The landscape for many of our communities (and those who reside in them) is so bleak; clouded and soiled by issues we have become indifferent and insensate towards. From high incarceration rates to generational poverty. From HIV/AIDS plaguing our people to misguided youth who replicate the misguided adults connected to them. From the violent mistreatment of our people at the hands of the state to the sexist standards we have normalized in everyday black life, it is clear that, as Dr. Robert Franklin put it, there is a “Crisis In The Village”.
With all of these issues and others in tow, many have looked to the Black Church to aid in remedying these ills. Believing that the same Christians that worshipped God inside of the sanctuary would offer anointed assistance and Christ-like care outside of it. But time would reveal the Black Church universal distancing itself from a Gospel that concerned itself with the material conditions of the ghetto and instead adopting an attitude that seems more market-driven than ministerial. In essence, the Black Church began to look at the “least of these” as less than important. The blatancy of being brushed off by those who are curious enough to stare but not concerned enough to serve drove a deep, tear-filled wedge between those who are from our communities & the church itself. Before long, cries of “I’m spiritual, not religious” & “I love Jesus, but I hate the church” began to ring out as saddened signals that the church that they were looking to for relief had died in front of them while they were dying themselves. And, when asked to give a reflection on their current view of the Black Church, like the angel’s question to the women at Jesus’ tomb, many of our brother & sisters to this day question why they would “look for living among the dead”.
The problem with this is that much of what our neighborhoods were, at their height, was because of the role that the Black Church played in them. At the political, educational, social, & domestic center of the Black community was the Black Church. And while a fair & fruitful conversation ought to be had about how she has lost her way, the only way that our communities can be resurrected from the tombs of degradation, dilapidation & destruction is by the Black Church rediscovering the disposition that made her central to our communities.
The Black Church can be the seed from which blossoms of righteousness, redemption & restoration can bloom. But, in order to do this, the Black Church must first re-acquaint herself with her origins. The Black Church must see the “Black” portion as not only a demographical tag but also a political, sociological orientation to the world she exists in. Her understanding (and, quite frankly, ours as well) of what it means to be “Black” must be expanded to not only refer to ethnicity but also to inform her position as it relates to the government, prophetic discourse community development, educational resource, economic empowerment, family value, and, of course, spiritual nurturing. The activity of the Black Church must be motivated by the specific needs of the community in which she rests and not the aimless auxiliaries we make mandatory in the name of our Messiah. In short, we must cease to understand and understate the Black Church as just a church with Black people in it. Rather, we must begin to see her as the nucleus for the redevelopment of the regions where our people reside.
The challenge in this is two-fold. Those who have given up on the church (the Black Church) must tap into the memory of what she once was to our people and believe that, through the Jesus who is at her head, she can be that yet again. Synchronously, the Black Church must dare to recalculate her route, re-commit herself to the way of the cross, & remove anything that contradicts the culture centered around Christ’s compassion.
A Black Church that is more consumed with being countercultural than being culturally acceptable at the center of a community full of brilliance just waiting to be ignited? A Black Church more concerned with ministering in Galilee than she is making it to Jerusalem? Sounds like the start of a revolution to me.
I believe that our deepest love for something (or someone) is often made manifest in how honest we are about its current state. This demonstrates the depth of the devotion we have toward it. It must be the most genuine variety of love for the feeling to remain despite the dysfunction or demons (pun intended) evident in them. That love not only exposes things that might be wrong but it also empowers us to confidently confront the crisis and re-imagine the thing as the best version of itself.
When it comes to the Church, I believe that this variety of love is needed for the bride of Jesus, perhaps now more than ever. While our affinity & affections may run deep for the church, we must bear account for not only what is right with the church but also what has gone wrong with it. If not, we will lovingly find new ways to refine the incorrectness instead of taking steps to eliminate them.
The church today finds herself in a very precarious position. One where misconduct, mistreatment, & even misinterpretation have left many people questioning the value of the church universal. This has lead to disconnection and discord within the church. It has also lead to an ever-growing group of Christians who deeply love and identify with Jesus, but want nothing to do with His church.
