Is the Black Church Misapplying Its Power?

OPINION: Are black clergy wasting energy on opposing gay marriage and calling for a boycott of the presidential election when other more pressing issues confront us?

Black preachers holding press conferences about gay marriage and churchgoers boycotting Election Day? I wonder if our squabbling about gay rights amid so many greater problems plaguing the black community is a symptom of a bigger issue for the church — impotence in the community. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells of the power believers would receive to have a wide community impact. Yet, we waste energy on what is ultimately a private personal matter between a person and who they choose to live their life with. Perhaps gay marriage is that low-hanging fruit that’s easier for the church to pick at.

Amid all the talk about gay marriage rights and the black church at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 42nd Annual Legislative Conference last week, I was intrigued by a panel discussion among some of the nation’s leading black preachers that actually targeted a more critical community concern. Ironically, the panel was moderated by the Rev. Al Sharpton (my Brownsville, Brooklyn homeboy), who the same day was prominent at a press conference where preachers correctly urged churchgoers to NOT sit home on Election Day in protest of President Obama’s support of gay marriage rights.

The panel dealt with the church engaging the public policymaking process. Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, pointed out that during the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, most black church leaders sat back or criticized as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists risked their lives out on the limb reaching for more important community fruit. Sharpton began by asking each panelist what the church should focus on to improve the black community.

PREACHING TO THE PREACHERS: Rev. Al Sharpton moderated a panel discussion with black clergy at the Congressional Black Caucus. (Photo: Michael Holahan/Newscom)

The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of Detroit’s National Action Network chapter, stressed church involvement in economic development. “The only institution that we still own is the black church. It may not be perfect, it has faults, but it’s the best thing that we’ve got going,” he said.

Juan Thomas from Chicago said that historically black preachers and lawyers (for example, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell and Thurgood Marshall) have worked closely together to affect public policy. This must continue.  “After this cycle we need to do our part to changes these voter ID laws and suppression laws,” added Thomas, who is also an attorney and the secretary of the National Bar Association.

The Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said that churches had abandoned discussions about “the sin of poverty” in favor of the prosperity gospel.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, a leader of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, noted the AME’s history of political engagement dating back to Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black person sworn into the U.S. Congress. “We need to sit at the table while you’re (elected officials) making the decisions because we’re right there in the trenches … We can tell you what’s working and not working.”

The Rev. David Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, Michigan, targeted health care disparities such as, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “The church refuses to move from the pulpit to the pavement … We’re sleeping with each other on Saturday, shouting on Sunday, and dying on Monday.” He also mentioned the prison industrial complex, which disproportionately targets African Americans.

The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Johnson Cook, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, urged black clergy to get involved in policymaking, including at the international level. “We have to be local, but we have to go big, go global.” She added there needs to be more alliances with other communities, such as Hispanics, to address common concerns.

The Rev. Lennox Abrigo, of Seventh Day New Covenant in Hyattsville, Maryland, also emphasized the need for community partnerships. He mentioned his church’s relationship with the American Cancer Society to bring early diagnosis to black men who may be suffering from cancer.  “I’ve promised God that I’m not going to restate the problem anymore. I’m just going to go out and make things happen,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, also targeted economic development, noting that 50 percent of black households in Detroit make under $25,000 per year. He said the number of children under 18 living in poverty is 53 percent. “It’s not just Detroit; it’s your city,” he said.  “… As a pastor, I have to speak to that on a daily basis.” There needs to be a “social gospel ministry” that speaks to public policy, he said. “We have so many issues, we can’t deal with them all, but we can deal with those issues and policies that lift people up every day.”

So what do you think? Is the church doing enough with its power to uplift the community? And, before you answer, remember that WE believers ARE the church.

About the author, Wil LaVeist

Wil LaVeist is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and author of Fired Up: 4 Steps to Overcoming a Crisis, Including Unemployment. Contact him at www.WILLAVEIST.com, and listen to The Wil LaVeist Show Wednesdays at Noon to 1 p.m. on 88.1 WHOV in Hampton, Virginia.
  1. Life would be much simpler for everyone if the debate about same-sex marriage were only “a private personal matter between a person and who they choose to live their life with.” Believing that requires ignoring the testimony of both the Old and New Testaments, the teaching of Jesus on marriage, and the church’s historic doctrine of marriage.

