News With Nicola Ep. 4: Church’s COVID Outbreak, AME on Gay Marriage, Haitian Pastor Arrested (Plus: Jackie Hill Perry)

We look at a Texas church’s COVID outbreak, the AME Church’s response to LGBTQ members, and the Haitian president’s assassination. Plus, hear from Jackie Hill Perry.

Haitian President Assassinated
(Photo: VOA Creole Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


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Transcript and Show Notes

Even at that stage, I was at a church where I was already exalted to a position of, like, a communicator. And it was only because I was gifted. But my character was not, like, in alignment with what I was saying yet. And my discipler said, “You’re on your way to being a very famous hypocrite.” – Jackie Hill Perry, author of Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him.

[Music transition]

Hey, everyone, welcome to another episode of “News With Nicola.” I’m your host, Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor at faithfullymagazine.com.

In this episode of “News With Nicola” we look at a church in Texas that has become the epicenter of a major COVID outbreak; the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s recent moves on same-sex marriage; and strange developments in Haiti, where the president was recently assassinated in his home — you won’t believe who authorities think may be responsible. Also, we hear a bit of Associate Editor Timothy Isaiah Cho’s interview with author Jackie Hill Perry about her latest book on God’s holiness.

But first… We want to thank you for tuning in to “News With Nicola,” a brand new podcast from Faithfully Magazine, owned and operated by Faithfully Media. While the podcast is publicly available on various platforms, we provide show notes and transcripts of each episode on the website exclusively for Faithfully Magazine Partner subscribers. So if you’re not a member, head to faithfullymagazine.com and click the “subscribe” button. In addition to show notes and transcripts, FM Partner subscribers get full, on-demand access to all of our content, free digital downloads (like our popular ebooklet on Critical Race Theory and Christianity), a free t-shirt, and much more. Head to faithfullymagazine.com and click “subscribe.”

[Transition]

News Item #1: Texas Pastor Prays for Mercy Amid Massive COVID Outbreak

A church in Texas has become the epicenter of a major COVID outbreak after at least 125 cases were linked to its student ministry camp.

Officials suspect it may be the COVID-19 Delta variant that is currently ravaging this church community.

It’s been reported that: More than 400 students and adults participated in Clear Creek Community Church’s Camp Creek in late June. The camp is for students in 6th to 12th grade.

Lead Pastor Bruce Wesley revealed the shocking news in a statement, saying the number of infections were likely much higher — because “hundreds of others were likely exposed when infected people returned home from camp.”

Pastor Wesely, who recently posted a video online of himself pleading for God’s mercy and for Him to put an end to COVID, revealed in online statements that his church was closed for at least a second week and was experiencing a “second wave” of infections.

“Lord, we didn’t want to be in the news, at least not for this, maybe for serving or some extreme generosity, but not this,” Wesley reportedly said in his video prayer.

News Item #2: AME Church Maintains Stance on Gay Marriage But Launches Commission

As reported on faithfullymagazine.com, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has reaffirmed its stance on defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman — although the historically Black denomination “allows LGBTQ individuals to freely attend their churches and hold positions of leadership.”

At its 2021 General Conference, the AME Church struck down a bill that called for allowing clergy to perform same-sex weddings.

“(T)he Holy Scriptures (do not) explicitly forbid same-sex attraction, companionship, love, and marriage — particularly, not as it is practiced in monogamous partnerships and is largely understood as today in the 21st century,” argued by Ravi K. Perry, who proposed the bill.

Although the AME Church officially disagrees with the bill, it has agreed to look into organizing a “sexual ethics discernment committee” that would also invite testimonies from Black LGBTQ Christians.

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Leath, who submitted the resolution to form the committee, said: “I take this as a blessing from on high. It is an opening of a door for so many. There has been silence around our lives, around our identities and around the ways it is part and parcel of our faith. This opens the possibility for a real, genuine, honest conversation.”

The AME Church, which emerged in 1787 when its founders left the Methodist Church due to racism, has more than 3 million members. Other leading historically Black Christian denominations — including The Church of God in Christ and the National Baptist Convention — also oppose same-sex marriage.

