An interview with the founder of the largest African American Christian publishing house.
His name may not be familiar to those outside Christian publishing, but few have impacted the church as much as Melvin E. Banks Sr., the founder and chairman of Urban Ministries Inc. (UMI). On May 2 in Colorado Springs at its annual Leadership Summit, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) presented Banks with the Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 50 years of excellence, innovation, integrity, and commitment to making the message of Christ more widely known.
Inspired by Hosea 4:6 where God says, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” he founded UMI in 1970 to create an African American Christian publishing house that would uniquely serve this audience. Today, UMI thrives as the largest African American Christian media and content provider, serving over 50,000 churches with curriculum, books, magazines, Bible studies, videos, teaching resources, and more.
Banks has been recognized with an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Wheaton College, where he served as a trustee for many years. He has also been honored as a Moody Bible Institute Alumnus of the year and has been recognized for his achievements by many others, including the History Makers Foundation. His innovative use of video in Vacation Bible School has been widely duplicated, and his work has led to many companies becoming more ethnically and racially diverse in the reach and content of their publishing efforts.
Theon Hill, assistant professor of communication at Wheaton College, sat down with Banks at UMI’s headquarters to learn more about his pioneering vision.
What was your background in publishing and media prior to UMI?
I had very little publishing experience prior to my work with UMI. In high ...
In the Middle East, Christians even host iftars.
For most American Christians, Ramadan is a novelty; something heard of, but rarely seen. For Middle Eastern Christians, it is everywhere.
For some, it is an annoyance. The month-long fast from sunrise to sunset can make for a cranky Muslim neighbor. Productivity tends to slow. Religiosity tends to rise.
But for other believers, it is an opportunity.
“The Evangelical Church of Maadi wishes all Egyptians a generous Ramadan,” proclaimed the flowery banner hung in the southern Cairo suburb. Such signage is not uncommon (and Muslims also display Merry Christmas wishes for Christians). But saluting “all Egyptians” is a statement.
“I want our brother Muslims to feel that we are one [as Egyptians], and it will make him happy in his heart,” said pastor Naseem Fadl. “We both celebrate Ramadan.”
Beside the need to have good relations with Muslims, Fadl also emphasized his biblical obligations. “Our faith tells us to love everyone,” he said. “And when we reach out to others, we teach them about ourselves.”
Across the Middle East, Christians join in the festive spirit—often by hosting an iftar, the traditional fast-breaking dinner. They also refrain from eating and drinking in front of Muslims, said Rafic Greiche, a priest and spokesman for Egypt’s Catholic community.
Catholic churches often join in the tradition of Ma’idat al-Rahman, providing public community meals for the poor, he said. The “Table of the Most Merciful” employs a favored Muslim name for God, emphasizing the importance of charity.
In Palestine, the iftar provides opportunity for better understanding, said Salim Munayer, executive director of the Musalaha reconciliation ministry. ...
As outcry over fate of 199 mostly Chaldeans continues, so do ICE arrests.
With the fate of 199 Iraqi nationals on hold while a Detroit court hears a lawsuit, a group of evangelical leaders has sent the Trump administration a simple message: Don’t deport Christians into genocide.
“We write urgently and with grave concern that Christians will be removed from the United States to face potential persecution, and even death, in the Middle East,” begins an open letter addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and signed by the seven leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).
The letter calls on the Trump administration to “exercise the discretion available under the law to defer the deportation of Chaldeans who pose no threat to US public safety to Iraq.” It also asks for the same considerations for Iraqis of other faiths.
The signatories include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Jo Anne Lyon, ambassador and general superintendent emerita of The Wesleyan Church; and Hyepin Im, president and CEO of Korean Churches for Community Development.
The letter comes a week after scores of Iraqi Christians living around Detroit were plucked from their homes and cars—some on their way to church—and shackled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. A similar story unfolded at the same time among Iraqi Kurds around Nashville. Within a few days, more than 100 Iraqi nationals were detained, ...
Gerald McDermott challenges simplistic thinking about Israel’s past, present, and future.
