“The Growing Wave of White-lash in America”

There have been many attempts to question the unchallenged narrative of European dominance in human civilization by many scholars of color, who have chronicled their findings in papers, professional journals, magazines and books.  And for the most part, many of these works have gained little to no attention in the academy and have done even less to change the accepted narrative that continues to be taught and universally believed that advances the erroneous tale of the superior achievements and discoveries of Europeans.

When Dr. Ivan Van Sertima released his landmark book, “They Came Before Columbus,” forever putting to rest the long held lie that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, it still did little to change the fictitious European portrayal or cause the academy to do corrective historiography.  When Van Sertima testified before a congressional committee in 1987 to share his evidence of the hundreds of years of Africans who had regularly traveled to and from the Americas and engaged in trade and commerce with the indigenous Americans long before Columbus landed on the shores of Caribbean Islands, one Congressman’s response was, “Well, Columbus was the first to hold a press conference.” 

This kind of belligerent dismissive arrogance seems to reflect the attitude and actions of some Whites when it comes to any legitimate scholarship that attempts to challenge the faulty, flawed historical narratives that place Europe at the center of all intellectual, scientific, mathematic and cultural achievements in the world.  The documented scholarship and multiplied volumes refuting this narrative is so overwhelming that it would take up too much space to list in this blog. The real question is why there is such resistance to any legitimate scholarly attempts that call these claims of European dominance into question?  Why is it that no alternative suppositions are allowed to be examined or even considered, once the false white narrative has been exposed?  Are we to believe that European scholars are above scrutiny and their scholarship beyond error?  Is the white community saying they are the only ones allowed to investigate, inquire, explore or refute the legitimacy of any and all scholarly work in the academy?

Recently, there has been an all out attack on any legitimate scholarship that presents an alternate view or intellectual position on a host of academic subjects. Many of the attacks have come without sufficient explanation and/or with little academic credence.  One such example is the recent attack leveled against “Critical Race Theory.” Nearly a dozen states have passed legislation either banning, restricting or limiting the study or teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the public school system.  Republican members of congress have introduced legislation restricting the spread of Critical Race Theory as “a divisive ideology.”  

What has been most disturbing about the attacks is the cluelessness of those who oppose CRT.  Many of those in opposition cannot tell you what Critical Race Theory is or what it means?  You, who are reading this blog and have perhaps formed an opinion about it, do you know what it means?  Do you know where it came from?  

One of my passions for years has been reading and studying the constitution and race.  Because of this in the late and 80’s and early 90’s I became aware of the subject “Critical Race Theory.”  My understanding of it was as a legal construct and framework used to examine the flawed suppositions that our legal system was based.  It was a framework that legal scholars used to identify the inherent flaws in our constitution, our legal and judicial systems and identify how they racially advantaged whites and disadvantaged blacks.  These scholars unpacked and examined legal cases beginning with the suppositions of the framers and the earliest rulings of the supreme court to challenge these suppositions, findings and decisions; recognizing that the framers had a huge blind spot when it came to race.

As I understood it, Critical Race Theory was legitimate legal scholarship from renowned and respected legal scholars who were bringing their perspective into the discussion of the constitution, the judicial system and legal rulings when the legal system was applied to African Americans.  The agreed father of this scholarship was Derrick Bell who authored the landmark work, “Race, Racism, and American Law,” in 1971. His scholarship has been joined by legendary jurist A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., who authored, “In the Matter of Color,” which examined race and the American legal process during the colonial period and Mary Francis Berry, the author of “Black Resistance/White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in American.” These scholars, along with many others, examined the American judicial system to challenge the inconsistent reasoning and flawed decisions which they show promotes and sustains white supremacy. 

There are two key elements of Critical Race Theory that most if not all proponents of CRT agree upon. The first is the understanding of how white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America, through “the rule of law” and “equal protection,”under the law. The second is a desire not merely to understand the unholy alliance between law and racial power but to change it.  

Someone will ask, why would anyone question such fundamental principles of our constitution and legal system and claim that it has an inherent “white supremacist” leaning?  I’m glad you asked. Let’s examine one example.

The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It was based upon this fundamental foundational principle that Dred Scott brought his case to the Supreme Court seeking, as a black man, the basic precept of equal protection under the law.  But when he did, the court ruled that Dred Scott, because of his “race,” had no standing in the court and was not allowed to even file a claim for redress. The actual statement from the decision, authored by the Chief Justice, designated African Americans, ‘‘as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’

Within the legal system of America is the precept of inferiority. It is a concept that imposed itself on the American legal system and judicial thought unchallenged and attached itself specifically to the African American community.  Higginbotham describes it like this in his book “Shades of Freedom.” 

“The dominance of the precept of inferiority has to do with the fact that ‘inferiority‘ is fundamentally different from all the other precepts.  Most of the other precepts,…defined or enforced certain tangible rights of the slave master or obligations of the slave…By contrast, the precept of inferiority did not define any specific right or obligation. Instead, ‘inferiority‘ spoke to the state of mind and the logic of the heart.  It posed as an article of faith that African Americans were not quite altogether human. What’s more, ‘inferiority‘ did not owe its existence to the legal process.  Although the law came to enforce the precept, it did not create it…When the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and, presumably, all its attendant conditions, it did not eliminate the precept of inferiority.  Even much later, when the law abolished state-enforced racial segregation, it still did not eliminate the precept.”

This is just one example of the kind of legal scholarship that Critical Race Theorists have used to show how the legal system of the United States enforced by law white supremacy and black racial inferiority. Can anyone say such topics should be dismissed out of hand because they raise the issue of white supremacy and challenge its legitimacy?  If you disagree with its positions and/or suppositions is that not something that should be legitimately argued in an appropriate arena of academia, instead of outlawed by Federal and State legislators or dismissed by Religious Denominations?  What is it that White America is afraid of when it comes to discussing these issues that have had such a powerful impact on the lives of African Americans.