If the AME Church does happen to approve same-sex marriage at some point, they would join other Christian denominations such as the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ.

News Item #3: Haiti’s President Assassinated; Evangelical Pastor Arrested

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse was killed and his wife injured when gunmen attacked the presidential palace in the capital of Port-au-Prince around 1 a.m. local time on July 7.

According to the BBC, Moïse has led Haiti since 2017. And his term had been marked by allegations of corruption and by anti-government protests. The president had also refused in February to end his term and was reportedly working on rehauling the country’s Constitution. Moïse previously said that the powers of the president needed to be strengthened, according to Reuters.

After his 2017 win, Moïse declared at a religious gathering that he had relied on his Christian faith and found strength in God on his way to the presidency.

His wife, first lady Martine Moïse was reportedly shot three times. She was flown to Miami for treatment — despite initial confusion about her surviving the attack.

In the meantime, authorities in Haiti believe more than two dozen men are linked to the assassination, and have arrested nearly half of them. Among them are two Americans who claim they served as translators, while the majority of those arrested had Colombian passports.

Needless to say, lots of questions have been raised about this audacious assassination — primarily: who is the mastermind?

Well, Haitian authorities have arrested 62-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, described as a failed businessman, a licensed physician in Haiti, and an evangelical Christian pastor in a report by The Associated Press.

Sanon, said to be unknown in political circles in Haiti, “once expressed a desire to lead his country in a YouTube video,” the AP reports.

Although the 62-year-old is a suspect, associates insist he was unwittingly netted into the assassination plot by the actual masterminds.

One of his friends in Florida told The Associated Press that “Sanon told him he was approached by people claiming to represent the U.S. State and Justice departments who wanted to install him as president.”

Reportedly, Sanon was led to believe that Moïse was going to be arrested and “would not have participated if he knew [the president] would be assassinated.”

Although authorities have cited what appears to be strong evidence of his alleged direct involvement with the assassination plot, his friend claims Sanon QUOTE “is completely gullible” and “He thinks God is going to save everything.”

According to Time, citing the Florida Baptist Historical Society, Sanon’s educational training includes studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Time also points to a New York Times article that quotes a Haitian university professor as saying that Sanon previously told him that “he was sent by God. He was sent on a mission of God to replace.”

You really have to read these reports to appreciate the strangeness of this development. I mean, this is not the religion angle I had been anticipating.

While the investigation is going on, the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister-designate, and the Senate President vying for leadership of the Caribbean country — which also happens to be the world’s first Black republic thanks to a successful revolution against the French.

Understandably, Haitians are wary of outside forces imposing demands as they consider how to move the country forward. As Vox reports, some Haitian civil society groups are not interested in seeing an election this year and would like the U.S. and other countries to respect it as a nation.

[Music transition…]

Before signing off, I want to drop a couple of other news notes on your lap…

Like Bill Cosby’s release from jail. Now, Cosby was not declared “innocent” when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction on June 30. The court overturned his conviction on the grounds that his 2005 confession to having used a date rape drug (quaaludes) on multiple women in the past should not have been used against him in the 2018 case that led to his conviction.

Remember Lolo Jones? She’s still bobsledding, and preparing to take her chances at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing where she will represent the U.S. She’s also got a new memoir out, in which she shares how she overcame her tremendous loss in the hurdles competition during the 2008 Summer Olympics. The book is aptly titled, Over It: How to Face Life’s Hurdles with Grit, Hustle, and Grace. People magazine had a nice catch-up article with Jones, who explains how her Christian faith helps her get through tough times. The article also happens to note that, yes, Jones is still committed to remaining a virgin until marriage. As Jones, 38, told People: “That definitely has hurt my dating life, for sure. It’s considered old-fashioned, but it’s something I want to do to honor my future spouse.”

Have you heard about the former youth pastor who was sentenced to more than 1,000 years in prison for sexually abusing young boys? Paul Edward “Acton” Bowen tried to get the Alabama Supreme Court to review his case but they said ‘we don’t even want to hear it’ — so he will be incarcerated until at least the year 2980, which, luckily for him, will not spill into eternity. Or, maybe it will; only God knows. Head to faithfullymagazine.com for more on this story.