In light of this, you and I must love the church enough to not only acknowledge what has become flawed with her, but also allow our principled critiques to inform that which must be changed. In layman’s terms: We, as daughters & sons of God & God’s church, must accept that things may have become soda in the Body of Christ. But rather than allow our preference for the way the soda tastes to prompt us to figure out how to make it ‘caffeine-free’, we must be brave enough to hold the soda to the standard of what it was created to be: water. Living Water. If not, we will end up offering the world a ministry that may please the senses but not save any souls. The church is in danger & we must be passionate enough to hold her to the standard of what she is called it to be, even at the expense of what we have known her as.
Imagine a church where all were truly welcome, instead of the phrase silently letting members of the LGBTQ community know that they are allowed to worship in the house of God? Or, what if being popular gave way to being prophetic? So much to where churches bearing critique upon our present empire, community development efforts & meeting people at their specific need was regular instead of rare? What if we, as the church, began to affirm Christian sisters who feel a discernible call to the ministry by not limiting their service to the front pews, the nursery, or the kitchen? What if our services were more focused on not binding the movement of the Holy Spirit with traditions that have no place or purpose in worship? If parishes were more preoccupied with filling the souls of the Lord’s saints instead of filling their own seats & ministers were motivated by salvation and not status, would that change the conditions of the universal church in a positive way?
What if ministers stopped inviting congregants to Sunday Morning concerts but instead invited people to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit? Or if potential puppeteers were called to the carpet for prostituting their gift attempting to gain a pulpit? What if parishioners held pastors to standards of substance in their sermons and refused to support silliness in the sanctuary? What if teaching mattered just as much preaching?
Imagine a church where the word “prosperity” in the church was no longer synonymous with “money” & the church spent more time infatuated with being significant instead of successful?
What if diversity was more about embracing the fullness of one’s culture & no one ever had to apologize for a theological orientation informed by their cultural context? What if we understood our churches as organisms that have their own DNA and though they come in all shapes & sizes, they are all equally valuable in the kingdom of God?
What if young people were treated as members in good standing; given equal voice and value in our worship experiences and not lovingly taught to be “seen and not heard”? What if we moved away from “Youth Sundays” and instead regularly incorporated youth in what we did on Sundays?
Can you conceive that church? Would you be able to attend that church? Or have we idolized our inclinations and shackled the church with our own sensibilities?
The church of the Living God is called to be so much more than what we have allowed her to become. We must choose to be malcontent with what the church is, be reminded of what our God intends it to be & bravely build from there. A place that is both organization & organism; relevant to the world we live in and committed to changing it in the name of Jesus Christ. But, like all meaningful modifications, the changes must start within. The changes must start with the church…can you imagine that?
What do we really want? In this season of American politics, in the wake of the recent miscarriages of justice that span from Charlottesville, VA to Columbus, OH to Salt Lake City, UT and all points between, many who are affected, afflicted, and appalled by the realities of racism have been calling for The President Of The United States Of America to make a formal public statement denouncing White Supremacy; to distance himself from these vicious acts and show his disapproval for the hatred at the center of them. And…he hasn’t. And…that’s fine with me.
Our country finds herself in a particularly problematic space. One in which the complicated, cruel history of racial injustice has become unavoidable and unable to continue being unaddressed. And, as if that wasn’t enough, America (and by “America”, I mean 81% of White Evangelicals and a great number of White brothers and sisters who were public deniers/private supporters of 45) voted in a Commander In Chief that espouses fascist, bigoted ideology without regret or retraction. This troubling truth, these saddening stitches into the fabric of American identity, have inconveniently placed a mirror in front of the nation and forced her to deal with all of the deformities on display. And in this moment, those who are relentlessly pursuing righteousness are left with a very real question to answer: What do we really want? Are we more committed to our comfort than we are to change? Have we been so flawed by the uninterrupted unrighteousness around us that we are more amenable to apologies as opposed to making adjustments? Do we want the leader of this current American administration to succeed by saying things that don’t encourage us to grow past our hideous hindrances or are we willing to begin to create a space of accountability where antipathy is not made acceptable and concessions are not made for contrariety. Do we want to create what can be or merely complain about what is?
I do not support the chaos and confusion that surrounds so much of what happens in our country today. I am appalled by both the insidious acts of injustice across the country & the repugnant rhetoric of her leader. I hurt with & for this nation. But, this empire, established upon tenets of racism, sexism, classism and the like will fold upon itself unless we radically reconstruct its foundations. We will not get where we say we want to go if we begin to settle for anything less than righteousness and continue to accept pacifiers in the name of patriotism. In an age where we want everything to be easy, perhaps the best thing for us, that which God desires for us, is actually hard. If I’m right (and I think I am), then the collective sense of discomfiture we all feel in this moment is a necessary pain on the road to perfecting this project of democracy we are engaged in.