Recently Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Price winning journalist and editor of the landmark New York Time Magazine1619 Project, is being blocked from receiving tenure at the University of North Carolina because of here role as editor of the project.  Why is it that after decades of false, misleading and inaccurate scholarship, that Europeans cannot withstand any academic scrutiny or accountability.  Has Europe’s position as the unchallenged authority on all subjects given it a divine arrogance that has made it believe it is above examination or investigation? 

Where is this White-lash coming from that says, “You are not allowed to say anything that might be construed as negative or demeaning about me…even if it’s true.”  And if you do, we will cancel you. Here are two passages from the wiseman that I believe we should all consider.

The first is Proverbs 28:26 MSG, which says, “If you think you know it all, you’re a fool for sure; real survivors learn wisdom from others.”  

The second is found in Proverbs 15:31—32 CEV, it says, “Healthy correction is good, and if you accept it, you will be wise. —32—You hurt only yourself by rejecting instruction, but it makes good sense to accept it.”

No one has all the answers. The more we probe, reflect and discuss our challenges and problems, honestly, accurately and fairly; even the difficult ones, the closer America will arrive at becoming a “more perfect union.

“A Decision Greater Than Derek Chauvin’s Guilty Verdict”

On April 20, 2021, when the news circulated that the jury in the Derek Chauvin case had reached a verdict; there was a massive state of suspended animation as people across the nation and around the world collectively held their breath in anticipation of the verdict.  When Judge Peter Cahill read the three guilty verdicts there was a huge exhale and for many a sigh of relief that finally the judicial system had worked for African Americans.  But as important and significant as the finding was, there was another recently made decision that may have greater impact and enduring implications for the future of the African American community than Chauvin’s guilty verdict.

Last week, April 29, 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that it will ban menthol flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars within the next year.  This ban will significantly reduce disease and death linked to using those two products.  Studies show that menthol flavored cigarettes are more highly addictive than other tobacco products.  But there is more to the story.  

This fact was known by the tobacco industry and was the reason they heavily marketed the brand to racial minorities.  In the name of diversity the tobacco industry advertised their menthol brand tobacco products, using young attractive black actors on billboards across America strategically placed in African American communities.  Menthol became the band of choice for many African Americans who did not realize the odious and sinister effects that menthol was having upon them.  According to the CDC more than 85% of mentholated brand users are Black, nearly 47% are Hispanic, 38% are Asian and 29% are White.

It is believed that menthol flavoring is more addictive and harder to quit than regular brands.  Another study determined that if menthol had been banned, within a years time, it would lead to 923,000 smokers quitting, including 230,000 African Americans.

So America used the free labor of African slaves to plant, grow and harvest its tobacco crops for hundreds of years during slavery in parts of the South, in the Caribbean and South America.  Then knowingly and deliberately advertised its most addictive tobacco brands to the same community it exploited for free labor years later; to profit from and poison, for dollars, disease and death.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP has been calling for the ban of menthol cigarettes for years. He said in a statement, “For decades, the tobacco industry has been targeting African Americans and have contributed to the skyrocketing rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer across our community.” “The tobacco industry is on a…quest for profit, and…have been killing us along the way…it’s about time we prioritize the health and wellbeing of African Americans.”

Other advocacy groups such as the ACLU have mentioned the serious racial justice implications that the ban of menthol may have. They are calling for more progress in addressing the health needs and disparities in communities of color that decades of neglect and abuse have created. The Wise man says, “Don’t walk on the poor just because they’re poor, and don’t use your position to crush the weak, Because GOD will come to their defense; the life you took, he’ll take from you and give back to them.”——Proverbs 22:22—23 MES

So the the FDA’s decision to ban menthol from tobacco products while unnoticed, may have a greater impact on the welfare and well-being of African Americans, people of color and all Americans in the journey to justice, because the first and most important aspect of good citizenship and equal protection under the law is advancing good health for all.

And people wonder why African Americans deserve reparations?  Perhaps the picture is becoming clearer.

THE CRUCIFIXION OF GEORGE FLOYD

As I watched the trial of Derek Chauvin the officer accused of killing George Floyd, viewed the video of the suffocation of Floyd and listened to the testimony of several the eyewitnesses, it became clear to me that the death of George Floyd was a crucifixion.   No this is not hyperbole and I am not being sacrilegious.  As a Christian and a minister of the gospel, I am very particular about anything or anyone that would be seen as analogous to Jesus Christ.  But in this instance, the use of the term crucifixion has little to do with Jesus.

Instead, it has more to do with the way crucifixions were used by the Roman Empire.  According to history between the two-year period of 73 BC—71 BC, 120,000 people were crucified in the Roman Empire.  Crucifixion was one of the executions used for sedition, the incitement of rebellion, against the empire. Public crucifixions were used by the Roman Empire to remind conquered people what happened whenever they forgot who they were and Josephus the historian wrote that the Romans lined the streets of Jerusalem with crosses, as a means of intimidation.  

When I watched the video of the incident and listened to the witness testimony in the Derek Chauvin case, what was most striking was how overt and publicly brutal the act of violence against George Floyd was.  The video showed that several bystanders had their phone camera’s recording the altercation while it was happening in plain sight of Officer Chauvin and the other officers at the scene.  You also could hear the bystanders pleading with Officer Chauvin to let George Floyd up, and continued to plead with him after Floyd was motionless on the ground for three minutes.  Several said to Chauvin, “He’s stopped breathing,” “You’re killing him,” but none of these pleas, that were all being filmed by eyewitnesses, phased Chauvin or the other officers at the scene.  How could they act in such a callous, disinterested and insensitive manner, oblivious to the witnesses that were recording them?

