Tri-State Defender Religion Stories


Entire black church endorses Donald Trump for President (Click to watch)

By Angela Bronner Helm, The Root

The entire congregation of a historically black church in Charlotte, N.C., supports Donald Trump for president over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Representatives of the membership of Antioch Road to Glory International Ministries say that they are endorsing the Republican candidate around the issues of job creation and reform of the criminal justice system. Katrina Rodgers, daughter of the pastor and founder of Antioch, Thomas Rodgers Sr., cited the 1994 “three strikes” crime bill as the primary reason that they are not behind Clinton. The crime bill has indisputably led to the mass incarceration of African-Americans, something Hillary Clinton has admitted to. “We want to break away from more of the same,” says Rodgers. Her father was more blunt in his assessment: “I think that she is very dangerous and reckless and her past track record is a great indication that she is not fit to lead this country—or any other country,” he said to CNN. A recent Facebook post likened the former Secretary of State to being in a violent relationship: “Supporting Hillary is like being with an abusive ex, one that has left you wounded and broken. It’s time to give the new guy a chance.” Church members recently held a town hall with Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, and Trump surrogate Omarosa Manigault, who is currently his Director of African American Outreach.

In Tenn. town, debate over intelligent design continues to evolve

By Travis Loller, Associated Press

DAYTON, Tenn. – In 1925, two of America’s most renowned figures faced off in the southeast Tennessee town of Dayton to debate a burning issue – whether man evolved over millions of years or was created by God in his present form. Today, only one of the two, the Christian orator William Jennings Bryan, is commemorated with a statue on the courthouse lawn. A group of atheists hopes to change that. Bryan defended the Biblical account while trial lawyer and skeptic Clarence Darrow defended evolution in the “Scopes monkey trial” – formally, Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes. The case became front-page news nationwide and is memorialized in songs, books, plays and movies. Nearly a century later, the debate pitting evolution against the biblical account of creation rages on nationally and locally. Nearly all scientists accept evolution, but many Christians see it as incompatible with their faith. Just two years ago in Dayton, professors at a Christian college named for Bryan were fired in a dispute over whether Adam and Eve were historical people. One might expect a town that reveres Bryan to resist efforts to memorialize his antagonist, but Reed Johnson, managing editor of The Herald-News in Dayton, said that vocal resistance hasn’t materialized. He doesn’t recall angry letters to the editor. County Commissioner Bill Hollin said he doesn’t think many people are aware of the effort, but he’s against it and thinks others will join him. “I don’t see where it would help the community at all to put it up there,” he said. Bryan, on the other hand, represents more than the Scopes trial, Hollin said. His legacy in Dayton includes the college that was founded in 1930 and educates many of the area’s young people. Still, townspeople are resigned to the idea of a Darrow statue, said Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, a Bryan College alumna. “I think there is a sense that, ‘Oh, it’s only fair. We have our side, and they have their side. We have our statue, and they have their statue,’” she said. Ed Larson, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the trial called “Summer for the Gods,” said that Dayton has historically been hospitable to both sides, and that outrage over the teaching of evolution in 1925 was manufactured. The trial is often remembered as the persecution of teacher Scopes for teaching evolution, which Tennessee had outlawed, but it actually began as a publicity stunt for Dayton, Larson said. Larsen explained that locals had responded to a newspaper advertisement by the American Civil Liberties Union looking for someone to test Tennessee’s anti-evolution law in court. No one had complained about Scopes or his teaching; he was recruited to be the defendant, Larson said. Scopes never spent time in jail and was offered his job back after the trial, Larsen said – and Bryan even offered to pay his fine. Evans said part of the trial’s legacy has been negative: a lasting sense that belief in evolution conflicts with Christianity, something she no longer believes. “I grew up as a conservative evangelical, and we always heard about the trial that William Jennings Bryan was a hero who came in and put everyone in their place,” she said. “Even in college, I was told I could either believe in the Bible or I could believe in evolution.” But many say part of the legacy is positive: Dayton has seen a stream of visitors to the red-brick courthouse in the town square that still looks much as it did when the judge moved the trial’s action onto the lawn – worried the floor would cave in from the weight of spectators – and Darrow began questioning Bryan’s views on the Bible. The courthouse basement now holds a small museum. On the trial's anniversary in July, a festival is held, with a courtroom play re-enacting trial scenes.