The 33rd Psalm of the Bible teaches us that a nation is blessed when their Lord is our God. How can we, as a nation, invite God to bless us and dwell with us without making room for His righteousness to abide and abound?
No, I don’t want 45 to denounce White Supremacy. His proscribing wouldn’t be persuasive and it would be more about pandering than making real progress. Let’s just accept him for what he is (or what he isn’t) and allow this moment to cultivate our collective consciousness in the way that is needed to be better in the moments after it. I do not want 45 to denounce White Supremacy. I want to rebuild a nation where a White Supremacist wouldn’t feel comfortable promoting and proclaiming it. I don’t want him to be less embracing of White Supremacy. I want our country to be less embracing of him (and anyone else) who embraces White Supremacy with him. And, by my thinking, directing him to denouce that which he, incontestably, has no issue with is absolving him of any accountability (You know, if I didn’t know any better, I would think that there are people who want him to be in office and are advising him on what to do to remain there).
So, thanks, but no thanks. The best apologies are direct, unsolicited, and only come when something is perceived as wrong. I’m going to let his actions, behavior, and character inform how to view him. And frankly, I see nothing wrong with saying that he is wrong!
I believe God’s desire is for His righteousness to flow freely throughout this nation and I am not willing to accept any substitutes. I believe we are in a season of growing pains, dealing with necessary tension on our way to eventually reshaping this “nation under God” into a Godly nation. But, we will stall in our progress if we make room for that which is abhorrent to be accepted. I pray that our country eventually matures into the best version itself. A more moral union that responds to the cancers of racism and bigotry in public office by pushing for an impeachment instead of pressuring for an apology…but maybe that isn’t what we really want.
Growing up in the Bronx, New York, I was raised for the majority of my formative years by my grandparents. My grandfather (Lord, bless his soul) was a very stern and serious man. Both intelligent and compassionate, much of what I have learned about what it means to be a man, I take from him. But, despite this model of merit that I had the privilege of being parented by, it was not the patriarch of our family that left the most lasting impact on me. Instead, it was actually the matriarch of our family, my grandmother, that was responsible for the resounding lessons of life that presently resonate in me. Reserved, classy, & always collected. Baker of the best Sweet Potato Pie this side of the Jordan. Die hard Knicks fan. Never the one to mince words but always used them properly because she knew how powerful they were. Genuine enough to keep it real about where someone was in their life (and what she thought about it) but kind enough to love them anyhow, my grandmother was (and still is today) an amazing woman.
But, with all of the amazing attributes and wonderful ways that were deployed by her daily, the most memorable and magnificent memory I have of my grandmother is of how much she prayed. She would pray prayers of protection over her family, prayers of patience for herself, prayers of guidance when difficult decisions needed to be made, even prayers of worship to God. And when she prayed….God answered. This woman by virtue of her discipline and devotion gave me an impactful illustration of what it meant to connect with God (and to access the power of God) through prayer
Without falling into the trap of deifying my grandmother, I’d like to offer that the world could be better following her example. With all of our intellectual acumen and profound perspective, it seems that we, as Christians, have gotten disturbingly distant from the discipline, the devotion, and, I would contend, the dynamism that comes with connecting to our God in prayer. While there is a healthy space for you and I to think through why we believe what we believe, I think that we so much time being intelligent about our God that we have forgotten what it means to be intimate with our God. Have we become so comfortable in our conversion through Jesus that we have lost the art of conversation with Christ?
With all that we, as children of God, are facing in the world, now is the time where we, as people of God, need to be communing and connecting with the Spirit of God. And my concern is that there are many among body of believers have regressed in their relationship wth God to the point where praying is no longer a priority in their walk with God. This not only results in malformed ministries and deformed disciples, but it also keeps us all from experiencing the peace, power, and placidity that can only come with conjoinment to the Divine through prayer.
What if the things we desired to see in the world, the changes we’d like to see, were not exclusively connected to relief efforts, political upheavals, and public demonstrations, but instead connected to Christians understanding that the healing of a land actually starts with God’s people praying (2 Chronicles 7:14). Make no mistake about it…do not be confused by charismatic characters or misled by the magic of a meaningful moment. Dont get it tangled or twisted: The only reason why we are where we are today is because of the prayers of yesterday that were made to our God. And if we are ever going to make it where we are trying to go, it will be because there were those of us who were able to humble themselves enough to go to God in prayer.