    I am saddened if any pastor believes the best option is to boycott the election. But no pastors, regardless of race, are off-track because they speak in defense of marriage. Remaining silent in that debate would be a failure of their calling as leaders.

    • Douglas: Appreciate your comment. My commentary is about prioritizing not advocating silence. People should be free to speak out on whatever they choose. An interesting admission that preachers also made during the CBC was that Christians have not exactly been exemplary models of the holy matrimony we profess. Despite church doctrine and history, many pastors (male and female) have divorced more than once. Adultery continues in churches, etc. What does that say about our HG power? Our witness? This reality doesn’t put clergy on strong moral footing to protest who the state or federal government should allow to marry. How marriage is handled inside the church is another matter. You also know that in America you can get married and divorced without the church ever being involved. I believe, as I hope you do, in the separation of church and state. As Christians we are called to first be married to Jesus — to be his witnesses particularly among nonbelievers. The community has bigger more major problems that need to be addressed. What would the Lord have us prioritize? Gay marriage is an easy to speak out on “low hanging fruit” issue. I think you will find this link about the history of marriage very intersting: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17351133

  2. Mr. LaVeist,

    I could not disagree with you more. For Al Sharpton and others to try and influence Pastors so they can then tell their flocks to vote this November in spite of their Biblical conviction is wrong. And let’s call it for what it is. Since Black folks vote en masse for Democrats, especially black ones, this is a rescue attempt of the Black vote for President Obama. Mr. Sharpton knows that our President cannot win without it. The Black church is not an arm of the Democratic party. It belongs to Jesus Christ!

    You are wrong about the “low-hanging fruit”. A nation that forsakes God’s ways is in danger of His judgment! God not only addresses homosexuality as a sin, He refers to it as an abomination. That is why Black Christians are struggling with whether or not to vote for President Obama or just stay home. And has it occurred to anyone that the reason the Black community is struggling in so many areas is because we need to repent? All of the ills the preachers mentioned aren’t JUST because of racism. Many of them are because of sin! Sin we have committed. We have been dealing with the issues that the Pastors point out for years and it will not change until we, as individuals, change. As a community we are lost and suffering. Suffering because we have forsaken God. It’s not because of rich white Republicans who want to keep us down. It’s not because the government isn’t doing enough. Billions (maybe trillions) have been poured into our communities. It’s because of a Biblical law that says whatsoever a person sows, that is what they will reap. We are reaping years of gang violence, drug dealing, promiscuity, fatherlessness, single-parenting (due to boys making babies they can’t raise or support), and abortion (probably the gravest sin of all). We need a revival of repentance in the Black community!

    What saddens me the most about this article is the fact that, when asked by Mr. Sharpton what should the church focus on the most to help the Black community, no one is quoted as saying, “the preaching of the Gospel”. Please tell me Mr. LaVeist that at least one Pastor mentioned the preaching of the Gospel? Our identity as a body is because we have been “called out” of a lost and dying world to preach the repentance of sin and faith towards God in Christ Jesus. We are losing this and it is part of our weakness. The church is taking its cues from the world trying to address every problem of mankind when we have been called to address the chief problem of mankind. That is sin. Am I saying there is no place for good works such as feeding the poor, helping the homeless, etc.? No, I am not saying that in the least. It is our duty to care for those who can’t care for themselves. But it is not our primary purpose. Sadly, we have allowed the world to tell us it is.

    You are right to point out to Mr. LeBlanc the sins of the church and how that has made us a poor witness to the rest of the nation. Let’s not compound that by putting aside our convictions in order to put President Obama back in the White House.

