Encouraging The Black Preacher To Take A Stand In The War On Terrorism (Part 1)
One morning last week while driving in Washington D.C., I tuned in, as I often do, to the city's Black talk-radio station 1450AM WOL and its popular morning host, civil rights leader Joe Madison. The Black Eagle, as Mr. Madison is commonly known was in the middle of making a powerful argument. Mr. Madison was illuminating a point that many in the Black community have lamented over and murmured about in discussion, but which few have made juxtaposed to the current U.S.-led "war on terrorism".
Mr. Madison was openly asking the question: Why aren't the most prominent Black Christian Pastors, particularly those who lead the so-called multi-million-dollar "super churches," speaking out against the measures being taken by the Bush administration, particularly Attorney General John Ashcroft, that would allow government intelligence agencies to eavesdrop, wiretap and place under surveillance religious institutions and their leadership, in a way that has not been possible, legally, in nearly 30 years.
Mr. Madison was simultaneously pleading with and challenging any Black preachers and Christians in his listening audience to take seriously, as a matter of life and death, the new powers that the Bush administration was seeking, in terms of the expansion of surveillance powers. He gave a very thorough explanation of the direct implications on Black preachers of the broadening of the activities of the Justice Department. He specifically spoke of the proposal that would relax FBI restrictions on the surveillance of church groups and their activities through wiretaps and the use of paid informants.
In the entire 30 minutes that I heard Mr.Madison speak, I did not once hear him mention any prominent Black preachers by name. But I immediately thought of three Black preachers that I know are enormously popular among Black Christians and others.
I thought of Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas Texas, whose congregants include former NFL greats, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. I thought of all of the different barbershops that I have been in where video and audiotapes of Bishop Jakes are sold or are viewed. I also reflected over Bishop Jakes's new television program on BET, "The Potter's Touch".
I also thought of Rev. Creflo Dollar of Atlanta, Georgia, whose television ministry is one of the most popular and widely watched in all of the United States of America. Among Rev. Dollar's congregants is heavyweight great Evander Holyfield and some of my high school classmates who now live in Atlanta.
And I also thought of Rev. Fred Price of Los Angeles, California whose Sunday morning ministry is by far, one of the most popular, if not the most popular televised sermon on that day. I reflected over his several months-long series on Race and Religion which helped to earn him the cover of the now-defunct Emerge magazine.
I also thought of the reaction to what the Attorney General was considering by those Black Pastors who were foremost in advocating on behalf of President Bush's faith-based initiative. And I considered the courageous and powerful arguments that I have heard small and mid-level Black Pastors (in terms of the size of their churches) make in critiquing the motive and goals of the policies currently advanced by the Bush administration.
As I listened to Mr. Madison's impassioned pleas to the leadership of the Black Christian community I wondered to myself would we ever see Bishop Jakes, Rev. Dollar or Rev. Price use their televised platforms to criticize the Bush administration's expansion of surveillance powers and erosion of civil liberties, especially now that they place the Black Church in the crosshairs of the FBI, CIA and NSA.
But the intensity of what I heard, coming from Mr. Madison reminded me of a particular portion of Minister Farrakhan's Day of Atonement Address on October 16, 2001, where he too, challenged and encouraged the Black Preacher to stand up to the actions of the United States government that may be inappropriate or excessive. The sincerity with which the Minister expressed what he did touched me as I reflected over how many have compromised their religion in order to curry favor from government. Here is part of what the Minister said on that subject juxtaposed to the "war on terrorism"
"In order to save our nation from a destructive fall there must arise, always out of the citizens, those who would be willing to speak truth to power. There are persons of enormous patriotism, courage, and love of God, truth and their nation, who will speak truth to power, these are real patriots for they are willing to pay the price to point out the wrong that might lead to correction of a practice that is against our principles. A patriot is not one who waves the flag. Please listen.
In this hour when we are all singing "God bless America", be careful, that God does not damn America if we say words that sound good but our practice is contrary to the principles that uphold a nation and keep it strong and in perpetuity. That is why, to me, Martin Luther King Jr. was a super-patriot. Why do I say that? Because this nation cannot exist half-slave and half-free. This nation cannot go on like this - with the Black, and the White and the Brown, and the Yellow and the Red pulling at each other. This nation can't go on like this, a fabric that is supposed to be pluralistic but there is no thread to bind it together. You didn't come together on philosophy. Tragedy brought you together...
A patriot is one who upholds the principles that the flag represents. If the government becomes unfaithful to the principles, and its practice is in violation of principles, the patriot is one who calls the nation back to those principles that made it great. So when the patriot calls the leaders back to the principles, the leaders have a tendency to attack the patriot. And label the patriot as 'unpatriotic, thereby calling down on that individual the wrath of [others] who think they are being patriotic in following leadership that has become corrupt. History is full of the martyrdom of those who sought to correct the kings and the rulers of the earth.
President Bush said 'this is not a war against Arabs or Islam, this is a war against terrorism'. Is this statement a statement of fact? The President spoke from a mosque and stated that 'Islam is the religion of peace'. Now, I don't think President Bush is qualified to represent our religion. But you, as a Muslim have to be careful. Because most immigrant Muslims want acceptance more than you want the path of God and Muhammad. I want you to hear me.
