Let’s not forget about single mothers

When I think of the many sounds that came out of my house growing up in Orlando, Fla., I hear my mother yelling at the top of her lungs every morning in praying over my sister and me. In fact, it’s how I started most days.

I have no clue why my mom thought it would be necessary to yell out her prayers. If the point was to get the message across to God to make sure he heard her prayers, I’m sure God heard.

As we celebrate this Mother’s Day, there can be a tendency to skip over the backbone of American culture, single mothers. Many single mothers go throughout our culture hidden at times.

I still remember the day it became clear to me that I would be growing up in a single-parent household. And I also remember the pain that would go along with it. Even as I type the words, I find myself in somewhat of a despair. I can tell you the place, even the brown Toyota car my dad drove, when he made the dreadful decision to disrespect my mother in his car. I can remember sitting hopelessly in the back seat as a small child not being able to do much at all to defend my mother, who at the time, to my recollection, was pregnant with my sister. My parents soon would end up divorcing, not for that reason, but for many others. By the way, that reason alone would have been enough.

For many single parents who find themselves having to raise children on their own, they do so without complaining and at times taking on the shame and trauma of the role that goes along with it. Although attitudes have changed regarding single mothers, the plague that goes along with the title and struggle can be overwhelming.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Kiera Sheard on her new book Big, Bold, and Beautiful. During our time together, she remarked on the difference between condemnation and conviction. I never had heard it explained in this way, but conviction, according to Kiera, is when the saints come alongside you and offer healing and help.

Many single mothers on this day don’t need condemnation. My mom, for example, was fully aware of what she was up against.

“Many single mothers on this day don’t need condemnation.”

In most single-mother households, there are more days than not of waiting on the paycheck to come in. Not to mention that because there’s just one parent, any sick leave has to be guarded for a sick child. There are no days off for single mothers.

I can clearly remember my mother instilling within my sister and me that we weren’t poor but that we had to discipline how we spent money. In reality, this meant we wouldn’t miss out on what most kids would get, but at the same time there wasn’t a lot of room for error. My mom’s answer to everything was that it would have to be prayed through.

Recently, I interviewed former IT cosmetics CEO/founder Jamie Kern Lima on her new book Believe It. I asked her why she felt the need to be so authentic regarding her own struggles, and she said, “If we never share the stories behind the struggle, then people will feel alone.” I think Jamie is right. I’m sharing some of my personal stories because I don’t want any single mother to feel alone and ashamed.

Even for those of you I’ve never met, I want to be clear that single mothers are my heroes. You deserve much respect and should not be forgotten.

“I want to be clear that single mothers are my heroes. You deserve much respect and should not be forgotten.”

My mother knew that although she was my mother she couldn’t fill the role of being my dad, and I’m thankful she found a village of people to surround herself with to step in when she couldn’t fulfill certain roles.

On this Mother’s Day, my prayer is two-fold. If you know a single mother and can help in any way, please step in and offer help. And to the single mothers, be set free of thinking you have to fill every role. During my time with Jamie Kern Lima, she reminded me that for everything we go through, it’s just a step in our journey toward faith.

I believe single mothers, on this Mother’s Day, deserve a standing ovation not just for the faith and faithful service of living and carrying out two roles, but because they often do so in silence, hoping they can just get their kids the fresh start in life they need.

As Kiera Sheard shared with me, sometimes in life we have to pick up the broken pieces and glue them back together again. I believe when my mother was voicing her prayers to God, as she still does now for her grandchildren, she knew God was not only going to deliver but that God heard her. She knew somewhere in her core that she was carrying out her calling in life.

Every one of us has a calling, and it’s what we do with it that will matter in the end. Thank you, single-parent mothers, for carrying out your calling on this Mother’s Day.

Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


Related articles:

Rethinking Mother’s Day | Opinion by Brett Younger

Call your Momma | Opinion by Erich Bridges

Call your Momma

She died 20 years ago this month, on Mother’s Day.

Shirley Ann Bridges, nee Solter. My mother. She died three months short of her 70th birthday, which was a pretty good span, considering she smoked Salem cigarettes one after another during most of her waking hours. Salems were the first filtered menthols, you know. “Take a puff, it’s springtime,” was their marketing slogan in 1956. Seriously.

I guess Salems were better than filterless Lucky Strikes (“LSMFT: Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”), my father’s brand long into the filter era. Needless to say, my sister and I inhaled enough secondhand smoke as kids to choke several horses. But that’s the way it was in those days. Hey, we’re still here, like about 70 million other messed-up Baby Boomers.

The C word

Shirley Ann Bridges

The inevitable cancer finally caught up with Mom, however, in 2001. (Dad, too, three years later.) She had dodged a few scares and surgeries, but the big one arrived early in the year. We went out to lunch the afternoon before I flew to Asia on a 10-day trip. I noticed her stumble a bit as we returned to the car but assumed it was the lingering foot injury she had suffered a year or so earlier. My wife called me in Thailand a week later; she and the kids had gone to Mom’s apartment for a scheduled outing and found her acting strangely. She couldn’t seem to finish getting ready. She was incoherent. She couldn’t get across the room, much less down the stairs.

When I got back, I went straight to the hospital. Mom was cheerful, but she wasn’t all there. The big lung tumor her supposedly renowned oncologist had somehow missed had metastasized to her brain and taken up residence, never to leave in the few months she had left. In retrospect, I wish we had called hospice immediately, but we chose the hope-against-hope drill for a cancer of her type and advanced stage: chemotherapy, nursing facility, back to the hospital. The medical industrial complex is more than happy to accommodate hope-against-hope families, usually at the cost of more pain for the patient.

I camped out on her hospital room floor for the last three days of her life, pushing the morphine button when I heard her moan (she had ceased talking weeks before). Probably pushing it too often. Did I hasten her death? I’ll never know. On the last day, her eyes were open and set. The bright spring afternoon passed; the sun shone on her motionless face. As we sat by her bedside, Mom’s eyelids slowly closed. And she was gone.