By TSD Newsroom

One of the most talented and respected mass choirs in the country, The Tennessee Mass Choir makes its national introduction to the gospel music arena with the highly anticipated debut single, “The Greatest of All Time.” Supporters and fans worldwide have eagerly embraced the simple, yet powerful message within the choir’s lead single, which is already making a slash with sales on iTunes, Google Play and other digital music retailers. “The Greatest of All Time” was produced by award-winning, Grammy-nominated producer Jason Clark and composed by nationally acclaimed songwriter, Tony B. Dickerson. Shontelle Norman-Beatty of the Edwin Hawkins Singers complements the song with her rousing lead vocals, adding to the choir’s robust backing vocals. Delivering precision in the single’s final mix is Grammy-winning engineer, John Jaszcz. Noted for his chart topping mixes for artists such as Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker, Tye Tribbett and others, Jaszcz fused the song’s unique components. The result is a high-energy praise and worship anthem that is sure to become an instant favorite in the landscape of gospel music. “Our main focus is to reach all audiences and to get congregations singing again. The song is a proclamation to the world that God is indeed the greatest of all time,” said Jason Clark, the choir’s director. A song with a timeless message and a new revelation, “The Greatest of All Time” seeks to uplift and inspire listeners of all ages. “The Greatest of All Time” is the lead single from the choir’s forthcoming album entitled “Timeless Messages, New Revelations, Vol. 1.” The album is slated for release in January 2017. On a roll, The Tennessee Mass Choir recently has recorded and performed with artists such as St. Paul & The Broken Bones and legendary rock band Foreigner. View “The Greatest of All Time” promotional video at (For more information about The Tennessee Mass Choir, visit;;;

Brown MBC names its first non-black pastor

By TSD Newsroom

Pastor Stephen "Wade" Steelman has joined the pastoral staff at Brown Missionary Baptist Church (BMBC), making him the first non-black pastor in the historically black church since its founding in 1882. Baptist churches in the South have historically been divided along racial lines, and the Rev. Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of BMBC since 1989, said he hopes Brown can exemplify how we can nurture unity and understanding and lift each other up spiritually through Christ. "God not only intends – he requires that we love our brother and sister, despite race, yet one of the most racially segregated places in our society has historically been church," said Orr. "I hired Pastor Steelman because he is a knowledgeable, experienced and humble spiritual leader, but I also pray this is the beginning of more diversity in churches like ours." Steelman will serve as discipleship pastor at Brown, which has a membership of more than 10,000 people who worship at one of the church's two campuses in Southaven, Miss. Brown also has foreign missions teams, more than 40 enriched ministries and supports multiple ministries throughout the world. Steelman has served in various pastoral roles for nearly 20 years, in both small rural congregations and urban mega churches. He also served as a regional denominational leader within the Southern Baptist Convention for the Xtended Missions Network in Northwest Mississippi. He has traveled on missions to numerous countries, including Bangladesh and Poland. "As the Discipleship pastor at Brown, teaching people how to allow Christ to live His life through them, and then launching them into a lifestyle of reproducing spirit-filled Christ followers is my goal -- my life goal," said Steelman, who holds a Masters of Divinity from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tennessee. "If Christ, through me, chooses to accomplishes this, I will not have served in vain." (For more information on Brown Missionary Baptist Church, visit