I do believe in the activity of the Church universal to aid and address the ills of the day. I believe that we are all called to be the hands, arms & feet of God; called to touch, carry and go where He commands us to. I even place a very high value on redemptive, restorative value of the worship experience. But, can we, the people of the Way, ever get back to the point where prayer is a central part of our lives and our lustiness. I know there is much going on &, by my summation, things will get a lot worse before they get better. We are trying/have tried everything else. Have Christians become so consumed with agendas that we have cheapened God’s anointing. I know we have a lot going on…but, can we start praying again?
-This new Jay-Z Album is fresh! I love how great music is dropping unexpectedly again like it did back when I was a child. I also love how the collective consciousness of our community is elevating & that elevation is reflective in so much of the artistic expression out right now.
-Don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there is a black owned professional basketball league that shows games on TV. …yeah… Black Owned. Professional Basketball League. We need to support this. I wonder if they sell jerseys?
-Have we gotten to the point where we can claim “Christian” as a belief without the accountability to look & live like Christ? Maybe, we always have and I’m just angrier about it now.
-I mean, Jay out here giving financial advice on wax. I LOVE the idea of Black wealth/Black empowerment being something that is stylish and cool.
-Who knew that the path to the Divine would be through discriminating who I distribute desserts to? Here I am concerned about righteousness and equity when all I really needed was pastries! SMH!
-I’m not the boss of your ignorance. I would just prefer that you keep it to yourself and not put Jesus’ name on it
-Not for nothing, but I am not doing ANYTHING celebratory for the 4th of July. The present state of the union has me feeling very unpatriotic lately. I am deeply disappointed by what is going on in D.C. In terms of politics, the past six months, have been like watching “The Sopranos Take Washington” or something.
-A few days back, I watched a prominent pastor publicly step down from the pastorate in order to get his personal life in order. I liken this level of transparency to what Jay-Z is deploying by not so indirectly discussing his marriage faux pas publicly on the title track. I think there is a healthy balance between privacy and accountability. Respect them both for this.
Still not calling another man JeHOVah
-People should really stop acting like getting angry about the injustices in our communities is somehow wrong. To use my indignation to inherently indict my belief in Jesus is insane! I ascribe to a religion that is bigger than an inclination towards repressive respectability. Just because I’m angry at what I see does not mean that I don’t have a serious relationship with God. It is the seriousness of my relationship with God that causes me to be angry at what I see…because I think God is angry too
-I mean…I genuinely thought there wouldn’t be another album of Jay-Z’s better than “The Black Album” and this is killing that!! Im not as high on Jay-Z as most are (at all), but I really like this album…is that allowed?…..am I a hater, now?….who came up with all of these rules anyway?…darn kids!! Man listen, lemme go back to sleep before I start sounding like a Jay-Z fan or something….zzzzzz
By the time you read this, It will be my 3rd anniversary as the privileged pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Circleville, Ohio. It has truly been a blessed union of pastor and people; not without its share of struggle, but one where God’s goodness, grace, and mercy have proven faithful to His people.
Often, I hear and read about the difficulties that come with leading a congregation. In particular, I often hear of how many parishes mistreat their shepherd. I even heard a pastor once refer to Pastoral ministry as “the ministry of misery”. Seems as if every other day, I see an article about a church taking their leader for granted, not understanding the sacrifices that a pastor makes for them, or outright disrespecting their person and position. And while I want to regard (and pray for) those have that story, I want to testify that I do not. Now, in fairness and transparency, there have been moments in my ministry where I have felt taken advantage of; moments where “what I do” has seemed more important “who I am”. I actually think that these moments are (if for no other reason, than the position of pastor in relation to the body of believers ), part of what comes with the call to the pastorate, but I digress. The truth of the matter is that these moments are infinitesimal to the moments where I feel valued and important to those whom I serve. My deepest of prayer is that I make those whom I serve feel as loved as they make me feel regularly.
With that principle in play, I wanted to share a few of the ways that the church I serve shows me that they love me. I pray that this encourages clergy and churches to continue to love on each other as they continue to be conjoined in service to our God.
