Theology Thursdays: Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy and Messiah XX: Prosperity Preaching, Liberation Theology And The Time
Over the past month I have been especially moved by three events. First, my review of The Atlantic magazine’s feature on Bishop T.D. Jakes. Second, my viewing of Tavis Smiley’s “State of Black America” forum on C-Span. And third, my attendance at the Nation Of Islam’s annual convention, Saviours’ Day 2006, in Chicago. All three events separately, and individually made me think deeper than I have in sometime over certain tensions, disagreements and differences that exist in the thinking (and worldviews) of Black people, and how they will eventually be resolved in a manner that results in our liberation and salvation.
While the second panel of Tavis Smiley’s forum received the bulk of attention from many, the third and final forum featuring emerging influences in Black America, was also significant to me. Part of one statement especially caught my attention.
It was made by Rev. Jamal Harrison-Bryant, of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland. He said, in part:
"There is a continuation that the church has to now follow. The 60s, 70s, the 80s the 90s led us to salvation but did not really take us to liberation. And we can’t do half the job. Moses’ job would have been incomplete by just putting blood on the door. That was salvation. But to take them across the Red Sea, was liberation. And so now the job of the church is not just to get people saved. But now ‘that I have you saved, I have to make sure that you are educated, that you are homeowners, that you in fact are making a positive impact on the community.’"
I had the honor of meeting Rev. Bryant in 1996 at a Hip-Hop conference, we have spoken a few times since then. I was and continue to be impressed with his presentations and I have always thought of him as a young Brother with enormous leadership ability and potential for our people.
When I heard his remarks, I was struck by the distinction that he made between salvation and liberation. And although I understood the constraints he was operating under, speaking in a live forum, and I recognized he was speaking to an audience with varying levels of acceptance (and even outright rejection) of his belief system, I did not agree with the manner in which he placed emphasis on these two concepts, particularly their theological and scriptural significance (perhaps one day Rev. Jamal and I will be able to speak to one another about this with the time this subject requires.)
While I understand the context and agree with some of the spirit of Rev. Bryant’s remarks I do not believe that what Black people have experienced, fought for and benefited from in the last 40 years - in either a political, economic or spiritual sense – with the exception of a handful of instances and events, represents liberation or salvation for Black people en masse. Our condition – health, politically speaking, economically, and morally - bears witness that we have not been liberated nor do we live in a state of salvation. Perhaps more importantly, our thinking and behavior provides sufficient evidence of this.
I understand that a Christian or Muslim may differ with my viewpoint. They may tell me – in the case of the Christian – that accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour represents salvation. And the Muslim may strongly state that their acceptance of Muhammad of 1,400 years ago as Messenger and Prophet of Allah, and their bearing witness of Allah as the only God represents their salvation. I would respectfully disagree, and believe that I could show either person, from their own books of scripture that what they profess from their lips does not constitute true salvation or liberation. That kind of discussion, dialogue and argument leading to proof is beyond the scope of this installment of this series, but not something that is not worthwhile.
As I reflected over Rev. Harrison Bryant’s comments, my mind went to The Atlantic Monthly 10-page feature on Bishop Jakes, which I first became aware of in the middle of February while traveling. On the cover flap of the magazine appears, “The Most Powerful Black Man in America (That White People Have Never Heard Of)”. That description directs you to a page in the magazine where an article appears under the headline, “The Preacher: Bishop T.D. Jakes wants his flock not only to do good but to do well, and his brand of entrepreneurial spirituality has made him perhaps the most influential black leader in America today.”
When I first read the headline that appeared on the cover flap, my mind went to the book, Message To The Blackman by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and that book’s back cover, where, among other comments, appears the following, from Reader’s Digest about the leader of the Nation Of Islam, 'This mild-looking man is…..the most powerful Blackman in America. He offers a new way of life. Muhammad prompts even his severest critics to agree when he says he attacks ‘traditional reasons the Negro race is weak.’" And then, after thinking over some of those words, an article that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote over four decades ago, in The Pittsburgh Courier entitled, "The So-Called Negro Preachers, Will They Accept Islam?" came to mind. In that article in response to that question, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote “The answer is ‘Yes.’ But when?” In this article the Honorable Elijah Muhammad writes that a few Christian preachers had already accepted Islam, but that most preachers had not heard of any religion by that name (Islam.) The Honorable Elijah Muhammad added later in the article that the Christian preachers would believe after ‘after they have seen a little more of the power of Allah.’
Decades have passed since that article was written, and circumstances have changed. For example, most Christian pastors are now becoming very familiar with the religion of Islam. And the teaching of many preachers has changed and evolved, in no small part due to the presence of the Nation Of Islam. [Another assist in this area came in 1998 when the influential Black Pastor, Rev. Fred Price spent several weeks, on television stations around America, critiquing and attacking the Nation Of Islam, and Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him.) Regardless to his motivation, he performed a great work of raising consciousness about Islam among Black Christians in America.] The events of September 11, 2001 are perhaps the most responsible, as of today, for promoting the mass awareness of Islam in the United States. Paradoxical, some might say.
