Thursday, November 2, 2017
Jerome Washington, pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, stood behind a podium wearing a three-piece blue suit. It was the conventional dress and posture for a Sunday sermon. Like John the Baptist, Washington, challenged a congregation gathered away from the house of worship.
The message was get out and vote. The congregation was a group of local black pastors assembled at Forest Hills Park.
“In the life of the African American church, social justice has been central, and it is the voice of the preacher - sometimes popular, sometimes not popular- that has guided people,” Washington said during his benediction. “With that in mind, these men and women have come together to say to Durham: we need to come out, we need to vote. We need to vote for our future.”
Washington called the group “Ministers United”. It’s the name given for the occasion. There are no bylaws to solidify the group’s mission statement. They had one goal – to get people to vote for Ali. It’s the first time in a long time that black clergy have united to endorse a candidate for local office.
“History is watching us. The nation is watching us. God is watching us.” Washington said. “There’s too much at stake.”
The men and women behind Washington nodded like parishioners on Sunday during the peak of a sermon. Like a congregation that has witnessed the good mingled with the bad, they stood like their faith required them to challenge the masses.
“Downtown may be on the rise, but there are other things at stake, “Washington said. “There are too many without jobs. There are neighborhoods that need special attention and that special attention does not mean crowding out and forcing out the least.”
In the crowd were two political veterans – Michael Page, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church and former member of the Durham Public School Board and Board of County Commissioners and Frederick Davis, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church and former member of the Durham Public School Board.
“I think it’s paramount in this juncture of Durham’s history that clergy not only show this unified base, but that we educate our congregations so that they can make the best voting decision,” said William-Hazel Height, pastor of Greater Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church. “I don’t tell them who to vote for, but I lay out the parameters to make the best decision, and I believe Farad Ali is the best decision.”
Washington said endorsing Ali is easy because he sees him at church when Ali’s not worshipping with his congregation at Asbury Temple United Methodist Church or with his family at Immaculate Catholic Church.
“I’ve spoken with many of these pastor’s individually about how unity can bring us together in so many ways,” Ali said. “We should all share in the prosperity. We should not be talking about some areas of our city that are growing, some people that are growing or some buildings that are growing, but we should all share in that prosperity.”
Greg Hardy, president of Tabernacle of Redeemed, said he has known Ali since playing Pee Wee Football together,
“It is important for Durham to see us together as clergy, as men and women of faith to encourage our community to make a difference by getting out to vote,” Hardy said. “We support Ali’s vision, because he is the man we believe can get us to where we need to go. All of Durham, not just those who are well off, but those who are marginalized
Washington said his message to his congregation on Sunday will be a challenge to vote. Many of the ministers mourned the apathy of black voters.
“Why should we have to remind them of the sacrifices made for them to vote, Percy Chase, pastor of Community Baptist Church, said. “People gave up their lives so we can vote.”
The congregation of clergy went their separate ways inspired by the gospel of get out the vote. Washington’s message about the future of Durham was heard like an old Bible story. Maybe it was the one about the children of the Israelites who forgot what the Lord had done. Maybe it was the one about the years of exile after they took things for granted.
Inspired by the spirit of their peers, these black preachers are prepared to do what they do best on Sunday morning.
Go tell that mountain to move out of our way.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the door of “All-Saints” Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
“Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money,” Luther wrote in Thesis 86.
Luther rejected indulgences, the view that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased, and recommended a theological conversation. Instead, he sparked the Protestant Reformation. The One, Holy, Catholic Church was fractured into groups with divergent opinions.
Luther, John Calvin Huldrych Zwingli, and others, led the charge for massive doctrinal changes. They relied on “sola scriptura”, the reliance of scripture versus the bearing of tradition, in forming new theological approaches. In addition to theology, the call for change was motivated by the rise of nationalism, lost faith in the power of the Pope and the alleged corruption of the Church.
It was a Reformation that never stopped. The Church, as the “rock” of faith, is an institution embroiled in an unending movement of reform. The strength of the Church is not in its ability to stay the same. It’s in its ability to remain relevant in an evolving world. The Church, as the “rock” in a volatile world, remains relevant in its ability to cultivate faith when the questions change.
Being a God of “yesterday, today and forever” implies our ability to steadily catch up to the mind of God. It assumes an intellect beyond what we have known. It embraces the presence of God in science and honors the lessons of history. It refuses to remain stuck in a dogma formulated with limited knowledge.
Reformation offers the freedom to listen to new voices. New prophets emerge to force us to listen to the hearts of people dismissed by the ways we practice faith. For Luther, it was the voices of the poor who witnessed the increasing wealth of the Pope. Today, Reformation happens when there are places where we are forced to hear how others live their faith.
Reformation is the ongoing activity of the Church. The power of reform is in creating rooms for others to become witnesses to how God speaks today. Reform is happening wherever there is a place called a church. It also happens in places not called a church. It happens whenever people ponder the meaning of faith.
Reform is the challenge to hear and find God. It happens when people feel abandoned by the Church. The power of reform begins when people scream “me too”.
Reform happens when people demand a place for everyone to be loved. Reformation takes place when people are left out or collect tough tasks to earn admission. Reform disputes all forms of detachment and challenges us to honor the work of God in a variety of places. God is present beyond the things forced in our imagination.
Reformation is the call back to God. It is happening everywhere we look. It’s happening in all of our churches and all of our denominations. Reform is taking place in churches labeled by race – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, African or multicultural. Reform transcends theology and liturgy. It has no bearing on the age of its membership or if the people cling to tradition or welcome a non-traditional format.
Reformation is a call for liberation and is rooted in the demand of inclusion. It consistently challenges us to consider the assumptions of our faith claims. Are we guilty of making ourselves better than others by virtue of our privilege? Have we used gender to foster thoughts of male supremacy, or have we used race to denigrate other races? Is faith used to suppress the people too weak to make it on their own, and do we offer service to bring greater attention to our privilege?
Reformation is the consistent practice of the Church. It happens when we pray for unity and peace. It’s exhibited through what and how we preach. It acknowledges how faith is embodied through our service together.
It’s been 500 years since Luther inspired the Reformation. Today, in remembering that day, we acknowledge the need to reform the messenger of the Reformation. We denounce Luther ‘s views toward the Jews. We deplore his writings that called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues and the confiscation of their money.
Luther’s anti-Semitism demonstrates the need for continued reform. In reforming the work of the reformers, the work of the Reformation continues today.