Not surprisingly I received a lot of phone calls, letters and comments from my column on the church. The only thing surprising was that anybody thought it was bold. In fact, it should be an everyday occurrence to challenge what is blatantly wrong and the things and people who are not acting in the best interest of anything you are involved in. After all, what are the lessons of Black History and the Bible for creating a society that is just and fair for all God’s people? The lessons of the Bible and Black History are not relics to be placed on a shelf only to be looked at on Sundays and during Black History Month. The problem is that it is all too convenient to apply the lessons to Black people versus White people only. Using that paradigm, we work to correct the wrongs of Whites while letting Blacks slide.
When Frederick Douglass spoke the words, “He who is whipped oftenest is whipped easiest,” he was setting out a lesson that requires all people to resist what is wrong. When I was a student at Pepperdine University in the sixties and noticed that there were no Black professors and no Black History or Black studies classes, we believed it was wrong; and so we did something about it. We protested and by the time I graduated in 1968, there were Black professors and Black studies classes. Pepperdine was a Church of Christ school. Even so, they were still wrong; Black students and well-thinking white students made it right.
Let us not forget that Christians are sinners too and need correcting sometimes. A week ago, my son who teaches at a Historically Black University, called to tell me that something was going wrong there and asked what he should do. After all, he teaches Theology at a Black Christian college and if he protests, it might affect his job. After a few words of encouragement, he wrote a few emails to protest. He called me the next morning to say that the president of the school had gotten involved and the problem was solved.
He laughed and said, “I’m getting like you and mama”, to which I smiled proudly.
Throughout biblical studies you ﬁnd that Christianity is not about being comfortable. It is about treating people right. Hearing, “if you don’t like the church then just ﬁnd another one”, ignores the fact that change and progress don’t come from just moving on. It comes from the theory set out by Frederick Douglass when he says, “Those who profess to favor freedom yet depreciate agitation want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters, they want the crops without the tilling of the soil. Power concedes nothing without a struggle. It never did and it never will.” Black America never achieved anything without struggle and protest. At every step of the way there were Blacks standing in the way, usually more interested in their own safety than the progress of their own people.
Jesus was about the people, the least of them, not himself. He didn’t eat the ﬁve loaves and two ﬁ sh by himself, he shared them with the ﬁve thousand? The prosperity preachers of today would possibly say, “You get yours, I got mine.”
When I read about Black Church History, for example in Michael Battle’s book, The Black Church in America, I read how Dr. King planned to move the Civil Rights movement forward, not by going along to get along but by doing God’s will. When about a child being ignored or a member being asked to move from his seat to the back because someone important came into the church and they preempted them, I know that God cannot be pleased. When I see the leaders living in luxury, whether it’s a leader of a country or a church, while the people they serve do not, God is not pleased.
The struggle for today’s Black Christian is what do we do when we see our Black leaders using their leadership in a style designed to show the world how powerful they are for their own good at the expense of the people? Robert Franklin, President of Morehouse College in his book, Crisis In The Village, spells it out. He writes, “We should reward the creation of a Black people whose daily existence was an encounter with the overwhelming and brutalizing reality of white power. An updated version of the book would warn us to watch out for those Blacks who would caution us to watch out for prosperity preachers also. They use the Gospel to pull the dollars out of your pockets, daring you to question their thinly veiled motives.
He goes on to say, “We should reward generously institutions and leaders that meet our expectations and ignore those who are unresponsive or deliberately clueless. Moreover, we should actively isolate, stigmatize, and discourage those who are harmful to our communities. This must not be done in a mean spirited way, but we must not permit leaders who exploit people to think that the community approves of such poor stewardship. The community deserves prophetic stewards.”
As we celebrate this Black History Month, let us take a second look at some of our traditions and see if there is a better way to do God’s work in serving the community. We need leaders who will put the needs of the people ﬁrst and themselves second. Leaders who know we need jobs for our young that are our future, schools for our young who carry out our legacy, and lifestyle choices for our elders who have given us so much.
Let us be imbued with holy boldness to do what is needed rather than what’s popular and personally proﬁ table, because if we are believers, then what are we afraid of?