Many people have probably heard the age-old idiom often rattled off by an elder, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” As it relates to the 2016 presidential election, it’s time for people to start telling the truth about what is really going on and asking questions about why one of the Black community’s most revered and respected institutions has not been on the forefront of addressing the seriousness of this year’s presidential election as they have before.
The Black church has seemingly been collectively quiet about the 2016 presidential election that is scheduled to take place in just a few months – Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
While the majority of Black clergy have seemingly chosen to sit on the sidelines thus far, several other Black ministers have chosen to embrace the Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, and have become surrogates and advocates for the controversial nominee, in spite of his questionable track record with African Americans and his incendiary rhetoric.
This past Saturday, September 3, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, pastor of Great Faith Ministries International and President and CEO of The Impact Network Impact Network interviewed Trump at his church in Detroit, MI, as part of an exclusive Impact Network special presentation called, “Voice of the People.” According to a statement released by Jackson, the goal of the interview, which will not air for at least a week and was closed to the public and to the media, was “to get real answers and Trump’s views and plans on policies that affect our community.” According to Jackson, Trump was allowed 30 minutes to outline his policies followed by a frank on-air conversation with the Bishop. Jackson also stated in the press release that the interview was not a “rally or an endorsement of Trump’s candidacy by Impact Network or Bishop Jackson.” Jackson submitted his questions to the Trump campaign before Saturday’s interview and a draft of Trump’s responses was leaked to the New York Times, which ranged from racial tensions, charges of Trump being a racist and Trump’s vision for Black America.
When asked by a reporter how he felt having Trump appear on his television network, which reported revenue of nearly $1.6 million in 2014, Jackson, who is a registered Democrat, said, “My congregation trusts my judgment. They know that I’m not going to put anything or anyone in front of them that I feel is going to be harmful, and I feel we should have an educated conversation about what you’re going to do.”
Jackson is right, in that African Americans have historically always trusted and leaned heavily on the spiritual guidance and leadership of their pastors and spiritual leaders, especially when it comes to politics and other social issues. But Blacks must be careful who they trust and who is attempting to lead them, especially when it comes to the deceitful world of politics.
Take African American Pastor Mark Burns from South Carolina for example.
Burns, an African American minister who came out of nowhere, is pastor of Harvest Praise & Worship Center in South Carolina and co-founder & CEO of the NOW Television Network, a Christian television network, also based in South Carolina. Burns has become a major Trump surrogate and has regularly spoken at many of Trump’s campaign events, even having a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention. Burns admittedly confessed through a statement to lying about many of the embellished biographical attributes he had listed on his church’s website. When asked during a CNN interview, Burns was found to have lied about being a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; having served six years as a member of the Army Reserve; having obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from North Greenville University; having had his website hacked; and about currently pursuing a Master’s degree from Andersonville Theological Seminary. All of these things were untrue.
After being surprised by the line of questions, and then eventually storming out the CNN interview, Burns later issued a statement where he admitted to lying about his biography. Burns stated in a statement posted to his Twitter account, “As a young man starting my church in Greenville, South Carolina, I overstated several details of my biography because I was worried I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a new pastor. This was wrong. I wasn’t truthful then and I have to take full responsibility for my actions.”
The question now becomes, how many other Black people who belong to churches or follow ministries like that of Pastor Burns, have embellished their resumes or straight up lied to the people that follow them for the sake of social acceptance, financial gain or political expediency?
A better question is why aren’t the majority of Black ministers saying anything about this 2016 presidential election, especially as they did in support or when they were against Barack Obama, when he ran for president in 2008 and for re-election in 2012? Is the Black clergy choosing to sit this election out and if so why?
It is important that the Black community know where these integral Black leaders and pillars in the community stand concerning this 2016 election, and why their voices have become silent during this extremely important time in history, with two of the most polarizing candidates in the history of American politics at the top of both tickets.
In his book, published in 1933 called “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” Carter G. Woodson said, “The Negro church, however, although not a shadow of what it ought to be, is the great asset of the race. It is a part of the capital that the race must invest to make its future. The Negro church, has taken the lead in education in the schools of the race, it has supplied a forum for the thought of the “highly educated” Negro, it has originated a large portion of the business controlled by Negroes, and in many cases it has made it possible for Negro professional men to exist. It is unfortunate, then, that these classes do not do more to develop the institution. In thus neglecting it they are throwing away what they have, to obtain something which they think they need. In many respects, then, the Negro church during recent generations has become corrupt. It could be improved, but those Negroes who can help the institution have deserted it to exploiters, grafters, and libertines. The “highly educated” Negroes have turned away from the people in the churches, and the gap between the masses and the “talented tenth” is rapidly widening.”
Black ministers and politicians are extremely integral to the landscape of our society. Being a minister and holding elected office in the Black community are not just mere positions. Having these roles are both an honor and a privilege to serve in the African American community. It is important for citizens to know that these elected officials make decisions on many key issues and matters that impact our daily lives from your neighborhood to your city, county, state and even the nation. Every ordinance, policy and law that is passed, was introduced and voted on by an elected official. Elected officials have and continue to make decisions on everything from your taxes, education, house appraisal, health, voting and the environment.
Elected officials are powerful beings that can help or hurt the Black community, so getting feedback from Black ministers about the character of a political candidate, especially one running for the highest seat in the land, is critical.
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black people have been asked to vote for a particular party or candidate, and those candidates always knew they needed to go to the Black church in order to get support and buy-in. However, what you would find is that many candidates, once elected to office, treat their constituents like Alderman Fred C. Davis from the 70’s show “Good Times.” If you ever watched “Good Times,” the character, Alderman Davis, was the local politician that would always say, “I am not a crook.” He consistently came to the Evans family for re-election or support, and would usually threaten them and give them an ultimatum if they didn’t comply. Many Black ministers would protect their flock and not allow an Alderman Davis-type individual to take advantage of their constituents like that.
All across the African-American community, registered voters and those that have become jaded by the process of voting altogether, are seeking the wisdom and knowledge from their Black church leadership as to what they should do come November, and to help them better understand how these elected officials impact their lives on a daily basis. Just like an interpreter is there to decipher the words for people who don’t understand different languages, Black ministers have historically served as interpreters for their congregants to provide clarity and direction.
Sadly, for many Black churches across America, they have become a pit stop on the road to political office, whereby many Black ministers allow candidates to come to their church, give an emotional speech for a few minutes and then disappear until the next election cycle.
An informed voter is an educated voter. Those seeking office and seeking to remain in office should do everything they can to inform and educate African Americans, starting today. More importantly, Black ministers will be asked where they stand in the coming weeks leading up to the election. Many may be surprised where each of them stand when actually asked.