“I camped out on her hospital room floor for the last three days of her life.”

Thank God she died before 9/11, which followed four months later. And the subsequent Age of Terror. And the Great Recession. And the pandemic. And the sheer horror of Trump — although she would have relished mocking him between puffs on her Salems. But she also missed seeing her grandkids grow up to be wonderful young adults. At least she got to enjoy their early years.

Smart, sophisticated, funny

Shirley Ann Bridges. She was beautiful, smart, sophisticated, funny, sarcastic. She was fun to be around. She had a Hollywood smile. She read all the books, saw all the movies, knew all the jokes and inside stories. Her throaty laugh was unmistakable (unless she was in the same room with her sister Mickey, who talked and laughed almost exactly the same way).

She gave me her love of reading, which led me to become a writer. She read everything — novels, biographies, politics, classics, gossipy tell-alls. Later in life, she checked out mysteries from the library by the grocery bagful. I teased her about that, insisting I would stick to more serious literature. She smirked and kept reading. Nowadays I read mysteries, usually by the bagful. I call them “crime fiction” — it sounds more serious.

She was a Navy kid. Not enlisted Navy, but Naval Academy Navy. Her stepfather was a ship captain who knew all the admirals. Her mother looked like Vivien Leigh. Classy. She was born in San Diego and lived all over, including Pearl Harbor before the Japanese bombed it. Grandpa was a strict taskmaster at home, but mostly he was away at sea, especially during the war. Mom was the dutiful daughter, the oldest of four who helped her mother hold the fort while he was gone.

The marriage

She probably could have married some star Annapolis midshipman. As smart as she was, she might even have pursued college and a career, still rare for women at the time.

But she fell for Dad, a would-be jazz musician and salesman. He was a charmer, a carouser, a devotee of all-night jam sessions, unfaithful from the get-go, moody, volatile. He had a mean streak, especially when he was drinking, which was often. They married in 1953 and divorced a miserable 15 or so years later, although he found ways to harass and irritate her for many years afterward. I’m sure they had some good times early on, but those times were mostly gone by the time I was old enough to notice.

“I’m sure they had some good times early on, but those times were mostly gone by the time I was old enough to notice.”

Thanks partly to him, Mom suffered from depression most of her adult life. When we were small, I remember her going to the hospital for shock treatments, which were pretty primitive in those days. The meds and therapies got much better over the years, but her depression never went away completely.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved Dad. But it took me 30 years and a lot of divine counseling to forgive him for the way he treated us, particularly Mom. He pretty much cured her of men. She never remarried or seriously dated (as far as I’m aware) after they divorced, despite her relative youth. She was bitter, I’m sure, but mostly she seemed relieved to be free of him. It gave her more time for reading.

Finest hour

But there was the matter of putting food on the table. Mom didn’t work outside the home; she didn’t even drive. The alimony checks were pathetic, and child support was even less — if and when Dad got around to paying it.

I know Mom was afraid during those anxious days. I heard her cry at night. But this period became her finest hour. We were old enough to be latchkey kids, so she dusted off her typing skills from pre-marriage gigs and found a job as a secretary-receptionist a few miles away. She took the bus or a taxi to get there, worked all day and came home to cook. On Saturdays, she wheeled her basket to the A&P store to buy groceries.

I didn’t tell her until years later, but she was my hero.

When my sister and I became teenagers, we went wild. She couldn’t control us, but she always loved us, always waited for us to come home. One of my earliest childhood memories is being sick with some minor ailment and Mom comforting me, saying, “I wish I could be sick for you.”

“I have yet to meet anyone who loved more unconditionally than Mom.”

That was my first human illustration of the unconditional love of Christ. I have yet to meet anyone who loved more unconditionally than Mom. No, not all moms are like that.

‘To my son, Erich …’

We never went to church as a family, and Mom didn’t seem much interested in religious faith. When I became a Christian in senior high school, she was happy for me but patiently dodged my many attempts to evangelize her. “Whatever makes you happy, son, you do it. I’m just fine,” she’d say. Mom had a private side you didn’t push against too hard.

She did, however, buy me a brown, imitation-leather New American Standard Bible in 1974, my first year as a follower of Christ. It’s worn and tattered now; duct tape holds the spine together. But it’s still my prized possession, still the Bible I read daily. Inside the front cover, written in fading ink in Mom’s perfect cursive, are these words: “To my son, Erich, ‘in whom I am well pleased.’” Try living up to that.

I worried she’d probably never come around to spiritual things. But when she moved to live near my young family many years later, she formed a deep friendship with my pastor’s mother, a wonderful believer who loved her and led her to sincere faith in Christ. We enjoyed several years of worshiping together before she died. She had a favorite TV preacher, too, and ordered his materials for her Bible/prayer times.

Wisdom in hindsight

Do we ever truly know our own parents as people? I mean, really know them as human beings? Or are they always “Mom” and “Dad”? I don’t know.

“Do we ever truly know our own parents as people? I mean, really know them as human beings?”

I do know that I loved Shirley Ann Bridges with all my heart as a mother and as a person, despite the many times I failed her. And I miss her every day. I started to write about her at the 10-year mark of her passing, but I couldn’t get past quoting two of my favorite Southern writers:

“Don’t forget to call your momma; I wish I could call mine,” counseled the late, great Lewis Grizzard, a fellow Georgian, when his mother was long gone. I never understood the ache behind those words until I couldn’t call Mom anymore.

Rick Bragg, Alabama scribe, wrote: “You wake up in your momma’s house and you smell the best bacon you’ve ever had. But more than anything you hear her footsteps. You hear her moving around. And you know that everything’s all right … as long as you can hear that sound.”

When you hear that sound no more, you are an orphan. It’s you and God, who is more than enough. But I’d love to hear Mom’s footsteps, and her voice, one more time.