  3. Edward:
    Yes, all of the ministers spoke to the preaching of the gospel in the context of these issues. Like the Rev. Martin Luther King, that was their starting point, in the same way that the gospel is the starting point for many in preaching against gay marriage. You wrote: “It’s because of a Biblical law that says whatsoever a person sows, that is what they will reap. We are reaping years of gang violence, drug dealing, promiscuity, fatherlessness, single-parenting (due to boys making babies they can’t raise or support), and abortion (probably the gravest sin of all). We need a revival of repentance in the Black community!” All of those issues you say the black community should repent for have and continue to exist in other communities. In fact, an honest reading of history reveals that church institutions have also been perpetrators. Yet blacks suffer disproportionately by at least twice the amount. Why is that? The church — that includes ME and YOU — should apply its Holy Ghost given power (Acts 1:8) to these issues. If gay marriage is going to be what black clergy are most known for standing against, I believe Jesus would have us do a Matthew 7:5 self-evaluation so that the church would be on stronger moral ground to influence nonbelievers. You and I are actually not in opposition. We’re on the same Jesus team. The question is where should we focus our passion and power?

    • Mr. LaVeist,

      I don’t doubt we’re on the same team. It just appears to me that there is a lot more emphasis on political solutions than on spiritual solutions. Though there is still racism/unfairness in our society, that is not the primary reason for our present circumstances. Our forefathers had it a lot worse than we and did not suffer to the extent we do from the pathologies that plague our community. My whole point is that our real problems are spiritual, not political (racism/unfairness).

      What really upsets me is seeing the cavalier manner in which we are treating the issue of homosexuality/gay marriage. I recently heard Dr. Tony Evans talk about this and I am very much in agreement with his stance. It is not a civil rights issue. Al Sharpton and others were trying to convince these ministers that this is a civil rights issue. The ultimate purpose for this was to ensure that Black folks show up at the polls to vote for President Obama.

      We treat the issue of abortion in the exact same way. Millions of innocent lives have been killed for the convenience of the two who did the “crime”, but don’t want to do the time. But let’s continue to support a party that includes abortion and gay marriage as planks in their platform. Is there any wonder that we suffer the most, as a community, in America? We may be its biggest hypocrites! We scream for justice for the most vulnerable among us, but we are disproportionately responsible for the number of abortions that take place. Seventy percent or more of all children born in our community are born out of wedlock. These are problems of our own making. And we think voting for “the Right Guy” is going to help solve this? Really?!!! We think more government programs are going to deal with this? Maybe the reason our Holy Ghost power is ineffective is because the Holy Ghost has left us due to our immorality and hypocrisy? He is holy! All the programs the Church can come up with and all the money the government can dole out to finance them will not change a thing in our community until there is a change of heart. We have hooked our people on what the government can do for us instead of turning in repentance from sin and faith towards God. This will change the choices we make and the things we do.

      These are my major problems with this whole issue. There is, in my opinion, too much emphasis on the one end and not on the other!

  4. The gay agenda has become one of the most widespread issues that face Americans today .Never before have so many homosexuals been so prevalent in todays society whereas it was once shunned as a disgrace to society, today it has erronously been accepted by secular society and some weak-kneed Christians as,what they want to call, an alternative lifestyle psychologists and psychiatrists were once trained to deal with it as a problem, today they are required to help them to supposedly accept who they are , nevermind the fact that the Word of God clearly,and without a doubt, condemns homosexuality as a sin , which eventually brings the judgement of God upon mankind.I also realize that there are those that arrogantly think that they are wiser and smarter than their creator and maker who is God as did Satan when he was throne out of heaven right along with a third of the angels because they wanted to exalt himself above God. Society is increasingly embracing gayism or abominism as an acceptable way of life ,which is just another indication that we are presently living in apostate times.The question was asked Is the black Church Misapplying it’s power? No, of course not,there is without a doubt much work that still needs to be done.

