I have said to you before that as my husband and I have continued, over the past several months, to try and engage issues of presence and social justice in Ferguson, our own community and others, one of the most disheartening things to encounter has been the lack of clergy presence. Let me say that more clearly. We have encountered some clergy. However, when considering the number of clergy present in proportion to those available in the communities, I will say we have encountered ‘a few’ clergy.
Of those clergy truly present, most if not all have committed a significant portion of their time and resources to the people in the affected communities. They have spoken out when their superiors forbade them to—and they have stood their ground in the face of alienation from their congregations, colleagues and even their families. These are not the clergy to whom I will refer in this piece.
Rather, those I wish to consider are perceived as successful in ministry and wield significant influence over their immediate communities. But through their inaction, they have shown that they do not necessarily have the heart for those things truly affecting their communities. These preachers have benefited the most from an era where faith and prosperity have dominated messages from the pulpit, and self-help became more important than helping your neighbor. They often find themselves on the payrolls of politicians, businessmen, and lobbyists. They have often joined the ranks of those openly exposing the dirty laundry of the church on reality television shows and tabloids for the entertainment of the very ones they believe they are called to ‘save.’
When I describe these preachers, I am not limiting my description to those who have reached celebrity or mega-church status. Instead I am describing those who could be found on any of our community leadership rosters.
In my last writing, I promised that I would continue in my conversation regarding the juxtaposition of what I will call the ‘4Ps’: pastors, pimps, politicians, and prophets. More specifically, I want to consider the lines that define their characters.
In an ideal world, the pastor is one who is primarily concerned with the spiritual well being of God’s people. At the same time, however, a true pastor often finds him/herself working with those he or she shepherds to ensure that that they are ‘whole’ in every area of their lives. For the Black community, pastors have often been pillars of their communities and catalysts for change, called upon to lead the people in any sort of crisis—especially in justice-seeking endeavors.
Unfortunately however, ‘ideally’ is not always our reality. These days, you can no longer guarantee when you walk into a room that you will be able to easily identify our ‘pastors.’ This has nothing to do with dress, who is carrying the largest Bible, or speaking in the most complex versions of ‘church-ese.’ Instead concerns for image, style, promotion and popularity often make the differentiation nearly impossible. This reminds me an awful lot of the characteristics of ‘pimps’ and ‘politicians.’
A pimp, in all of our minds, is the worst of the worst. He is the scum of the earth. To the outsider, looking in, he is pure evil. But to a young girl or boy on the street looking for love, looking for a place to belong—the pimp represents a type of savior. He begins his work by offering a false sense of concern and making unrealistic promises. He draws the young person in under the pretense of love and provision, but in the end will wield a power over those he controls focused only on his own gain and satisfaction. Although his victims will, at some point, come to realize they have been played, the disappointment for many will give way to a Stockholm syndrome type of loyalty that often proves nearly impossible to reverse.
The character of a ‘politician’ is not all that different, and really needs no explanation. This is the one ‘P’ that nearly all of us have encountered extensively. The politician only deals with ‘the people’ long enough to be placed in the spotlight. He or she, like the pimp, makes promises they have no intention of keeping. They are most concerned with image, realizing that their ability to attain power and the confidence of the people is based solely on the people’s perception of them. Can you see now why many in our communities look at the church as a joke? Can you see what I mean when I say the lines seem to be blurry at times?
This brings me to the ‘prophet.’ The prophet by character is committed to speaking that which he or she hears God say. The prophet is not afraid to open his or her mouth in the face of opposition. In fact, it is in the presence of opposition that the prophet finds his/her strongest voice because he or she recognizes the value of exposing lies and injustice on the spot. The prophet realizes that, after speaking truth and life in his or her community, strong pastoral leadership is needed to nurture and to cultivate those reached. So the prophet’s heart grieves when encountering pastors who have lost sight of the true calling of God.
I keep asking myself what happened to the prophets of the Black church. What happened to those who would love God’s people enough to take risks for them? What happened to the ones who were willing to have the difficult conversations and make unpopular proclamations in the interest of what is true and just? What happened to those real prophets who gave little thought to self-gain, political correctness, power or the perception of others?
I could unpack this conversation a lot more, but time and space will not allow me to do so from this platform. What I will say though is that blood of our fallen sons and daughters is crying out to us from the pavement. The people in the communities from which we draw our members and collect tithes and offerings are looking to us for leadership—true leadership. This movement stands in need of prophets and pastors who will speak up for the people and will concern themselves with the needs and lives of the people on every level. If the pastors and prophets will emerge, the pimps and politicians hiding in our pulpits will drive themselves out.
As a preacher, I am a harsh critic of those of us who claim to have acknowledged and accepted a call from God. I am the first to acknowledge that none of us is perfect. Each of us has been guilty of these things at one time or another and in one-way or another. The times, however, call us higher. The great thing about the God that has called us is that grace and mercy still abounds even for us. As I prepare to hit ‘save’ and end this note, my mind turns to the text found in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
I’ve made my choice. I don’t want to be among those who stand before God’s people with no real concern for their well-being. I don’t want to be among those who call on the name of the Lord, but refuse to do the work He has called us to. I want to be prophetic.
(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.)