies and practices associated with them. 

What is clear, however, is that there are people – in Alabama and elsewhere throughout the United States – who profess belief in democracy while supporting politicians such as Donald Trump and Roy Moore, persons whose personal and professional histories are defined by bigotry and other forms of oppression towards vulnerable people, including women and girls.  

And, it is clear that Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are determined to return the United States to an era when white patriarchy, white supremacy, and white nationalist militarism were the defining features of every level of government (local, state, and national) in the United States. 

Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are not patriots to democracy.  They are neo-fascists.

Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are, also, not followers of the Jesus who respected women, who included women among his closest followers, and who ordained women the first prophets of the resurrection gospel of grace, liberation, justice, peace, and hope.  Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are heretics to that gospel.

The hard reality is that white “evangelical Christians” support Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and politicians like them, including people like former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (who received a presidential pardon from Trump from his federal criminal contempt conviction for refusing to stop using his office to racially profile and terrorize Latinos). 

The hard reality is that white “evangelical Christians” must be denounced as political and religious bigots, neo-fascists, and heretics.  They are not devoted to democracy.  They are not devoted to the Jesus of the New Testament gospels whose life and ministry was defined by inclusive grace, truth, compassion toward vulnerable persons, justice, peace, and resurrection hope. 

Instead, their true devotion is to white religious nationalism.  That is why white “evangelical Christians” overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump’s candidacy for president of the United States in 2016.  That is why white “evangelical Christians” are now determined to elect Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate from Alabama. 

That devotion to white religious nationalism – a mixture of white supremacy, white patriarchy, and religious nationalism – means white “evangelical Christians” will turn out in record numbers to vote for Roy Moore in Alabama. 

Devotion to white religious nationalism will inspire them to engage in or disregard overt and covert efforts to suppress, intimidate, and otherwise interfere with efforts to vote by people who are poor, persons of color, progressive minded women, students, senior citizens, and naturalized citizens of the United States when voting occurs in Alabama for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Devotion to white religious nationalism is what inspires white “evangelical Christians” to claim a divine right to rule the United States, and to impose their will on the rest of the world in the name of American Empire.

So what should people who truly believe in democracy do?

What should prophetic-minded followers of the gospel of Jesus do?

People who believe in democracy should resist the politics and religion of white religious nationalism and white “evangelical Christians” and call it what it truly is – neo-fascism, not democracy.

Prophetic followers of Jesus should denounce white religious nationalism as moral and theological fraud and a heresy to the gospel of Jesus. 

People who believe in democracy and prophetic followers of Jesus should organize against white religious nationalism and neo-fascism.  We should join forces to expose, challenge, resist, and inform ourselves and others about the hateful claims of Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and other favorites of white religious nationalism.  Working together, we should defeat politicians like Trump, Moore, and Joe Arpaio – along with the hateful and fear-mongering policies they champion – at the ballot box in local, state, and national elections. 

That is how we can, and should, protect and honor our cherished belief in democracy.  That is how we can, and should, protect and preserve the United States as a free, inclusive, and welcoming society.  That is how we can, and should, prevent our society from being controlled by bigoted religionists who lust for power to impose their notion of American Empire on our nation and the rest of the world. 

The issue for us is not what neo-fascists and white religious nationalists do or what they will do.  The issue is what will people like you and I do.  We have the power to determine the future of our society.  We have the power to step up together and defeat the forces and menaces threatened by white religious nationalism and the politicians embraced by white religious nationalists. 

Do not draw back from this challenge.  Lean into it as people who believe in and love democracy. 

And if you are a follower of Jesus, lean into it because you refuse to allow white supremacists, lovers of patriarchy, and white “evangelical Christians” to hijack the gospel of Jesus in the name of American Empire.   

Hope Fiercely!

Thursday, October 19, 2017


How will you respond to the lie that it is one?


©Wendell Griffen, 2017

October 19, 2017

On October 13 members of my court security team attended a training session for court security officers in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  I learned from a member of my team that Instructor Ronnie Boudreaux of Advanced Law Enforcement Readiness Training (ALERT) referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group “like the KKK” while leading a session on court security.  When members of my staff questioned Instructor Boudreaux about his comment, he identified Black Lives Matter among a list of “threat groups.”  

