“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . . . All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone who had need . . . And the Lord added to their number daily those were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47)
“AND WHILE WE WAS GETTIN’ OUR PRAISE ON . . .”
My beloved how did we get so far away from the teachings and practice of the early church? Why is the teaching of a “gospel of prosperity” so prevalent and not a gospel of God’s love for us and a revolutionary commitment to social justice? How did “singing, dancing and getting our praise on” replace measured teaching of Scripture, equipping of members, care and concern for others, in far too many of our congregations in America? Are we really attuned to the oppression, depression and suppression our people face on a daily basis, and the role the church must play in alleviating the pain and suffering of the people? Are we aware of the negative effect that many of us manifest as a result of being taught “our” doctrine by the oppressor?
Consider some historical facts:
- Following the African slave revolts of the early 1800’s Virginia passed a law requiring Black Congregations to meet only in the presence of a White minister;
- Other states restricted Black Churches, or the assembly of Blacks in large groups to meet unless supervised by Whites;
- Many enslaved Africans learned about Christianity by attending services led by a white preacher or supervised by a White person;
- During the early decades of the 19th century, they used stories such as the curse of Ham to justify the enslavement of Africans to themselves and promulgated the idea that loyal and hard-working slaves would be rewarded in the afterlife; and
- In settings where Whites supervised worship and prayer, they used Bible stories that encouraged people to “keep their place” in society, urging enslaved Africans to be loyal and to obey their masters.
Now, let us fast forward to the present.
While we was gettin’ our praise on:
- The “unjust – evil so-called justice process", incarcerated one million- two hundred thousand Black men on drug-related, non-violent infractions.
- 1 out of every 3 Black men in America is on probation or parole.
- 167,000 children in our country have mothers who are incarcerated
- The leading cause of death for Black women ages 22-35 is HIV/AIDS
- African Americans account for 51% of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses
- 80% of births to Black women are out of wedlock, with African American children, who represent 15% of all children in the United States accounting for 32% of children in foster care.
- 10, 000 children were expelled from public school in San Diego with 43,000 students being suspended from school, annually
- Hundreds of thousands of our people lost their homes through foreclosure
- Unemployment in California is 12.5%, while unemployment in the Black
- Community is approaching 25% and even higher among Black males.
- According to Instructional Facilities Planning Department of San Diego Unified School District, more than 25% of the students enrolled at Lincoln, Crawford, and San Diego High School are absent each day.
While many are arguing over whether or not women can be preachers or who is homosexual; who is reading our children’s report cards, and who is working to alleviate poverty and its causes while empowering people to become advocates for their individual and collective well-being?
“While we are gettin’ our praises on” do we actually forget that we are commanded to answer these questions affirmatively, “. . . when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you”? (Matthew 26: 38, 39)
“While we was getting’ our praises on” did we notice that thousands have lost their homes, but not many churches suffered foreclosure. Did we notice, or care about the fact that 7000 children drop out of school each day in America? That amounts to one drop out every 26 seconds.
What’s up with that?
What is wrong with this picture and can anything be done about it? “YES WE CAN!” We can turn this thing around, but first we have to change our minds. First, we must change our minds about God. He has given us everything we need to survive and flourish. Asking our people to pray in times of crisis, personal, familial, or communal, is necessary but not sufficient. Our praise of Him must be an active and loving praise, a praise that is done in the streets, in and among those who need it most. We must teach our people that love is a behavior not just a feeling. One of my mentors, Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of the African American Holiday of Kwanzaa and the author of the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles of Black community Development) has stated “the best prayer is doing a good deed, especially for those who need it.”
Next, we must change the way we think about others. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has provided the impetus for this change in thinking, by pointing out “in a real sense all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper [and sister’s keeper] because we are our brother’s brother [and sister’s sister]. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Our praise of Him must include a loving kindness directed toward our children and families who are trapped in a pitiful state of despair. We must not only open our hearts to them but our pocketbooks and church doors, especially in “non peak church” hours. We must do as those in the early church did and give “to anyone who [has] need”. After all, we are the people who say we believe we can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us!
Finally, we must change the way we think about ourselves. We the members of the Christian clergy are not called to be impresarios, nor should we just be music promoters. We must be “Above reproach, temperate, self-controlled, respectable . . . able to teach . . . not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (Timothy 3: 2, 3)
We can also act in the spirit of Methodists preachers Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, who in protest and revolutionary reaction against racism left the White Church in 1787, and founded the Free African Society. Their awesome act of self-determination led to the founding of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1794. As we seek solutions to the modern day problems faced by our people and need for Christ-like leadership in the Church, let us be mindful of the African proverb that teaches us, “In the solution of a present day problem, to go back to tradition is the first step forward.” At the very least, may each shepherd strive to be able to truthfully state: “Among the flock, there is no lack.” I hasten to state as I close that I commend, pray for, and encourage my many brothers and sisters who heard The Call of God, went to God and were sent to the people by God; to keep on keeping on! The work of the Holy Spirit through you is a benefit to humanity and it honors and glorifies God. But to all who heard the call of greed and just went to the people, those more interested in self-enrichment with a greater propensity for entertainment than for instruction, I urge you to “stopit!”