White churches remain silent in black social justice struggle

By Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

On Wednesday, July 6th, I wrote about the killing of Alton Sterling. I posited that a similar headline could be possible in the next few months. It didn’t take that long. Less than 24-hours later another black man, Philando Castile, was killed by law enforcement in Minnesota during a “routine traffic stop.” Another hashtag, not even a day later. Again, I thought of Darrius Stewart. The aftermath of Castile’s shooting was captured in real time by his girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, who broadcasted the bleeding body of her boyfriend on Facebook live while her 4-year-old child offered her comfort from the back seat. Castile was licensed to carry and, according to Reynolds, announced this to the officer and was reaching to retrieve his license and/or permit (while in his seatbelt) when he was killed. Another viral video of black death, pain and trauma. I’ve suggested that the black faith community, black church in particular, is all too reluctant to embrace social justice as its primary posture. We dismiss structural violence, racism, classism, homo and transphobia, and other social ills that impact our communities and parishioners. We offer occasional lipservice that is divorced from our theologies and practices. Some try to present ourselves as more conscious and concerned than we really are. We are committed more to budgets and soul salvation than we are black lives and bodily liberation. The black church is not exceptional in this regard. The slave code Christianity that many embrace 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation is rooted in a white, westernized Christianity that runs counter to the ancient African religious movement instituted by black Hebrews and cultivated by the Negro from Nazareth. The mainstream Christianity that the Black Church parrots seeks to be politically neutral and racially inclusive – but it’s not. It never has been. That’s why the Black Church in America was historically referred to as the “Invisible Institution.” White supremacy sought to render the black religious experience irrelevant and erroneous. In other words, the White Church was used to silence the Black Church. Not much has changed in 2016. In matters of religion, race still matters. Predominately white churches all over the country (and the city) have intentionally targeted black and brown communities for membership. Many of them have purchased land in black and brown neighborhoods to build facilities, becoming “one church in two (or three) locations.” Nevertheless, when issues of structural racism, police brutality, economic exploitation, educational gentrification and other issues that disproportionally impact black and brown communities become unable to ignore, the white churches practice sacred silence and political pacifism. White churches are filled with people who worship God and guns. They are unapologetic about defending their 2nd Amendment rights. Why have they said nothing in response to Philando Castile’s tragic killing? What has been their stance on 88 percent of city contracts being awarded to the white men who frequent their facilities? Do the white churches (that have attracted several members of color) have any substantial social justice receipts? And let’s not confuse charity work with justice work. Charity is soul cleansing but justice work requires a deeper level of physical and tangible sacrifice. The black church is flawed and failing. Meanwhile, white churches are attracting people of color but doing very little to advocate for their social justice. White churches, with very few exceptions, embody and embrace a white supremacist theology. They use Jesus as an excuse to remain uninvolved. They presume that race doesn’t matter but all the while the realities of race continue to kill us – like they did Jesus. I guess our white Christian friends are waiting on our resurrection before they celebrate our blackness in public. To be clear, I’m not holding my breath waiting for white ministers and congregations to adopt a revolutionary theology to help liberate black folks. The Father Michael Pflegers of the world are few and far between. But I cannot allow the silence of those who pose as allies to go unchecked. If black people can frequent a church, pay money in tithes and offering, participate in their ministerial initiatives, and even serve in a ministerial capacity but never see their churches on the front lines at the protests, marches and social justice related events, they need to leave immediately. Whatever church someone goes to – black, white or otherwise – should be working to meet her/his spiritual and social justice needs. If it doesn’t, why are you still going there? (The Rev. Earle J. Fisher is senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, co-spokesperson for the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition and adjunct instructor of Contemporary Theology Religious Studies Dept. Rhodes College)

