“For me, Religion represents hope, faith, love, and a belief that all beings are inherently good and worthy of love,” says Elizabeth Hopkins. “It also represents the value of the oppressed and of those overlooked by society, and a holy rage against injustice and towards those who proclaim being faithful yet turn away when they see people suffering.” “Religion for me represents the true Gospel of Christ,” she adds.
Hopkins was born and raised in Cincinnati to a single white mother and to an African American biological father. Until the age of 8, she grew up in Bond Hill, then, in the late 80’s, a low income predominantly black neighborhood. With her mother and grandmother she attended regularly a white southern Baptist small church, going to Sunday school and congregational services every Sunday and to Bible school and youth group every Wednesday.
At the white Baptist church, Hopkins felt prejudice against her for being biracial. She was struck by the constant portrayal of Jesus as a white man with blond hair and blue eyes.
“As a child of color, this affected me a lot and prevented me from seeing myself as a child of God,” she says.
When she questioned the pastor about it, Hopkins was met with resistance and treated as if she did not have faith.
“I did not feel accepted and started understanding how big an issue race played in our society.”
At the age of 8 and benefiting from a section 8 approved housing, Hopkins moved with her family to Montgomery, near Indian Hill. It was an almost entirely white and very wealthy neighborhood, a complete opposite to the all black and impoverished one she had just left. Attending an all white Indian Hill school, she also experienced discrimination, but this time not only for being biracial but also for being poor.
“The lesson to me was clear, that our world was not equal and that there was a strong divide within our society, both racially and wealth-wise.”
Having grown in her understanding and at the rebellious age of 15, Hopkins decided to reject the religious teachings she had received until then from her Baptist church, which only wanted her to conform to rigid preconceived rules with no real consideration to race and inequality. She opted to leave the church.
“Once I came of age, I realized that religion was not the relationship,” she says. “I went on a journey of my own, trying to understand who God was to me.”
This is also when Hopkins became actively involved in social justice issues.
She had always been a fighter, confronting injustice even as a small child, standing up for her friends’ rights when abused or facing the administration of her school when her own would be trampled. She started protesting and marching. At George W. Bush’s first visit to Cincinnati, she and her friends made up signs and demonstrated against him and the war president he would be. And when the attacks of 9/11 happened, they protested the hypocritical response of the government that would serve the benefits of the powers to be.
At the age of 21, Hopkins returned to church, but this time to a white Pentecostal one. Now married, she founded with her husband and a group of people from her new church a house ministry, the Madison Miracle Center, in Covington, KY. It focused on people on the streets, drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless, to whom they would offer meals, housing and fellowship, thus building community.
“Sunday would be Pentecostal day, Saturday house church day, Friday night house church night, etc.” she states.
Two years later Hopkins left Covington and her Pentecostal church and attended for the first time a service at Crossroads in Oakley.
“I found it entirely different from my previous church experiences,” she says. “It was welcoming and open to all, with no rigidity.”
She has been a member of Crossroads since, pursuing at the same time her studies, attending Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, graduating with an Associate’s degree in Business Administration, Management and Operation; then the University of Cincinnati studying Organizational Leadership. This was also a period ripe with police and other violence directed at young African American males: Trayvon Martin, 17 year-old unarmed high school student, killed in Sanford, FL, February 2012, when visiting relatives in a gated community; Michael Brown, unarmed 18 year-old, shot and killed, in Ferguson, MO, August 2014, while fleeing police; Tamir Rice, 12 year-old boy, killed in Cleveland, OH, November 2014, while carrying a toy gun; Sam Dubose, unarmed man, fatally shot, July 2015, in Cincinnati, OH, during a traffic stop.
“I was realizing that black people who looked like me were not safe in our society and that in today’s America, African Americans were still experiencing public lynching,” says Hopkins. “Also that the response of the church to the racial prejudice and inequality was disheartening and practically inexistent.”
Living pain and brokenness and questioning the God whom she had faith in and who was supposed to protect her, she came across, for the first time, a sermon addressing racism and calling for reconciliation of races in the church. It was by Chuck Mingo, a black pastor at Crossroads who, right after, started a program called “Undivided”. in “Undivided” white and black individuals would learn about the history of racism, meet in groups to speak of race and share their experiences, go through a reconciliation process, and end up with a call to action into prison ministry, foster care, etc. The program, viewed through the lens of engaged Christianity, involved 4000 members of Crossroads and Hopkins was one of them.
