Thursday, May 25, 2006
The good Reverend Herb H. Lusk II, a conservative preacher here in Philly who has pretty much sold his church to the Bush White House, had this to say back in January.
"My friends, don't fool with the church because the church has buried a million critics."
Really Reverend ? Well, you are going to have to make that a million and one, because I have some things to say about the church, and well, let's just say it aint all flattering.
Now before I start, let me get this out of the way in the spirit of true disclosure. I am a PK (preachers kid). My father was a preacher and a church administrator for as long as I can remember. And, he has probably ministered to, and baptized, more people than the population of most small towns within a hundred mile radius of here. Ergo, I know a thing or two about the church. While this doesn't make me an expert on religion, I believe the fact that I was born and raised in the church gives me some credibility on this issue.
Now back to what I have to say..... Recently I drove through North Philadelphia--one of Philadelphia's most depressed areas. As I drove pass boarded-up store fronts, torn down, dilapidated, decrepit homes, and burnt out cars, I started to notice an innumerable amount of churches on every block. FAITH DELIVERANCE, HOPE AND FAITH, THE FAITH HOUSE, THE DELIVERANCE HOUSE, THE HOLY TABERNACLE OF JESUS, THE HOUSE OF PRAYER, FAITH TABERNACLE, DIVINE TEMPLE, ........... well , you get the picture. On one block-no lie- I counted SIX, yes, SIX churches on both sides of the street. And while I am driving, I see junkies fidgeting to find their next high, unemployed youth pushing their dope on the corner, and mother's with messed up strollers pushing their babies to who knows where. I am not blaming the Church for all of this-- at some point black folks have to take personal responsibility for our actions. The church and the government, alone, can't help us. But I gotta think, that if I am a preacher driving past this every Sunday morning to get to work.... Wouldn't I say to myself, that there is something wrong with this picture? Shouldn't I feel some sense of guilt and shame for not doing more? If I am that preacher, I would have to look in my soul and ask myself, "what would Jesus do?"
I have nothing against religion, as without religion I honestly think that the souls of men would be even more depraved than they are now. Even gnostic writers such as Timothy Freke has had to admit that "Religion...has answered the profound human yearning to understand the mysteries of life and death. It has inspired peoples of all cultures to create sublime works of art, glorious cathedrals and temples, transcendental music and songs". On a personal level, my faith and church has made me healthier, given me a sound base, and given me lifelong friendships and a sense of being and moral clarity that I could not have gotten anywhere else. The church was instrumental with the Civil Rights Movement of the '50s and '60s, as well. Some of our great leaders, such as MLK and Malcolm X were men of the cloth. So, please don't view this post as a church bashing exercise on my part. But while driving through North Philly, and looking at the hopelessness all around me, I still have to ask myself: Just what's the point of all these churches if they can't do anything for the communities in which they sit? Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of people are being called by God to lead congregations lately? I always like to joke with my friends, that if I ever want to make some real money I would quit practicing law and open a store front church in the hood. I know, I know, it's not right to make fun of God's chosen or the church. But are the so-called ministers of all these churches really chosen? Or, are they just taking advantage of black folks yearning for something, anything, to take their pain away? I guess only these men and their God would know the answer for such a question.
Readers of this blog know that I like to view things in a historical context. So let's look at the church for a minute. Except for the Quakers, every church in America during slavery, and I mean everyone, supported that institution. Blacks were not allowed to go to church in the south and when they did, they had to go to segregated churches. It's an old adage but a true one, that Sunday mornings is still the most segregated time in America. There is a reason for this, it's because religion is a very personal thing, and black and white folks tend to stick together or with those with whom they are more comfortable when things get personal. As slaves, we brought our own forms of religion and belief systems to America when we were brought over here. Africans, like the Indians believed in the force of nature and all sorts of magical spirits and powers. We believed in a supreme being and we were deeply spiritual. There were no distinctions between what was spiritual and secular, life was a continuum with both the living and the dead. But whites were afraid of the African religions like obeah, and the mystical nature of what came with them. So for many plantation owners, teaching the slaves the more passive acceptable Christian form of European religion, became a way to prevent insurrections on the plantations. The smart plantation owners used this to their advantage, to keep their slaves in check. They built huge chapels on the plantations so that their slaves could worship and take their minds off freedom and escaping.
Now let's fast forward to 2006, and the many churches on the streets of North Philly. Is it a coincidence that the areas with the most churches are the most financially depressed? I don't think so. I am sorry, but when I see million dollar structures fronting as the house of God in the midst of abject poverty and despair, I can't help but think of the pastors leaving every Sunday morning in their European sedans and thousand dollar suits. This, while some poor old lady living on her husband's pension and her social security gives her last in the offering plate. I think that preacher should reach in the offering plate and give it right back. He should realize that she needs it a lot more than he does, and that the brand new church building and organ can wait. Now there are a lot of those little old ladies- and young ones too, in many of these churches all over our communities. And I guarantee you that they are faithfully giving to the Reverend every Sunday morning; and guess what, the Reverend aint giving back. Not to them, or to the community.
Now of course, not all pastors and churches are bad. There are many churches that are doing good things in the hood; offering pre-school programs, jobs, after school programs, and funding to many community groups. But far too many churches are sitting in communities which they don't give back to. They are too busy selling a dream of the future, when stuff needs to get done right now. Salvation is nice, but how about a little heaven right here on earth before it's time to go? I am afraid many of our so called preachers have taken a book from the old plantation owners, and are creating churches for their own benefit and not to save souls. The result is a kind of passive surrender to all the bad things happening in our neighborhoods. Let's just go to church and pray and hope that it gets better, have a faith in God and those wonderful sermons we hear every Sunday morning, and things will just kind of work its way out. Meanwhile, we are losing the battle for our communities one by one. Some of these preachers are selling out to the politicians (See the good Reverend. I quoted from above) on both sides of the political stripes. Here in Philly, our church leaders organize and line up with their hands out every election cycle, before they decide who to endorse for the next race. So their support is not based on Christian principles and what's best for us, it's based on who gave the most to the building fund or who did the most to line the good Reverend's pocket. Of course, us black folks are used to a certain amount of pimping from our preachers,- see the two Jessies, and Al- so we just kind of let it all go as par for the course. But at some point we have to step back and say enough. We have to hold the churches accountable and demand that they either help our community or go sell their salvation somewhere else. Someplace, where at least the congregation in the church can afford it, and the dream of salvation won't be quite as expensive.
Posted by field negro at 8:31 PM