Dr. Leah Gunning Francis visited Trenton to focus on what congregations and houses of worship in Trenton, NJ can do to address the recent police shooting of 14-year-old Radazz Hearns, who was shot seven-times on Friday, August 7th by a NJ State Trooper and a Mercer County Sheriff’s Officer.
What lessons can congregations in Trenton, NJ learn from congregations in Ferguson, MO, who responded and acted to the Michael Brown shooting just over a year ago in 2014?
Rarely do Reverends talk about issues that millennials in the black community deal with without millennials feeling like they are being judged by elders in the community. Many of our youth also have grappled with why their religious leaders don’t preach about systemic racism or sexism in the community which it serves. Although many millennials still believe in religious tradition we aren’t drawn to the institution of organized religion as we had been previously when had a chance to make our own choices, I explained to the Reverend. “I think a lot of us grappled with the interpretations of the church and the churches respectability politics which raises a level of suspicion between generations”,I further explained.
“On the forefront of Ferguson protest right now is the youth, the clergy heard about the protest and got involved through their courageous acts”, says Dr. Francis. One thing that is greatly missing in the search for community justice in Trenton’s Radazz Hearns shooting is not about the teens previous criminal record but the voice of the youth to protest how the officers handled procedural protocols because of police misconduct. This is happening all over the country at such a high number, it is hard to ignore.
What Involvement looks like
Reverends in Trenton have been talked about as being all about the collection plates and not putting that money back into the community. There are leaders that don’t want to get involved and use their congregation to join the fight against racial injustice and economic crimes. Yet Jesus was real, a healer,and an activist that turned a whole period into a indoctrinated religion. Radazz Hearns shooting was met with open arms by some spiritual leaders. The community meeting for his family was in fact held at a church. Yet change doesn’t take affect unless the entire community moves on it.
Black women are integral in many decisions in the fight against racial injustice, too. We elected a Black President and brought the fire to Bernie Sanders Campaign rally by having him answer challenging issues surrounding race. When our children are being killed that is a direct assault on our reproduction rights in this country.
I applaud Dr. Francis for calling out the religious community to encourage activist and concerned citizens to be more involved in the political climate and link that to historical biblical text that showed organizing everyone across gender, race, class, and art. That is Liberation Theology.
Some Reviews of her Book Faith and Ferguson
“This is a very important book. Leah Gunning Francis has penned a theological memoir of a movement. It is an invitation to see the spirituality at the heart of this movement. And it is an invitation to get into the streets … since we don’t just change the world with our heads, but with our hands and feet and sweat and tears. One of the most important things this book does is celebrate a new generation of activists and faith-rooted organizers, without forgetting the freedom-fighters of old. This is not your granny’s revolution. A fresh, new, holy uprising is happening if we will only have eyes to see and ears to hear — and the courage to join them in the streets.” ―Shane Claiborne, author, activist, speaker
“Through the curation of poignant testimonies and reflections from local Ferguson clergy and activists, Dr. Gunning Francis has created a pathway for the construction of practical theologies that will inform and shape the prophetic leadership of preachers, pastors, and faith-based organizers in the ongoing struggle for freedom, justice, and peace in our communities.” ―Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Director of Clergy Organizing, PICO National Network
“This book is a powerful collection of stories of clergy and young activists who were visible and vocal in the struggle for racial justice in Ferguson. They embodied the best of the human spirit that resonated with many around the globe, and challenged this nation to live up to its ideal of liberty and justice for all.” ―Emanuel Cleaver, U.S. Representative (Missouri)
“While the Church often overplays its role in the Civil Rights Movement, its contributions to that freedom struggle have nevertheless been tangible and transformative. How will the faith community be remembered for its response to the Black Lives Matter movement that is aggressive and sometimes profane, non-hierarchical, and wary of organized religion? Rooted in St. Louis, Leah Gunning Francis effectively weaves together profiles of local Christian and Jewish leaders who, inspired by the Ferguson moment, are working to creatively disrupt white supremacy in their religious institutions and the wider society.” ―Ethan Vesely-Flad, Director of National Organizing, Fellowship of Reconciliation
“… Dr. Gunning Francis helps clergy persons answer the question: How must I live my faith when injustice brings tragedy to the community. This book is required reading for clergy persons serving in congregations and social agencies regardless of their social location, as well as required reading for seminary students preparing for leadership in faith-based communities. Lastly, this book is essential reading for all those seeking to weave together a spiritual, political, and social life that is sacred and consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” ―Evelyn Parker, Perkins School of Theology
“Words ― hard words, blunt words, truthful words, empowering words ― Words of God. Leah Gunning Francis enlivens sacred stories of religious leaders ― old and young ― as they confront ‘systemic evil.’ Using the best of qualitative research and practical theology, Dr. Gunning Francis records the words faithful people use to connect the ‘resources’ of faith traditions, personal skills, and passionate hearts into actions. The clues we encounter call us to search, to live, and to enflesh the ‘words of God.'” ―Jack Seymour, professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and editor of Religious Education
“Their work was a work of justice. This volume is a work of justice too, as it allows us to hear the voices of both the young activists and the clergy who were on the streets of Ferguson during those stressful weeks and months. The ecclesiology that emerges from these testimonies is compelling. This is a must-read for all leaders of faith communities. In addition, this is a model for the power of qualitative research to change the narrative. Because Leah Gunning Francis has allowed the voices of these leaders to speak through her pages, we have a completely different picture of what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Her work allows us to hear and see the vocation of the church, of the clergy, and of all children on God.” ― Margaret Ann Crain, author of The United Methodist Deacon and co-author of Yearning for God