“For me, it was the first time that I witnessed the church addressing racism,” she reminisces.
This initiative prompted her and her friend Carolyn Heck to found and lead together, also at Crossroads, a Justice Team, with the basic goal to change hearts and minds, engage in leadership development, raise new leaders and build a diverse community. From its start the Team engaged a base of 200 individuals who, working for justice, volunteered their time in the issue 44 campaign going on then and which had for purpose to offer Preschool to all children in Cincinnati.
A member of the Prayer Team at Crossroads, Hopkins organized, when Sam Dubose was killed, a prayer march around the Court house, downtown Cincinnati; 150 people of all faiths participated.
Also as a Criminal Justice faith-based organizer she worked for the past couple of years at dismantling the Mass Incarceration system in the state of Ohio and at energizing people of faith to find themselves in the story of the oppressed.
“Jesus taught me how to organize,” says Hopkins. “He was a revolutionary activist who never kept silent, and who always worked for the sake of others in the name of love.”
Hopkins clarifies that her religious involvement is not only charity-based or to try to save others through prayer. It requires as well that she goes out in the streets, fight for the oppressed, and “set the prisoner free”… And also, as importantly, that she trains and develops leaders to go in the public arena, speak, act and know how to spread their just message.
“Jesus was executed for being an organizer of the downtrodden peoples,” she says. “He challenged and questioned those in ruling positions during his time and was not afraid to overturn, in rage, the tables of the money changers and of the sellers who had transformed the Temple, the house of prayer, into a den of thieves.”
A year ago, Hopkins became the staff lead for the Amos Project, connecting all of its religious groups members, coordinating their regular meetings and activities. She continues in addition to function as the community organizer and campaign manager for the statewide issue 1 Criminal Justice Reform Campaign in Ohio. She and another organizer also keep engaged in insuring the application of the previously passed Preschool Promise issue 44, and in the continuous organizing of the Sanctuary movement in order to protect threatened emigrants.
In the future, Hopkins will continue focusing her activity on police brutality and racism, also on trying to get people of faith more engaged in the public arena. She will remain involved, through Amos, in the ongoing development of a “beloved community” achieved by constantly building bridges. In addition, she will be very interested in creating a place for currently dissatisfied individuals seeking a change and whose interests are captured neither by the church nor by existing political parties.
“It would be a community where everyone is welcome,” says Hopkins, “and one not based on faith but on a set of shared core values, moral and ethical.” “Possibly a new American party, not affiliated with either the right or the left…” she adds.
For Hopkins, time has come to “let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” in our world. She would do all in her power to make it happen, and will always follow in such doing the example of Christ who never failed to speak, act, organize, fight for justice for all and in particular for the rights of the poor and oppressed.
What is the Crossroads Church Crossroads is an interdenominational church which beliefs are shared by many different Christian denominations, and where everyone seeking God is welcomed, from those exploring whether or not God exists, to committed Christ-followers. It was started in 1995 by a group of 11 Cincinnatians who felt a need for a change and it "went public" in March 1996 as Crossroads Community Church of Hyde Park, a Cincinnati neighborhood. Crossroads has since grown significantly and has now sister churches in 14 locations throughout Ohio and Central Kentucky. Crossroads believes that: *the Bible, composed of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, is the inspired word of God and the full and final authority on all matters of faith and practice. *there is only one God, Creator and Lord of everything, perfect, powerful, knowing and eternally existent in 3 persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (The Trinity). *any disobedience to God is a "sin" that literally separates from God. But also that God re-establishes a personal relationship with the sinner and promises eternal life. *all those, anywhere, who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord make up the one true church; and baptism and communion are God's ordinances to be observed by believers in Christ, but not to be regarded as means of salvation. *by adhering to God's Word and seeking Him, one can best observe His greatest commandments, which are to love Him and others. An interdenominational church: *is an autonomous entity that does not ascribe to any denominational structure for leadership or accountability. *bases usually its doctrines upon the non-negotiables of Christian doctrine, such as the Bible’s infallibility and Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation. *follows freely the direction of the Holy Spirit without constraints of governing bodies who may not take into account the needs of a local congregation. *can focus on the central issues of the gospel without becoming sidetracked by minor issues that cause division and strife. *incorporates practices from various denominations and allows for varying interpretations and traditions that do not detract from the central mission of glorifying God and reaching people.