Centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank

. . . and the struggle over the meaning of freedom

by Ken Sehested

            In August 1913 the body of 14-year-old laborer Mary Phagan was found in the basement of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta. The company’s Jewish-American superintendent, Leo Frank, was eventually convicted of the crime and sentenced to death by hanging. Two years later a last-minute commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment sent Frank to a prison farm. On the night of 16 August 1915 a group of men from Marietta, Georgia (Phagan’s hometown) abducted Frank and drove him to Marietta for a public lynching. Though identities of the lynch mob were well-known—including a former governor, a mayor, and several current and former sheriffs—none were charged. Half of the state’s Jewish population fled following the lynching.

            Three things endure.

            First, the memory of this trauma has been long forgotten, except within the Jewish community. Read more ›

Baptism: “Infant” or “believer's” style?

One congregation’s story of attempting faithfulness to the truth in both historic traditions

        When Circle of Mercy Congregation began in 2001, the founding pastors—Joyce Hollyday and Nancy & Ken Sehested—intended affiliation in both the Alliance of Baptists and in the United Church of Christ. This choice required making some kind of decision on the practice of baptism, since the Alliance is faithful to the Radical Reformation's tradition of “believers” baptism, the UCC to Reformed and Catholic tradition of “infant” baptism.

        To prepare for this part of the discussion leading toward the congregation’s bylaws, Ken Sehested wrote the reflection below. The congregation later approved specific language for its policy (posted below, following the initial “policy reflection”).

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Policy reflection on baptism

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In praise of the undazed life

A personal recollection about my Dad, marking the anniversary of his birth in 1922

by Ken Sehested

“Why stand ye gazing . . . ?" (Acts 1:11)

       My Dad wasn’t the least bit athletic; nor were others in his family. So we’re not sure where my sporting interest and coordination came from. I played every kind of ball available, whether organized or sandlot ad hoc. (And, last I heard, I still own my high school’s record in the discus throw.

       Dad found a way to stay connected with my love of sport by volunteering as an assistant coach of my Little League baseball team. It required little experience—or skill, for that matter. Only attentiveness. (There’s a lesson in there for us all.) It certainly wasn’t for the glamour. Read more ›

Strangers & Aliens

A collection of biblical texts regarding the fate of immigrants

Selected by Ken Sehested

Dispute over the fate of immigrants is at least as old as ancient Israel’s covenant documents,
though the word is commonly translated in English as “strangers” and “aliens.”
Below is a sampling of relevant biblical texts.

Deut. 10:19   You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Read more ›

Forgiveness is not forgetting

Charleston's challenge

by Ken Sehested

        In the surge writing following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the most significant may be Roxane Gay’s “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof.”  (Stacey Patton has a similar piece in The Washington Post, "Black America should stop forgiving white racists.") I think it most significant not because I agree but because it states what so many feel because of a culturally-warped reading of Scripture.

        Gay realizes that this counterfeit forgiveness is a form of cruelty to victims. All she says is true—but not true enough.

        We have yet to grasp the distinctive character of the Beloved’s initiative on our behalf, “in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Only as we are shaped by this conviction—thereby unleashing the capacity for "transforming initiatives," in Glen Stassen's wonderful phrase—is the capacity for nonviolent living released, the power by which we confront injustice yet refuse to deepen the cycle of violence. Such living requires a beatific vision drawing us forward, not a misery-immersed shove from behind. Read more ›