- They Allow Me To Be Myself
This may seem like an obvious thing, but so often clergy are bound by expectations and standards that have nothing to do with their call. This becomes dangerous in a very real way as many brothers and sisters in the ministry faithfully serve others while simultaneously losing the specific things that make them unique. How can God use you if there is no “you” for God to use? Our church loves me enough to let me be all that I am in Jesus Christ without making apologies for it. For example: I have a heart for social justice, in particular, the present plight of the African American. In fact, I do not know how to interpret the life of Jesus (or the will of God for that matter) without connecting it to justice and righteousness. Our congregation is a historically African American, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-generational church. While I attempt to responsibly navigate that reality in my preaching and teaching, it helps me to know that my church loves me enough to not mute me when it comes to issues of racism, sexism, sexuality, injustice, etc. They pray for me when I march or protest or speak out on certain issues (in fact, they encourage me to keep on doing it). It is easy to preach about a God of liberation when I, myself< am liberated by my church daily.
2. They Pay Attention To How I Am Doing
One Sunday, I arrived at church for Sunday School (yes, I go to Sunday School…and I love it! Can’t expect anyone else to go if I don’t go), and I was feeling a little heavy. It had been a particularly busy week at our church; full of meetings and programming, I hadn’t gotten the best sleep the night before, and by the time I pulled up at the church, I was in a funk of EPIC proportion. I walked in and greeted everyone in crude cordiality. As I made my way to my office to get my spirit right, one of our ushers stopped me and said “Good morning, Pastor. Are you alright?” Lying to her face, I replied, “Sure, I’m cool” while forcing the most disingenuous smile known to man in front of her. She smiled and replied “Ok, just checking up on you. It’s just we’ve never seen you this way before. We know that you are so busy taking care of us. You have so much on your plate and we just want you to know that we are praying for you. We love you, Pastor”. She gave me a hug (I almost cried in her arms) and I felt instantly better. Their regard for me was (and is) more than just an appreciation for a hired hand. Their love for me in that moment preached to me well before (and much better) than anything that I could have preached to them.
3. They Tell Me When They Don’t Agree With Me
We have an unofficial motto for any endeavor that takes place at our church: “We Don’t Drag Anyone”. It means that whatever it is we decide to do as a congregation we commit doing it together. It also means that if someone has questions, if someone disagrees, or if someone just feels some type of way about it, someone can ask questions in order to gain understanding. The only way this works is if our membership are honest with me and rather than have separate meetings in the church parking lot or sabotage the stratagem silently, they share their concerns, openly, honestly, and respectfully. As much as I would like to tell you that every single decision I make is perfect and absolute in its correctness, the truth is sometimes my decisions aren’t the best ones. I have even had members tell me “I don’t agree with you, but I trust that God is leading you”. The level of regard & trust in that kind of statement lets me know that they not only respect but love me enough to be real with me.
4) They Understand My Needs (Even When They Don’t Understand Them)
I am very much an introvert. It might seem hard to believe given the visible realities of a call to the pastorate, but it is true indeed. If I had my way, I would just email my sermon to our membership and have them reply with questions or thoughts. Not only am I an introvert, but I emotionally recharge silently and not socially. This means that after the benediction, and greeting parishioners, I normally need about 20-25 minutes to myself to re-center myself. Sometimes, the feeling of lowliness gets so deep that I cannot engage socially after our worship experience. I explained this to our church in my first year of ministry, afraid that I was destroying my ministry before it had even started. But, to my surprise, they not only understood it but (to this very day), they defend the time that I need from others. They will instruct people who come to my office to wait until I am ready to come out or schedule an appointment. They politely knock on the door looking to see if I need more time; they are even thoughtful enough to remind me to take time when I am overstepping my own preset boundaries in the name of ministry. They explain my needs to others who may not know or understand.
I hope that these help both the men & woman of God who pastor but also those who may follow them. I pray you are all able to see that there are real examples of a healthy relationship between a pastor & the people they serve. This can work! And all I can think about on my annIversary is how well it works in my own life. I am grateful to God for a church that shows me its love regularly. I know my church loves me and I know it because they show me every day!
In the 5th Chapter of the Luke’s Gospel, we find a particular passage of scripture. One in which Jesus is having a very curious conversation with an unlikely collaborator. The context in which the text occurs suggests that Jesus has traveled across the sea of Galilee with His disciples for the purpose of releasing a man who is possessed by demons. Jesus arrives in the Gadarenes and is met by this beleaguered brother. The demonic influence upon the man has driven him to the point of insanity. The text tells us that he cannot be restrained, so much so that he has not only become a danger to those around him but has also begun to damage himself. It is a destructive dilemma, to say the least.