Erich Bridges

Erich Bridges

Erich Bridges, a Baptist journalist for more than 40 years, retired in 2016 as global correspondent for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Va.


Related articles:

Let’s not forget about single mothers | Opinion by Maina Mwaura

Rethinking Mother’s Day | Opinion by Brett Younger

Charity versus justice

It’s an old saying but true: If you have to keep rescuing people out of a raging river, eventually you ought to walk upstream to see who’s throwing those people in the river.

This is the difference between charity and justice. Charity gladly plucks people out of the river because it makes the rescuer feel good about helping someone. And at least those who perform charity have enough heart to reach into the waters and not turn away with a certainty that “those people” surely did something to cause them to fall into the river. Next time, they ought to follow orders, work harder, take more precautions. At least they’re not saying that nonsense.

Mark Wingfield

But justice goes beyond charity. Justice sees people drowning in the river and eventually wonders how to stop the problem at the source. Justice might even have to walk away from the rescue mission for a minute to investigate what’s happening upstream.

The problem for way too many people in the church is that charity looks like missions to them but justice looks like politics. And God forbid if the church gives even the appearance of engaging in politics — unless it’s your preferred politics.

Have you noticed how an aversion to “politics” in the church most often gets raised by people motivated by politics?

In my experience, at least, those who sound the alarm over politics in the pulpit or politics in the missions projects are animated by a political view that has supplanted religious teaching — or the fear that someone else, maybe a big donor or influential family in the church, will be offended because of their own politics.

Here’s a current-day example: We cannot talk about refugees without talking about immigration. Yet there are some in the church who will volunteer and give their money to refugee ministries but become offended when the topic turns to immigration policy. They have been conditioned — by politicians more than preachers — to think of immigration as a politically divisive topic.

“The problem for way too many people in the church is that charity looks like missions to them but justice looks like politics.”

Again, it’s nice that these folks are willing to love and serve refugees. That’s fantastic. But that is the work of plucking people out of the river and giving them dry clothes.

The love of God compels us to ask how those refugees got in the river in the first place and why they nearly drowned before anyone helped them out. We have refugees to serve because of immigration.

Another example is food and clothing. And here’s where the American church of the 20th century became a victim of its own do-gooding. We were trained to believe that missions means running food pantries and clothes closets.

Once again, the world needs food pantries and clothes closets. These are essential and Christ-like ministries. But are we just going to keep handing out food and clothes forever without stopping to ask why people are hungry and naked?

Surely this must be one of the meanings of the scriptural admonition to not grow weary in well-doing. When the church — or its affiliated ministries — keeps spinning the wheel of bailing people out without learning how to stop the wheel, weariness is the natural result.

There’s got to be a better way, a more holistic way that keeps plucking people out of the river while putting up some safety rails so that not so many people keep falling into the water.

“Are we just going to keep handing out food and clothes forever without stopping to ask why people are hungry and naked?”

That better way is to address the systemic problem. And, aha!, just by my use of the word “systemic” you’re likely already tensing up and thinking, “Ooh, that’s political.”

Why is it political? Who says? Why must we believe that?

It’s only true because politicians have said it’s true. The very people whose public trust should compel them to go investigate who’s throwing people into the river want to obscure their ineffectiveness by saying we can’t talk about the system they’re in charge of.

Yes, we can do charity all day long and avert our eyes to the reality of systematic injustice. When we take that approach, nothing will ever change. We’ll need to be down at the river every day plucking people out — or paying someone else to be down at the river. In the past, that passed for missions.

Justice — the kind of justice preached by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus alike — does its best to make charity no longer necessary.

Charity promises people a better life some day in the by and by. Justice is what happens when God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.

The foolishness of WWJD

Charles Spurgeon, a famous British preacher in the latter half of the 1800s, used the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” in a sermon. If you’ve ever read any of Spurgeon’s sermons, you know he had a knack for turning a memorable phrase. A few years later, the phrase found its way into a novel by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? The purpose of Sheldon’s book was to inspire people to a higher moral standard of living.

One hundred years later, a Christian youth group in Michigan started a movement using the initials “WWJD,” representing the interrogative, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Terry Austin

You know the rest of the story. The idea took off, and for the past 20 years, people still ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” How many WWJD items have you owned over the years?

Asking the question WWJD is the easy part. Answering the question is another matter.

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter how we answer the question. Once we do, we will be confronted with a task we can’t perform. For example, your child is seriously ill, and doctors are concerned she might not survive. What would Jesus do in that case? We know what Jesus would do in that situation because we know about the little girl he took by the hand and raised her from her deathbed (see Matthew 9:18-26).

If people are lined up waiting for food because of pandemic-induced lost jobs, what would Jesus do? Once again, we know what he would do. We saw it once (or twice in Matthew’s Gospel). He multiplied food and fed everyone.

I’m confident Jesus didn’t heal every sick child, and he didn’t end famines and feed every hungry person. What did he do then? I don’t know. We’re never told that he walked away from sick and hungry people.

You and I can’t raise dead people or multiply food. What do we do? I don’t have the authority to forgive a person’s sins, reveal their internal struggles, expose a hateful heart. These are the things Jesus did, and we can’t do any of it.

We do try to make WWJD helpful. We’re confident Jesus would feed the hungry, so we volunteer to help feed people a Thanksgiving meal. We’re pretty sure he would care for the sick, so we load our prayer lists with sick people. We know he would care for the homeless, so we work at the homeless shelter once a week. He would care for the poor, so we drop a few bucks in the hat of the man begging at the street corner.

“Honestly, I don’t think Jesus would do any of those things.”

Honestly, I don’t think Jesus would do any of those things. I can’t see him ladling gravy on the turkey at a Thanksgiving meal, keeping a prayer list for the sick, putting in a few hours a week at the homeless shelter, or handing a beggar a few bucks.

Asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” does not provide any helpful information. It’s time to rethink. A better approach is to stop trying to do what we think Jesus might do and start being Jesus. Let me try to explain.

