Pastor Jamal Bryant apparently can’t keep it in his pants, evidenced by a new paternity test showing him to be the father of a new child out of wedlock. But that’s really not the issue here. The reality is that Bryant’s platform for activism, television appearances and even political efforts stem from his position as a pastor. Unfortunately, powerful black institutions outside of the church are scarce to non-existent; because the church provides a realistic shot at prominence in the black community, people like Jamal Bryant latch onto it and if they should happen to choose a lifestyle outside of the Christian bounds, their voices are lost. It’s time for the black church to step back and for blacks to embrace leadership from people who don’t hold up Bibles as an accessory to their activism.
In the absence of other viable institutions, the black church has a disproportionate influence in black life politically and socially. When candidates want to win the “black vote” they routinely go to church. Campaigns don’t visit the “white church” to win the “white vote” and that should be telling. Non-black communities demand that candidates visit their business community, advocacy organizations and the like. Not so in the black community, however. That vacuum of diverse leadership is what gives birth to the Jamal Bryants of the world. I’ve heard a few of his sermons and I’ve never been impressed. I suspect that from the time he served as the NAACP Youth Director, his real angle was social activism and perhaps celebrity. With that as his end goal, he likely saw the black church as the easiest path to visibility, power and credibility within the black community. Is there a viable business or political institution in the black community with real juice? As the son of a preacher, Jamal naturally saw the pulpit as the easiest and most effective platform to prominence and that’s what he chose.
Jamal chose it despite his love for sex and procreation outside of marriage. While that wouldn’t be a dealbreaker in other professions, it poses several problems as a pastor. Even so, Jamal likely thought his options limited. Jamal’s choice is quite logical historically. Dr. King, Malcolm X and even Jesse Jackson have their roots in religious institutions. Each had tremendous impact socially and even politically but their platforms came first from their non-secular pulpits. For King, Malcolm and Jackson, their roots in religion can be traced all the way back to slavery and emancipation days, when religious institutions (although bitterly contested) were among the few allowed to people of color. As such, it made sense that the abolitionist movement had strong roots in the church, as well as the civil rights movement. What other institutions could we use to organize? But these are not the days of chattel slavery or Jim Crow– we are allowed leaders outside of the pulpit and we can build other institutions to advance our interests. Doing so would mean that we need not disqualify people from leadership simply because they make life choices inconsistent with the “good ol book”–meaning they can be same-gender-loving, single or just simply like sex. What a concept.
I don’t think Jamal Bryant really cares about preaching the gospel as much as he would like to be a voice in the world. But the church is one of the few places where black leaders can gain thousands of loyal followers and get their voices amplified. Until we change that and begin supporting and following leaders in the realms of business, technology and social activism, independent of the church, we will continue to lose leaders every time they decide to have sex or buy a nice car. This must change…quickly.