TONIGHT! The Nones Are Alright: A New Generation of Seekers, Believers, and Those In Between by Kaya Oakes

As part of our #ExploreABSW week for prospective students, Cal scholar Kaya Oakes is joining us to discuss her recent work on the religious “Nones.” See you at 7:00pm on campus or on Periscope.

cover_nonesThe ascent of the “Nones”, those with no religious affiliation, has puzzled religious leaders from every denomination. But the increasing number of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have walked away from, or have never belonged to any religion, means that up to 40% of not one but two entire generations of Americans have chosen to live life without a traditional religious practice.

And yet, some members of Gen X and Gen Y have chosen to embrace religion, but they’ve done so in a DIY fashion, recreating religion for a new generation of skeptics, in a time when past ideas of career, home ownership, and the nuclear family model are all changing. Through profiles of dozens of individuals, this book investigates how and why the exodus from organized religion is occurring, and contrasts the stories of Nones, atheists and agnostics with the stories of those who took different tracks: those who defied the trend and found religion as adults, or experienced a conversion from the religion of their childhood to a completely new set of beliefs, and those who’ve remained in the religion of their childhood, but have reimagined and redefined what religion means.

Sacred Lessons in Resistance

Black History Month arrives as a difficult reminder that core ethics of human equality espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King in his DREAM, and called for in the BIBLE, still have not been realized! From Ferguson to Queens to Cleveland to Berkeley, streets are filled with young, angry black protesters joined by brown, white sisters and brothers compelled to mobilize resistance against increased militaristic behavior of police, against loopholes in legal systems, and against a pervasive societal ideology of ‘othering’ that marginalizes based on race, class, sexuality, and faith tradition. These national resistance movements expose this country’s systemic structures of discrimination.

In his provocative 2011book – Punished: Policing the Lives of Black & Latino Boys, Victor Rios’ ethnographic study revealed that poor inner-city kids are targeted, stereotyped, and falsely accused from grade school until anger at such demoralization become self-fulfilling prophecy – demons that provoke bad choices and fuel society’s fear. In reality, by Michael Brown’s age, embedded suspicion of law enforcement, regulatory systems, and a life of economic disparities result in tensions that almost are insurmountable. Across our nation, the land of the free and the brave is far the promise land of human equality–WE’RE NOT THERE YET! Killings increased exponentially since the 2012 assassination of Oscar Grant and the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin. Albeit marred by violent outbreaks, the clamor for justice drew clergy leaders and people of faith to join in overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations of RESISTANCE. They invoked God’s will to resist injustice, amplified by chants and prayers that sustained a call for SACRED RESISTANCE.

Crucial for our self-reflection is to recognize that this landscape of unrest and tension between those with power and those unduly burdened is not a new phenomenon. We are reminded that righteous indignation and RESISTANCE are Biblical. Jesus knew what it felt like to be ‘othered’ – the Nazarene rejected and critiqued for speaking hope into lives of prostitutes, robbers, demoniacs, invalids, and tax collectors. The Messiah proclaimed his prophetic purpose to “ bring good news to the poor, proclaim release of the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”- words in direct resistance to Roman imperial occupation and a Jerusalem power structure designed to maintain the status quo. Jesus spoke against undue burden on impoverished and powerless masses under militaristic enforcement. All the Gospels report SACRED LESSONS in RESISTANCE and mode of leadership development: anointing disciples with sacred authority over unclean spirits to cast out evil; teaching with sacred power to speak life into broken spirits; and taking action to change lives.

The first sacred lesson of resistance was to SHAKE IT OFF and keep moving! “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town”… The act of dust-shaking is the first century parallel to a 21st century act of protest; it is an externalization of a reality of hardened hearts in folks intent to preserve a status quo or afraid to push for change! Jesus’ taught such action was sacramental – revealing or manifesting a spiritual reality that ALL won’t accept the truth that the Kingdom of heaven had come near. The disciples were to mobilize a message of sacred justice and deliverance anyhow and, if rejected by folks, have nothing else to do with them, not even to carry the dirt and grime of close-mindedness any further… BUT SHAKE IT OFF! That very physical action was sacred resistance – Racism, classism, sexism – forms of rejection that ignore God’s love for ALL creation – SHAKE IT OFF!