I have a great deal of respect for my father. I grew up wanting to be like him. This desire has continued my entire life. I often have said that my goal in life is to be half the man my father was, and that’s a lofty goal. I not only learned how to live from watching and listening to him, but I also inherited many of his characteristics. After all, he was my father.

Daddy was well known among Baptists in Colorado. When I returned to Colorado after graduating from seminary in Kentucky, whenever I visited a church, people would say, “You must be Bill Austin’s son.” In my world, that was the greatest compliment I could receive. As I got older, it became obvious there is a lot of my father in me. I don’t need to think about what Daddy would do consciously; many times, I just need to be myself.

“A better approach is to stop trying to do what we think Jesus might do and start being Jesus.”

In Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Paul said it is not him living but Christ “in me.”

Paul didn’t have the opportunity to read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ activities and actions. He talked with the apostles and heard the stories, but he was not in a better position to answer the WWJD question than us. Yet he understood something we seldom remember: “Christ lives in me.”

I’m not saying Paul’s description of a believer’s relationship with Christ is the same as mine with my father — every analogy breaks down at some point — but there is similarity. When a follower of Jesus enters a room, Jesus himself is there.

Jesus didn’t come to show us how to live. He came to live in us. We are his presence in today’s world. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

When I’m in the room, Jesus is in the room. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying that Jesus and I are identical. What I am saying is that Jesus is living in me. Consequently, I don’t need to ask what Jesus would do. I just need to be Jesus. If I can approach life like this, suddenly I know what Jesus would do; it’s the same thing I do.

“I don’t need to ask what Jesus would do. I just need to be Jesus.”

Jesus “in me” means I love others and relate to others as one who loves them. Jesus doesn’t toss a few coins to a beggar. I know that because that’s not how any person treats someone they love. Jesus talks to people, gets to know them, spends time with them, opens up to them. I know that because I know how we treat those we love. Jesus doesn’t keep a prayer list because when someone came to him with a need, he went with them to see what they could do (see Mark 5 and Jairus’ daughter). I know that because that’s how we treat people we love.

When Jesus did something, it seems everyone involved was uncomfortable. When learning that his friend Lazarus was nearing death, Jesus stalled for several days. When the adulterous woman was slammed down in front of him, he talked about sinners throwing stones at others, and everyone walked away stunned. When the crippled man was lowered through the ceiling, Jesus forgave the man’s sin. When Peter swung his sword to defend Jesus against the Roman soldier, Jesus healed the wounded man’s ear.

People were excited when Jesus came to town, but after he spoke and touched people, it seems many were left scratching their heads because they were caught off guard. It seems he challenged every norm, both religious and secular. He continually gave people more than they sought and asked them to give more than they could afford.

Next time you ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” if your answer doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then you probably have the wrong answer.

“If your answer doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then you probably have the wrong answer.”

Yet we pride ourselves on doing the things that allow us to remain in our comfort. For example, if we’re walking down the street and approached by a beggar, someone telling us they’re hungry and haven’t eaten in a while, our first reaction might be to say something like, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money on me,” as we keep moving. We can always feel good by assuming they’re lazy and won’t work.

Then we stop and think, what would Jesus do? So, we stop and pull out a $5 bill, or if we want to give more than money, take them to the nearest restaurant and buy them a meal.

But think with me for a minute. If Jesus had your resources in that situation, what would he do? Would he give $5 or buy a meal for the hungry man? What if he lived in a house with a kitchen filled with food? What if he had thousands of dollars in the bank? What would he do? If he did something that made everyone uncomfortable, what would that be? What if you decided to be Jesus in that moment?

Certainly, I’m not going to pretend to know what you should do or even to presume to know what Jesus would do, but what are some things that would make us uncomfortable? Perhaps we could take the hungry man to the nearest Kroger and load him up with a week’s worth of groceries.

The one thing I know for sure is that Jesus always did the most loving thing. That’s what I mean when I say we need to be Jesus. Being Jesus means we love people. Don’t get sidetracked by trying to love everyone; love those in your world. You can’t love every person you see, but you can love more people than you are now.

Doing nice things is easy; loving people is hard. Doing kind acts brings joy; loving people can be dangerous. It ultimately cost Jesus his life.

Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.


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A wind-up Jesus | Opinion by Bill Leonard

If Jesus came to church today | Opinion by Jonathan Davis

How second-chance hiring works for business

When I began my studies of people with criminal records as a potential workforce, I quickly learned that employment is a “necessary but not sufficient” condition. Even low-paying employment reduces recidivism by more than 20%, so a paycheck is critical but does not address the whole spectrum of forces that drive re-offending.

Most of the studies directly relating to recidivism focus on in-prison programming to reduce recidivism. Broadly, these can be categorized in two ways: changing hearts and changing minds.

Jeffrey Korzenik

Paths focusing on changing hearts address many of the characteristics of high-risk re-offenders: antisocial attitudes and personalities, substance abuse, and poor family relations. In technical terms, this would include cognitive behavioral programs that promote self-reflection on the part of participants to understand and change the patterns of thinking and emotion that have led not only to illegal choices, but also have led to broken relationships.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, “changing hearts” seems to be the more critical factor.

Among the most established routes to changing hearts has been the strong tradition of prison ministry in the United States. These have long preceded more recent secular initiatives intended to reduce recidivism. The Prison Fellowship, an organization founded by convicted Watergate conspirator Charles Colson, is among the better known and widely established programs, but many such ministries exist even at the most local level. I have met many returning citizens whose lives were truly changed by prison ministry.

Purpose-driven organizations

Many companies self-identify as purpose-driven organizations, whether or not they adopt any kind of official status. One common such identification I have seen among second-chance employers is a religious orientation, particularly one focused on Christianity. The concepts of original sin, forgiveness and redemption that comprise much of the Christian message are, of course, well suited to a willingness to hire people who have transgressed the law.