But in this moment, Jesus does something both peculiar and powerful. As he is confronted with the reckless reality of the demons, with all of the power to exorcise these demons at His disposal, Jesus goes into frank and honest dialogue with the demons. Before Jesus heals the man, Jesus has deep discussion with his demons. Before my Savior offers deliverance, Jesus engages in discourse with the devils living deep within this brother.
I think about this practice as it relates to efforts of equality and practices in progress in the United States today. The disorders of this democracy are known all too well. To hear that racism, discrimination, sexism, institutional oppression and a host of other issues plague this province is no surprise to anyone. But for all of the professed commitment to change, there is little, if any, conversation about the realities of these issues. The collective cry, across all fronts, is that people want this nation to be better, but in order for there to be meaningful improvement, there must first be frank interlocution. If the demons we see around us cannot be confronted in conversation, how we possibly expect there to ever be a conversion?
If Jesus Christ is the model by which we measure our life standards, then we must be willing to confidently address the demons of this day, just as He did back in His day on the shores of the Galilee. Prophetic communication has been so watered down by political correctness that to be uncompromising in the face of these social demons is often seen as unpatriotic. The purging of this province must start with Christians speaking to the spirits that surround us; even if that speech stretches us to the point of discomfort.
Our love for our Lord, our desire to live like Him, must be at the center of these confabulations. We need to be able to say that black lives are not treated and valued in the same way that other lives are in this country We need to be able to say that women are passively regarded as a lower class of being in almost every way possible in America. We need to be able to say that poverty, war, and fear are all good for business in America. We need to be able to say that “Muslim” & “Terrorist” are not synonyms. We need to be able to say that LGBTQ children of God are still children of God. These (and others) are all present day demons of our nation. Demons that have gone unaddressed for too long and now are completely unrestrained. Demons that ultimately prompt America to damage herself and others.
Not only must we who love God and His righteousness be able to say things like this, but Christians who may not be directly affected by these demons (even Christians who may consciously or unconsciously benefit from the work of these demons) must be willing to listen; to hear these statements as necessary and not paranoid ranting.
When demons aren’t discussed, comedians can be insensitive to the African experience in America and justify it with creative license. When demons aren’t discussed, video proof of a murder isn’t enough to garner a conviction. When demons aren’t discussed more time is spent questioning the character of the victim than that of the victimizer. When demons aren’t discussed, ethnicity is devalued in the name of a warped sense of equality. When demons aren’t discussed, audacity is confused with integrity and democracy devolves into dictatorship. When demons aren’t discussed, the nation, and all of those who reside in it, are left to become the worst versions of themselves; versions that will, ultimately, consume each other.
We, as believers, need to begin to have conversations about things that matter. Talks that create the space for transformation the Lord desires for us all. If we choose not to, we vacate the word “change” of all its meaning. How much longer can we go on living in a world where demons aren’t discussed?
A few days ago, I was at a City Council event where citizens, elected officials and community leaders alike all gathered in the same place to discuss issues going on in the city. In Columbus, Ohio, tensions between police officers and the public are high because of the deaths of Jaron Thomas, Ty’re King and Henry Green; all young African American men who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement.
While at this event, as it was beginning and opening remarks were being made, a group of brothers & sisters began to walk down the left aisle of the gymnasium where the gathering was held. Carrying signs that read “The Whole D*** System Is Rigged” & “Racist Cops Should Go To Jail”, these demonstrators marched in & stood in front of the gathered crowd. Calling for the firing of the officers implicated in these tragedies, a social justice organization coordinated a protest where they purposefully disrupted this council meeting in order to raise awareness to the aforementioned injustices. The mothers of both Henry Green & Ty’re King bravely & boldly stood before the crowd that night and read a letter chronicling the details of her son’s demise. The protest lasted about 10 minutes but left people in their seats to ponder well after it ended. It was a blessed moment; a moment in which truth loudly lifted its voice in the face of power.
