The Vision and Mission of the Black Catholic Messenger: An Interview with Nate Tinner-Williams

Nate Tinner-Williams is a co-founder and editor of the Black Catholic Messenger. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed him on the publication, its mission, and the work they are doing.

Why did you start the Black Catholic Messenger? What motivated you and your fellow co-founders? 

I — and the team (initially, Alessandra Harris, Preslaysa Williams, and a small group of collaborators) — started BCM to fill a void in Catholic media that has existed mostly unaddressed for the past century. Despite the strong presence of the Black Press in the story of the Black experience in the US (especially in the 20th century), Black Catholic publications—that is, journalism by and for African American Catholics—have been almost non-existent during that period and since. We decided to change that.

What is the guiding vision for the publication, or what are the principles that animate it?

Our guiding vision is that of Daniel Rudd, our patron. He sought, in the late 19th century, to give the Catholic Church a hearing in the minds of African Americans via a Black Catholic newspaper. His aim was to present Catholic teaching exactly as it is: hope for a sin-sick world. He felt authentic Catholic witness could be a salve for the ills facing African Americans in his day, and we feel the same now. In that sense, we are an orthodox Catholic outlet. At the same time, Rudd recognized that he needed to address racism and anti-life witness head-on, as best he knew how, flaws and all. That’s us too. In that sense, we are a Black publication in the justice tradition of social thought, informed heavily by Catholic Social Teaching as well as the Black Freedom and Black Radical Movements.

Could you talk about your background and how it led you to this work? 

I am a journalist by training, as well as an amateur theologian. I started doing journalism in high school and kept it up through most of college (where I switched from studying journalism to studying theology). I was also a Protestant until 2019. That year, I was in a weird place spiritually as well as in my career, and it ended up that I converted to Catholicism by way of Eastern Christianity. I also dug into Black Catholic history, wherein I discovered Rudd and began to think of what might be missing in Catholic media. Soon enough, I realized that I had to put up or shut up. So shortly after converting to what was a brand-new expression of Christianity for me, I returned to an old line of work as an amateur journalist, helping to start BCM. Whether I’m a professional now, I don’t know, but I love what I’m doing and hope it will be a lifelong endeavor.

Who are some of the publications’ key contributors? 

I think everyone who has contributed is key. Alessandra has put out a number of powerful op-eds, including a recent one on her son’s experience of discrimination during a Catholic Mass. Stephen Staten, a close friend of mine, beautifully related his experience as a celibate gay Catholic in a piece put out in June. Gunnar Gundersen has done wonders with his incisive takes on history, philosophy, and race relations. Harlan McCarthy consistently gets the absolute best interviews. I could go on and on. Dr. Ansel Augustine in New Orleans, Efran Menny in Houston, Jenario Morgan in South Bend, etc. We also have a few non-Black contributors who have contributed as well, including D. Brendan Johnson, Jeffrey Wald, and Will F. Peterson.

What are some of the articles you are most proud of having at the site?

I’m pretty sure we were the first to report on Amanda Gorman being Catholic, so I will probably cherish that story forever. Stephen’s story on the Sacred Heart and LGBT Catholics was also a stunner. Gunnar Gundersen did a few responses to Bishop Robert Barron that were also really powerful. I also really love the poems we’ve published, from Jenario; Fr Joseph Brown, SJ; John S. Taylor; Melissa Menny; Nancy Saro; and Louis Jones. (More coming on that front, too!)