Christians have never been certain about what to do with Israel. This is certainly the case today. On the one hand, many mainline Protestants treat the nation of Israel as an international pariah. They pass resolutions urging boycotts and international sanctions, all while calling attention to the plight of Palestinians who have allegedly suffered at the hands of an oppressive Israeli state. For the most part, their posture echoes that of the political left.
On the other hand, in some expressions of evangelical folk theology, especially among older generations, Israel can seemingly do no wrong. The Jews are God’s chosen people, God will bless those who align themselves with Israel, and Israel’s enemies are God’s enemies. These supporters often believe that American flourishing depends in part on US foreign policy aligning with Israel’s interests. Their approach tracks closely with that of the political right.
In Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land, Anglican evangelical theologian Gerald McDermott cuts through the simplistic platitudes of both the Christian left and right, offering a third way. McDermott is part of a group of scholars who identify with the “New Christian Zionism” movement. Their goal is to convince contemporary believers that Israel is not the backstory of the church, but a key part of the future of the faith. In Israel Matters, McDermott makes a nuanced case for the centrality of Israel in redemptive history—past, present, and future.
The key enemy in McDermott’s crosshairs is supercessionism, the idea that the church has replaced Israel in God’s redemptive purposes. He argues that supercessionism ...
Why Each Day Matters: What Emerson and Mister Rogers Have Taught Me About Life & Gospel Opportunities
What Emerson and Mister Rogers Have Taught Me About Life and Gospel Opportunities
In one of his landmark essays, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “The years teach much which the days never know.” The first time I read these words, I fell in love with them, but I wasn’t sure why.
And then I had children. I have a 3 and a 5-year-old. My 5-year-old recently had her first ballet recital. As I looked in my rearview mirror and saw her all dressed up in her glittery tutu and hair up in a bun, I shuddered. It seemed as though it was only yesterday I was changing her diaper. I blinked and lost five years.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, we track with the author as he continually cries out, “Vanity of vanities!” and ponders the meaning of life and our existence in it.
Time. Perhaps it’s something we all want more of, and yet it eludes us. Even Psalm 144:4 reminds us, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Time. It’s something we try to hold tightly and yet too often we get lost in such busy-ness that in the blink of an eye, our day, our week, our month…is gone.
There is no place where I feel the passing of days so acutely as in my desire to share Jesus with others. Those “days” which Emerson so poignantly talks about are the necessary ingredient to lead to the “years” that will teach us much. How are we using our days for God’s honor and glory? How are we using them to point people to Jesus?
The Bible is oddly silent on many of the days and years of Jesus when He walked this earth. But in the middle of one of these times of silence, we read, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).
These are the days we seek to have, aren’t they? ...
How unwelcome change can lead to a fuller life.
Even when we should see them coming, layoffs tend to arrive like a thief in the night. Mine came on Election Day 2008. I was sitting at my desk that morning, still wearing my “I Voted” sticker, when my boss entered my office with a look of forced nonchalance.
For just over a year, I had poured my sweat and my soul into my employer, an international ministry. But my work was no match for changing donor behaviors and the promised efficiencies of a looming organizational merger. My job—and within months, the jobs of many coworkers—was gone.
Job loss is scary and can be profoundly disorienting—even for Christians, as our cover story on tech-related unemployment acknowledges. Yet disruption is a tool God uses with frustrating frequency for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28), and even for those who don’t.
Recall that Jesus posed an existential threat to the status quo. Uninterested in political power, he nonetheless attracted great crowds, upended livelihoods (Matt. 21:12), and announced a new kingdom was at hand (Mark 1:15). That’s an unsettling combination if you were blessed with status and a plush job in the power structures of Jesus’ day.
But the disruption Jesus wrought was not punishment for misguided leaders any more than my layoff was a punishment for poor performance. It was disruption so “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This was Jesus’ mission, undermining oppressive systems that had outlived their purpose and replacing them with a new covenant by which all of creation could flourish.
Of course, disruption brings real losses that must not be trivialized or dispatched with truisms. But the loss is not the whole thing.
Jesus' transformation on the mountain might have more to do with us than we think.
We sometimes forget how strange Jesus was. He did a lot of odd things during his time on earth—he cursed trees, ordered his followers not to tell anyone who he was, associated with gluttons and drunkards, told parables to deliberately confuse people, and claimed to be equal with God the Father while also claiming not to know certain things the Father knows.