As I left the event, I was standing outside waiting to talk to a colleague when a sister came up to me and thanked me for my involvement and support. Humbled by the expression of gratitude, I told her it was my pleasure & privilege to serve in whatever way I could, but, as we spoke, the hurt in her eyes began to speak louder than her voice. I attempted to address her agony by asking her what was wrong. She replied with a question: “Where are the pastors”? Holding back tears, she explained to me that she is so disappointed that there aren’t more pastors supporting the efforts of their group. She went on to say that the absence of clergy in this time of crisis, in this time where spiritual guidance is needed, has her seriously questioning her faith in God. I attempted to comfort & encourage her to hold on to her faith knowing that God was with us despite whoever may not be. But, as I shared with her, I felt a sense of inadequacy & insufficiency; I felt like I was attempting to explain the inexplicable.
We hugged & I walked to my car to go home. As I drove off, I began to think through my feelings on what had just transpired. I was honest. My motives were genuine. I felt as if my compassion was clear. Why would I feel so poorly, almost embarrassed, by what I said if what I said was right? Did I do something wrong? It was in this moment where it hit me…smacked me in the face like a reality show “housewife”. I felt some type of way because what I said was wrong. My response, while meant to encourage and enliven, offered passive justification for something that I understand to be indefensible. How could I even attempt to offer a reason for absentee apostles when I know that Isaiah 1:17 teaches us to “seek out justice”? How could I offer an excuse to delinquent disciples when Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 that we are to not only seek out God’s Kingdom first but also God’s righteousness?
I could have told her that this vacancy shouldn’t be a shocker as I believe it to be at the epicenter of churches that tell you what to do with your life when you’re inside of them but don’t care about what life may be doing to you when you’re outside of them. I could have pointed to multitudinous examples of clergy who either support suffering with their silence or condone the continued crisis of their congregants by preaching with no prophetic particularity. I could have shared my own frustration with compassion in the name of our Christ that does not translate into cooperation and damages more than it delivers.
Nonetheless, this sister desired and deserved an account for the absence of those who were called to not only “walk humbly with God” & “love mercy”, but also to “do justice”, and all I offered was easement instead of explanation. The answer, my answer, should have been that I don’t know where they are or why they aren’t here…and I’m sorry.
When it comes to social movements in this country, it is only a small number of clergy that are involved, even less that are supportive. And while, in a historic context, men and women of God have not represented the majority of participants in any American Civil Rights movement, there is certainly a need for our presence and for the anointing of the Almighty that we (presumably) bring with us. We certainly may not be able to do everything, but the call is for us is to do something and certainly more than what we have been doing. With each passing moment, with each passing movement, we are allowing the oppressive, violent voices that move against us to go unaddressed and unspoken to. In this day of the New Jim Crow, broken window policing, and discrimination in every way imaginable, there is a high need for not only a word from the Lord but also the attendance and activity of those who deliver it.
Whether we are favored enough to lead an action or stand in silent solidarity with fellow children of God, we who are privileged to pastor must make our presence felt in the modern day fight for freedom. If the only service we involve ourselves in is from a pulpit on a Sunday morning, then we are more ‘mistake’ than ‘minister’. Accompanying a call to the pastorate ought be a divine call to be involved in this modern day Civil Rights movement. Our reply to the question, “Where are the Pastors?” must be “Right here…with you”.
The reality of the prison industrial complex is one that negatively affects persons (the majority of which are people of color) all over this country. Presently, the United States houses over a quarter of the world’s prison population despite representing only 1% of the world population. Upwards of 2 million Black and Brown bodies presently find themselves locked behind bars. Statistics show that most of the African Americans who end up incarcerated have been sentenced for non-violent offenses or possession of infinitesimal amounts of illegal narcotic.
Mistreated while inside of these facilities and marginalized when released from them, the lives of these people are not seen as viable, valuable, or meaningful to our society. The iniquitous struggle that so many of our brothers and sisters have to endure in order to find adequate housing, wages, and employment are reflective of the way the society (a society that they have, in theory, paid a debt to) perceives their worthiness.
But what if the populace viewed those victimized by the reality of mass incarceration with a different perspective? An outlook that regards those who have been imprisoned as contributors instead of convicts. Perhaps the best thing for our democracy is to have more faith in those who may have a felony and to find merit in those who may have a misdemeanor.