The second lesson of sacred resistance was to recognize the socio-political landscape aims to silence. “See I’m sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…Beware of them for they will hand you over to councils, flog you… persecute you… and put you to death.” Today’s context is: we might be outnumbered but not outwitted. They will beat you with billy clubs, use tear gas, media-manage your story, while DAs and Grand juries acquit their own in ridicule of you! Is it any wonder that young people of color across the nation reject sound bites and political propaganda that say we live in a post-racial society, while overt and subtle discrimination confront them daily? Is it any wonder that some are disillusioned by silence of the church universal until MSNBC AND CNN cameras appear – and as the ragtag rebels caught national attention, then celebrity clergy arrived with rules and caste systems of who “qualifies” for screen time. Jesus said to be wise as serpents – organize, rally, discern true agendas as you proceed gentle as doves!

Jesus knew that principalities and powers did not WANT change that transformed lives – especially sacred change for those so long oppressed, blinded, and imprisoned in systems of disparity. He knew that his words and deeds led to hateful persecution on the Cross; yet, his third lesson assures us that the POWER IN US is greater than any power that opposes us! “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time: for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you!“ Today, as young disciples strategize and pray, clergy colleagues first-hand in Ferguson, New York, and Berkeley affirm that an abiding power of Holy Spirit anointing is evident when young and old courageously assemble and march.

RESISTANCE to injustice is a necessary action and sacred right… No municipality can stop or silence so many voices. Our foremothers and forefathers in Selma and Montgomery believed the sacred message cannot be quelled: ALL are created in God’s image! ALL lives Matter! Black Lives Matter, Asian Lives, Latino Lives, Muslim Lives – ALL Lives Matter! So today, young disciples still ask: Will we go together with divine authority from community to town to city proclaiming sacredness of life for the least and left-out? Do we still have faith to cast out demons of ‘isms’? As 21st Century disciples, will we challenge normative systems of privilege and share the prophetic message of One who was NOT? Sacred resistance shouts GOD’S demands for JUSTICE. It disrupts routines and sacrifices comfort. It respects and dignifies those different and diverse, yet in whom sacred breath of the Creator flows! To resist injustice, WIPE THE DUST OFF our FEET – and keep moving!

Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble  is Assistant Professor of Ministerial Leadership and Functional Theology at American Baptist Seminary of The West. A womanist theologian, she is also a consulting leader in the PICO National Prophetic Clergy-Women Network.

Reflections on Election Days and Ecclesiastes

As I write it is the day after Election Day, 2014. It is a good day to sit at a sidewalk cafe and reflect, evaluate and cautiously look ahead. President Obama, as evidenced by his musing, “I would enjoy having some Kentucky Bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” is doing just that himself– reflecting, evaluating and cautiously looking ahead.

It may be that the book of Ecclesiastes is the biblical book most suited for reading on the day after Election Day for it’s author, the Preacher, is, like President Obama and I, engaged in the work of reflecting, evaluating, and cautiously looking ahead. To many, Ecclesiastes is a frustrating book; they want its tone to be more positive, its outlook more upbeat. Indeed, some readers describe the Preacher as depressed or depressing. They wonder, “Where is his faith?”

Yet, at moments of great importance, weddings, funerals and the like, we often turn to the Preacher to express our beliefs, to give voice to our faith. We read, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” The Preacher’s words give us perspective as we reflect, evaluate and look cautiously ahead.

I believe that the Preacher is most certainly a person of faith. His faith, or her faith, is just a cautious faith. He or she regards it as imprudent to speak too boldly, inappropriate to say too much. We can, however, identify the contours of the Preacher’s faith. Central to this wise one’s belief system is the understanding that, “two are better than one…For if they fall, one will lift up the other.” Life is to be lived in relationship, in community, for in these there is energy, resolve, resilience and strength.

Further, it is the Preacher’s faith that this life, while often marked by arduous toil, is also framed by God’s good gifts; “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has long ago approved what you do.”

