Usually, when I hear a preacher use the word “I” too much, when
the sermon or the speech is about the speaker, it telegraphs
this is a person out of touch with God; a vain person lost in
self-absorption. So consider yourself warned. I get criticized a lot for being negative.
I’m not negative. I am critical. There’s a difference. In
negativity, you tend to speak defeat and despair into a given
situation. You tend to instill doubt and fear and anxiety and
close doors that should be open. In criticism, you point out
opportunities missed, doors that should be open, gains that
should be made. You stop the go-along mentality of pandering to
the status quo and instead challenge folks to raise it.
There are a great many naked emperors within the black church, a church now struggling to find relevance in today’s world. A culture built on the sacrifices of our mothers and their mothers, the black church has, sadly, evolved into a kind of toothless caricature of the powerful institution it once was. I believe our mothers and their mothers and fathers would be ashamed, weeping in eternity, to see how we’ve allowed their sacrifice to go unrewarded. How we now take so very much for granted. How we’ve allowed our leaders to become impotent clowns, the most successful of them multi-millionaire impotent clowns lining their pockets with our tithes and offerings.
I never really think of myself as being negative, but I do think of myself as being critical. I point out the obvious and say things nobody else seems willing to say. It’s not that we don’t see these problems, but we’re either too lazy or too frightened to actually change things; to actually move things forward or make a difference. Nobody wants to rock the boat. Everybody’s waiting for Martin or Malcolm or Jesse to come do it. Well, folks, Jesse isn’t coming. Jesse’s advance team has a very long list of places asking for Jesse to come (I doubt we’ve even asked Jesse to come), and those folks make decisions on where to send Jesse based on (1) how much media attention Jesse will get and (2) what’s in it for Jesse. And, frankly, calling us to account isn’t Jesse’s job. It’s our job.
People telling me how negative I am makes me wonder when’s the last time they themselves spoke truth to power. When was the last time you rocked the boat, even at your own church or within your own community? What I’ve learned here is most hostility is borne out of guilt and conviction. God’s word convicts. And that conviction pierces hearts. It hurts. It threatens us, threatens our way of doing things. Makes us anxious. Makes us hostile.
The Black Voice: The Reverend Al Sharpton has eclipsed Jackson.
You've Got Mail
I've received email from brothers and sisters from around the
country chastising me for comments made here. “Look, you
so-called ‘preacher,’ I don’t know what kind of church you go
to, but here in [insert your city], our churches and pastors are
not like that…” Sure they are. And most of those people proved
it by being hostile and insulting—two things a Christian should
never be. It’s fine to disagree with me, but most email I get is
hostile and insulting, sent from people claiming to be followers
of Jesus Christ. Bottom line: if the observations and criticism
here do not apply to you or your ministry, I am then obviously
not talking about you. I pray your church in your town is, in
fact, the shining example of Christian conduct. But, I don’t
live in your town. I live in mine. And this is what’s going on
Speaking out against the exploitation and defamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the very people who claimed to have been transformed by it is not my responsibility alone. It is all of our responsibility to call sin sin and to stop looking the other way from corrupt preachers and mean, nasty church folk. Send me all the hate mail you’d like, it just makes my point. Hate is not a product of a Christian lifestyle. And, I fear there is a great holocaust of Christians, most especially black church folk, who belong to churches but who do not actually know Christ. Who sing in the choir but do not know Christ. Who sit on deacon boards but do not know Christ. Who are pastors but do not know Christ. Who elevated themselves to “bishop” but do not know Christ. Because Christ would not lead us to hate. Not lead us to envy. Not lead us to greed. Not lead us Big Titles And Offices. Would not lead us to attack someone for simply crying out for change, for a turn back to God.
Which is why we should question not only our motives but our inspiration for everything we do. These are, largely, my personal, first-hand observations of deep-seated and systemic problems within the black church. Your mileage may vary but, if you’re truly honest with yourself, you know these problems exist. And they are likely closer to you and your family than you are willing to admit. Which is what’s so insidious about it all: not the hatred, jealousy, envy, caprice, gluttony, greed, violence, fornication and adultery that is so rampant within the black church, but our stubborn unwillingness to stand against it. Our cowardice. Our lack of values. Our lack of faith. All of these things are evidence of a lack of knowledge of and relationship with God. This is the behavior of Church Folk. God never called us to be Church Folk; He called us to be Christians.
Holding up the standard—the Word of God—and comparing it to the things we actually say and do is both reasonable and prudent. If you’re unwilling to do that, might I suggest Buddhism or Jehovah’s Witnesses or something you might be more comfortable with. If you’re unwilling to follow Christ, seriously, please stop calling yourself a Christian.
And please stop blaming me.