St. Peter MBC set to turn 80

By TSD Newsroom

A quick read of the cornerstone of St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church in South Memphis reveals why there has been a buzz of special activity going on there all week. “Organized in July of 1936,” the cornerstone declares. On Sunday (July 3), St. Peter, which is located at 1410 Pillow St., and its pastor, the Rev. James Greene, will cap a weeklong observation of the church’s 80th anniversary. At 103, Walter B. Brooks is the only organizing member of the church still alive. The iconic deacon, whose name is noted on the cornerstone as the chairman of the deacons, will be saluted during a 3 p.m. service. The special guest church will be Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Cordova, with its pastor, the Rev. Basil G. Brooks, delivering the keynote. Throughout the week, Charlene Thornton, the anniversary program chairperson, and others have been busy stocking the St. Peter Museum. Visitors can sit in one of the old rocking chairs that were fixtures of the church in its early days. Back in the day, the melodic sound of the church’s youth choir was captured on a vinyl record and a 45-rpm copy in museum serves as proof. Old church typewriters, hand-written sermons and photos of early pastors and members are among the memorabilia. Determined to extend the 80th anniversary observation to the surrounding community, church members have been canvassing the neighborhood and spreading the word. Part of their message is about the Community Festival scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Thornton said the free festival would include entertainment, food baskets, games for children and adults, and visits by various community groups and agencies, including the Memphis Police Department.

Frayser church hosting Movie Night on The Lawn

By Tiffany Mishé, Special to

Innovation Church Memphis is bringing life to the term “ A Church Without Walls.” They recently rang in Juneteenth with "Praise in the Park" at a perfect location — the historic Robert Church Park, established in 1899 by a businessman and former slave. The church joined with Telisa Franklin, Memphis’ Juneteenth coordinator, to provide a service in the midst of the events’ musical performances, including a performance from Personal Praise, a youth brother and sister duo who belong to Innovation. Personal Praise performed their new hit single “I Don’t Need a Thing." Tonight, they continue to take church outside of the walls with "Movie Night on the Lawn." The event, featuring the moving "Miracles from Heaven," starts at 8:07 p.m. at 3925 Overton Crossing. Bring a lawn chair and your family, and experience for yourself this congregation’s Innovative approach to church. The Movie night seeks to build on their Praise in the Park event on Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating June 19, 1865 — the date that some former slaves learned of their emancipation earlier during the Civil War. Texas didn’t get the freedom message until three years after it was announced. President Barack Obama even released a statement acknowledging the holiday: Today we commemorate the anniversary of that delayed but welcome news. Decades of collective action would follow as equality and justice for African-Americans advanced slowly, frustratingly, gradually, on our nation’s journey toward a more perfect union. On this Juneteenth, we remember that struggle as we reflect on how far we’ve come as a country. The slaves of Galveston knew their freedom was only a first step, just as the bloodied foot soldiers who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 100 years later knew they had to keep marching. Here in Memphis, churches and faith-based groups were invited to worship in the park and bring with them a message of hope, faith, reconciliation, unity and praise. Innovation Church, pastored by the Rev. Marron D. Thomas Sr. headlined this year’s “Praise in the Park.” “Music unites us as a human race and helps to cast our worries aside,” said Telisa Franklin, the event’s organizer. “We have too much in common to allow the problems we face in society to drive us apart. Praise in the Park is the conduit that pulls us together – blacks, whites and other ethnicities.” Innovation Church, showed up in mass numbers, happy to help celebrate in an innovative way. The church is very familiar with doing things differently, find proof in their 11:07 Sunday service start time. Founded by Marron Thomas after spending years serving the Frayser community as a youth minister and football coach, the Innovation Church has grown tremendously in 3 years, expanding from their 3925 Overton Crossing location to service on Sundays at Trezvant High School. Pastor Marron, as he likes to be called, has had a special connection with at-risk youth that not most could not achieve, which could be said to be in part to his background. Thomas was himself once a drug dealer facing serious jail time, but despite that situation, maybe even because of it, he gave his life to God, finished college, and found a wife who would help him fulfill what he and hundreds of lives he’s touched believe to be the highest calling on his life. You can now find Pastor Marron somewhere in Frayser fulfilling his church’s mission: To innovatively EVANGELIZE the lost; to EMPOWER the believer for kingdom living; and to COMMIT to building Godly families, Godly communities and change lives for the Glory of God.

