Encouraging The Black Preacher To Take A Stand In The War On Terrorism (Part 2)
"I am not criticizing these preachers, I am just prodding. I am saying to them, that you have an obligation, not just to yourself and to your church, but to the world. I just don't understand their silence." Those were the words of civil rights leader and talk show host Joe Madison who spoke to us last week regarding the relative silence among Black Pastors in reference to steps taken by the Bush administration to increase governmental surveillance powers, in its "war on terrorism". Included in the Bush administration initiative is an effort to expand such powers as they relate to religious institutions.
"This is serious stuff. Now you have an administration, Justice Department and FBI all doing legally what J. Edgar Hoover did illegally. This is nothing new. Rev. Walter Fauntroy had the telephones in his church tapped and his activities were under surveillance by the FBI. At some point you have to leave your comfort zone. I think that Minister Farrakhan is right in saying to them, 'I am going to hold you accountable'. I agree I will no longer have preachers on my show talking about this church program and that church program that they are running, without having them speak to this issue. They all speak in the name of Martin Luther King but they aren't doing what Dr. King did. The great thing about Rev. Martin Luther King was not that he had convictions but that he had the courage of his convictions. He knew about J. Edgar Hoover but still spoke out as he did. I don't think these Pastors grasp that aspect of Dr. King's life." Mr. Madison emphasized.
Mr. Madison's points are well taken. We too wonder how many Black preachers, especially those with the largest congregations and national stature would be willing to follow Rev. King's example in challenging the domestic and foreign policies of the United States government that are contrary to the commandments of God and the teachings of Jesus.
For years many in the Black community have questioned the relevancy of the Black Church to the Black community, wondering aloud if the longest-standing institution in the Black community has not lost its revolutionary potential, a potential which is inherent in its obedience to God, and in following the example of the Ministry of Jesus - a ministry which brought Jesus into direct conflict with the political leadership of his day. We wonder how much of this watering down of the gospel is due to too close of an attachment to partisan politics and a growing reliance upon government funding for community development programs. And of course there have long been questions raised about the lengths to which any religious organization would be willing to go in confronting the political establishment, while still concerned with maintaining its tax-exempt designation from the IRS. The furor in the Black community earlier this year over faith-based community development programs heightened that discussion.
But now, the U.S. "war on terrorism" presents an issue that very well may place the Black Preacher - who maintains that he or she places the demands of following Jesus Christ over everything else - in the valley of decision. Will it be God, the Father and Jesus, or Caesar? And for Muslim leaders, will it be Allah and Muhammad, or Caesar?
In our discussion with Mr. Madison we explored many possible reasons as to why there was an almost uniform silence among the most prominent Black Pastors in reference to the draconian measures being discussed and instituted by the Bush administration. And we offered an explanation, that the Black opinion leader seemed to accept.
We opined that the combined shock of the events and images of the September 11th attacks; the cultural pressure to accept a superficial form of patriotism; and the rapid political steps taken by the Bush administration to broaden policing powers, among other factors, had thrown off the equilibrium of the Black Christian Preacher.
Mr. Madison accepted that possibility in concept but added, "They better regain their equilibrium quickly because they are next on the list. The FBI, at this point, may not be in their pews. It is more likely that the government would be working on someone like a Rev. Fauntroy or Minister Farrakhan. But if these other Preachers think they are safe, who are they kidding?"
A serious question Mr. Madison poses, as this is no laughing matter.
Tuesday, December 11, 2001