More than a glass of bourbon with President Obama and Senator McConnell, I would value welcoming the Preacher to my table at this sidewalk cafe and sharing a little wine. I would like to listen to him further describe the contours of his faith. I would like to hear her expand on the deeper meaning of her words. I would like to hear this philosopher’s counsel as, on a sunny November afternoon, I think about the direction of my city, my state and my nation. I would like to dialog with this leader of the assembly as I reflect, evaluate and cautiously look ahead.

I cannot be certain, but I like to think that if I were to ask the Preacher, “Is there a portion of Scripture you hold on when you are brooding about what next’s of life?” the learned one’s answer would be, “I tend to turn to Psalm 24, The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it. I start there when I am reflecting, evaluating and cautiously looking ahead for I need that larger perspective. I end there when I ponder what is going on in this world in which God has placed us for I need to know that this constantly changing life is touched by the Eternal. You might do well to do the same”

Rev. H. James Hopkins is the pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA and the Chair of the Board of Trustees of American Baptist Seminary of The West.

Boots on the Ground Theopraxis

Boots To be a Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that good can overcome evil. In this day and time there are so many negative messages in the news: the Boston bombing, young women being held captive for years in a private home, the closing of US embassies around the world due to terrorist threats, young men of color being shot down in the streets…. To be a Christian, to be a person of faith, is to believe that there is a just and good presence that has, can, and will overcome evil.

One of my favorite theologians, Jon Sobrino, speaks about the crucified people. Sobrino teaches at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, where in 1989 a government death squad entered the Jesuit faculty living quarters in the middle of the night, pulled everyone out of their beds (6 Jesuits, 1 female housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter) and slaughtered them in the University square. These brutal deaths were to be a message to the people of El Salvador that evil was in control.  Except that the extremity of the event caused the message to backfire. As a result, the US ceased to support the government armies of El Salvador and the United Nations called for a cease-fire. In essence, this horrific event led to the end of a brutal civil war.

Jon Sobrino, away on a lecture tour, escaped death that night, but has been writing about it ever since. In his liberation theology we hear the call to search our souls for our own part in creating and sustaining the brutality of the cross. When asked at the Presidential lecture of Santa Clara University in 2009 how he would define ‘Liberation Theology’ his immediate response was this: “first we must ask, liberation from what…?” and then he answered his own question, “liberation from ourselves!” He went on to ask the audience, “how have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” This was not a general question, but specifically addressed to those of us privileged enough to be in the audience. “How have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” He concluded by saying, “we must work at taking people down from the cross, and if we are not working at taking people down from the cross, then we are part of the problem.”

Liberation theology brought to the world the challenge of theopraxis. No longer content with the discussion of philosophical systematic ideas about God and the work of God in the universe, liberation theology has challenged the world to put legs to faith. Latin American theologians and the theologians of Black Theology of Liberation in the US have pounded away for decades now crying out for boots on the ground theopraxis that essentially takes people down from the cross. Our global 20th century liberation theologians, of which there are many—far too many to begin naming them in this short blog—have shown us the way….

To be Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that God has, can, and will overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that resources are present to overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that God reigns and people count. We need the faith to believe that our efforts can and will make a difference. We need to get our boots out, dust them off and get to work!

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament

American Baptist Seminary of the West

A Land of Opportunity

ABSW’s Associate Professor of Church History, Dr. Ronald Burris,  and other clergy from Contra Costa County met with Assembly Woman Susan A. Bonilla to demonstrate the importance of faith in the community.  Here, Dr. Burris presents the Assembly Woman with some soil from Contra Costa County, representing the people of Contra Costa County, and the need for California to be a land of opportunity for all people.


Dr. Burris also met with Governor Jerry Brown regarding the “Land of Opportunity Initiative”, and the role of faith-based organizations in California’s future.  (Above) Dr. Burris adds soil, representing the people of Contra Costa County, to the soil contributed by other clergy from California.  Governor Jerry Brown looks on.


The soil was then presented to the governor by Dr. Burris and California clergy to symbolize the efforts of PICO, and to encourage the state government toward creating opportunity for all people in California. 

The entire article, as well as additional information about PICO, can be found at

A slideshow of the events can be found at: