As Marvin McMickle so eloquently says in his book “Be My Witness,” preachers “cannot speak prophetically about what is happening in the world if they have not been paying attention.”
And clearly, some have not been paying attention.
What else could explain the following statements made by a group of minority clergy recently during a White House meeting?
Thank you for your policies on prison reform and urban initiatives.” (Sharon Nesbitt, senior pastor of Dominion Church in Marion, Ark.)
“I’m elated to know, first of all, that you’re a man of your word. Secondly, you have an ear to hear from God. With your having an ear to hear from God, this country is in great hands.You’re a man of your word.” (Pastor Mike Freeman, from the Spirit of Faith Christian Center in Hillcrest Heights, Md.)
“Thank you so much for your boldness and your courage to do — to make great things happen. And you’re making them happen.” (Bishop Dale Bronner, senior pastor and founder of Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral in Atlanta, Ga.)
They appear to have been more concerned with getting another invite to the White House than their principles. Such invitations are a big deal among clergy members, and the policy makers know this in advance.
A common practice of local administrations is to offer an invite to the stadium skybox at either an Orioles or Ravens game. Clergy are provided food and beverage and the appearance of being in the inner circle of government leadership. All too often these invitations hinge on the clergy’s support of the administration. Pastors take pride in posting pictures to their social media pages of them assembled in the presence of the political elite. Seldom, if ever, are they consulted or invited to join discussions surrounding issues impacting their communities, however.
Local pastors also receive invites to lead prayer or attend various events that demonstrate a closeness with the administration. Naturally all are honored to have been invited to pray for the opening of City Council meetings or state legislature hearings. But these events often come with the expectation that these mostly Protestant clergy members will not mention the name of Jesus. And many will readily agree to that requirement. This expectation literally neuters the voices of these local pastors who would otherwise not access such platforms.
But what will it profit a man to gain the entire world and lose his soul?
The preachers are constantly selling out the interest of the community for a brief, temporary seat at the table. These spots seem ideal opportunities to raise the concerns of their congregants and community, but the expectation is that the clergy will be satisfied with the consideration given for the invitation and keep mum. And that’s a major problem in our local and national politics when it comes to faith-based political engagement.
What we witnessed last month in Washington was a group of silent interests. When men and women called to speak truth to power simply retreat and acquiesce to the powerful, those persons living on the margins of society suffer, while the devastating conditions impacting their communities continue to go unresolved.
Moving forward into this 2018 gubernatorial election, we must demand that both the Hogan and Jealous gubernatorial campaigns do more than just pose with preachers. And the black clergy must educate themselves on the workings of the local and state government process and gain a critical understanding of the issues.
As Cathleen Kaveny points out in her book, Prophecy Without Contempt, “True prophets — those who understand themselves as called by God to deliver a message to the people — have no real option.”
The local pastor can longer only be concerned about his church and the size of it. The people who live in the shadows of these institutions are depending on their voices to rise among the many who are demanding equality and fairness. The time has come that the black preacher must be able to do more than just pose and preach. The time has come that the preacher must begin to speak truth to power.
Who cares where you sit what really matters is where you stand?
Kevin A. Slayton Sr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the senior pastor of New Waverly United Methodist Church in Baltimore.