Do Black Lives Really Matter To The Church Triumphant?

As yet another Black man’s death comes at the hands of a White police officer, and the mysterious injuries that led to the death of a Black man in Baltimore after his arrest, reap headlines, a largely unpublicized, but highly significant dispute over the use of deadly force—mostly in minority communities—simmers out of sight.

Unlike the horrific scenes caught on cell phones in North Charleston, South Carolina, or in Baltimore, Maryland, very few media are focusing on the controversy regarding unjust, brutal policing between Franklin Graham, the son of the internationally famous evangelist, Billy Graham and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and a leader in the Christian social justice movement. Nevertheless, given the national prominence of both men, the dispute has broad social, economic and political implications for the society at large.

The younger Graham, who directs Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid organization based in Boone, North Carolina, ignited the controversy with a Facebook post that shocked a large number of Evangelical ministers, lay leaders and many in the wider faith community.

“Listen up,” he commanded, “Blacks, Whites, Latinos and everybody else. Most police shootouts can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.

“If a police officer tells you to stop,” he continued, “you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong–You OBEY.”

“Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority,” the statement went on. It concluded, “Mr. President, this is a message our nation needs to hear and they need to hear it from you. Some of the unnecessary shootings we have seen recently might have been avoided. The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority “because they keep watch over you as those who must give account.” Graham’s post drew more than 200,000 “likes” and 83,000 “shares.”

James Wallis, the nationally regarded White clergyman who founded Sojourners, responded to Graham’s Facebook post in writing.

“Dear Franklin,” his letter began, “the real issue here goes much deeper than obedience to the police or lack thereof. We all need and should obey good police officers whose important mission is to serve and protect—but that must be done equally and without racial bias. Most African American men, in particular, could tell you their own, personal stories of mistreatment by White police officers, which had nothing to do with not obeying them. Many Black women and other people of color could tell you stories too. You should be listening to them.”

The reality, he said, “is that there are two policing and legal systems in America; one for Black and Brown people and one for White people—and that is now well documented, showing it is most stark for Black men and especially young Black men.”

Wallis directed Graham to “please read the Department of Justice report clearly proving strong racial bias in the Ferguson police department and the report of Presidential Policing Commission (with six police commissioners on the task force), which shows that this is a national problem.

Why do you speak only of the Bible’s command to submit to authority and not to the many Scriptures which challenge the sin of racism?

Remember, in ‘Christ there is no Jew or Greek.’ Also, the Bible does not say that the law is always right. Jesus challenged the laws of his day when they were unjustly applied or interpreted and the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistles from prison.”

The accomplishments of the Civil rights Movement, Wallis recalled, “were only possible because many brave Americans, including many Christians, non-violently disobeyed unjust laws and the authorities who sought to enforce them.”

Wallis told Graham that “its time to listen to, and learn from, Americans of color, including our Black brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to why all Black parents have to have “the talk” about White police with their sons and daughters. Your Facebook post makes you seem, at best, oblivious to the racial inequity in this country’s policing and criminal justice system, which is also still deeply embedded in our American society. At worse, your post reflects your own racial biases—unconscious or conscious. It makes me sad to read such things coming from a leader of your position. So until you are equally willing “to listen up,” please stop making such embarrassing and divisive statements.”

Some 31 other Evangelical ministers—Black, White, Asian and Latino—in “An Open Letter” reinforced Wallis’ admonition with several of their own. Graham’s words “hurt and influenced thousands,” said the ministers, who noted that their action was guided by “the spirit of Matthew 18.”

Therefore, they advised, “we must respond publicly, so that those you hurt might know you have received a reply and the hundreds of thousands you influenced might know that following your lead on this issue will further break the body of Christ.”

“Are you also aware,” they asked, “that your commentary resonates with the types of misinterpretations and rhetoric echoed by many in the antebellum church?” Are you aware that the southern slavocracy validated the systemic subjugation of human beings made in the image of God by instructing these enslaved human beings to “obey their masters because the Bible instructed them to do so?”

“As one who understands human depravity, your statement demonstrates a profound disregard for the impact of sinful individuals when given power to craft systems and structures that govern millions. The outcome is oppression and impoverishment—in a word, injustice,” they declared.