Soul-stirring start!

By TSD Newsroom

The Southern Region Conference of the Progressive National Baptist Convention got underway Monday (June 20) with an opening service at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood. The annual session runs through Friday, with the Sheraton Memphis Downtown, 250 Main St., as the main hotel and conference activities next door at the Crowne Plaza Memphis Downtown. Dr. Reginal Porter, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, is the Southern Region Vice President and is completing his final year in that position. “I thank you for your support and for giving me the opportunity to serve you,” Porter noted in a written message to Southern Region members. “This is an election year and Second Vice President Pastor Gil Wright has decided to move forward. That means a new first and second president will be elected in this session.” Porter asked the region embrace St. Jude Hospital as it mission project for this year. Each church was encouraged to bring a $100 donation for St. Jude, with a tour of the world-class hospital built into the conference schedule. Dr. Timothy Tee Boddie, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, delivered the message of hope during the opening service at Mt. Vernon-Westwood, where the Rev. Dr. James Netters Sr., the church’s senior pastor, served as host. The service was accented with musical selections. After the procession of the Progressive National Baptist Convention Mass Choir and the “Call of Worship” by the Rev. Roger Brown, pastor of Greater White Stone Baptist Church, soloist Rose Winters sang “Oh Give Thanks Unto The Lord,” with Eddie Miller serving as director. Scripture readings by the Rev. Stanford Hunt, pastor of Salem Gilfield Baptist Church, and the Rev. Wade Bryant, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church, preceded prayer by the Rev. Melvin Watkins, co-pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood, and the congregational hymn “Blessed Assurance.” Next came the welcome by the Rev. Harvey Jackson, pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church-Carnes, followed by two songs of praise: “Faithful Over a Few Things” (Anthony Prather, director), and “Even Me” (Eddie Miller, director). Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell brought greetings. Next, soloist Detris Cobb sang “You Brought Me Through This” (Shakira Bryant, director). The Rev. Dr. Noel G.L. Hutchinson, pastor of First Baptist Church-Lauderdale and president of the Tennessee Progressive Council, presided over the offering appeal with the musical backdrop of “Every Praise” (James O. Pope, director). Dr. Porter made the “Presentation of the Messenger” prior to the selections “Oh How Precious” (Paolo Tenno, soloist; Datris Cobb, director) and “Thank You, Thank You Jesus” (soloist Jessie Williams, Jeffery Matlock, director). After Dr. Boddie’s “Message of Hope,” the Rev. Dr. Anthony Henderson, pastor of Beulah Baptist Church, extended the invitation to discipleship as Jeffery Matlock directed “Oh To Be Kept.” Host Pastor Dr. Netters delivered closing remarks, with the benediction by Dr. Boddie.