So, as I think about Bishop T.D. Jakes and the growing phenomenon of what is called, ‘prosperity preaching’ I do so in the context and the recognition that there was a time when Black preachers were not so inclined to deal with the ‘here and now,’ instead placing emphasis on enjoying prosperity after death, in a place not on earth. Although some rightly critique the excesses of ‘prosperity preaching,’ I realize an interpretation of it that actually reveals it to be an assertive, progressive and entrepreneurial worldview that is an improvement upon the ‘slave religion’ that Black Christian preachers taught those held in captivity to Whites. True prosperity preaching, to me, is closer to liberation theology than it is to slave religion. Part of what Bishop T.D. Jakes and others are actually preaching is an aspect of Islam (as explained by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad) – not as a religion – but as a state of mind and condition of life.
But it is not enough.
Because, evidently, there is something missing in the worldview of Bishop T.D. Jakes that would allow him to be used so shamelessly by President George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina. The president, in the view of many was transparent in his effort to use the popularity of Bishop Jakes as a cover or shield for his own lack of such after the government’s inadequate preparation and poor response to the disaster. By traveling with the President, the Bishop transferred his goodwill among the people, garnered by his spiritual teaching and works, to a politician who was increasingly losing favor with the masses. To compound that matter, according to what Minister Louis Farrakhan said he learned from Tavis Smiley (who learned it from Cornel West), Bishop Jakes and numerous other pastors were pressured directly by Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice and Senior Bush Adviser Karl Rove to not support the Millions More Movement. This took place in a meeting between Bush administration officials and Black pastors in Dallas.
Now, after all of the work that Bishop Jakes and these Black pastors have performed wittingly and unwittingly on behalf of the Bush administration in their relationship with the masses of Black people, we learn from The Washington Post in a March 3, 2006 article entitled, "Churches Still Await Katrina Aid":
After Hurricane Katrina struck, President Bush enlisted a coalition of clergy from across the nation to distribute part of the $110 million in private funds that his father and former president Bill Clinton raised to help victims of the storm.
But six months later, Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of the ministers selected by Bush, said that not a dime of the $20 million designated for faith organizations along the Gulf Coast has arrived. He blames the fund led by Clinton and former president George H.W. Bush for not coming up with a plan to distribute the money to churches and other faith-based organizations.
"I am annoyed. I am frustrated. I am angry," said Jakes, who is co-chairman of an advisory panel set up to help the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund distribute the $20 million to churches. "We need to focus more on rebuilding our country."
In December, Jakes; former representative William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), the other co-chairman; and the other members of the advisory panel held hearings in New Orleans. More than 2,000 pastors testified about their hardships, and according to one prominent minister, some wondered when they would see any of the money from the Bush-Clinton fund.
"It is really embarrassing," said Bishop Paul Morton, pastor of the 20,000-member Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church. "We had all of these preachers coming together, about 2,000 filled out applications and there is still no money. They are all blaming Bishop Jakes, but he doesn't have the authority over the money. It is not his fault."
This article speaks for itself and points eventually to the unwinding of the relationship between Black Christian Pastors and the President (United States Government) that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad described and said was described in the Torah and Holy Qur’an. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that there were two things holding the Black preachers back. Over time those two impediments would be sufficiently removed for progress and a great stand to be made, as part of the outworking of a larger plan of liberation and salvation.
But one implication, that I take from this article, is that currently there is a blindspot in the worldview of many black pastors when dealing with the political powers of this country and world. And that leads me to the second panel of Tavis Smiley’s forum, featuring Rev. Al Sharpton, Harry Belafonte and Minister Louis Farrakhan. At a certain point during this panel, Minister Farrakhan, gave his only remarks. He made a powerful presentation, he then left. Then others on the panel reacted. Most visibly seemed to be deeply affected by what he stated, some even appeared offended. The entire event should be studied for better context. But, for now, here, is a portion of Minister Farrakhan’s remarks, which get to what I believe is that major blindspot, not only in the worldview of those foremost in ‘prosperity preaching’, but also those adherents of various ideologies, especially what would be classified as ‘political’ – whether progressive, liberal or conservative:
"I thought that I should start my words by saying that time is what really dictates agenda. If you don’t know what time it is, you might be doing the right thing at the wrong time and get not the right results. The question that we have to ascertain is – ‘where are we?’ not in this time, but in God’s time. We’ve had great political analysis, great economic analysis but I have not heard deep spiritual analysis….There is a spiritual dimension to this problem and if we are not cognizant of the deep spiritual problem that America faces, that we face, that the world faces then our other efforts will not bear the type of fruit that we desire it to bear. There is prophecy that we have to consider. Are we working against what God wants? Or are we working in harmony with what God wants for a people - that this book delineates clearly - that something is wrong? Wrong with the government in which we live, wrong with the leaders that lead us, wrong with us, and the way we respond to our enemy and each other. Now unless we are clear, all of this is for naught.
