The Pastor’s Pen: August 26, 2018

In the late 1960s, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued to preach nonviolent social change, H. Rap Brown declared, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Political assassinations had become all too commonplace. In a matter of five years, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been gunned down in Dallas, Texas. Soon, the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy would join the unspeakable tragedies of that era. Brown delivered what became one of his famous proclamations at the National Press Club here in Washington on July 2, 1967. His speech came in the wake of President Lyndon Johnson’s creation of the Kerner Commission to investigate the violent riots that had torn through urban America in cities such as Detroit and Newark, New Jersey. Brown was incensed that urban riots would be the catalyst for a presidential commission when violence had always been a hallmark of American life. It was a violent revolution that birthed America in 1776. It was a violent Civil War that tore the union asunder and led to the terrible vehement legacy of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizen’s Council, and other racist hate groups who had no compunction in rape, mutilation, and murder to further their cause. The American West was won through terror and intimidation. Entire tribes of Native Americans were killed as the U.S. marched toward its manifest destiny. Brown made a good point; “Violence is as American as cherry pie.”

Although it is tragic, we should not be surprised at the way violence has paralyzed Black and brown neighborhoods. Just last week, D.C. witnessed its one hundredth murder of the year, a 30% rise since 2017. Entrenched poverty, an underground economic drug culture, and the paucity of basic civilities are all to blame. It is no secret that poverty and crime go hand-in-hand. We tend to forget that it was the Great Depression that spawned such gangland heroes as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger, which is another problem. Young people in poor neighborhoods watch a lot of television and go to movies. The most popular shows are the ones that glorify brutality and barbarity.

The church must step up and address the many ways savagery has poisoned society. Famously, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared, “The last Christian died on the cross.” We at Shiloh must prove him wrong. When we encounter hate speech, often the precipitator of cruelty, we should speak peacefully in all situations. Proverbs 15:1 states, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (KJV). We should find ways to work with our neighboring schools to share that all great world religions teach that God is first and foremost a God of peace. We must teach our children methods and strategies of nonviolent reconciliation to counter their problems. Bullies have always existed and will always exist. We do not have to be roped into revenge to right the wrongs we have experienced. Finally, we must work with businesses and government to create jobs as we prepare young people to be ready when jobs are available.

We must never forget the words of Isaiah, “And he shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4 KJV)

Tha Pastor’s Pen: August 19, 2018

On this Homecoming Sunday, we welcome to our pulpit our friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. William S. Epps. Dr. Epps, the honored and esteemed pastor of the historic Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California, is no stranger to Shiloh. Over a number of years, he has preached and electrified us with his extraordinary biblical exegesis and gift for providing contemporary insights and application of those texts. We thank God for his presence and know that he will leave us with a message of encouragement and hope.

For those of us who are baby boomers, the passing of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, on Thursday, was particularly sad news. Reports had been coming for some time that she was ill, and recently that she was gravely ill. Yet, when the final moment of her passing became a reality, it was difficult.

Always known and addressed by her first and last names, Aretha Franklin was more than just a rock n’ roll singer. She had deep roots in the church; her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, was one of the best known and beloved of all Black preachers in the 1950s and 60s. Rev. Franklin was not only an effective preacher and pulpiteer, he was also a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the struggle for freedom and justice. Aretha Franklin came out of that background. She began as a gospel singer and then made the difficult transition to becoming a soul icon, eventually earning her the title Queen of Soul. She excelled in all genres of music, not just rock n’ roll, and even displayed gifts for opera, most notably, in a legendary performance in 1998 subbing for Luciano Pavarotti…and “nailed it,” according to Huffington Post writer, David Moye. Most importantly, her music was a constant companion to the Civil Rights Movement, to Freedom Riders, to those who sat in at lunch counters, and to those who marched in the relentless call for freedom.

When I was a teenager, no house party was complete without a generous infusion of Aretha Franklin’s hits. Long before Afro hairstyles came into vogue, she was a “Natural Woman.” As the nation began to appreciate diversity, she went on to be a singer whose music was just as popular in white circles as it was in Black circles.

In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Although the induction was a historic, landmark accomplishment, the one song which eventually became the anthem of Aretha’s life was “Respect”—R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This song typified the aspirations of women everywhere, particularly Black women. While all women have been underpaid and under-appreciated, no group of women knows these plights more than Black women. They scrubbed floors, washed and mended their employers’ clothes, and too often experienced sexual and verbal abuse. As much as any group in our society, Black women wanted, needed and deserved “a little respect.”

At a time in this nation when hate speech has become commonplace, and where denigration of the vilest and most egregious sort occurs every day, Aretha Franklin’s words seem more poignant now than ever. What America needs at this juncture in time is for all of society — rich and poor, male and female, Black and white — to recognize that the key to civility lies in just having a little respect.” Well done, Ms. Franklin; rest in peace.