I also want to turn your attention to this really well-written opinion/analysis article by Laura Ellis over at Baptist News Global. Ellis writes about the need for Christians to “unearth and acknowledge” our role in the cultural genocide of Native Americans via residential boarding schools. Now, if you listened to the previous episode of “News With Nicola,” you would have learned about discoveries of nearly 1,000 unmarked and mass graves discovered at residential boarding school sites in Canada. The U.S. government has since announced its intent to investigate indigenous boarding schools here in the States.

Ellis writes: “There needs to be more awareness, research and truth-telling on harms committed against Native Americans in the name of the Christian God. And while it is unclear exactly how many schools and how many children were affected by this Christian and government creation, there is evidence Baptists were involved.”

That’s what Ellis writes, but in fact, various Christian denominations received money from the government to run these schools, which were rife with abuse and in some cases, experimentation on Native children. Of course, this was all in an effort to “civilize” Native Americans which actually meant converting them not to Christianity, but to whiteness or European standards.

Please, make time to read Ellis’s analysis and sit with it, and do a bit of research on the history of indigenous boarding schools in America. You can find a link to it on faithfullymagazine.com, where we provide a Clipping of the article.

And officials in Charlottesville, Virginia, have finally taken down monuments of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson…almost exactly four years after white supremacists and neo-Nazis descended on the city to protest removal of such statues in 2017. I’m sure you remember the racist and antisemitic Unite the Right Rally that left dozens of people injured and counterprotester Heather Heyer dead. We have a report on that development also at faithfullymagazine.com.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a brief excerpt from our Associate Editor Timothy Isaiah Cho’s recent interview with Jackie Hill Perry, about her latest book, Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him.

[Fades in…]

Timothy Isaiah Cho (14:16): Jackie Hill Perry, you’ve written several books now for a Christian audience, including Gay Girl, Good God, a Bible study on Jude. Why did you decide to choose to write a book on the topic of God’s holiness?

Jackie Hill Perry (14:33): Yeah, curiosity really. It’s just…it’s a topic that intrigues me. It’s a conversation that has often discouraged me. And so I just, I wanted to know, man, like if I investigate God’s holiness from the lens that I think it should be seen in like, what will I find? Because as I was reading a lot of books around the topic of holiness, they all seem to just land on sin a lot. And God’s moral purity, which is a factor and a big deal. But it’s like, man, I’m reading these books, more introspective and disheartened by my inability to please God, than I am captivated by the beauty of God as seen in His Holiness. And so I just wanted to take it from another angle, which is, I think holiness is much bigger than a conversation just about my sinfulness and God’s righteousness. So that’s why.

Timothy Isaiah Cho (15:41): That’s awesome. Yeah, and you know, looking through the footnotes in your book, you definitely reference lots of great historical works on the topic of God’s holiness. Can you explain just, like, who you had in mind when you are writing this book. Like, who did you specifically want to reach? Who did you think would be picking up this book and reading it? And did that shape kind of your writing process of how you wanted this topic to be approachable to them, and so on?

Jackie Hill Perry (16:10): Everybody, I want to say everybody. But realistically, I did not have scholars or academics in mind. I think I just had regular regular Christians who want to know about God and want to trust Him more and want to love Him more. I think even if I got even more narrow, I think I thought about those who are intimidated by the word and the concept of holiness. But also those who have a misconstrued perception of what that is, you know, and it’s led them to be afraid of God, not in a reverential way. But literally, like, scared of God, where their approach in their prayer life that even their failures just have way more baggage than need be. I think I’ve thought about them a lot where I wanted this book to be a balm. And I wanted this book to encourage just so deep, deep worship.

Timothy Isaiah Cho (17:07): Yeah, and speaking of, you know, misconceptions of God’s holiness, what what are the common misconceptions that you’ve seen? Just, you know, among Christians, even people outside the church when it comes to the idea of God’s holiness? And why is it important for us to understand His Holiness correctly?

