America’s ‘angriest’ theologian faces lynching tree
A crowd gathers in Marion, Indiana, in 1930 to witness a lynching. This photograph inspired the poem and song “Strange Fruit.”
April 21st, 2012
10:00 PM ET

America’s ‘angriest’ theologian faces lynching tree

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - When he was boy growing up in rural Arkansas, James Cone would often stand at his window at night, looking for a sign that his father was still alive.

Cone had reason to worry. He lived in a small, segregated town in the age of Jim Crow. And his father, Charlie Cone, was a marked man.

Charlie Cone wouldn’t answer to any white man who called him “boy.” He only worked for himself, he told his sons, because a black man couldn’t work for a white man and keep his manhood at the same time.


- CNN Writer

Filed under: Bible • Black issues • Books • Christianity • Church • Crime • Culture wars • Persecution • Prejudice • Race

What did MLK think about gay people?
We know what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. thought about race, but what about gay rights? His life and his sermons offers clues, some say.
January 16th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

What did MLK think about gay people?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was writing an advice column in 1958 for Ebony magazine when he received an unusual letter.

“I am a boy,” an anonymous writer told King. “But I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don't want my parents to know about me. What can I do?”

In calm, pastoral tones, King told the boy that his problem wasn’t uncommon, but required “careful attention.”

“The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired,” King wrote. “You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”

We know what King thought about race, poverty and war. But what was his attitude toward gay people, and if he was alive today would he see the gay rights movement as another stage of the civil rights movement?


- CNN Writer

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Leaders • Uncategorized

Israel's backers step up efforts to win African-American support
Pastor Michael Stevens at a “Gathering of Solidarity with the State of Israel" event in Brooklyn, New York.
November 26th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Israel's backers step up efforts to win African-American support

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

Brooklyn, New York (CNN) – The aroma of allspice wafted through the air as calypso melodies and gospel voices brought more than four dozen people to their feet, a typical community gathering in the heavily West Indian neighborhood of East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

But no one could remember a meeting like this happening before. Inside a former Seventh-day Adventist church, there were the beginnings of what some hope is a budding relationship between American blacks and Jews, with a major assist from some Christian Zionists.

The late October meeting was billed as “A Gathering of Solidarity with the State of Israel,” sponsored by Christians United for Israel, the biggest Christian Zionist group in the country.

What is Christian Zionism?

Until relatively recently, “there wasn’t a voice for Christian Zionism in the black church,” said Pastor Michael Stevens, the African-American outreach coordinator for Christians United for Israel, speaking to the mostly West Indian crowd in Brooklyn.


- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Israel • Judaism • Politics • Uncategorized

August 19th, 2011
06:24 PM ET

On 20th anniversary of Crown Heights riots, some Jews see a pogrom

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, New York, a three-day spell of violence set off when a Hasidic Jewish driver accidentally struck and killed a black youth, 7-year-old Gavin Cato.

As rumors spread that the death was intentional and that a Hasidic ambulance crew declined to help the boy, some of the neighborhood’s African-Americans reacted violently, with one group killing a 29-year-old Jew named Yankel Rosenbaum.

The anniversary has provoked lots of commentary on Jewish websites, with prominent Jewish writers recasting the riots as a pogrom, a word that connotes anti-Jewish violence.


- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Black issues • Judaism • New York

My Faith: A reluctant churchgoer 'gets the Holy Ghost'
The author (foreground, age 7), his late aunt, Sylvia Blake (left) and other family members outside their Baltimore church.
April 24th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

My Faith: A reluctant churchgoer 'gets the Holy Ghost'

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - I had my first brush with the “Holy Ghost” when I was 9 years old.  I’m still trying to digest what it meant more than 30 years later.

The day began as a typical Sunday. Aunt Sylvia herded me and my brother into her 1972 baby blue Chevy Impala and drove us to church for a service that would often last five hours.

Sunday worship at a black Baptist church wasn’t just long. It was scary. Elderly women who “got the Holy Ghost” during worship would thrash so violently in the pews that their wigs flew off. People shouted, wept and fainted.

This Sunday service started off no differently. But as the frenzy of the worship intensified, an invisible switch seemed to click on. A wave of heat rippled through the congregation as people beside me threw up their arms and shouted.