When a business leader has a social or religious vision that has not been inculcated throughout the organization, there are pitfalls in trying to implement second-chance hiring.

“The concepts of original sin, forgiveness and redemption that comprise much of the Christian message are, of course, well suited to a willingness to hire people who have transgressed the law.”

One terrific CEO with whom I have collaborated had deeply held Christian beliefs and had committed to giving second chances, placing those with criminal records among his thousands of employees. Unfortunately, some of his executive team believed this was an extracurricular crusade that had no place in the business and fought this initiative, blocking progress. Ultimately this served no one well. The CEO terminated the recalcitrant executives’ employment, and his efforts to build a second-chance hiring program were held back. At the CEO’s request, I brought in the leader of a company with a mature second-chance hiring program, and we worked with the new team and a strong reentry nonprofit to reinvigorate the effort.

Lloyd Martin: The Corporate Executive

There is a reason why most of the business people who have pioneered true second-chance models are CEOs and owners of their companies. Few employees below the C-suite would be given the leeway or take the career risks to continue in the trial-and-error process that has been needed to make second-chance hiring a viable business proposition.

Lloyd Martin is the exception — an executive whose professional credibility and personal values aligned with the values of his employer and commanded the respect of its ownership. Leveraging those tools, he applied an engineer’s mind and a compassionate heart to create a second-chance hiring program across five states.

Lloyd is vice president of manufacturing for CKS Packaging. The family owned company (and Lloyd is not a family member) makes plastic containers in seven states with a large portfolio of household-name customers. CKS considers itself a “covenant company,” a company that in its founding in 1986 was “dedicated to God.” The headquarters, located in Atlanta, includes what they call a War Room, dually used for meetings and prayer.

In a company already deeply involved in ministry to the poor and committed to tithing, Lloyd was in the War Room, praying on how they could do more. He emerged convinced that CKS could help transform lives through employing marginalized workers. He shared with me the story of approaching the company patriarch with his proposal. Lloyd laid out his idea and how he had come to it through prayer. The CEO responded, “If God told you to do this, who am I to stand in the way?”

“The CEO responded, ‘If God told you to do this, who am I to stand in the way?’”

Starting with five homeless men in Atlanta, Lloyd quickly learned the need to make accommodations for workers who had limited experience of working or access to the most basic tools of employment.

In one of his early learning experiences, he understood the need to abandon rigid HR policies, including the traditional “no show, no call, no job” rule. A solid worker from that first cohort did not show and did not call. Rather than terminate the employee, Lloyd sought him out to learn that the employee was ill. The worker had the good judgment to know not to go to work, but never had been taught to call in. And as he reminded Lloyd, “I don’t have a phone; I don’t have any friends with phones.”

Within three years, the program expanded to four states and included more than 200 hires with a background of criminal records, homelessness or addiction. 

Jeffrey Korzenik is chief investment strategist for one of the nation’s largest business banks, where he is responsible for the investment strategy and the allocation of more than $30 billion in assets. A regular guest on CNBC, FOX Business News and Bloomberg TV, his insights into the economy, markets, manufacturing and the workforce are frequently cited in the financial and business press. In recognition of his work on the interaction of the criminal justice system and the labor markets, Korzenik was elected to membership in the Council of Criminal Justice. This column is comprised of select excerpts from his new book, Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community, published by HarperCollins Leadership, © 2021. This content is reproduced here with the publisher’s permission.

Rethinking Mother’s Day

If you Google “Mother’s Day” looking for a gift your mother might actually like — this could be the year to move past the needlepoint pillow that says “Home is where the Mom is” to a promise to let her go out to lunch alone — you may be surprised by some of the titles further down the screen: Is Mother’s Day Necessary?; Why Some of Us Secretly Hate Mother’s Day; Why I Hate this Beloved Holiday; and Good God, I Hate Mother’s Day!

Here is a partial list of reasons Mother’s Day can feel problematic: Some miss their mothers. Some miss their children. Some don’t love their mothers. Some don’t love their children. Some have terrible mothers. Some are terrible mothers. Some never wanted to be mothers. Some thought they wanted to be mothers but were wrong. Some want to be mothers and cannot. Some blame their husbands for the way the children turned out. Some think this holiday suggests that women with children are more important than those without. Some feel unappreciated and think a day of chocolate insufficient.

Brett Younger

Anne Lamott writes, “I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure.”

The list of women who do not care for Mother’s Day includes the two women who made it happen. In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, who wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic, organized a Mother’s Day rally for peace. She wanted to mobilize women against the policies that lead to war: “Why don’t mothers interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of human life which they alone bear and know the cost?”

The original Mother’s Day was not a Hallmark holiday, but a pacifist holiday — which explains why it did not catch on the first time.

The sequel came in 1905 when Anna Jarvis wanted to give her mom a shoutout — there’s a reason “Mother” is singular. Jarvis wanted to honor “the best mother who ever lived, yours.”

In 1914, President Wilson recognized Jarvis’ Mother’s Day as a national holiday that became too popular. Jarvis disowned her own holiday, because she couldn’t stand the idea of people spending so much money on extravagant flower arrangements, sappy greeting cards and over-priced candy.

“The original Mother’s Day was not a Hallmark holiday, but a pacifist holiday — which explains why it did not catch on the first time.”

The churches of my childhood did not recognize this inherent tension. The high point of Mother’s Day was the chairman of the deacons recognizing “special mothers.” He pinned an extra-large corsage on Dolores, the oldest mother.  Edna won mother with the most children present until her oldest spent a Mother’s Day in jail. The youngest mother received a corsage until Shirley had a baby at 16. Even as kids, we knew the church was honoring three women who did not understand birth control.

The models for motherhood used to be TV mothers like Olivia Walton, who had eight, count ’em, eight children; Carol Brady, who dropped everything to listen, though, of course, it was easier for her because Alice did the work; June Cleaver, who never got angry with Beaver no matter how much trouble he got into. When Wally asked to invite Eddie Haskell for dinner, June answered, “As long as he doesn’t mind eating off the everyday china.”

