Sunday, December 26, 2010

African-Americans and the 8:18 Movement

The 8:18 Movement, a collaborative evangelical ministry geared toward African-Americans, caught my eye recently. The ministry's name refers to Isaiah 8:18, which heralds children as "signs and symbols" from God, implying that African-American youth have a role to play in the nation's future. While the ministry discusses serious problems such as HIV and violence, its pronounced anti-abortion message to people of color warrants attention.

The 8:18 Movement leadership team is a mash-up of prominent figures from the New Apostolic Reformation and black anti-abortion camps. Featuring anti-abortion advocate Alveda King (Priests for Life), Dehavilland Brown (Blacks United for Life), Rev. Arnold Culbreath (Protecting Black Life), Lou Engle (TheCall), Stuart Greaves (International House of Prayer at Kansas City), and many others, the leadership team boasts multiple anti-abortion advocates.

In a video for the 8:18 Movement, Lou Engle and Dehavilland Brown offer more details about the ministry. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

In the video, Dehavilland Brown laments the many crises facing the black community, including high HIV rates among teenagers. At the 3:07 mark, she bursts into ecstatic prayer, beseeching God to bear witness to the sorrows of her community. At the 3:38 mark, she prays that God can offer deliverance to the black community from gang violence, prostitution, drugs, and . . . Islam.

"Would you send evangelists into Compton, into the gangs, to the gang-bangers, to the prostitutes? . . . I'm asking you Lord that you raise up fiery youth, young prophets, young prophets out of Islam . . . Lord, I pray right now in the name of Jesus, Lord, that you release a roar inside of your people, Lord, that those in the inner city, those selling drugs in the street would have to lay down, lay down their weapons."
Violence, prostitution, and drugs are all urgent problems that need serious solutions. However, lumping Islam together with horrors such as violence and exploitation struck me as crass. Embracing a non-Christian religion is NOT automatically in the same moral category as gang violence!

On the topic of abortion, the video promotes an anti-choice stance. Earlier in the video, Lou Engle describes the ministry's anti-abortion stance, while a silhouette of a mother playing with an infant appears on the screen.
"A whole army of black Americans would raise their voices and bring forth a new justice movement for the ending, the breaking of the abortion issue among the black community, and raising up an answer to the poverty, the pregnant mothers, the issues that took place. Prayer would be at the root of this thing."
Likewise, the 8:18 Movement website (www[dot]818thesign[dot]com/#/home) lists abortion among the social issues it seeks to address in the black community. Alongside pictures of poor black children and lynching victims is a statement lamenting the trials and tribulations that have befallen the black community. Some concerns, such as HIV, crime, and illiteracy, are pressing problems that urgently deserve attention. Others concerns reflect a right-wing fundamentalist agenda, namely abortion, which is described as "death decree" that is "exterminating us as a race".

Anti-abortion rhetoric that lambastes abortion as a racist or genocidal tool is nothing new. From anti-abortion ads targeting black women in Austin and Atlanta, to websites such as BlackGenocide, to films such as Maafa 21 claiming that abortion is a racist eugenics tool, there is an abundance of propaganda condemning women's reproductive rights as inimical to the African-American community. This new ministry borrows such rhetoric, depicting abortion as a weapon against people of color. By ranking abortion alongside social ills such as crime and disease, the 8:18 Movement demonizes abortion as a race threat, rather than a reproductive right.

Women's rights advocates have criticized these anti-abortion arguments as disingenuous and demeaning to black women. Loretta J. Ross of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective dissects the race-baiting used in such anti-abortion campaigns, urging readers to trust women of color with reproductive choices. Dr. Vanessa Cullins of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that people should focus on reproductive health issues facing black women, rather than false claims of "racism" against Planned Parenthood. In short, anti-abortion advocates who use racially-change rhetoric do not speak for all African-Americans.

When groups such as the 8:18 Movement use racially-charged anti-abortion rhetoric, I suspect that their goals are to rile up anti-choice activists and recruit new advocates from communities of color. I am eager to see what fruit the 8:18 Movement bears. Whether it will offer worthwhile solutions to the problems facing black Americans, or simply seeks to recruit them into anti-abortion activism remains to be seen.

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