And then there was this moment on a mountain: Jesus’ face and clothes start shining for no apparent reason, and two dead guys show up and have a conversation with him. After Peter’s intrusion into that conversation is cut short by a heavenly voice, Jesus and company head back down the mountain and go on with their day as if nothing happened. No big deal.
Maybe it doesn’t strike us as crazy because we’ve got a name for it—the Transfiguration—as though labeling it suddenly helps it make sense. We also suppress the absurdity of this moment if we assume that its sole aim is to prove Jesus’ divinity. If the point of a story is to show Jesus is God, of course crazy stuff is going to happen, so it doesn’t surprise us, doesn’t grab our attention, and doesn’t merit further thought.
But what if that’s not the whole picture? In fact, what if the point of the Transfiguration isn’t just to show how Jesus is different from us (he’s divine) but also to show something about how he’s like us (he’s human)? What if the glory that burst from Jesus on the mountain wasn’t just divine glory but human glory as well—the kind of glory that all those united with Jesus will one day share? Put another way, what if what Peter, James, and John saw that day in the face of Jesus was a mirror image ...
Enjoying yourself is a spiritual discipline.
I’m standing in the fourth fairway, addressing the ball. It’s over 100 degrees in central California and the course has been freshly watered, making the air unbearably humid. But here I am, standing over the ball and completely focused, sweat pouring off my brow and onto my hands and down the golf club shaft. I need to fade the ball just a tad to work it around the dogleg right. Nothing else matters now. The first heaven and earth have passed away. I’ve been raptured away from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Right now there is nothing so important as getting this little white ball into a small hole some 300 yards ahead of me.
I finish the round and, as usual, the demons come. First, the golf demons: “Why didn’t you keep your head down on that shot? What were you thinking on the seventh tee?” Then, the Christian demons arrive, with their incessant liturgical refrain: “Shouldn’t you be doing something useful instead of playing golf?”
These beings also plague me when I sit to watch baseball, football, or basketball. All is well and good for the first quarter or the first three innings. Then I hear, “Shouldn’t you be doing something useful?” The accusers repeat that refrain until I shut off the TV and find something “useful” to do.
The Court of Self-Justification
But for better or worse, I still succumb to the temptations of golf and fly-fishing. And when the demons bring me before the court of self-justification—“Shouldn’t you be doing something useful?”—I am compelled to account for my time. That’s because I’m an evangelical Christian with Calvinist sympathies, a complex syndrome that even prayer and ...
Both pilgrims and pleasure seekers allow Arab believers to resist exodus amid ISIS.
Call Ann Fink crazy, but the intrepid grandmother has a tradition to uphold. She’s toured Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with 8 of her 13 granddaughters. Victoria, a preteen, is number 9.
“Her parents are not afraid,” said Fink, a Pennsylvania native, while visiting Egypt with Victoria. “We believe we can die at any time. Only God knows when and where.”
Neither tourist knew just how much visits like theirs support the region’s beleaguered Christians.
From a high-water mark of $7.2 billion in 2010, tourism revenue in Egypt has fallen by 76 percent following the unrest of the Arab Spring. The decline has devastated the economy and, with it, Egypt’s Christians.
Copts, an estimated 10 percent of the population, make up more than half of tour operators and more than a quarter of the tourism workforce, according to Adel el-Gendy, a general manager in the Tourism Development Authority. Christians have better connections to the West, he said, and are often more skilled with languages.
Gendy, a Muslim, has been assigned development of the Holy Family route—25 locations that, according to tradition, were visited by Jesus, Joseph, and Mary as they fled Herod’s wrath. Relaunched with government and church fanfare in 2014, the route is close to being designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, he said. But the project has struggled as tourists stay away.
The route runs through Old Cairo, which boasts churches dating back to the fourth century but feels like a ghost town. Souvenir shops are open, but their lights dim. “Our income has dropped by 90 percent,” said Angelos Gergis, the Coptic Orthodox priest at St. Sergius Church, built above a cave where tradition says the Holy Family ...