The Pastor’s Pen: August 12, 2018

In another stunning example of the hatred that presently rages through our nation, the rally this weekend on the Mall displays the bitter divisions that exist in the US.

The unholy coalition of groups like the Neo-Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, and various White Supremacist groups indicates the depth of the divisiveness to which we have come. We remember with horror the march and rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where the evening candlelight vigil that began the rally was eerily similar to the events in Nazi Germany that began Hitler’s rise to power. History witnesses to the devastating effects Hitler’s movement left on the world.  Millions around the world died as a result of their attempts at ethnic cleansing. What began as nighttime candle lit rallies went on to become the raging fires that torched England, Europe, and Russia. The Nazis, in collaboration with the Japanese, ignited a global war that led to unspeakable atrocities from which the international community still suffers.

For our government, through winks and nods, to tacitly support this coven of evil gathering on the Mall is unconscionable. Any moral government would condemn this assembly with the strongest terms. This rally is not a free speech issue. Dangerous and incendiary speech is never acceptable. It is not permissible to cry fire in a crowded theater and declare it was your right to do this as a free speech issue. Freedom of speech was always intended as freedom of responsible speech.

Seething and slithering underneath the surface of all societies is the potential for enormous harm. It has been well documented that the most mild-mannered clerks and librarians joined, with gusto, the lynch mobs that dragged Black folk out of their homes to mutilate them and then hang them until dead.

In Ephesians, the 4th through the 5th chapters, Paul describes the behaviors that lead to destruction: unchecked anger, irresponsible speech and shameless lies. All of these behaviors have been on display this weekend on the Mall.  What should people of faith do in response to this gathering of hate? Some believe we should join in counter-protests. That approach may have merit, but it also invites the kind of violence that right wing bigots are hoping for.

Whether we do or do not join in counter-protests, we certainly need to organize our churches to do several things that were emphasized at last week’s Progressive National Baptist Convention. One, we should inundate congressional offices with letters and emails of protest. Law makers operate under the premise that for every email, there are 100 others who have not emailed that support that sentiment. Two, we should organize as we never have before to vote in the upcoming elections. To vote, we must register, verify those registrations, and ensure that people get to the election places on election day.

Progressive National Baptist Churches will provide assistance in implementing these strategies. We will surely follow their lead. The third thing we must do is pray. Rather than seeing prayer as a bye and bye pie in the sky approach, let’s utilize prayer the way our ancestors did, as understanding, no evil can stand against the power of the Almighty God.

The Pastor’s Pen: August 5, 2018

During our young adult led revival in May, Dr. Otis Moss III and I discussed the National Basketball Association’s upcoming championship finals. Dr. Moss, a native of Cleveland, is an unabashed fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I, being from Philadelphia, supported the bygone Philadelphia Warriors. However, in my conversations with Dr. MossI learned some things about LeBron James that I did not know that he is a strong proponent of justice and fairness for low income and at-risk people in his community. Subsequently, I learned of the awesome work he is doing to improve the public schools in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. In an article posted on SBNation, a sports news website, the LeBron James Family Foundation launched a new public K-12 school called the I Promise School, the first of its kind: “I Promise School will feature longer school days, a non-traditional school year, and greater access to the school, its facilities, and its teachers during down time for students. That’s a formula aimed at replicating some of the at-home support children may be missing when it comes to schoolwork. The school has also anchored its curriculum in math and science-based teaching, dipping into the STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — curriculum that prepares students for the jobs of the future.

One unique feature of the I Promise School is it is not a charter or private school, but a full-fledged public school within the Akron Public School System. To achieve overall excellence and to accomplish its goals, the I Promise School sought funding from the State of Ohio like other public schools of Akron.

However, per the State of Ohio, Akron’s schools were given just $10,028 in state and local funds per student in 2016 — more than the statewide average, but still a relatively low figure for a city of a little under 200,000. That is not a lot of money to operate a school with such grand aspirations, which is where the LeBron James Family Foundation comes in. James’ nonprofit is the leader of a group of more than 120 donors, volunteers, and sponsors working to find the resources needed to keep exceptional educators on staff through a more demanding teaching schedule.”

At a time when athletes too often use their resources for lavish personal lives, LeBron James is showing that genuine unselfish service can make a difference in a community. It is no accident that school performance in wealthier communities is higher than in poorer communities. It takes neighborhood support to provide excellent teachers, after school programs and focused tutoring. With the support of James, the I Promise School will compete with the welltodo surrounding communities to provide the assistance that students need.

If only more of our successful African Americans would follow this model, we could transform our communities in no time.

By the way, Dr. Moss, next season I will cheer and root for whichever team where LeBron James suits up to play!