Relationships drive growth of Love Fellowship Ministries

By Keith Sanders, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Love Fellowship Ministries, Inc. at 4475 South Germantown Rd. will soon be celebrating its 10th anniversary. On Friday, June 24th there will be an anniversary gala at the Esplanade at 901 Cordova Station Ave. in Cordova. The milestone will be marked with two worship services on Sunday June 26th at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. At 5 p.m., the church will hold a special recognition event for its pastor, Bishop Laurence V. Plummer. The New Tri-State Defender spoke with Bishop Plummer about the anniversary celebration and much more. TSD: When and how did you know you were called into ministry? Bishop Laurence V. Plummer: The truth of the matter is I never wanted to be a minister … I never wanted to be a pastor ... I never wanted to be a bishop. I strictly was a guy that loved God and loved ministry and I was excited just to be one of (the late Bishop G.E. Patterson’s) right hand persons … helping him build Temple of Deliverance … but I had a battle going on where I was kind of running from ministry. …I never dreamed of being a pastor but when God spoke to me over a period of time he showed me that I have much more ministry that he wanted me to do. … My time with Bishop (Patterson) was a setup really because God wanted me to be there to spend my time with him … even though I was not spending time with him to become a pastor … It was a setup where God had me in that position where he groomed me for ministry. So it was hard for me to accept the calling because I didn’t want to do it ... but it was easy for me to do because Bishop positioned me for ministry, so I knew what to do. TSD: Describe how you started the church and the challenges you had starting it? Bishop Plummer: I started this church with absolutely no members and I think that the first day that we opened the church it was jammed pack with a lot of friends, foes and whoever wanted to come to see the opening. …I think 69 people joined that first week of ministry. ...We launched the ministry on not just faith … I took my own personal money and partnered with SunTrust Bank. …They were incredibly kind to me being that I had never pastored … had no members. It was just me and my family and we started from scratch. TSD: Was it difficult for you when you were known so well for your expertise as a financial professional to also add the title bishop? Bishop Plummer: …(The) hard part was the pastor piece. I became a pastor in 2006. I just took over my dad’s fellowship four years ago as the presiding bishop of his fellowship that he has had since 1968. So that bishop piece was the second chapter of my pastoral career. …My dad retired from the fellowship and he felt I should be elevated to that position because of the potential he saw in me and I guess because of the talents that God has given me for building. And what I learned in the financial planning business I’m able to really incorporate that into the business side of the church too. TSD: Describe the approach to ministering and ministry at Love Fellowship Ministries? What are your most impactful ministries? Bishop Plummer: First of all it’s been a tremendous challenge … not so much teaching the word and preaching the gospel … the biggest challenge is dealing with people and people’s lives. So I’ve been challenged because I’m a pastor that also has a financial advising firm. We’ve got 6,800 clients in 48 states and then I’m pastoring a church. …It’s gotten so busy and requires so much of my time. I actually relocated a bishop from Connecticut (Bishop Aaron Sneed) and I brought him on back in February of 2015 as my executive pastor in the ministry. He is there full time Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 doing what I would be doing on a daily basis in ministries. …I never want my members to pay for not having a full time pastor. My wife is the coordinator of the children’s church. … (The children) go home and tell their parents how much they love it and the next thing you know their parents are coming to (our) church … all because the children are enjoying the ministry. I can honestly say it’s one the best things that I’ve done in ministry. And now we’re really getting involved in our outreach ministry ... reaching out to shelters and different people that are confined to homes. In the next three to five years I’m going to spend quite a bit (of time) touching people that are not as fortunate as we are. TSD: What has been the key to the growth and development of the church? Bishop Plummer: I have really been blessed to master how to build relationships. I’m a people-type guy. I love the people and I do what I have to do to make sure I’m a good pastor and I make sure they understand that they’re valuable to us. So we have actually been growing the church based on relationships and also the implementation of ministries within the ministry that I’m still working on. I don’t want to make it sound like we have a well-oiled machine in every department, but I think the thing that people love is that it’s a family atmosphere. It’s an incredibly anointed sanctuary where our worship and our praise are very timely and every worship is very much spirited. TSD: What can we expect in the next 10 years from you and the Love Fellowship? Bishop Plummer: I believe we’re one of the best-kept secrets in this city. I think what’s gonna happen over the next 5 to 10 years is that our church is really going to explode to a level of what I’ve really dreamed from the beginning. But I believe that God has not allowed me yet to just blow up and be major in this city – as far as people hearing more about Love Fellowship – because he had to get us ready to be able to handle (the) increase that is coming. I’ve always tried to have a steady growth. …I want it to be steady and I want it to be a healthy growth so as the numbers come we are ready to handle it. Timing is everything. I never wanted God to give me anything I couldn’t handle. I believe when the time comes and he is ready for us take the next step in ministry that we would be able to handle it.