In the 1960s the African American church was at the center of the civil rights struggle, but today, in the wake of the Charlottesville saga, black pastors do not appear to be as vocal and organized as they once were.
The Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in the District, spoke about the role of the church in this time with Hamil R. Harris, an adjunct professor at Morgan State University and a former Washington Post staff writer. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: On Aug. 12, an apparent white supremacist in Charlottesville allegedly ran over counterprotesters who came out to stand up against neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other groups gathered for a unity rally against the removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. What should be the faith community’s response?
A: The faith community, particularly the Christian community, must see the events of Charlottesville as symptomatic of our failure. By and large, Christian faith in America is a sentimentalized expression of personal piety. Jesus has become a doorman who opens the portals of eternity.
The movement of Jesus was violently persecuted by Rome and religious leaders who served as chaplains to the empire. Today, many who claim Christian faith are fully aligned with the American empire and are fully supportive of the racialized violence and oppression that has funded and still funds this empire. They helped to elect this president who morally equates white supremacists [with] those whom they oppress. They are satisfied with vague notions of personal salvation while not giving a damn about the sociopolitical and economic hell which assails many around the world. Jesus preached that the reign of God is now, not tomorrow.
What has happened and what will happen is as much the result of theological malpractice as it is the result of political malpractice.
The faith community must be about the work of sociopolitical transformation in the here and now. We must be faithful to this vision as was Jesus.
Q: When former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were in the White House, there was an Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Has there been any outreach from this president in terms of bringing diverse faith leaders together, and is that important?
A: I have not been contacted by President Trump. But these programs at their worst can lull the church into a prophetic slumber. Often these are bones.
And a church busy chewing on bones discarded by the state will refuse to bark. And when we refuse to bark, the weakest among us become food for the predators that surround us.
SOURCE: Hamil R. Harris
The Washington Post