Over the weekend, I sat in a meeting with a local family who is seeking answers regarding the death of their son at the hands of police officers. While I have not taken a position on whether the shooting was justified or not, I have taken a position on the unfair and disrespectful treatment of his family since his death.
Around that same table, were a couple of community leaders, and a mayoral candidate. As we were speaking, the conversation turned toward the role of the church and clergy—particularly local Black clergy. One citizen expressed his desire to engage the clergy, while the family noted that one particular group of clergy had chosen to side with local government and law enforcement, rather than standing with the family as advocates for truth and justice.
The family also suggested that one or more members of this clergy group had been added to the mayoral payroll in order to serve as ‘gatekeepers’ in the Black community. The same citizen expressed outrage at the fact that this particular group of pastors has somehow been deemed representative of the entire Black community in our area. His desire was to somehow ‘expose’ these pastors to their members and others who believed in them. His belief was that by letting people know that these pastors had “gotten in bed with the Devil,” the people would be forced to hold them accountable.
As I sat listening quietly (most who know me know that this is rare), I found myself getting angry. I was not angry with anyone attending the meeting. Instead, I was angry at the reputation that many of my colleagues in the ministry have given the church. I kept asking myself in disbelief, how, in a meeting about justice and truth in the Black community, the Black clergy leaders were being considered as scandalous as any other party. My heart broke.
After listening for a while at the optimistic ramblings of this particular citizen, I raised my hand to speak. I chose to share with the group the fact that I am familiar with this clergy group they were referring to. In fact, I remember when they formed, who called them together and why. More specifically, I know most of its members personally. I grew up around them. Many have shared dinner tables with my family and I. I love them. I respect them as my elders. But I also acknowledge in a most difficult way that, in this instance, they are wrong. In their very makeup, they are discriminatory—older, Black men only. In their practices, they are ineffective. Prayer breakfasts and vigils don’t meet the needs of our communities any longer (not sure they ever did). And in their witness to the love-giving, people-serving, justice-seeking spirit of Christ, they have proven shameful. They have chosen the sides of those who are historically and currently oppressive. Literally, I sat at that table ashamed at the perception of the church and its leaders that many around the table shared.
As I walked away from that meeting, I found myself juxtaposing the nature of what I will call the ‘4Ps’: pastors, pimps, politicians, and prophets. As I thought through this more, I was “messed up” as I acknowledged the fact that, at times the clear lines that define the nature and character of these 4Ps are not so clear anymore. Things that make you go ‘hmm.’ Right?
I will pick this up again next week. I realize that this is uncomfortable territory for many, but this is something we must talk about. None of us are perfect. I am the first to admit this, and all of us are worthy of God’s love. Yet, when we accept the calling of God on our lives and Christians, but especially as clergy, we make a commitment to hold ourselves at a higher level of accountability. It’s high time we begin to take that seriously. We walk in dangerous territory when we choose not to.
I hope you will engage me in this conversation as I complete the second part of this topic next week.
(Rev. Shazetta Thompson-Hill is a wife, mother, pastor, writer and activist based in Jackson, Tennessee. If you have questions or comments, contact her via e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You may also like her on Facebook@pastorzetty or follow her on twitter @minzetty.)