I concluded after listening to the screams and pleas from the bystanders, all whom were people of color, that Chauvin and the officers were not oblivious or disinterested at all.  No, they were very interested and very calculating.  They knew exactly what they were doing.  They were sending a message to the bystanders and to all other people of color.  And the message was, if you try to do something like George Floyd, the same thing will happen to you.  Make sure you film this, make sure you get all of this on tape; because we want everyone to see what happens when one of YOU gets out of line and forgets their place in Milwaukee.  The public, slow, brutal suffocation death of George Floyd was a deliberate act of intimidation for Black people and all people of color.   

One witness said he called out to Officer Chauvin and their eyes met.  He said he told Chauvin that he was giving George Floyd a blood choke.  He said Chauvin just stared at him and continued with his knee on George Floyd’s neck.  Another witness said that while they were screaming at Officer Chauvin to free George Floyd that she saw him apply more pressure with his knee on Floyd’s neck.  

The message that Officer Derek Chauvin and all of the Milwaukee PD was very clear.  It was a terrorizing message of tyranny and public execution that was meant as a warning to all citizens of color and particularly African Americans.  The message was, today its George Floyd, but tomorrow if you are not careful it can be any of you.

And so just as the Roman Empire did, the Milwaukee Police Department used the brutal public knee suffocation death of George Floyd that they knew was being video recorded by several Black bystanders to send a message to all of us.  And the point was made very clear. And the public broadcasting of it served to enhance and reinforce their objectives.  

And so George Floyd was publicly crucified but as in all unjust crucifixions, God always has the last word. And with every crucifixion there is always a resurrection.

“Euro—Virus?”

There have been several world paralyzing pandemics throughout the annuls of human history, from the first recorded outbreak during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C. in Athens to the Antonine Plague of smallpox that began with The Huns and then the Germans in 165 AD. They all originated in various corners of the world, like the Justinian Plague of 541 AD that first appeared in Palestine and then spread throughout the Byzantine Empire.  Its recurrence would eventually kill 50 million people over the next two centuries and 26% of the world’s population.  It would be the first significant appearance of the bubonic plague.

In 1492 The Columbian Exchange with diseases such as smallpox, measles and bubonic plague entered the Caribbean by way of the invading European conquerors, who decimated the natives of the America’s with their invasions by sea.  In 1520 the Aztec Empire was destroyed by a smallpox infection, killing many of its victims while incapacitating a multitude of others.  

Research in 2019 concluded that some 56 million Native Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries died largely through disease and may have altered the earth’s climate as vegetation growth on previously tilled land drew more CO2 from the atmosphere and caused a cooling event.

In 1817 the first Cholera Pandemic originated in Russia where one million people died.  The disease then was passed through feces-infected water and food and was carried by British soldiers to India where millions more died.

And then in 1918 the avian-borne flu that resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide was first observed in Europe and the United States.  By October the death tool in America reached the hundreds of thousands but by the summer of 1919 the threat finally disappeared.

What is noteworthy about all of these major pandemics is that there is no significant record of anyone labeling the disease with the name of the country where the outbreak originated or blaming and attacking the citizens from those countries.  And there is no meaningful evidence that such a movement or movements ever emerged over the course of history.  The smallpox, measles and bubonic plague that Europeans brought to the America’s and infected so many natives with; from the Caribbean and other parts of South, Central and North America was not called the “European plague” or “Spanish-pox.”

So why is it that now when we are facing another worldwide pandemic that some are ignorant enough to attribute, associate or name the disease after the country, nation or people where it originated, calling if the “Chinese Virus”  or “Kung flu.”  Those who blindly parrot the virulently racist tropes of Donald Trump should perhaps consider that there are many European nations that could have worn the same label for some of the most devastating worldwide pandemics of the past. But no one in their right minds believes that fellow humans would deliberately cause such global human death and desolation if they could avoid it.

So let’s stop assaulting each other, and start associating with each other, so that together, we can bring an end to this long night of sadness and despair that has enshrouded so many homes and families around the globe.  As Martin King has said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” 

THE BLACK CHURCH—“FOREVER IN THE PATH—‘REVISITED’”

In 2002 the then editor of the MESSAGE Magazine Dr. Ron C. Smith, requested that I write an article on the Black Church.  As we discussed the direction of the article, we decided that it should take a forward looking focus.  The thinking was to address the future challenges that the Black Church faced?  This was of particular concern to me because at the time I was serving as a Chaplain on the Campus of Andrews University.  Ministering to the millennial generation, along with raising two young adults made this an issue of concern that I faced constantly.  And so that is the direction of the article you about to read.  

I am placing the article in my blog by request and because of the recent exceptional PBS presentation on “The Black Church.” As I watched the programs I began to wonder what I had written some years before.  It was not until I actually found the article on my computer that I realized how old it was.  The piece titled, “FOREVER IN THE PATH: The Future of the Black Church,” was published as the lead article in the January|February 2003 MESSAGE Magazine Issue (ISSN 0026-023).  Remember, the article was written in 2002, so many of the references are relate to things that transpired almost 19 years ago.  But I believe you will find, as I did, that many of the same issues are still challenges that the Black Church faces today.  I hope you will enjoy it.

C. Eric Lincoln has said, “A good way to understand a people is to study their religion for religion is addressed to that most sacred schedule of values around which the expression and the meaning of life tends to coalesce.  Religion, seriously considered, is perhaps the best prism to cultural understanding.”[1]

            The study of the Black Church is critical in understanding the true character of Black people.  It was one of the first independent institutions organized by Africans in the Americas during and after slavery.  Born out of struggle and oppression, the Black church has been the vanguard for social, economic, political, emotional and spiritual liberation of African people.  It has produced the most eloquent and educated visionaries who advanced the movements of freedom for Black people throughout the centuries and gave them dignity when all other American voices were noticeably silent.  It has maintained its place at the center of the Black community as its only consistent advocate for justice and equality.  Alone, it has been willing to sing ‘the Lord’s song in a strange land.’