So, President Bush, by saying that our religion is a religion of peace, he's right, but those who have studied the religion should not allow our religion to be misrepresented to fit into a scheme that wants to paint the religion of Islam as non-violent, I am going to say this. Islam is not non-violent. Neither is Christianity. They have a principle - the Cardinal was discussing it - the principle of a just war. The Christian should be allowed to fight what is called a just war. Well, alright. If the war that is raging now in Afghanistan is a just war and if the colonists wanted to be separated from England, and it was a just cause, then they had a responsibility to mankind to show mankind the reason that justified their cause for separation. If President Bush wants the world to join him in the war, prove to the world that Ussama Bin Laden is the man that is responsible for this heinous crime.
I don't know Mr. Bin Laden, I, like you, never heard of the man. But one man has gotten everybody upset. But then I heard the President say 'it ain't about this one man'. Then what is it then? He said he had overwhelming evidence. Have you seen it? Well, aren't you the American people? Is this a government of the people, by the people, and for the people? Then bring the evidence and show it to the American people.
Don't hide behind national security. The nation would be more secure if you give the American people the reason to fight. I know, I know, we trust our government officials. I wouldn't be so foolish if I were you. Because they have lied before and there is no guarantee that they are not lying now. Where is the proof?
See look, I am going to call you Christians, you are going to help me in this fight or I will show that you are not a Christian. You are an enemy of Jesus Christ, hiding behind his noble name. Paul said, 'prove all things and hold fast to that which is good and that which is true.' There is nothing wrong with you asking your government to show you the proof...If I am hurting anybody's feelings that is not my intention. Look at it.
The prophets of God have never been unpatriotic because they rebuked kings and rulers. The prophets of God were apart of a society or a nation that was endangered by the practice of their leadership against righteous principles that give perpetuity, so the prophet had to stand and say to the leaders ' thus sayeth the Lord'.
Dear Pastors we have to do that, even if we have to pay a price. There is nothing in this world more precious than truth. Truth was here when we got here, truth will be here when we are gone. The Qur'an teaches that the heavens and the earth were created in truth. Falsehood has created nothing. So my life, if it is spent in the cause of truth, I can never die, as long as the truth lives. And that's why Jesus came offering eternal life because there is no death in him...History is full of the martyrdom of those who sought to correct the kings and the rulers of the earth."
As you think over the Minister's words, please consider this news article which speaks of churches and the growing potential for their surveillance and invasion of privacy by the government.
Will Potential Surveillance Chill Churches?
Attorney General John Ashcroft indicates he may be prepared to end a 1970s-era ban on watching religious groups suspected of illegal activities
BY JESSICA REAVES
US Attorney General John Ashcroft briefs the press at the Department of Justice
Monday, Dec. 03, 2001
Should religious groups with suspected terrorist ties be monitored by the federal government? Attorney General John Ashcroft thinks so, and is prepared to implement new, broad-reaching surveillance powers to America’s FBI agents.
"We will respect the rights of political freedom and religious freedom, and we are deeply committed to that," Ashcroft told ABC’s "This Week." "But for so-called terrorists to gather over themselves some robe of clericism… and claim immunity from being observed, people who hijack a religion and make out of it an implement of war will not be free from our interest."
It’s easy, as an American of a certain age, to take religious freedom for granted — after all, we visit our mosques, synagogues and churches without a backwards glance. Easy, as well, to forget that not so long ago, the government had no compunction about spying on citizens’ religious practices. Despite the long-standing association of the American bill of rights with absolute religious freedom, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the federal government stopped its surveillance of places of worship. Before that, FBI director J. Edgar Hooper spent much of his term spying on the comings and goings of rabble-rousers as varied as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and assorted Ku Klux Klan members.
Now that Ashcroft is poised to lift the 30-year-old ban, how will Americans respond? By now we have to assume Ashcroft is accustomed to a certain amount of criticism; his remarkable tenure as wartime AG has pitted him against civil libertarians and even a few conservatives who take issue with what they see as the administration’s encroachment on individual rights. This week, however, even Ashcroft may be surprised by his opponents, whose ranks include not only members of the ACLU, but some dedicated Christian conservatives. That’s despite the fact that the obvious target of any surveillance activity will be Islamic groups and mosques — not Baptist churches or reform synagogues. "Freedom of religion," says Gregory Magarian, assistant professor of law at Villanova University, "is a very popular, very unifying political cause. It breeds otherwise unlikely alliances."
There’s a chance, of course, says Magarian, that the government will use this new power judiciously, no one’s rights will be threatened and opposition will be virtually non-existent. After all, religion, Magarian says, echoing Ashcroft’s own statements, cannot be a special kind of shield against legitimate criminal investigations. "If you run a religious organization and the government has true probable cause to believe your group is helping terrorists, you shouldn’t be able to hold up religion to keep the government inquiry at bay."
The problem comes in, continues Magarian, when religion itself becomes the reason for an investigation. "Religion can’t form the basis for launching an inquiry in the first place," he says. "That kind of singling out flies in the face of our laws. If there are any concrete disadvantaging treatments or consequences — including chilling of expression or practices of worship —" there will probably be legal challenges.
Happily, such treatments have been largely absent from American Muslims’ religious lives, says Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.
While Hooper agrees with Ashcroft’s premise, he hopes the focus remains trained on terrorism rather than on one particular religion. "Obviously if there is some indication of wrongdoing, that’s one thing," he says. "But if there’s no evidence of a problem, then it’s intrusion — something no American should want to see, because you never know who could be next. People who don’t share our religion or background may figure it’s all well and good to say go after the Muslim groups or the Arab groups," Hooper says ruefully, "but what about the next round of surveillance is directed at you?"
Monday, December 10, 2001