Television mothers have gotten more realistic. Mom is about a newly sober single mother trying to raise two children while dealing with her overly critical alcoholic mother. It’s a comedy. Marge Simpson spends her cartoon life trying to maintain order in a disorderly home. WandaVision could be the most telling. Wanda’s children never existed in reality but are the result of her sadness, hope and love.

I am a son and father with good reasons to like Mother’s Day. My mother is alive and wonderful. My wife is an amazing mother. I love praising my mother and hearing my sons praise their mother. I hope those who enjoy Mother’s Day can keep enjoying Mother’s Day, even as we care for those who don’t.

“On Mother’s Day, be gentle with yourself and everybody else.”

In Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Patty Jane and Harriet are the daughters of an alcoholic mother. They are playing “When I.” One begins a sentence, “When I grow up …” and the other finishes it, “I’ll eat as much butter as I like.” One afternoon they are pushing the lawn mower together as their mother is sleeping it off on the porch couch. Patty Jane says sarcastically, “When I’m a mother …” and Harriet stops pushing the mower, stares at her mother and says, “I hope things’ll be easier for me.” Patty Jane sneers, wanting to wave away Harriet’s answer like a mosquito, but she is humbled by the look in Harriet’s eyes, by love, tender and fragile.

On Mother’s Day, be gentle with yourself and everybody else.

Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Four R’s for racial reckoning by the white church

“What does God need from white people now?”

That’s the question our friend and brother, James Forbes, posed recently to a group of white ministers in the Alliance of Baptists. I was asked to give the first response. Stunned by the directness of the question, I blurted out Micah 6:8 — “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.” Justice is what God needs from us. It is God’s first priority.

Mel Williams

But how do we “do justice”? How do we stop talking about racial justice and start doing something about it? We’re in the middle of a time of awakening, a cracked-open time when more and more people are waking up to the call to disrupt racism. The danger is that we white folks can easily assume that when we think something or read something, we have done something. How can we get beyond reading the racial book-of-the-month and move toward real action toward antiracism?

Racism is insidious; it is embedded in all our systems, including the church. As a friend said after the all-white Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol: “This is all about white people. White people started it, 400 years ago. White people enable it. White people perpetuate it. White people can stop it.”

We need a plan to stop the injustice, to end racial oppression. What does God need from white people now? In response to James Forbes’ question, I also offered four R’s, a frame for undertaking a serious, in-depth racial reckoning within the white church: Relationship, Remember, Repent, Repair. 

Relationship. Once we have a genuine relationship with a person of color, racism no longer works. The big lie is interrupted — the lie that the lives of white people matter more than the lives of Black people. (See James Baldwin.)

“Once we have a genuine relationship with a person of color, racism no longer works.”

We belong together — boundless belonging, across every boundary. Relationship changes everything, beginning with our relationship with God. God needs us to be in oneness with God and one with each other in a circle of trust.

This means we in our churches must move beyond our comfort zones and build intentional relationships with people of color. That takes initiative and a commitment to being in the same space with each other. Building trust takes time and relentless intentionality. We must continually widen that circle of trust, especially listening to the voices of our Black sisters and brothers. The goal is the Beloved Community. Boundless belonging.

Remember: In community with each other, we move into a deep process of remembering. We remember the brutal history of slavery and ongoing racism. The trauma of George Floyd’s murder is connected with the trauma of lynchings and beatings suffered by Blacks at the hands of whites.

As James Baldwin says: “History is not the past; it is the present. We carry our history with us.” Baldwin further states: “White people are trapped in a history they do not understand; and until they do … they cannot be released from it.”

We white people need to dwell in memory, to confront our racial history with our hearts wide open to the pain and suffering that has been inflicted by white superiority.

“We white people need to dwell in memory, to confront our racial history.”

“The glorification of one race and the consequent debasement of another is a recipe for murder,” Baldwin says. Too often the murders of Blacks have been overlooked and covered up. “Don’t talk about it” too has often been an unstated norm, even in the white church. No longer!

American Christianity has been linked too long with deadly racism. It must be confronted. As Black scholar and mystic Howard Thurman wrote, “American Christianity has betrayed the religion of Jesus.”

We in the white church must now awaken to that betrayal and see our history with unvarnished clarity and honesty. “Remember” is a word carved on many communion tables in white churches. We need to remember our failures and remember the power that the religion of Jesus has provided for those “who live with their backs against the wall” of white supremacy.

Repent: Remembering leads us to lament and repentance. This is not a once-for-all transaction but ongoing, tearful, anguished lament — grief — over the deaths of George Floyd, Breana Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. Lament is a matter of the heart, allowing our hearts to be broken open.

Confession is a long-established value of the church. How do we, as white people, repent from our white privilege and white supremacy — our whiteness? For myself, I have been led to confess that I am a racist, not that I have ill will toward any person of color; but I am a racist because I am part of racist systems, including the church.

“I am a racist because I am part of racist systems, including the church.”

Our confession must include not only our personal failures in relation to our Black neighbors, but also our collective failure to confront the whiteness embedded in our church’s history, buildings, curriculum, decision-making and finances. Repentance first involves a fierce moral inventory of our corporate life as church. It’s an intentional reversal from our tortured past of racism and violence.

Repentance is a turning around, a metanoia, meaning going beyond our ego to a deeper shift in consciousness. It is a turn away from dualism — us and them — to a unitive consciousness that sees the oneness of God and God’s call for us to be one people.

Repair: After genuine repentance, we move to the essential work of repair. What action steps do we take to repair the harm of slavery and ongoing racism? This can be daunting and overwhelming; but inaction is unacceptable.

Some may move quickly to speak of reparations. Along with Kirsten Mullen, Sandy Darity, professor at Duke’s Samuel DuBois Center for Social Equity, has written a major book on reparations, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century. Darity insists that we reserve the word “reparations” for the federal government, the culpable entity for the policies of slavery and oppression.

