Is the Black Church Misapplying Its Power?

Is the Black Church Misapplying Its Power?

Black preachers holding press conferences about gay marriage and churchgoers boycotting Election Day? I wonder if our squabbling about gay rights amid so many greater problems plaguing the black community is a symptom of a bigger issue for the church — impotence in the community. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells of the power believers would receive to have a wide community impact. Yet, we waste energy on what is ultimately a private personal matter between a person and who they choose to live their life with. Perhaps gay marriage is that low-hanging fruit that’s easier for the church to pick at.

Amid all the talk about gay marriage rights and the black church at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 42nd Annual Legislative Conference last week, I was intrigued by a panel discussion among some of the nation’s leading black preachers that actually targeted a more critical community concern. Ironically, the panel was moderated by the Rev. Al Sharpton (my Brownsville, Brooklyn homeboy), who the same day was prominent at a press conference where preachers correctly urged churchgoers to NOT sit home on Election Day in protest of President Obama’s support of gay marriage rights.

The panel dealt with the church engaging the public policymaking process. Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, pointed out that during the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, most black church leaders sat back or criticized as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists risked their lives out on the limb reaching for more important community fruit. Sharpton began by asking each panelist what the church should focus on to improve the black community.

PREACHING TO THE PREACHERS: Rev. Al Sharpton moderated a panel discussion with black clergy at the Congressional Black Caucus. (Photo: Michael Holahan/Newscom)

The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of Detroit’s National Action Network chapter, stressed church involvement in economic development. “The only institution that we still own is the black church. It may not be perfect, it has faults, but it’s the best thing that we’ve got going,” he said.

Juan Thomas from Chicago said that historically black preachers and lawyers (for example, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell and Thurgood Marshall) have worked closely together to affect public policy. This must continue.  “After this cycle we need to do our part to changes these voter ID laws and suppression laws,” added Thomas, who is also an attorney and the secretary of the National Bar Association.

The Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said that churches had abandoned discussions about “the sin of poverty” in favor of the prosperity gospel.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, a leader of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, noted the AME’s history of political engagement dating back to Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black person sworn into the U.S. Congress. “We need to sit at the table while you’re (elected officials) making the decisions because we’re right there in the trenches … We can tell you what’s working and not working.”

The Rev. David Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, Michigan, targeted health care disparities such as, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “The church refuses to move from the pulpit to the pavement … We’re sleeping with each other on Saturday, shouting on Sunday, and dying on Monday.” He also mentioned the prison industrial complex, which disproportionately targets African Americans.

The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Johnson Cook, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, urged black clergy to get involved in policymaking, including at the international level. “We have to be local, but we have to go big, go global.” She added there needs to be more alliances with other communities, such as Hispanics, to address common concerns.

The Rev. Lennox Abrigo, of Seventh Day New Covenant in Hyattsville, Maryland, also emphasized the need for community partnerships. He mentioned his church’s relationship with the American Cancer Society to bring early diagnosis to black men who may be suffering from cancer.  “I’ve promised God that I’m not going to restate the problem anymore. I’m just going to go out and make things happen,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, also targeted economic development, noting that 50 percent of black households in Detroit make under $25,000 per year. He said the number of children under 18 living in poverty is 53 percent. “It’s not just Detroit; it’s your city,” he said.  “… As a pastor, I have to speak to that on a daily basis.” There needs to be a “social gospel ministry” that speaks to public policy, he said. “We have so many issues, we can’t deal with them all, but we can deal with those issues and policies that lift people up every day.”

So what do you think? Is the church doing enough with its power to uplift the community? And, before you answer, remember that WE believers ARE the church.

Attorney General Holder Promises to Defend Voting Rights

Attorney General Holder Promises to Defend Voting Rights

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to uphold voting rights in his keynote address this morning at the Conference of National Black Churches annual meeting in Washington D.C. The three-day event is being held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus and focuses on issues of concern to members of the nation’s nine largest African American denominations.

The Attorney General promised to defend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, especially Section 5, which requires Justice Department clearance before changes can be made to voting laws in Southern states and those that have a history of disenfranchising Black voters.

“This process, known as ‘preclearance,’ has been a powerful tool in combating discrimination for decades.  And it has consistently enjoyed broad bipartisan support – including in its most recent reauthorization, when President Bush and an overwhelming Congressional majority came together in 2006 to renew the Act’s key provisions – and extend it until 2031. Yet, in the six years since its reauthorization, Section 5 has increasingly come under attack by those who claim it’s no longer needed,” said Holder.