Suddenly, something seemed to slip inside of me. A tingling raced up my spine. I stood up to clap, scream - I didn’t know what I was about to do.

Is this, I wondered, the Holy Ghost that Aunt Sylvia sang about?


- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Black issues • Christianity • Easter • Faith • Houses of worship • Lost faith • Opinion

February 12th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Joseph Lowery looks back: ‘I’m at peace’

By John Blake, CNN

The voice that rhymed at President Obama’s inauguration, rebuked George W. Bush at a nationally televised funeral and thundered from the pulpit is weaker now.

When the Rev. Joseph Lowery answered the phone from his home in Atlanta, Georgia, this week, he spoke in a gravelly voice not much louder than a whisper.

At 89, the civil rights legend chuckled when asked if he was back at 100 percent after suffering a stroke last year.

“No I’m not back at a 100 percent,” he said with a trace of exasperation. Then his voice softened. “But the Lord is good. I’m doing well.”


- CNN Writer

Filed under: Barack Obama • Black issues • Books • Christianity • History • Pastors • Politics • Race

November 1st, 2010
06:22 PM ET

My take: Which religious voters will show up on Tuesday?

Editor's Note: Anthea Butler is Associate Professor of Religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and is an expert on Black churches, evangelicalism and the religious right.

By Anthea Butler, Special to CNN

The focus throughout the mid-term campaign has been on the Tea Partiers and predominately white religious communities supporting Republican or Tea Party Candidates. What about other religious communities of African Americans and Latino’s? These constituencies, facing immigration issues, foreclosures, and high unemployment levels, have social issues requiring urgent action.

For Latino and African American Voters of faith, the traditional appeal to values voting or litmus tests applied to candidates are not the sole means of vetting candidates.

Social concerns often drive voting from these religious communities.


- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Latino issues • Politics • Race • Tea Party

October 20th, 2010
03:57 PM ET

Black preachers who 'whoop' - minstrels or ministers?

Editor's Note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien looks at how some are fighting debt from the pulpit in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," premiering at 9 p.m. ET on October 21.

The Rev. E. Dewey Smith Jr. bangs on the pulpit with his fist. He shuts his eyes and moans. Then a high-pitched sound rises from his throat like the wail of a boiling tea-kettle.

"I wish you'd take the brakes off and let me preach," he tells his congregation during his Sunday morning sermon.

Rows of parishioners stand to shout. One woman in a satiny blue dress jumps up and down like she's on a pogo stick. A baby starts to cry.

Read the full story

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Church • Music • Race

October 18th, 2010
10:25 AM ET

Reverend: If Heaven is integrated, why not churches?

Editor's Note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien looks at how some are fighting debt from the pulpit in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," premiering at 9 p.m. ET on October 21.

The Rev. Mark Whitlock's church practices what he calls the 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not be boring."

Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Orange County, California, also practices something many other black churches don't: integration.

"We're fully integrated in the workplace, schools, public restaurants everywhere, except the church," Whitlock told CNN. "It's still the most segregated place on Sunday in the United States. Our goal is to do what heaven has already done. Heaven is fully integrated."

But most churches aren't. Nine of 10 churches are segregated, according to an analysis by Christopher P. Scheitle and Kevin D. Dougherty published in the August addition of the journal Socialogical Inquiry. For the purposes of the paper, "segregated" meant 80 percent of a church's members were of one race.

"People choose churches where they feel comfortable. Maybe they get challenges there, but they're going for the comfort," says Dougherty, a sociology professor at Baylor University in Texas.

Read the full story here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Church • Race

October 10th, 2010
03:29 PM ET

Opinion: Gaining freedom through faith and good works

Editor's note: The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. is president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He began his theological studies at the Chicago Theological Seminary and deferred his studies when he began working full-time in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Jackson received his Master of Divinity degree in 2000. Next week: Rev. DeForest "Buster" Soaries Jr. writes about his campaign to eliminate debt as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. He is featured in CNN's "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special" which premieres October 21.

By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., Special to CNN

My faith tradition has always been inextricably bound with the tradition of the civil rights movement. The blood, sweat and tears of "the movement" have run through my life; they touched and entangled me with an indelible spirit of never giving up, always trying to serve.

Through the good and hard times, I lean on my faith to help me traverse the twists and turns of life.

Read the full story

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Leaders • Money & Faith • Race

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.