As an act to repair, we support HR 40, the bill before the U.S. Congress to establish a reparations inquiry commission. While this reparations bill is a long-term effort, Darity urges that we develop local initiatives that are equity-enhancing, transformative strategies to reduce the shameful 10-to-1 racial wealth gap.

“The economic system of this country has been controlled largely by white privilege.”

Thus, repairing the harm means moving money from white coffers to Black-led businesses and initiatives. The economic system of this country has been controlled largely by white privilege. The time has come to transfer money to those who need it most. For the church, this may mean setting aside annually at least 10% of budgets and endowments that would be paid directly to local or national Black-led initiatives. This is not charity; it is a debt we owe.

As my African American colleagues tell me, “We know what our people need.” A goal of “repair” is for us to release white-privileged money to Blacks who need the economic power to close the racial wealth gap. Family endowment and other philanthropic funds can be released for the greater good of the Black community.

There are many other ways to repair the harm, including supporting community organizing efforts that address disparities in health, education, housing, employment and the criminal-legal systems. White church members can join collective organizing efforts that help people of color to build economic and political power. We know that we cannot reduce poverty without first addressing the underlying cause of poverty — racism.

These four R’s do not move in a linear way. We do not “finish” one R and then move to the next one. Consider them as a spiral, where we move back and forth, at different times needing further attention to each.

My friend Mahan Siler also adds a fifth R — Resolve. We are making a long-term commitment to the call to dismantle white supremacy and the brutality of ongoing racism.

May these four R’s provide a useful process to help us answer the question, “What does God need from white people now?”

Mel Williams is pastor emeritus of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. He previously served as associate pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh, N.C., and pastor of Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. He is currently coordinator of End Poverty Durham and is co-founder of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham and co-founder of Peace Hill, a solidarity contemplative community.  

Was Addie Davis’ ordination an anomaly or a precursor for the time?

Addie Davis made history in 1964 when she became the first woman to be ordained as a minister by a Southern Baptist church. Although she did receive her fair share of hate letters and calls for her to renounce her ordination, Davis’ ordination did not quickly lead to a movement of women requesting ordination. In fact, it would be another seven years before another woman would be ordained in a Southern Baptist Convention church.

Why was there such a varied response to Addie Davis’ ordination? And why was her ordination not even discussed at the 1965 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas?

Allison Barbee

It appears the varied response is due to three aspects: the progressive reputation of the Watts Street Baptist Church who ordained her, the relatively moderate nature of the Southern Baptist Convention that had not yet experienced the fundamentalist takeover, and the broadcasting of the Civil Rights Movement that captivated American television screens for conservatives and progressives alike.

While Davis knew from a young age that she wanted to be a pastor, her path to ordination and her placement as the pastor of a church was not linear. In fact, her theological education was put off for 10 years when she was forced to return home to help her mother run the family store. However, once she enrolled in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s bachelor of divinity program (the precursor to today’s master of divinity degree) in 1960, she began to seek the career as a minister that she always had dreamed of.

In seminary, she showed promise and dedication to social justice through ministry. She took on the hotly contested topic of racism in her “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” sermon and wrote a paper chronicling the attitudes of contemporary churches toward women’s ordination, where she noted that the SBC had yet to ordain a woman. It was this commitment to social justice in her ministry that would set the stage for her news-making ordination, even if others did not perceive it as such at the time.

Addie Davis

Watts Street Baptist Church’s reputation as a progressive and “maverick” church due to its already-strained relationship with the SBC made for a lack of reaction when the church ordained a woman. In fact, Watts Street received more backlash for allowing African Americans to attend their services and use meeting spaces than they did for ordaining a woman — the parsonage was bombed in the 1960s over the church’s progressive attitude on racism.

Following the recommendation of the church’s Women’s Missionary Society, Watts Street allowed six positions for women to serve on their board, although they lacked the women desiring the leadership positions until Davis would come along a few years later.

Additionally, the Civil Rights Movement might have played a much more significant role in the response to Davis’ ordination than has been previously thought. While Black Baptists were some of the first supporters and activists in the Civil Rights Movement, as the movement became more and more publicized, more white progressive Baptists began to speak out against the violence their Black brothers and sisters were subject to. That group included Warren Carr, pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church.

While anti-segregation was not the official stance of the SBC, the mid-1960s was marked by political change and the fight against segregation in many churches across the South. This preoccupation with the Civil Rights Movement could explain why Davis’ ordination was not met with more debate.

“This preoccupation with the Civil Rights Movement could explain why Davis’ ordination was not met with more debate.”

Finally, the nature of the SBC played a role too. The fundamentalist takeover marked by the election of Adrian Rogers to the presidency in 1979 would not occur for another 15 years after Davis’ ordination, and most of the debates surrounding women’s place in the SBC would not occur until the late-1970s and beyond. The issue of women’s ordination would not be formally settled by the SBC until exactly 20 years after Davis’ ordination with the SBC’s “Resolution on the Ordination and Role of Women in Ministry” published in 1984.

Addie Davis made history with her ordination in 1964. Her commitment and advice to “cherish the dream God has given you” has inspired women to pursue ordination, regardless of the stance of the convention or the backlash that may ensue. Although her ordination did not set off a wave of change immediately, certainly Davis has and will continue to be a role model for young women pursuing ministry.

It is important for congregations to nourish this call to ministry experienced by young women based on their personal merit and calling from God, not necessarily by the denominational rule book.

Allison Barbee is a student at Wingate University majoring in religious studies. She is interested in feminist biblical interpretation, early Christianity, and religious history. She hopes to attend graduate school for biblical studies and eventually become a professor.