As avant garde as this advanced attitude may seem, it actually has its foundations in Biblical writ. I propose and suppose that the Old Testament ought guide our thinking on the matter. In the 1st book of the Bible, we find a familiar story; the story of a young man with the gift of interpreting dreams by the name of Joseph. Chapter 39 in the Book Of Genesis finds Joseph on the job, wrongfully convicted of sexual misconduct charge and thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. While locked up, Joseph has the opportunity to help those incarcerated with him by using his talent to interpret their dreams. In the 41st chapter of Genesis, the Bible tells us that when his cellmates are released they (eventually) share with Pharaoh the beauty and benefit of Joseph’s ability. Pharaoh is in need of his own dreams being interpreted and not only has Joseph released but also gives Joseph the opportunity to use his God-given gifts to the benefit of the king and the kingdom. Pharaoh looks past Joseph’s past and elevates him to a position in the palace where he can best contribute to the betterment of the country.
In this instance, we ought parallel Pharaoh’s practice and not allow someone’s time spent in a prison cell to keep us from seeing the potential for greatness inside of them. Our prisons are in need of reform. Not only do our prisons need revising, but the way we think of those who occupy them (or have previously occupied them) needs revising as well. In order for this nation to prosper, correctional facilities have to be restructured to focus on rehabilitation and reformation instead of correction and captivity. And those who may have a criminal past must be given a fair and equal opportunity to contribute to our future. Otherwise, we prompt and push them into lives they were previously penalized for.
Joseph (or Josephine) doesn’t need our compunction or condemnation. Instead of judging Joseph, instead of labeling or limiting Joseph, we need to give Joseph the opportunity to live out what God intends for him to as best he can. Joseph needs an opportunity; a chance to mobilize what may have been lying dormant inside of him.
If you want to help Joseph, don’t give Joseph a disrespectful dissertation advising them on how to live his life. Don’t give Joseph a handout and deny Joseph the dignity of earning what he needs to take of himself. Don’t disqualify Joseph from being a substantial grantor of goodness in this world. If you want to help Joseph, give Joseph the same chances and opportunities that were afforded you on your way from strain to stability. If you want to help Joseph, suppress the systems that discriminate against him and sentence him to substandard living even after his sentence has been carried out. If you really want to help Joseph, in the name of our Lord, give Joseph a job.
*Dedicated to Pop, Paul, Mohammed, Jay, Darnell, and all of those who are or have been incarcerated…keep your head up.
The 15 Chapter of Paul’s letter to the body of believers in Rome finds him offering perspective to way in which the church ought view Old Testament writ. The Apostle Paul writes in the 4th verse, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”. Paul suggests that the sacred text ought not be exclusively considered as written wisdom of the past but should also be seen as a tool to provide direction for how we ought to live and engage our present.
The Apostle’s epistle provides a framing for the way that we, as African Americans, ought to engage our own past. As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another Black History Month, celebrating the contributions made by our ancestors to this nation and the world, perhaps the perspective we should take of our rich and remarkable history is not one of annual acknowledgment but also one of persistent provocation.
With all that God has empowered our people to overcome in the past, perhaps viewing that past with a different lens would allow us to discover the tools needed to catalyze as we attempt to overcome in this present season of struggle we are in. Our progression must not only be propelled by our passion but also from the precepts, principles, and practices we pull from our past in order to lay ground for our future. Not all repeated history signifies doom. Repeated history that results in righteous redemption is of the greatest value. Those who seek to oppress us repeat history for their benefit. It is high time that we repeat our history for ours.
What if we looked to our history for meaningful models of liberation instead of solely for memorable milestones? Perhaps deeper, what does it mean to hold up a history that we do not value enough to emulate?
The examples given by the pillars of our yesterday, the principled ways in which we protested, the dignified determination and discipline of our leaders, the pellucidity to press past a mistake and place priority on the purpose must all be seen and treated as jewels of the highest worth. Essential equipage as we attempt to navigate through a wilderness of wickedness towards a Promised Land that we are presently unable to see.
The proper perspective of the times behind us get us through, and over, the times before us. We must resolve to lift our history from the tombs of traditional tendency. For when our history is lifted, it, in turn, lifts us. When we choose to keep a singular perspective of the days of old, we depreciate the distinction of those days. When we do not take the lessons from our history, our history actually lessens. We transform it into something trite and less notable with each passing moment.
In a time where government attempts to pacify us, police attempt to persecute us, corporations attempt to capitalize upon us…in a time where many of don’t “do” because we do not know what to do, we must not only learn from our history but also be willing to listen to our history. We may be surprised by what we hear.