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!)

Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Canterbury Release Joint Statement on Care for Creation

via the Vatican:

For the first time, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion have jointly warned of the urgency of environmental sustainability, its impact on poverty, and the importance of global cooperation...

The concept of stewardship—of individual and collective responsibility for our God-given endowment—presents a vital starting-point for social, economic and environmental sustainability….

We have maximised our own interest at the expense of future generations. By concentrating on our wealth, we find that long-term assets, including the bounty of nature, are depleted for short-term advantage. Technology has unfolded new possibilities for progress but also for accumulating unrestrained wealth, and many of us behave in ways which demonstrate little concern for other people or the limits of the planet. Nature is resilient, yet delicate. We are already witnessing the consequences of our refusal to protect and preserve it (Gn 2.15). Now, in this moment, we have an opportunity to repent, to turn around in resolve, to head in the opposite direction. We must pursue generosity and fairness in the ways that we live, work and use money, instead of selfish gain….

The current climate crisis speaks volumes about who we are and how we view and treat God’s creation. We stand before a harsh justice: biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change are the inevitable consequences of our actions, since we have greedily consumed more of the earth’s resources than the planet can endure. But we also face a profound injustice: the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them. We serve a God of justice, who delights in creation and creates every person in God’s image, but also hears the cry of people who are poor. Accordingly, there is an innate call within us to respond with anguish when we see such devastating injustice.

Today, we are paying the price. The extreme weather and natural disasters of recent months reveal afresh to us with great force and at great human cost that climate change is not only a future challenge, but an immediate and urgent matter of survival. Widespread floods, fires and droughts threaten entire continents. Sea levels rise, forcing whole communities to relocate; cyclones devastate entire regions, ruining lives and livelihoods. Water has become scarce and food supplies insecure, causing conflict and displacement for millions of people. We have already seen this in places where people rely on small scale agricultural holdings. Today we see it in more industrialised countries where even sophisticated infrastructure cannot completely prevent extraordinary destruction….

Together we can share a vision for life where everyone flourishes. Together we can choose to act with love, justice and mercy. Together we can walk towards a fairer and fulfilling society with those who are most vulnerable at the centre.

Sister Norma on What Biden Can Do for Migrants Stuck in Mexico

Photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash

via the Washington Post:

Norma Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

Dear Mr. President:

I write today to appeal to your sense of morality, human dignity and as a fellow Catholic. While the Supreme Court has blocked your efforts to rescind the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, while litigation against it proceeds through the court system, I urge you to act. These legal complications, and our backlogged immigration courts system, cannot become an excuse to strand thousands of people in dire conditions, especially when other options are available.

I know from firsthand experience just how desperate the situation is. MPP was implemented in my community in early 2019. Its effect was to force thousands of people into a makeshift “tent city” along the Mexican side of the Rio Grande river as they awaited rulings on whether they would be granted asylum….

We must not make children live for months in rain-logged tents. We cannot abandon them to communities where their mothers are afraid to let them use the bathroom at night for fear they might encounter a gang member or be assaulted. In the name of God and in the spirit of decency that has been a hallmark of Americans for generations, I beseech you: If this policy must continue, let us find a way to end the worst cruelties that have defined it thus far.

If your intent is to negotiate with Mexico over how to house asylum applicants while their claims are being processed, proper shelter and care for these families must be at the heart of those conversations. One option would be to request that the U.S. Agency for International Development be allowed to provide food, housing and medical assistance to the families waiting in Mexico. Another would be to grant humanitarian parole to the people currently in these camps, which would allow them to pursue their immigration claims in more stable conditions within the United States without acting as a permanent loophole in the immigration process….

It is immoral and abhorrent to deter people who are legally and peacefully seeking safety in the United States by deliberately exposing them to the very perils that they are hoping to escape.

If proper accommodations cannot be negotiated with Mexico, I urge you to push for an alternative. We cannot allow a lack of creativity and fortitude to become an excuse to abandon the principle of compassion.

Fratelli Tutti on Governance and Politics

Franciscan Action Network hosted their final panel discussion in their series on Fratelli Tutti with the author of Five Steps to a Positive Vision of Politics, Amy Uelmen, and Catholic University theology professor David Cloutier. The panel discussed how the parable of the Good Samaritan should influence our thinking of governance and politics and how we can formulate a politics that communicates through real dialogue.

US Bishops Largely Remain Silent As Voting Rights Are Attacked

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Brian Fraga in an important report for NCR:

Local Catholic bishops’ conferences in Georgia, Florida and Texas have chosen not to speak out or take positions on the “election integrity” bills that their states’ Republican-controlled legislatures passed this year to impose new voting restrictions, which civil rights organizations say target Black and minority communities.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also declined to directly address nationwide changes to voting rights as at least 18 states enacted 30 laws to restrict access to the vote between Jan. 1 and July 14, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Those laws make mail-in voting and early voting at drop boxes more difficult, impose stricter voter ID requirements and make faulty voter purges more likely.

“The silence is very noticeable, and it’s sad and disappointing,” said Sr. Anita Baird, a member of the Religious Congregation of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary who serves on the board of directors for the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

State legislatures in Georgia and Florida passed and Republican governors in both states signed controversial broad omnibus bills that the Brennan Center and civil rights groups like the NAACP describe as voter suppression laws.