According to media reports, Rev. Jeremiah Wright has charged that criticisms leveled at him are not about him, but are being launched against the black church itself, "by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."
I was the Senior Pastor of two African-American Army Chapel congregations, called “Gospel Services” because they represent the collective Protestant worship of predominantly black denominations. The reason I served was because there were no African-American Chaplains available. In both instances I utilized numerous black soldiers who were ordained ministers to provide a good deal of the preaching. And we always had an awesome Gospel Choir. I learned a lot from the experience, to include a love for the African-American worship tradition.
I never offered or heard any political ideology from the pulpit during the years I served. I admit that perhaps this is due to the venue being a military chapel, but I suspect that the real reason is that most African-American preachers are too busy proclaiming the Gospel message to criticize the government. They may deal with social issues from time-to-time, but from a positive perspective. The only one I ever heard condemned was the devil, and no one ever suggested that he was someone in public office.
I once heard the President condemned in very harsh terms in a mostly white Protestant church in Tennessee. The speaker was criticizing a President I did not vote for. Nonetheless, I was deeply offended and to my regret, I lacked the nerve to stand up and walk out. I don’t think that would happen again.
The Bible is clear that we are to respect and pray for our governmental leaders. We did this in recently in my town at our National Day of Prayer observance. We did so without any partisanship, and we all left our politics at the door. We prayed, by name, for politicians whom some of us probably didn’t even like…and it didn’t matter. I think most people of faith, while they certainly have strong political opinions, do not feel that church is an appropriate place to be political. It’s admittedly tempting, especially in an election year--just as it is tempting to talk about the Red Sox in church during the World Series. But most churches focus on matters of eternal significance, and spiritual values that relate to the world around us. That’s as it should be.
The only thing political a minister should say in church is to urge the congregation to participate in the electoral process by knowing the issues, by supporting their candidates, and especially by voting. That’s it. I hang out at a local coffee shop most mornings with some buddies, where we attempt to solve all the world’s problems, but generally I try to keep my mouth shut regarding political matters, and stick to the Gospel. In my church we sing a verse of a patriotic song each Sunday out of respect for our nation, but we focus on honoring the Lord of the nations. We believe that we need to urge our nation to prayer and righteousness, as our founders did so long ago.
Turning nationalism into idolatry is wrong; so is condemning a nation that is trying to be “one nation, under God.” May God bless America.
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