I issued a letter objecting to Instructor Boudreaux’s mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter to the Director of Court Security for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) – the agency that oversees court administration in Arkansas – last Monday (October 16).  My letter included the following observations.

The Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist organization that arose during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.  Its history of terrorism has been the subject of federal legislation.  Instructor Boudreaux, ALERT, and your office can easily verify this information by reading the following Internet based article:

By contrast, Black Lives Matter is not and has never been designated a terrorist organization by Congress, or any state or federal law enforcement agency.  I invite you, Instructor Boudreaux, and the director of ALERT to cite any law that has ever identified Black Lives Matter in ways that resemble how the Ku Klux Klan has been identified.  Black Lives Matter does not and has not endorsed or condoned violence against law enforcement officers or anyone else, for that matter.  No authorized spokesperson for BLM has done so, and BLM has explicitly condemned hateful comments by others that have suggested or encouraged that anyone engage in violence against or toward law enforcement officers. 

Instructor Boudreaux’s characterization of BLM as a “hate” or “threat” group is baseless, however much he or others may believe it.

I am pleased by the response of Marty Sullivan, Director of the AOC, to my letter of protest.  When he was contacted by the media, Director Sullivan immediately disavowed the remarks made by Instructor Boudreaux, and agreed that Black Lives Matter is not a threat group (see

However, Michael Thompson, the president and a co-founder of ALERT according to its website (, compounded the cultural incompetence demonstrated by Instructor Boudreaux’s mischaracterization.  I share below what Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times reported concerning his conversation with Mr. Thompson:

… I talked with Mike Thompson, a former deputy U.S. marshal who owns Georgia-based ALERT, which he said has been providing training sessions for court bailiffs and other court officers for 20 years.

"I've heard Ronnie teach and there's not a racist bone in his body," Thompson said. "If anyone said anything out of line, it was a misstatement." He said he'd check with Boudreaux and said he'd be happy to talk to Griffen.

Thompson said in 20 years of teaching such courses, "it's the first time anyone has ever lodged a complaint such as this." He said he took pride in the quality of his company's instruction and added, "I wouldn't have anyone working for this company who is prejudiced."

He said ALERT, as a favor to a former student and friend who works in Arkansas, had put on the course Friday at cost, about $2,200, for about 70 court bailiffs. He said Boudreaux, a former U.S. marshal in Louisiana, talks about many groups that can present potential threats to court security. He said Black Lives Matter had recently been added to the list.  But he said the talk focused mostly on drug cartels and "sovereign citizens" as most dangerous. But he acknowledged that all groups mentioned, from tax protesters to Aryan and Nazi groups. were seen as having committed violent acts or acts that have "created a problem for law enforcement."

But he said, "We don't focus on any one group." He said he was sorry anyone took offense at the mention of Black Lives Matter.

Thompson’s responses to Max Brantley’s inquiry about Boudreaux’s characterization of Black Lives Matter reveal several disquieting realities.

·         Thompson confirmed that Black Lives Matter has recently been added to a list of groups seen as having committed violent acts or acts that have “created a problem for law enforcement.”  Who compiled and maintains that list?  What conduct or stances have been taken by Black Lives Matter that amounts to committing “violent acts” or acts that have “created a problem for law enforcement?”
·         Thompson confirmed that Boudreaux, a former U.S. Marshall in Louisiana, talks about many groups that can present potential threats to court security and that Black Lives Matter had recently been added to the list.  What incidents have been reported, not to mention confirmed, that involve Black Lives Matter movement people presenting threats to court security?  Who reported these “potential threats?”  When did the “potential threats” arise?  Who investigated the “potential threats to court security?”  Who verified the “potential threats” mentioned by Boudreaux and later repeated by Thompson?
·         Thompson’s statement that he was sorry if anyone took offense at the mention of Black Lives Matter exposes another troublesome, and troubling, reality.  Thompson skirted the whole question about the mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter as a group that has committed violent acts, acts that have “created a problem for law enforcement,” or acts that posed any threat to court security. 