As we view the past with gratitude and wonder, we must ask ourselves, what does the future hold for this enduring institution.  What are the issues that are still left unanswered, and the mountains still left to climb?  What are the potential problems that will test the Black Church in the future?  I would like to suggest ten challenges that the Black church will have to face.

Political or PropheticHistorically the Black Church has maintained its political independence in order to fulfill its role as the moral conscience of society.  The Black Church never affiliated itself politically with one exclusive party, but rather took the position of affirming those issues that advanced the cause of the Black community.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to urge the Johnson administration to push legislation for public accommodations, voting rights and economic justice, while later criticizing it for its policies during the Vietnam War. 

When Jesse Jackson ran for the presidential nomination of the democratic party, his partisanship signaled a change in the relationship between the Black church and politics.  No longer would the church be seen as an independent voice, but rather an advocate for a particular political persuasion.  Today, ministers have run for public offices from the local to the national stage as democrats, republicans and independents.  Other Black Churches find themselves beholden to particular politicians by accepting state and federal funds. The potential threat of losing government aid, should they criticize the administration who funds them, has silenced some churches and caused others to become advocates for their political friends.  While we all were horrified by the events of September 11, very few prominent Black religious leaders have publicly questioned the Bush administrations rapid movement toward war with Iraq as King was willing to do with President Johnson.  And those who have, have sounded more political than prophetic.  How will this growing trend toward the political arena and partisanship impact the Black Church’s ability to maintain its prophetic role in society.

Generation Gap-Younger vs ElderThe recent controversy over the movie ‘Barber Shop’ dramatically demonstrated the strained relationship between the generations.  Many of the millennials (this generations youth), only recognized the name ‘Rosa Parks’ because of their familiarity with the rap song of that title performed by the Hip Hop rap group “Outkast.”  This disconnect with Black history and the Black struggle has caused tremendous concern from the parents and adults of this generation’s youth.  Historically the Black church has been at the forefront of reaching out to the younger generation and developing programs to meet their needs.  But this was done in an era when most youth were brought to church by parents, who were involved in the church themselves.  With the growing trend toward teen pregnancy and single parenthood, more of our youth are growing up unchurched and irreligious.  They have no knowledge of, or affiliation with today’s church or religion in general.  Some don’t even own “church clothes” and are unfamiliar with basic church liturgy or hymns which we once thought every Black person knew.  The absence of church role models is being filled by Hip-Hop and Gangsta Rap artists.  The deaths of Tupac and Biggie were as significant to many of our youth, as the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were to their parents.  How will the Black church face this growing generation gap?  What will the Black church do to reach young people where they are today?  Will the church need to embrace unconventional methods and rethink its approach in order to reach a growing generation of the unchurched and irreligious youth?     

Rich man, Poor manAndrew Hacker in his book, “Two Nations” begins with the premise that in America we are becoming two separate communities, one Black, one White, separate and unequal.  While this reality remains true between the races, it is becoming just as true within the Black race.  The expanding Black middle class, which makes up ½ of all Black households today, is moving further away from its poorer underclass brothers and sisters.  The recent CEO appointments of Richard Parsons-AOL Time Warner, Kenneth Chenault-American Express and Franklin Raines-Fannie Mae, highlight this new Black movement into the economic mainstream.  The Black church was once the incubator for most of the economic, educational and professional advancement in the Black community.  The opportunities created and developed through the gains of the civil rights movement have made that less of the case today.  The Black middle class have been the chief beneficiaries of these gains in the Black community and are beginning to flex their economic muscles.  Well to do Blacks who once were prevented from moving into moderately wealthy communities are now finding their options to be limitless.  Buppies are moving out of the hood into upwardly mobile suburban enclaves and distancing themselves from the poor neighborhoods of their parents.  Atlanta, Greater Washington D.C. and other large metropolitan areas are developing Black housing communities for the professional middle income Black family.  Black congregations are beginning to follow this Black suburbanization and several mega-churches have sprung up in these new buppy enclaves.  Will this growing economic separation within the Black community serve to further alienate us and cause greater distrust, jealousy and resentment?  Has the talented tenth forgotten the challenge of Dubois to uplift the community?           

Heaven Bound or Earth Ground-The latest growth trend in the Black community is the mega-church.  Mega-churches with memberships between 10,000-25,000 members are springing up all over Black America.  The mega-church with its multifaceted programs, businesses and in most case media ministry, has brought with it the temptation toward kingdom building on earth.  Some of these huge costly structures reside in poor, crumbling Black communities.  While some are involved in elevating the economic conditions of the communities that surround them, others are not. Will this tendency toward kingdom building detract from the greater good of community building?  Will celebrity swallow up the churches true mission of service?  Will this further exacerbate the indifference and alienation felt within the Black community between the haves and the have not’s?  What of the ethical issues of stewardship and accountability?  If the church is to represent Christ as community, how does the Black church reconcile this extravagant excess in a time of economic extremity.  Can the church truly justify the investment of resources needed to operate and maintain these multiplying mega-churches?

Mono or Multi-culturalism-When Tiger Woods declared himself ‘Cablinasian,’ he reflected a growing trend in the African American community toward multi-culturalism.  More people of multi-ethnic origins are rejecting the one drop rule in determining their ethnic identity.  The 2000 census saw an increase in the number of individuals who opted to identify themselves as multiracial instead of African American or some other race.  Interracial marriages, once a taboo, are now on the increase.  The music industry has capitalized on this growing tendency by combining unlikely and divergent music styles which appeal to today’s generation of music consumers.  Gospel music has also followed this trend by combining Hip-Hop, Rap and Contemporary Christian with Traditional Gospel.  What implications will this new trend toward multi-culturalism have for the future of the Black church?  How will this tendency impact the unique personality of the Black church and its way of expression?  Will the Black church need to expand its arms to embrace the idiosyncrasies of other cultures and heritages to remain current in an ever-changing ethnic landscape?  Will this multi-cultural change make the need for the Black church unnecessary in the future?  And if it does remain, will the Black church of today, recognize the church of tomorrow?  