“Finally,” they concluded, “if you insist on blind obedience, then you must also insist that officers of the justice system obey the Constitution, which protects the right of all to equal protection under the law. Yet (numerous) reports confirm unconscious racial biases in policing, booking, sentencing and in return, racially disparate outcomes within our broken justice system.” The letter ended by quoting James B. Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation: “First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

For this article, two nationally recognized religious leaders, an often-quoted authority in policing and a nationally regarded civil rights attorney, were asked to comment on Graham’s post. They are: C. Garnett Henning, a retired bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dr. Norman S. Johnson, Sr., a former executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC/LA), Diop Kamau, the founder of Policeabuse.com, which represents victims, most lacking for their defense and Philip J. Kaplan, who practices law in California and Louisiana.

Graham’s post, said the bishop, “showed no Christian humility. Instead, his simplistic response to the historic and contemporary killing of Black and Latino youth sounds too much like ‘slaves be obedient to your masters’—to which he adds, ‘whether they are right or wrong.’ In offering his solution to the many senseless killings, he ignores the many who obeyed, but were killed anyway.”

Johnson said Graham’s post ” does not reflect reality or historical awareness, but a lack of socio-political thinking of how the words of clergy, particularly someone with the name Graham, challenges or confirms the views of conservative Christians.

“Graham’s use of Hebrews 37 is curious,” Johnson noted. “The text refers to ‘those who watch over your souls. Police officers are clearly not ministers or prophets who watch over our souls. That he would even imply that the function of law enforcement is to watch over our souls is unconscionable, if that is the Scripture he is referring to.”

For nearly two weeks, repeated attempts to reach Graham for comment for this article were unsuccessful.

Attorney Kaplan, in searching to identify the underlying causes of police abuse and violence, said, “in the same way that we now can’t question the reality of climate change, we really can’t question whether there is discord between many police departments and the communities they serve. The real question is, why is that? I don’t pretend to be a sociologist, yet I believe we must not see this as an isolated issue, I believe this reflects a deeper social problem.”

“You can’t deny that there is a divide, a rift. It’s a deeper issue that needs to be examined, said Kaplan, who has represented police officers as well as victims of police abuse.

“There are lots of really good police officers who would never think of abusing anyone and really good police officers who have chosen to be silent, for reasons I can understand,” he said.

“I believe in good policing, have represented officers in excessive force situations and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in representing them in all sorts of situations, so I know something about what they do and what their jobs entail,” he said. Moreover, Kaplan said, “there ought to be more scrutiny of command staff and chiefs of police.”

“I have a lot of empathy for rank and file officers; they’re taking directions, or lack of direction, from the command staff. The debate ought to include scrutiny of police departments, command staff and chiefs of police. If any discussion leaves them out and just focuses on rank and file officers–patrol officers, then we’re missing something very important,” Kaplan cautioned.

Kamau, an expert investigator and highly decorated undercover officer, focused on Graham’s apparent lack of due diligence before posting his opinion.

Graham, said Kamau, “cited no evidence that grossly discriminatory enforcement patterns are tied to the behavior patterns of the Black and Latino communities they serve. Unfortunately, Kamau added, “there is a lack of evidence to demonstrate that large numbers of whites are treated similarly on displaying similar behaviors.”

When Graham “can find a population of Whites who are similarly mistreated by police, he might have a point. There is no evidence, however, that Whites, in large numbers, risk similar misconduct and abuse in similar encounters and circumstances,” Kamau said.

If Graham “were to analyze payouts by major cities to settle police misconduct lawsuits since 1985, he would see that the victims were not compensated for an alleged lack of cooperation. In fact, just the opposite was the case,” Kamau said.

Indeed, Kamau continued, “African Americans, especially men, cooperate with police officers more than most people, yet are often harmed by the use of very draconian measures. In employing ‘stop and frisk’–it shouldn’t be be called ‘stop and frisk,’ instead, it ought to be called, ‘stop and humiliate’–far too many officers attempt to strip Black men of their dignity.”




The Essential Gardner C. Taylor

The death of Gardner Calvin Taylor, the nation’s iconic preacher/orator, has shone a radiant spotlight on his preaching.

Taylor, often described by highly regarded theologians and ministers as “the Prince of Preachers,” died on Easter Sunday, at Duke University Medical Center. He was 96.