Jackie Hill Perry (17:28) That’s complicated. Because I think there’s a lot, even depending on the region, you know. I guess one, is that I think in secular culture, I don’t think His holiness is even esteemed much. Not as much as His love is, or His mercy or His kindness. And so I do think that there’s a misconception that, seeing that His Holiness permeates all of His ways and all that He does. And I wish there was more of a conviction in that…in that, um — my brain is flat because I’m pregnant (laughs).

I just wish that was more emphasis on that, right. I think within the church, that’s [unintelligible]. And I think one that I address in the book is that God’s holiness is not just simply His moral purity, or His inability to [unintelligible] His righteousness, but it’s also His transcendence, the fact that He is unique, that He exists differently than everything that exists. And I think that widens the conversation of holiness a ton. Because it’s not just that we’re dealing with a Being that could not sin. But we’re also dealing with a Being that is not needy, we’re dealing with a Being that is independent, we’re dealing with a Being who is powerful to the nth degree, and will never need anyone to regain it. And so I think that already does something to your face, when you realize I’m dealing with a God that only needs Himself to be Himself. And so I think that’s another one. So, yeah, those two things.

Timothy Isaiah Cho (19:03): That’s great. Can you share maybe a personal story that you have of how God’s holiness moved from being just kind of head knowledge to being something like a heart knowledge to you, where it moved from the intellectual to something you cherished? And how can you also encourage people to kind of make that same movement, you know, rather than just you know, saying, “Yes, I believe God’s holy,” but to really have shape their fate, shape the way that they live their lives?

Jackie Hill Perry (19:34): I thought about this, because I feel like there’s been a lot of many moments, you know, even while writing this book. But one that really defined my walk was, I was a new Christian. I was in LA, and by new, I mean, maybe a Christian less than six months. And anyone who knows me, knows that, you know, I deal with same-sex attractions. So I had met this girl at the church, and me and her started to talk. And I just kind of made it up in my mind, “You know what, I’m a just be gay for a couple weeks, and then I’m a repent.” That’s literally what I said to myself, I would just, I would just kick it with her and do what I have to do. And the woman that I was discipling me got a bunch of the leaders together, because they found out what was happening. And they confronted me about it, and challenged me on it. And that wasn’t my only thing.

A lot of my life, even at that stage, I was at a church where I was already exalted to a position of, like, a communicator. And it was only because I was gifted. But my character was not, like, in alignment with what I was saying yet. And my discipler said, “You’re on your way to being a very famous hypocrite, because you do have an ability to speak well and people will believe that you are living in a way that you’re not.” And after that meeting, I went outside. And I looked at the sky, and I looked at the stars. And for some reason, it looked real big to me. It just looked grand. And I remember saying to myself, “The God that is calling me to a higher standard made this. And if He made this [unintelligible] get me.” And so it wasn’t purely conviction, like, “Ah, God doesn’t like what I’m doing.” It was no, like, God is calling you to a measure of righteousness that you’re not used to, that you’re uncomfortable with. But He is big enough to be with you in it. So I think that moment, when I was 19, it did something to my entire Christian faith, where it was like God is real. God is big. He’s serious, but He’s also faithful. Yeah.

[Fades out…]

Thanks for tuning into this episode of “News With Nicola,” where we aim to keep things real, relevant, and faithful.

And do not forget, people… No one has sent me an email yet. This is the fourth episode and I have not seen one email. Please, I want you to talk with me. Tell me what you like about the show, what you don’t like about the show, some guests you’d like to have on. Tell me what you’re reading, what news items have caught your attention. What new books, movies, music or shows are you watching that you think others should check out as well, or you know, completely avoid? So send me a note at podcast@faithfullymagazine.com. And hey, if you sound like you know what you’re talking about, maybe I’ll send you an invitation to join me on the show as a guest or a co-host.

Alright folks, this is Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor faithfullymagazine.com, hoping I’m leaving you informed and inspired. Till next time.

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    Written by Nicola A. Menzie

    Nicola A. Menzie is Managing Editor of Faithfully Magazine. Nicola is a religion reporter in NYC whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at) faithfullymagazine.com.

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