Denominational or Non-denominationalThe Black church has always utilized various organizational forms while maintaining its unique identity.  The split of the AME and AME Zion churches and the various Baptist branches confirm the fluidity of the organizational structures that the Black church has been willing to embrace.  However, these changes have for the most part happened within the traditional denominational structure.  Today, more churches are opting for independence and are carving out their own set of doctrines, beliefs, sacraments and organizational structures.  Non-denominationalism appeals to the post-modern mind which tends to reject organizational affiliations which they view as being confining and restrictive.  How will old line Black denominations respond to this growing tendency toward organizational independence in the church?  How will this non-denominational tendency impact the future of denominationalism among Black churches?  

Conservative or Charismatic The rise of Neo-Pentecostalism also challenged the traditions of conservative Black churches.  Neo-Pentecostalism has contributed to phenomenal church growth in urban areas where many conservative mainstream churches were dying, unable to proselytize new younger members.  The AME church under the leadership of Dr. John Bryant Jr. and the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship led by its founder Paul S. Morton are examples of two mainstream conservative denominations who have embraced neo-Pentecostalism, resulting in exponential church growth.  The movement has also been effective in attracting a wider socio-economic base than its more conservative parent organizations whose appeal has generally been to the middle class and above.  They have been successful in building a membership that represents the broad socio-economic spectrum of the Black community.  They have also been successful in blending high spirituality with socio-political activism, much in the tradition of the Black church.  High emotionalism, spirited worship and speaking in tongues have accompanied neo-Pentecostalism.  Yet in most cases the move toward neo-Pentecostalism has come under fire from more traditional church members.  Lincoln and Mamiya observe, “The Charismatic movement represents a powerful potential for the revitalization of the…church, but it could also produce a serious schism with the whole church ending up as the loser…The challenge which neo-Pentecostalism poses…is a challenge most black churches must inevitably address.”[2]    How will traditional, conservative mainline Black congregations respond this new trend in the church?  Will the charismatic movement ultimately be to the churches benefit or detriment.

Monarchy or DemocracyBecause of the independence of the Black church, and its central position in every facet of black life, the single most important figure in the Black community was the minister.  Traditionally the Black preacher was the most eloquent and educated person in the community.  This gave him a unique position at the center of the community spiritually, socially, economically and educationally.  He was often seen as the leader and spokesperson of the black community.  This expansive power lent itself to a leadership style that could be described as a monarchy.  In many cases the Black preacher led the church with the power of an emperor, directing everyone and answering to no one.  While this leadership style may have served the church well in the past, today’s black laity is more educated and talented than ever before.  This reality will only increase in the future.  How will the church relate to its newly educated, multi-talented and upwardly mobile black laity?  What implications does this have for the leadership configuration of the Black church in the future?  

Gender IssuesBlack women have been and continue to be the backbone of the black church.  Today they make up between 66-80 percent of the church’s membership.  There are 2.5-3 females for every male member.  While there have always been female preachers in the church dating back to slavery, historically women have assumed a supportive role in the patriarchally dominated church.  Today more and more women are answering the divine call to ministry and are enrolling in seminaries across the nation.  While some denominations have been quick to fully embrace women in ministry, others have been hesitant to ordain women and allow them the full privileges to minister as their male counterparts.  Those who have been ordained and are pastoring congregations, find themselves limited administratively by the glass ceiling of gender.  How will the black church address this bias which continues to stymie women based solely upon their gender.

Media or MenThe introduction of technology has forever changed our understanding of how we view the church.  The media has created a new innovative way for the Black church to reach people who would never have stepped into their sanctuary.  It has made religion convenient and accessible to everyone.  Preachers, healers and teachers of the word have become celebrities overnight, and churchmen have become media icons.  Church events which once appealed only to a small specific audience, now sell out stadiums around the nation.  But is bigger better?  Does the impersonal nature of media ministry prevent the church from truly ministering to the needs of people?   Does the inaccessibility of today’s televangelist send the wrong message to humanity of an unapproachable God?  Jesus was always accessible to all people, thus the woman with the issue of blood was able to touch Him and find healing.  Is the church in danger of losing its human touch?  How will this disconnect be exacerbated by the technological advances of the future.         

There are several other challenges that the church will undoubtedly face.  The society of tomorrow will hardly resemble the communities of today.  How will the church face the uncertainties of the future?  By remembering the only indispensable entity for the church’s future success.  That indispensable element is not found in an idea, program or philosophy but instead is found in a person.  As long as Jesus Christ remains at the center of the Black church its future will be assured.  James Weldon Johnson put it best in the last stanza of the Negro National Anthem:

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; Thou who hast by thy might, led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray.”    

Five ingredients that every church will need to face the future.

1. Christ-Act 4:12 says “Neither is there salvation in any other…”  Jesus must remain at the center of the church.  While cultural, worship styles and various approaches to ministry have their place, nothing must overshadow Jesus Christ.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.  If the church desires to reach a generation of youth who believe in ‘keeping it real’ the most ‘real’ being the church can offer is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ must be Lord. (Phil. 2:9-11)

2. Compassion/Charity-John 13:35 says By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.  There is no substitute in the Church for love.  As children of God, it is what we owe every person (Rom. 13:8), and it has the ability to compensate for any of our shortcomings (1 Peter 4:8).  Love must be the motivating factor in our service to God (John 14:15) and to humanity (John 21:15-17).  While the gifts of healing, prophecy, apostleship and others have their place in the church, the greatest gift is love. (1 Cor. 13:13).

3. Creativity-While principles are constant, standards do change.  The church must be willing to be innovative without being inconsistent.  The Apostle Paul’s approach was to …“become all things to all men, that I might …save some.”(1 Cor.9:22).  Tradition is not sacred.  The church must be opened to new ideas and new approaches for reaching and ministering to people.

