On Saturday Donald Trump visited a black church in Detroit. Trump’s visit made this much clear: the black church is a weak shell of itself. In an age where churches struggle for relevancy and politicians only stop by for votes, black pastors are willing to give Donald Trump (or Hillary Clinton) the floor for camera time and the illusion of access to circles of power. Rather than an institution that terrorizes the powerful with its message of truth and justice, the black church has been reduced to chasing the spotlight of “whosever will” come through the doors. Dr. King would roll in his grave.
Dr. King once said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” As Bishop Wayne T. Jackson gave Donald Trump the floor at his church Saturday–to speak with no specific policy proposals–and afterwards presented him with gifts, there was no indication that he was serving as anyone’s conscience. Jackson was little more than a pawn, only relevant because Trump needed a landing spot in the black community. How pitiful and sad. I suppose the “access” and momentary boost in profile were payment enough for the Bishop, in the absence of true spiritual relevance.
Jackson isn’t alone. Pastor Mark Burns, the now disgraced Trump surrogate, is another great example. Unheard of before the campaign and apparently only pastoring a handful of people (but with a television ministry), Burns traveled all the way from South Carolina to New York to attend a meeting Trump held for black pastors months ago. But why would a man with so little profile in South Carolina travel to New York for such a meeting, unless he was seeking a boost? Burns saw a fast-track as a black pastor to use Trump’s platform for his benefit. Having risen as a star in Trump’s campaign, we now know that he is a fraud; Burns lied about his credentials and background. Burns did all this to get a little shine, in exchange for true respect and fear from institutions of power. I suppose that road was easier than being an unapologetic truth-teller.
The prophets in the Hebrew scriptures that Burns and Jackson preach from were unapologetic truth-tellers. The prophets were not exactly individuals with whom the politicians of their day wanted to be friends with. In fact, the powerful often wanted the prophets dead. Amos, Isaiah, Micah and other Hebrew prophets spoke out about injustice, how the powerful oppressed the poor and the judgment that would follow if the nation did not change its course. For their candor they were often jailed or executed. Even so, their message was one which the powerful could not ignore. The prophets had power and that differs from the black church today. What message it does have is largely unknown or ignored. The black church is not feared by the powerful and realizing this, it has largely settled for photo-ops and providing platforms every four years to politicians in exchange for some small level of access, albeit without influence. Thank you Donald, we now see the light.