  5. Among Christians it’s very popular for us to emphasize God’s judgment toward “other people’s” sins, but if judgment belongs to God only, why would he want us to focus on that? Why would he want us up in his business? No, in Matthew 7:1 -6 he tells us clearly NOT to focus on that, but to get our own behavior in order. This is of course consistent with Acts 1:8 where he clearly says we will have the power to walk uprightly and what he wants us to do with that power — be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. So instead of being so quick to point out to others what THEY are doing wrong and how they’re going to hell, we should, by our behavior, by our lifestyle, SHOW others the better and right way. In other words, stay in OUR LANE and show love. Tell people the truth according to the Word, and live that truth ourselves to illustrate God’s love and power. Then people will be convicted, convinced, led (not forced) by our testimonies to follow God’s way. Example after example, we’ve seen Christians – even prominent clergy – who are adamantly against homosexuality, but then they turn out to be gay themselves or pedophiles, etc. Why is that? I’ve been married once and to the same woman for 20 years. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. But nowadays when I hear someone ranting passionately against homosexuals, I assume they’re probably wrestling with it themselves.

  6. Mr. LaVeist,

    There’s a difference between ranting against homosexuality/gay marriage and responding to someone who proposes to you that it’s okay or should be ignored. The President made a declaration (as a Christian) that same-sex marriage is just as right as heterosexual marriage. That is what folks are responding to. Before he said anything, no one was ranting.

    As to judging others, the biblical implication is to condemnation. No one is condemning anyone. We are setting ourselves in agreement with what is clearly stated in Scripture. Again, Al Sharpton was asking Pastors to encourage their folks to ignore the President’s stance when they step into the voting booth. Many folks cannot do that. That does not make them homophobes. It makes them individuals with convictions they cannot compromise.

    Also, if we took your position concerning speaking out against sin, preachers would never preach! I do agree that hypocrisy is a sin that some have been guilty of in the Church. This doesn’t relieve the preacher from condemning sin. Jesus went about preaching repentance. Repentance from what? Sin! We are not going around beating people upside the head with Scripture and condemnation. But when the subject is brought to us (like the President did in endorsing it and Al Sharpton is doing in asking us to ignore it) we are obligated to respond!

    By the way, I have been happily married for over 24 years to the same woman (my one and only)!

    • Edward: I certainly applaud you and your wife on 24 years along the “marriage journey.” Like I said, what are we going to prioritize? For example, Jesus was certainly against war. Meanwhile, our tax dollars support wars. Are Christians out protesting the wars? Are we holding major press conferences regarding why so many brothers and sisters are returning wounded, yet not receiving their benefits? http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57469804/massive-veterans-affairs-backlog-leaves-half-a-million-waiting-for-benefits/
      Nothing I’ve written here says be silent on sin and the truth of God’s word. I merely question why is gay marriage at the top of the sin list, especially when it has a minimal direct personal effect on the majority of us? Certainly it wouldn’t change your marriage or mine if the fed or all the states legalized it. Why are we so vocal on that one issue? Why have some of the most vocal clergy been outed? In John 8:1-11, wasn’t Jesus compassionate towards a woman who had a sexual sin problem for which church folk wanted to stone her? I suspect the church’s best witnesses regarding same sex marriage is the scriptural wisdom of Matthew 7:1 -6. Stats bear out that the more self-analysis we do according to the word, and the more seriously we take our relationship with God, the better our marriage (and overall quality of life) outcomes: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-14-divorce-christians_N.htm. The example we live and honest relationships we have with people are more persuasive than the judgment we try to hand down that we ourselves can’t even stand up to.

  7. Stop ‘sterotyping’ black people. Satan/the devil works through all races inside the church and inside the church, ‘NO’…’ALL’…’BLACK’…’CHURCHES’….”ARE’…’NOT’….MISUSING’….’THEIR’…’AUTHORITY.’-*living ‘truth’ proof*-

  8. I remember there was a time all the black community had was God. Jesus Christ out Savior
    I remember we used to stand for the glory of God to be seen through us. What happen to the David that was in our hearts. Where did all the True Worshiper go I know grandma and grandpa properly have passed on but we have their DNA and if your’s like mind they were prayer worriors. And don’t think I’m living in the past because I’m not we’re living in a time of need everybody need something their like the waves of ocean tossed to and from.one monment their talking about the things of God. Then they turn right around talk about their brother or sister. Either you’re on God side or not !!!!!! You can’t be both. What we do is pray for our country leaders and not make are pass judgement. Life would be so much liveable if we would just seek the kingdom of God and the rest of it would fall in place. Let’s get back to our first love. And stop running to our lovers when thing don’t go our way. Do what you were design to do , And get to the heart of the matter.