4. Collaboration-the Black church is not owned by any one group, or community.  The leaders of today must be ready and willing to pass the torch of leadership to the next generation.  Jesus chided His disciples when they tried to reprimand someone who healed in Jesus’ name, but was not following them.  He told them, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Luke 9:50. Each generation must be allowed to reinvent the church to meet the challenges of its age.  Programs, procedures and protocols must never take precedence over people.  New wine must not be forced into old wine bottles (Matt. 9:17)

.5. Cooperative Leadership-The principle of administration espoused by Christ was servant leadership. (Matt. 23:10-12).  Spiritual gifts are based on the notion of cooperation and servanthood.  The Church is called the body (1 Cor.12:27), with Christ as its head (Eph. 4:15).   Paul’s use of the body to illustrate how the church should be organized and function, gives us a clear mandate to work collaboratively.  If the Black church of the future is to reach its full potential, it will need to embrace cooperative leadership.  


[1]C. Eric Lincoln & Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, p. xi

[2]Ibid p.388

FIGHT LIKE TRUMP

The Trump defense team used as an argument to dismiss Donald Trump telling his crowd of supporters at the January 6 gathering, to “‘Fight’ Like Hell;” that the word “fight” has been used by many democratic politicians.  They then began to show a montage of clips with a plethora of Democrat politicians, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, using the word “fight,” in various public speeches.  They were suggesting that if Trump was being accused of inciting an insurrection by using the word “fight,” at the January 6 rally, then every democrat politician should be guilty as well and everyone will be subject to similar charges in the future.

The only problem with this logic is that high schools, colleges and universities have been using the word “fight” in songs as a rallying cry to urge their sporting teams to victory since the 1880’s.  It has become so common that these songs of exhortation are now called “Fight Songs.”  Almost every school that has a team involved in competitive sports has a “fight song” associated with their team.  They are so standard that lists have been made ranking the top “50 CollegeFight Songs’” since 1880.  Many other such lists have been compiled around various themes categorizing “fight songs.”  

What does this mean?  It means that the word fight is used by everyone in common as well as competitive settings for a host of purposes and reasons.  Yet no one would suggest that using the word “fight” in a school “fight song” has the ability to incite people to an insurrection of the nations capitol.  Very simply it reveals how utterly ridiculous and juvenile the Trump attorney’s analogy was when they played an endless number of democrat politicians using the word fight and suggesting that they were using the word in the same dangerous and irresponsible way that Donald Trump had done.  Their comical attempt to equate the two was as absurd as suggesting that a school using the word “fight” in their “fight song” is as dangerous as Donald Trump using it when he urged his followers to “fight like hell” on January 6, as they assembled near the US Capitol where the presidential election was being certified by the congress. 

Watching Trump’s attorneys argue in his defense was almost like watching an outtake from the movie “My Cousin Vinnie.”  You wondered if they had ever tried a serious case before in their lives.  If Donald Trump stiffs them without paying his legal fees as he has done in the past, this time we might sympathize with him.

Remembering George Schultz

I guess I became a news aficionado and hooked on politics when I began watching Sunday news programs with my father and brothers on Sunday mornings.  And what really did the trick was the first time I heard someone curse on live television while watching “Meet the Press.”  

It was long before the five second delay that they now employ; and this broadcast was probably one of the reasons they implemented the practice. I still remember the interviewee, Michael Quill, President of the TWU, the Transportation Workers Union.  The city of New York was embroiled in a heated negotiation with the union that caused a transit strike.  In a city like New York, the transportation system is the lifeblood of the five boroughs.  With no trains or buses running the city can become practically paralyzed.  The taxi’s were relishing the opportunity to step in and fill the void.  

As its spokesperson, Quill was being interviewed by the team of reporters from the Meet the Press broadcast. At some point in the interview that I cannot recall, being about 6 or 7 years old at the time, the conversation veered to the subject of draft dodging and tearing up “draft cards.”  For some reason it was inferred by a reporter in a question that Quill supported such a practice.  Quill in a rage blurted out at the reporters, “If you think I’d tear up my draft card, you’re a ‘G## D##n’ liar.”  What did he just say??? There was a hush in the room.  And then my father, brothers and I all looked at each other and cracked up.  Well that had me hooked on politics forever.  Hearing that kind of free speech made politics very appealing to an adolescent growing up in a strict Christian home.

It also caused me to have very broad views about politics and free speech.  I have always believed that one of our greatest liberties in America is free speech and freedom of thought; even when that speech and thought is extreme and contrary to what I may believe and think.  It has caused me to have an opened ear to those with different points of view and an opened mind to different ways of seeing things.  In other words we can always disagree without being disagreeable.

This way of thinking was enhanced by growing up in New York, where the Nation of Islam was a stronghold led by Malcolm X, as well as religious/political figures like Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Reverend Al Sharpton.  Growing up in this eclectic milieu of socio-political views and ideologies led to my thirst for knowledge and fueled my desire to understand more about what others thought and how those on the margins of society viewed the contemporary issues of the day.  Hence, I have never allowed myself to be labeled politically. Good ideas, good policy and goodness in general can be disseminated from anyone or within any context or community.  

And this brings me to George Schultz.  I learned on Monday that he died on Sunday, February 7, 2021 at the age of 100. Schultz was best known as the Secretary of State for President Ronald Reagan.  Schultz represents a time when the nation looked up to and respected its diplomats and those who represented America overseas, regardless of political affiliation, republican or democrat.  He was a man of tremendous dignity and integrity.  Among his greatest achievements was being instrumental in bringing down the iron curtail in Europe. 

I did not realize how much integrity he had until during the height of his diplomatic prestige he resigned his position.  After his resignation he was called to testify before the congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair.  When asked why he resigned he said something that I had never heard before as the reason for one’s resignation.  He said, and I am paraphrasing, “I began to want the position more than anything else, and that’s when I realized I could no longer be effective and I had to give it up.”  I’m not sure if you can understand what he was saying; but if you read it again perhaps what he said will begin to sink in. 