Related articles:

Addie Davis, first woman ordained as Southern Baptist pastor, dies at 88

Baptist Women in Ministry celebrates 50th anniversary of first ordination

N.C. church, first to ordain a woman, calls its first female pastor

Remembering Bob Dale, who helped us learn to dream again

With the news of Bob Dale’s passing late last week, a torrent of stories, testimonials and heart-felt grief has been flowing on social media and in conversations across the nation. The number of people who have stories to tell about Bob’s impact upon them as a professor, denominational leader, coach, consultant or friend is staggering.

Bob’s interactions with people across 60 years of ministry left us all feeling like we had been blessed by someone who became a lifelong friend. Those who have learned from his three dozen books, his too-numerous-to-count articles and untold presentations, retreats and conversations represent nearly every denomination, tradition and geographical corner of our nation.

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

For all of his fame and extensive network of friends, Bob remained a humble, gracious and grateful human being. He made time for people from all stations and ages with a patient and genuine interest that made us all feel heard and appreciated. Whether you were a denominational heavyweight or a rookie student, Bob listened to you and enjoyed you. What a gift.

Every time I talked with Bob in recent months, he minimized his growing physical concerns and always wanted to talk about new acquaintances, projects, ideas or helpful insights for some thorny congregational issue I was dealing with. I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever known who had a more insatiable appetite for learning and new ideas. As much as anyone in my life, Bob connected his past with today and pushed both forward into the future with relentless passion and energy.

He told stories about Missouri until we thought we had grown up there. He knew people in every city and denomination and could talk with authority about what was happening in church and culture with accuracy and insight. He constantly thought about what is ahead for us. Last fall he urged me to join him and attend a webinar on the future that a corporate friend had told him about. Bob knew his past, he understood today and he was fascinated by tomorrow.

Bob’s influence will continue because he invested so heavily in others. As a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and then Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond, he shared his insights into leadership with thousands of seminarians who emerged from those classes with a solid education but also a long-term relationship with a professor who genuinely cared about them. Those insights grew into a library of books he authored that multiplied his influence exponentially. All that writing garnered him invitations to speak and share his knowledge in multitudes of settings. As a result, his lineage in Baptist life and beyond is profound.

“Bob’s influence will continue because he invested so heavily in others.”

In many vocations, there are individuals who spawn other leaders out of their unique approach to their field and out of a personal commitment to invest heavily in the next generation of leaders. Bob leaves a clear “lineage tree” of leaders who looked to him for wisdom and guidance.

In my own life, I have been impacted by such men and women across the decades. I have been the undeserved recipient of grace-filled gifts from names like Buddy Shurden, Molly Marshall, Reggie McDonough, George Bullard, Julian Pentecost, Linda Bridges, Larry McSwain, Don Mattingly, Lloyd Cornell, Daniel Vestal, Bill Leonard, Ira Peak and a host of others. At the head of that list is Bob Dale.

I knew of Bob when I was growing up in Nashville. My dad was pastor of a growing church in the city and was pretty savvy about denominational employees who could and couldn’t contribute to the complex task of leading a burgeoning congregation. I remember Bob and my dad talking regularly and my dad’s admiration for the young man at the Sunday School Board who seemed to know what he was talking about.

About 35 years ago, when I became a pastor for the first time, I quickly learned how much I didn’t know. It was humbling and disturbing all at once. There was a day when dad sent me Bob’s new book To Dream Again and told me to put down whatever I was reading and read this book. I was floundering, so I did as I was told. I was amazed. It was as if Bob had been reading my mail. I soaked up that book like a sponge and began to think differently about nearly everything I was doing.

“It was as if Bob had been reading my mail. I soaked up that book like a sponge and began to think differently about nearly everything I was doing.”

Fortunately, I was serving in Virginia and Bob had just come to our state as part of the leadership group for the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He began to teach, mentor and lead in his gentle, humble, yet brilliant way, and we began a friendship that grew and grew through the years. What I found was that I was joining hundreds of others on the ministerial journey as Bob Dale fans and grateful recipients of his wisdom.

Those women and men are a huge part of Bob’s legacy. Over the last several days, I have read hundreds of individual tributes from leaders of all ages, stripes and types who claim Bob as part of their ministerial lineage. All of them say something similar: “Bob was brilliant, insightful, caring, humble, and believed in me.”

When we formed The Center for Healthy Churches, one of my first calls was to Bob to ask if he would join our team. I was beyond grateful that he immediately said yes and was willing to help us in our formation of the group.

One of our first efforts together was a book Bob had in mind about how leaders are formed. We were about to launch a Healthy Church book series and he agreed to make the book a collaborative effort with me. What emerged was Weaving Together: How Leaders Grow Down, Grow Up and Grow Together. My small contribution was to react to his insights and ideas and generally stay out of Bob’s way as he spun his tales and reflected on a lifetime of growing leaders.

“More than 300 dissertations had utilized the ideas in the book.”

We urged him to update and revise To Dream Again, in the hopes that a new generation of leaders would benefit from the timeless wisdom in that book. He did so, and three years ago To Dream Again, Again! emerged. Bob told me the original book had been the best-selling book by Broadman in the 1980s but had been pulled when the denominational wars broke out. More than 300 dissertations had utilized the ideas in the book. I continue to believe it is one of the finest books on how to understand the life of congregations and their needs that we have at our disposal. I am beyond grateful for his willingness to make it newly available to us all.

Bob’s devotion to his craft was only exceeded by one thing: his devotion to his family across the generations. One of his private projects in recent years was to write the story of his life by decades. He wanted to record the amazing stories and insights from a lifetime of living fully so that his family would be able to know all the seen and unseen influences on him and them. Perhaps one day a biography will emerge that will share even more light for the fellow pilgrims Bob inspired.

What a remarkable gift. What a remarkable man. Thanks be to God for the gift of his love and learning to so many of us.

Bill Wilson serves as director of The Center for Healthy Churches in Winston-Salem, N.C., and is a member of the Baptist News Global board of directors. Bob Dale was part of the team from Virginia who led in the formation of Baptist News Global in 2013 through a merger of Associated Baptist Press and the Religious Herald.