What time is it?
See if you don’t know where you fit in prophecy then you don’t know what time it is. Then you are doing the wrong thing, you are looking for the right results.
Where is Negro in the Bible?
Where is America in the Bible?
Well, the Bible prophets could see to the end of the world. Did they see America? And if they saw America they didn’t call her by name, what name is she under in the scripture?
And if they saw America did they see a nation robbed out of their native land, brought on a Westerly course, robbed of their name, language, culture, history and their own mind? Did the prophets see that? And if they did what did they say?
Now, this book (The Covenant) details our suffering over four centuries and the result of government failure to respond to the critical needs of us as a people and the poor of this nation…."
On this same point, Minister Farrakhan made the following comment in his Saviours’ Day 2006 Address from Chicago, “Dear Beloved Pastors, our preaching today will be empty and void if we do not teach the people and show the people how the prophecies relate to the daily news…The daily news is not ‘new’. The prophets saw it. The prophets wrote it. ”
The Minister added that although the Bible can be used to teach character development, inspiring sermons and beautiful lessons, unless it is used, he explained, in a way that shows how the prophecies of the Bible relate to the current time, the preaching of the Bible is not preparing people to get through the ending of a world.
After Minister Farrakhan made his remarks at Tavis Smiley’s forum, among other reactions were the comments of Professor Cornel West of Princeton University. He provided an interesting depiction of the historic and present differences of opinion that exist between those in the Black community referred to as progressives, civil rights leaders, and nationalists. At a certain point, and as part of a rhetorical question, he referred to the idea of a separate or independent government for Black people as a ‘pipe dream.’ He said he loved Minister Farrakhan and that his voice was indispensable and he also stated he believed the Minister was "profoundly frustrated both with Black people, and with America and the world."
I always find Professor West’s remarks interesting and entertaining, due to his intellect and colorful personality. I also find him interesting because he openly identifies himself as an ardent student of Karl Marx, Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesus. He calls himself a Christian. I have not as yet, heard Cornel West speak specifically on his view of the Exodus story of the Bible. I have not heard his thinking on the relationship between the work of Moses and Aaron and that of Jesus. I do not know if he has familiarized himself with the scriptural exegesis of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad which included detailed explanations that the Children Of Israel described in the Torah were a sign of Black people in America today; and the Egypt described in the same is a picture of America today.
Speaking out of these teachings, at Saviours’ Day, Minister Farrakhan argued that there were certain core scriptures of the Old Testament that are the base of the work of the Christ of the New Testament. He specifically pointed to and taught on the 12th Chapter of Genesis; the 15th chapter of Genesis; and the 18th Chapter of Deuteronomy. Later he spoke in detail on what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught about the 2nd Chapter of Daniel and the 17th Chapter of the Book Of Revelation.
What is clear to me, from what I know of the thinking of Bishop T.D. Jakes and Professor Cornel West, is that their thinking is typical of Black pastors and Black intellectuals, across this country. For them, the Bible is many things, but what it is not primarily, for them, is a book by which they measure time – as it relates to current events, politics, and prophecy. At present, it seems clear that Bishop T.D. Jakes and Professor Cornel West do not believe that it is important to publicly speak to Black audiences about how relevant certain prophecies contained in the Bible are to the Black experience and condition of Black people in America – from the beginning of slavery up to the present day, and beyond. At present, they do not feel compelled to publicly consider if the prophets saw the nation of America in scripture, and if so, where it is and how that relates to certain decisions, like, for example, President Bush’s to go to war in Iraq, and even, President Bush’s relationship to Black Pastors - like Bishop T.D. Jakes, Rev. Kirby John Caldwell and Rev. Floyd Flake.
Related to all of this is the fact that after years of never meeting one another, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church got acquainted in 2005 in February, in Lithonia, Georgia, as part of Tavis Smiley’s State Of Black America Forum. Here (click) is a beautiful picture of Minister Farrakhan with Bishop Eddie Long and his wife, according to photo credits, taken at that event. Both men articulated their happiness at getting together and their genuinely warm feelings for one another, that grew in personal conversation. Their meeting came 10 years after the Million Man March and after years of controversy and mixed feelings about the Nation Of Islam and the Black Church in the Atlanta-area’s Black community.
Some time afterward, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Bishop Eddie Long had a breakfast meeting in Atlanta wherein the Black Pastor told Minister Farrakhan that he “got into so much trouble” for having him at his church, and that as a result, he would not be able to support him and the Millions More Movement.
Minister Farrakhan said he never asked Bishop Long who he “got into so much trouble” with, but that he knew their identity.
One day, I believe that Bishop Eddie Long will be strong enough to tell such people - who now control his thinking and behavior - to go to hell.
On that day we all will be liberated, and at the door step of our complete salvation - fulfilling certain powerful prophecies in the Bible and Holy Qur’an.
I fast and pray to see that day.
Thursday, March 9, 2006