What depth of thought and personal integrity.  It is rare when a person can have such discipline, restraint and self-awareness; especially when it comes to issues of personal ambition, self-promotion, prestige and power; and to know when a position can become too corrupting and self-destructive.  His words and actions have remained etched in my memory and have stayed with me decades later.  They have served as an important lesson to me about leadership and service.

And so when he died on, February 7, 2021, it caught my attention and brought his words back to my memory; especially at a time when political expediency and self interest has become more infective than the coronavirus.  The integrity, honor and moral fortitude that George Schultz exhibited as a public servant transcend political affiliation or ideological differences.  So today I pause to remember the life and legacy of George Schulz, a person that I never met.  Did I agree with everything he stood for or all of his political views, positions or beliefs, no.  But the principles that shaped him and made him the person that was resonated with me; and his kind of integrity and virtue in public service will be missed. 

It was Aeschylus who said, “God’s most lordly gift to man is decency of mind.” I thank God that George Schultz allowed the decency of God’s gift to shine through to me.

The “REAL” Fake News —“BLACK-ON-BLACK CRIME”

When Attorney General Bill Barr began his opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee on July 28, 2020; one of his first utterances was a familiar refrain often used whenever individuals attempt to justify unwarranted or overzealous policing aimed at the African American community. When explaining why he intended to send Federal troops into various metropolitan areas he read this prepared comment, “The threat to black lives posed by crime on the streets, is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct. The leading cause of death for young black males is homicide.  Every year approximately 75 hundred black Americans are victims of homicide. The vast majority of them around 90% are killed by other blacks, mainly by gunfire. Each of those lives matter.” The Attorney General claimed this upsurge in “Black-on-Black” crime was the reason for the Justice department deploying anti-crime task forces into several major metropolitan areas.

As Ronald Reagan used to say, “There you go again.”  “Black-On-Black” Crime; it is the great chorus that is consistently used as a bludgeon to dull or silence any legitimate call against white racism.  In this instance the issue is unwarranted, unjustified police brutality and police murders of innocent unarmed Black men in disproportionate numbers.  The refrain has also been used by those who oppose the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  The argument goes like this,  If you are so concerned about Black lives mattering, then why don’t you do something about Black-on-Black crime. Who does not agree with stopping any senseless murder, no matter whom the perpetrator.  If it were a legitimate argument, what does one have to do with the other?  So you mean to say, if I murder someone, you then are justified in murdering them too?  You see how foolish that logic is.  However, beyond the foolishness of the logic the argument itself is false and fake.

It sounds like a strong argument that’s supposed to silence the protests against white racism and the white bigotry perpetrated by the police, an agency employed to serve and protect all of its citizens and administer equal protection under the law.  But the only problem is the argument is bogus at best and a flat out lie at worse.  According to the 2017 National Crime Victim’s Rights Week Resource Guide: Crime and Victimization Fact Sheets, Homicides are largely intra-racial;  Of crimes involving a single offender and victim: 

81% of white victims were killed by a white perpetrator;

89% of all black victims were killed by a black perpetrator.  

Did you get that.  When a white person is murdered in America, 81 percent of the time someone white killed them.  The only problem is, we don’t call it: WHITE-ON-WHITE CRIME, even though it is.  I wonder why Attorney General Bill Barr is not sending Federal troops to the White neighborhoods where this outbreak in White-on-White violence is taking place?

Funny how you can twist language and leave out facts to make one group of people seem more violent against themselves than anybody else. When gangs have a violent shooting in some urban neighborhood, its always portrayed as black-on-black crime, but when a mafia hit is reported on the local news and bullet ridden cars are seen outside a midtown restaurant somewhere, do they ever call that White-on-white crime?  How about the mass shootings reported in schools  and public places across the nation committed by white perpetrators against white victims, are those labeled white-on-white crimes?  It appears that we have a problem in our reporting in this country.  Could this be “FAKE NEWS.”  Could this be an attempt to portray one race of people as more violent and self-destructive than everyone else in America?

The fact that all major crimes are intra-racial should not be a surprise to anyone with an ounce of common sense.  The homicide statistics for blacks and whites; is the same for Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and every other ethic group in America.  America is a very segregated nation.  We live in extremely segregated communities.  The moment someone “black” steps foot into a white neighborhood, ten cop cars show up minutes later.  How in the world could someone black or brown ever get close enough to rob someone white much less shoot or kill them.

The real issue that needs to be addressed, which is common among all Americans, is how extremely violent this nation is.  We feed and entertain ourselves on brutality constantly. From our entertainment, to sports, to the video games we play, to our virtual reality war games and the list goes on and on, we are constantly consuming violence that begins at an early age.  This consumption of barbarity seems to be numbing us to the death that happens around us in America, so that no matter how outrageous public mass murders are, we still cannot agree to any kind of sensible legislation to control the spread of unwanted illegal firearms. Over 400,000 non-fatal firearm incidents happen annually and the good news is that number is dropping from what it used to be in the early 1990s.  However, the numbers dropping will mean nothing if there is no change in our national behavior. 

The issue of violence, homicide and murder is an American problem that we all should join together in addressing.  But as long as we continue to create this bogus Black-on-black crime fallacy to divert our attention from the real issues, we will never solve the important mutual challenges that we face.  What are those mutual problems; unjustified police brutality against Black Americans and people of color; and inordinate gun violence in America.  That’s where our focus should be. But as longs as we fall for the race baiting “Black-on-Black Crime” okey-doke, we will never unite to address the real problems that paralyze our nation. 

Unfinished Conversations

As I watched the funeral service of another friend and colleague from a distance, separated by COVID—19 and all of the other intrusions that life can bring, I began to think about what this really meant.  A flood of thoughts came to my mind.  Having just celebrated another birthday a few days ago, matters of life and death become even more real and sobering.  