  9. IN GREAT GOD’S HOLY PURE NAME-THE BLACK CHURCH IS SUFFERING FROM MINISTERIAL ABUSES OF POWER. AND THIS CAN BE MODESTLY SAID. DUE TO GOD’S ALLOWENCE OF
    BARRY OBAMA’S DESERVED RELECTION.AS HIS SERVANT-LEADER. ALTHOUGH THE USA WOULD PREFER, AND NO BLACK PERSON IS PERFECT. SELF-DESTRUCTIVE IMAGES OF JIMI HENDRIX AND RICHARD PRYOR. BOTH IN NEED OF BLACK PSYCHIATRY.
    IN 2004, I RESIGN FROM TRANSFORMATION CHURCH UNDER MONROE SAUNDERS JR..
    IN BALTIMORE,MARYLAND A STATE WHERE BLACK CRIMINALS ARE NOT ARRESTED NOR SERVE JAIL TIME IF THE VICTOM IS BLACK. INNOCENT OR GUILTY, BLACK CRIMINALS DO NOT COMMIT CRIME IN WHITE,CHINESE OR LATINO AREA IN MARYLAND. THE LAW IS IN PROCESS ONLY FOR THOSE NEIGHBORHOODS. BY THE BALTIMORE POLICE DPT. WHICH IS
    PRO-BLACK ON BLACK CRIME GROSS NEGLIGENT.
    TRANSFORMATION CHURCH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WITHHOLDING CRIMINAL INFORMATION. FROM THE BALTIMORE POLICE WEBSITEONLINE DPT. -. A YOUTH MINISTER WAS LOOKING UP THE FOLLOWING WEBSITES ON CHURCH PROPERTY AS A SECURITY GUARD.
    http://WWW.BLACKSEX.COM AND WWW. BLACKSEXPLANET.COM, HOW LONG IT HAD BEEN GOING ON I DO NOT KNOW. WHO MAY HAVE KNOWN AND CHOSE TO WITHHOLD THE
    INFORMATION, MONROE SAUDNERS JR., VIOLET AND LEWIS PAYNE AND KARL AND DEBBIE BOONE. ALL CHURCH STAFF OFFICIALS. WHEN THEY MAY HAVE FOUND OUT I DO NOT KNOW. I QUIETLY RESIGNED. THIS INFORMATION WAS RESPONSIBLY GIVEN TO THE BALTIMORE POLICE DPT, A PHONE AND INTERNET STATE COMPANY, THE STATE SENATE
    AND THE STATE VICTOM PROGRAM. ONLY THE STATE TOURIST PROGRAM GAVE A ADRESS
    TO A STATE LAW FIRM. THE ANSWER BACK FROM ALL THESE STATE DPTS.- PLEASE FORGIVE THE HARSHNESS. WHEN NIGGERS COMMIT CRIME IN THE NIGGER COMMUNITES OF MARYLAND. IT IS A GENICIDE SOLUTION. WHY DOYOU NOT THNIK THERE ARE HATE CRIMES IN MARYLAND. AS LONG AS NIGGERS ONLY HARM AND VIOLATE THE LAW IN THE NIGGER COMMUNITY. JUSITCE CONSEQUENCES ARE PREVENTED. WHAT IS ALSO SAID TO PEOLE LIKE MYSELF WHO HAVE MOVED, IF YOU NIGGERS IN MARYLAND DO NOT LIKE BEING TREATED LIKE SLAVES, MOVE TO ANOTHER STATE.

  10. ONE SENTENCE CORRECTION- WHY DO YOU NOT THINK THERE ARE NO HATE CRIMES IN MARYLAND.

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