Far from disproving my objection to Instructor Boudreaux’s mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter, Mr. Thompson’s response to Max Brantley’s inquiry confirmed that his organization views Black Lives Matter among groups that have committed violent acts and/or that have created a problem for law enforcement.  According to Thompson, Boudreaux, and (presumably) all other ALERT instructors, Black Lives Matter is similar to domestic terror groups similar to the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and neo-Nazi white supremacist groups known for engaging in violence. 

According to its website, ALERT holds its instructors out as “subject matter experts” about court security.

The court security seminar provides law enforcement officers working in courthouses with the most current evidence-based practices used in securing courthouse complexes and protecting judicial personnel.  The program is a three-day comprehensive course that offers a wide range of training modules designed to reinforce the fundamentals of court security, enhance existing skill sets, and incorporate contemporary issues challenging America’s courthouses and the officers protecting them.  As subject matter experts, the instructors bring their experience to the classroom through lecture and practical exercises..,
This is a classic case of cultural incompetence that is subsidized with public money. 

Black Lives Matter is a social justice movement that arose to protest abusive and homicidal law conduct by enforcement agents, with special focus on abusive and homicidal law enforcement conduct and practices towards black, brown, and other persons of color.  Without citing a single verified report of violence endorsed, condoned, threatened, or committed by Black Lives Matter, Thompson, Boudreaux, and other ALERT instructors of court security officers and other law enforcement officers are perpetrating the false, untrue, - as in outright lie – message that Black Lives Matter poses an ongoing threat to court security and to law enforcement in general. 

Cultural incompetence happens when seasoned law enforcement instructors falsely accuse a social justice movement to protest abusive and homicidal conduct by publicly sworn and compensated law enforcement agents of being a threat to law enforcement and court security.

That cultural incompetence exists no matter how many years it has been practiced.  No matter how many years Boudreaux, Thompson, or anyone else has worked in law enforcement, lying about whether a social justice movement is a threat to law enforcement and court security is lying. 

The cultural incompetence doesn’t arise because my court security officers and I properly took offense to Black Lives Matter being falsely labeled a “threat” group.  It exists because Thompson, Boudreaux, and other ALERT instructors cannot tell the difference between exercising the freedom to demand that law enforcement officers not engage in abusive and homicidal conduct – a freedom enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – and committing criminal acts of violence and intimidation. 

Black Lives Matter has the right under the First Amendment – ratified in 1791 to the U.S. Constitution – to protest abusive and homicidal law enforcement behaviors, the people who engage in them, and the system that enables, protects, and attempts to justify abusive and homicidal law enforcement practices and policies.  Black Lives Matter is not a threat group, no matter what Ronnie Boudreaux, Michael Thompson, and anyone else may claim (whether associated with ALERT or not). 

How many other times have ALERT instructors made similar untrue claims about Black Lives Matter? 

How many law enforcement officers and court security officers have been misled by those claims?  

How much money has been paid to ALERT by taxpayers to send law enforcement and court security officers to be misinformed by Boudreaux and other ALERT instructors about Black Lives Matter? 
When will public officials and members of the general public stop paying ALERT and other “subject matter experts” on law enforcement and court security to misinform law enforcement and court security officers?   

My court security officers and I are not the only persons who should be offended by what Instructor Boudreaux falsely claimed about Black Lives Matter.  I am not the only person who should insist that the propaganda spouted by ALERT about Black Lives Matter be denounced and condemned. 

Judging from the reaction by Mr. Thompson of ALERT, it is unlikely that ALERT will stop referring to Black Lives Matter as a “threat” group?  The question is whether the rest of us will stand by while public funds are paid to ALERT to spread that lie and misinform court security and other law enforcement officers. 

We can’t stop ALERT from being culturally incompetent.  We can and should insist that ALERT not be awarded public business and paid public funds for that incompetence.    

What will you do?