As a pastor because you deal with death so often there seems to be the assumption that a teflon coat comes with the calling.  But these days ones own mortality has made the teflon more adhesive.  I’m beginning to come to an age where more of my family and friends are beneath the earth than above it.

As I listened to my friend and colleague Freddie Russell mention his first meeting with Russell Seay at Oakwood in 1976, I remembered that we all began that year as Freshmen in Cunningham Hall.  My mind thought about all of the guys who we began with that year and where they all might be today, beginning with my first roommate?  I will not bore you with a list of names but my mind began to wonder?

And then I thought specifically about Russell.  I cannot say we were close, but we were friends.  We knew each other and for me my respect for him was genuine and sincere.  In ministry after a few decades, you begin to learn who people really are.  The crucible of challenge and crises reveal the truth about all of us.  And from my observation Russell was one who had strong convictions and was unafraid to stand for them even if they placed him in an uncomfortable position.  This is a rare quality in life especially for those with personal ambitions or desires to ascend professionally in any way shape or form.  To be uncompromising is a rare quality to have and few possess it.  I found Russell to be one of those persons.  This was something that I valued and respected.

I also appreciated his unique insights and perspectives.  Whenever we had conversations about any subject I could count on Russell to share a perspective that was beyond the ordinary or conventional.  He would share a point of view that made you say, “I never would have thought of that.”  He was the kind of person the wise man was referring to when he wrote, “In a multitude of counselors there is wisdom.”  I, like many others, will sorely miss his counsel.

And so that brings me to my final thoughts.  What I regret most with Russell’s passing is the unfinished conversations.  The ones we were supposed to have.  I know I’m not alone in that category and am certain that many of those closer to him feel this even more acutely that I do.  But the question is, how do you process that emptiness?  How do you deal with that regret?  A regret that I have come to face more often that I would like to admit with the passage of time.  

After much deep contemplation something came to mind.  There will come a time when I can complete the conversations; in a completely different setting, uninterrupted and with the both of us having the full capacity of our faculties.  This is really not an unfinished conversation, but an interrupted conversation.  It’s like when you’re talking to someone on the cell phone and their signal dies while they’re passing through an area where the call drops.  When they pass through that weak area and get to a place where the signal is strong, they call you back and you continue the conversation.  Right now we’re passing through an area where the signal is weak.  The call between Russell and me has dropped.  But when He is resurrected by Christ to a place where our signal is strong, we’ll pick up where we left off and complete the conversation.  

“WHEN WILL THE WHITE EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY SPEAK?”

The final most powerful response has been issued.  It came this past Sunday, June 7, 2020, when the top NASCAR drivers led by Jimmie Johnson released their strong video denouncing the heinous racist behavior that led to the George Floyd murder.  Their voices were penetrating, pointed and powerful.  They did not mince words.  They got to the crux of the matter as the voiced their strong displeasure for white racism in America against African Americans and called for change.  

Then at the Atlanta Speedway Race the NASCAR drivers stopping for a pre-race moment of silence in memory of George Floyd, while NASCAR president Steve Phelps spoke to the drivers and teams over the public address system.  These were his words:  Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard.  The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better. The time is now to listen. To understand. And to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission. To take a moment of reflection to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport. 

For NASCAR, a community where some of its fans fly confederate flags at their events, to have its drivers and president release such strong public statements denouncing racism against African Americans and calling for the nation to do better; and risk offending its fan base and sponsors to do this, what possible excuse can anyone else have for their silence?  The acts by NASCAR were so powerful and moving that Bubba Wallace, the only Black professional driver on the NASCAR circuit, became faint when approached by reporters for a statement about what he had participated in and witnessed.

So the question is, when will the White Evangelical Christian Community Speak?  When will they publicly stand up in support of the African American community and denounce systemic white supremacy, police violence against African Americans and people of color; and join everyone else in saying “Black Lives Matter”?

They have not hesitated in voicing their disagreement with Gay marriage, abortion, women ordination, and those who oppose Donald Trump.  They had no problem calling former President Barack Obama the ‘Antichrist’ when he was in office.  So why have  they been silent and refused to speak in opposition to the attacks against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Armaud Arbery?  Do they feel no obligation to defend the “least of these,” as Jesus Christ has commanded his followers?

As I perused the Christian networks in preparation for this blog, 3ABN, TBN, Daystar, Hope, I saw  AD’s for programming and pitches for donations but no visible statements addressing the recent events of the past few days related to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Armaud Arbery.  What’s wrong with white evangelicals when it comes to speaking out publicly against racism, bigotry and bias.  They have publicly stood up to voice their strong support for President Donald Trump, a person whose infidelity, objectification of women and pathological lying is public, open and without dispute.  But when it comes to systemic racism there is a deafening silence. When will this duplicity cease?  What possible excuse can they give as a community?

This past weekend I watched a powerful YouTube discussion hosted by Bishop TD Jakes about racism in the white evangelical community.  The program was titled: “TD Jakes Presents: The Church & Race Featuring Leading Voices of the Church.”  Jakes was the only African American on the broadcast and his guests were, Judah Smith, Christine Caine, Carl Lentz, Dr. Caroline Leaf, Ron Carpenter, all white.  Their response to the question I am raising in this blog is very revealing, truthful, heartfelt and insightful.  If you are interested in hearing an honest perspective about this issue from the White Evangelical community, I encourage you to find Bishop Jake’s YouTube broadcast and listen to it. 

I will close with the message of a leader from another faith community who addressed the recent events in our nation.  Here are his words:

“Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd.

My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that “the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost”.

Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism. Let us pray for the consolation of their grieving families and friends and let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, intercede for all those who work for peace and justice in your land and throughout the world.

May God bless all of you and your families. “

——Pope Francis, General Audience, June 3, 2020