He also said that between 1965 and 2010, only eight challenges to Section 5 were filed in court, but in the last two years there have been “no fewer than nine lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of that provision.” Each challenge “claims that we’ve attained a new era of electoral equality, that America in 2012 has moved beyond the challenges of 1965, and that Section 5 is no longer necessary,” he said, adding that “nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders” enacted in more than a dozen states “could make it significantly harder for many eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”

“We’re now examining a number of redistricting plans in covered jurisdictions, as well as other types of changes to our election systems and processes – including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, to early voting procedures, and to photo identification requirements – to ensure that there is no discriminatory purpose or effect.  If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change.  And, as we have demonstrated repeatedly, when a jurisdiction fails to meet its burden of proving that a proposed voting change would not have a racially discriminatory effect – we will object, as we have in 15 separate cases since last September,” said Holder.

The Attorney General also promised to protect the voting rights of military personnel and other Americans living abroad, as well as veterans, citizens with disabilities, college students, and language minorities at home, but said “no form of electoral fraud ever has been – or ever will be – tolerated by the United States government.”

Coincidentally, in a statement published by The Hill today, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the ranking members of the Committees on the Judiciary and House Administration, announced that they were joining other Democrats in introducing the Voter Empowerment Act, which they say “protects the integrity of elections by improving eligible voters’ access to the ballot box” by modernizing voter registration, “automatically and permanently enroll consenting eligible voters,” providing for online registration, allowing same day voter registration at the poll, and simplifying the registration process for members of the military serving overseas, among other things.

What do you think?

Are voting rights in danger or are Democrats engaging in “get out the vote” scare tactics?

Will Maxine Waters Be Bad for Business?

Will Maxine Waters Be Bad for Business?

U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank (D-Ma.) announced his retirement this week after 32 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) is first in line to take his powerful seat as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. But Waters potential ascent isn’t without controversy. Here’s a roundup of the criticism so far:

Ethics Violations Will Sink Her

The biggest threat to Waters’ elevation is an ethics investigation into whether or not she abused her power to acquire federal bail-out money for a bank in which her husband had a financial interest.

“Waters’ husband was a former board member of the bank and held more than $300,000 in stock,” ABC News reported. “A trial scheduled for last November was postponed indefinitely and the investigation effectively reset after two lawyers on the ethics committee resigned following allegations they secretly communicated with Republicans on the panel and compromised the investigation. Outside counsel was then hired to determine whether the case against Waters should proceed. That report is due on Jan. 2,” the article said.

Criticism of the President Will Do Her In

“Waters made waves this year when she publicly criticized President Barack Obama,” Roll Call reported. Next in line after her is Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and she “played a key role in addressing the financial crisis of 2008,” the article said. But Waters has backing from the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

“I resent any attempt by the financial services industry to prejudge Maxine Waters with no legitimate reason. I think that’s stupid,” CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told Roll Call. “They can’t say, ‘Well she doesn’t know the issues.’”

She Doesn’t Have the Financial Chops for the Job

However, that’s exactly what Atlantic economics blogger Megan McArdle said in response to the possibility that Waters could replace Frank.

After summarizing a televised exchange between Waters and former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, in which Waters flubbed her question, McArdle concluded that the exchange was “kind of hilarious, until you realized that this was her job, and that she voted on critical financial regulatory questions.” It wasn’t the only instance, McArdle said, of Waters’ revealing scant knowledge of finance.

“Every time I see Maxine Waters at a hearing I know that the questions are going to be bizarre, and that Congresswoman Waters will make them even stranger with garbled readings and off-topic follow-ups,” said McArdle.

She’s a Bomb Thrower from the Far Left

Meanwhile, The Hill reported that “Wall Street executives are bracing for the possibility” that Waters will take the top spot. The outlet said Waters is “considered to the left of Frank on financial and housing issues.”

“She’s not a good face of the issues,” an anonymous financial executive told The Hill. “She’s too much of a bomb thrower.”

She’ll Slow Growth by Injecting Affirmative Action into Business

At Intervestors.com, the editorial board took Waters to task for “injecting affirmative-action decision-making in financial transactions, slowing the flow of capital and economic growth.”

How, you ask, did she do that?

“As a key member of the Dodd-Frank conference committee, Waters authored the ‘practical’ rule of requiring every bank regulatory agency to create an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion,” the editorial said.

It’s Time to Pass the Baton

“With decades in Congress comes more cynicism and opportunities for political shenanigans that can lead to ethics charges,” wrote Zerlina Maxwell at The Grio in a call to reconsider support for aging CBC members like Waters. “It’s not about whether we like the seasoned members of the CBC who have worked tirelessly for a generation; it might just be that it’s time for new ideas and a new perspective on political power representing the African-American community in Congress.”

What Do You Think?

Has Waters earned the right to chair the House Financial Services Committee, or will her perceived weaknesses sink her?