Hailed by the Christian Century as “the Poet Laureate of American Protestantism,” Taylor graced the pulpit of Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church for 42 years, from 1948 to 1990. According to Newsweek, he was “one of the 12 greatest preachers in the English speaking world.”

The National Visionary Leadership Project, on its website, noted his “use of metaphor, dramatic timing, dynamic construction and scriptural truths to weave a seamless narrative in his sermons, which exhibit his mastery of the technical aspects of preaching.” With at least 15 honorary degrees, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Union Medal, his place among the most stunning speakers of all time is secure.

Without hesitation, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, Martin Luther King’s first chief of staff and the author of 27 volumes on African American sacred music, asserted that “Gardner Taylor is the greatest preacher on the planet, living, dead, or unborn.”

Although many preachers were much more well known throughout the larger society, Taylor would not promote himself, which frustrated his admirers. Attending to his parishioners’ needs and the welfare of African Americans citywide consumed most of his time and energy.

Concord, shepherded by Taylor’s sensitive spirit and sharp administrative acumen, grew from 5,000 members to more than 14,000. With Taylor at the helm, the church sponsored the first senior living facility sponsored by an African American congregation. Along with Christ House, which each year outfitted thousands with new and virtually new shoes, suits, shirts and skirts, Concord created a thriving credit union, a million-dollar community endowment fund and an elementary school, among other ground breaking ventures to uplift Brooklyn’s Black neighborhoods.

In the tradition of his father, Washington Taylor, senior minister of Mount Zion Baptist Church, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the first Black vice-president of the World Baptist Convention, Gardner Taylor was a powerful spokesman for civil rights. Appointed by Mayor Robert Wagner to the New York City Board of Education in 1958, he was the second Black member in its history.

Several years later, Taylor, an influential leader in Brooklyn’s Democratic Party and president of the New York Urban League, wanted to bring the conservative National Baptist Convention into the action-oriented civil rights advocacy then sweeping the nation. With seven million members, the Convention, led by J. H. Jackson, was America’s largest Black Protestant denomination. Taylor hoped with a run for president, he could rouse the giant and equip it for independent economic and political empowerment. His defeat was bitter. Even some of his “friends,” he later discovered, had voted for Jackson.

Taylor answered the loss by joining forces with a group that included Dr. King, Marshall Shepherd, Jr. and Thomas Kilgore, of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, respectively. Together they founded the Progressive Baptist Convention.

In the years following that activism, Taylor, a trenchant theologian, taught homiletics to aspiring ministers at Harvard, Yale and Rochester-Colgate. In 1975 and 1976, he was the Lyman Beecher Lecturer at Yale Divinity School, the second African American so honored to that time.

Told by his wife, Laura Scott Taylor, that his preaching had “gotten a little thin,” he re-focused on his greatest strength, the oratory that distinguished his ministry and guided him into national prominence.

For decades, Taylor’s oratorical style, sermons and their depth have been used as models at Catholic, Protestant and Jewish seminaries.

Dr. Edward Lorenza Wheeler, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, told Message that he agrees with much of Walker’s bold assertion.

“Yes,” he said, “in many ways I agree with him–and for three reasons: first, Dr. Taylor was a master of the English language; he painted pictures with words to create imagery everyone understands, to tell us what, through Christ, we (African Americans), can become.” Next, Wheeler explained, “he had profound insights into scripture, which made the texts come alive for present generations.” Perhaps most profound, however, Wheeler said, “he preached out of his conviction that Jesus is Lord, but with a humility that humbled even the most arrogant.”

Wheeler recalled a captivating example of that unshakeable conviction. “In one of his most memorable sermons, I heard him say, ‘I loved my mother probably as few men have ever loved theirs. And, after all these years, I still miss her. When I get to Heaven, I’m going to look her up–but after I spend the first 1,000 years praising God!’”

Elder Charles E. Bradford, 90, who knew Taylor well, remembered the occasion in 1948, at Southern University, in Baton Rouge, where Taylor had been invited to speak to the city’s Black intelligentsia. “He came at a very difficult time for us in Louisiana,” Bradford said, when African Americans were locked in a struggle with White officials over equal pay for Black professors and teachers.

Born in Baton Rouge, Taylor returned to the city with a message of calm assurance. Said Bradford, “he used Hebrews 11, verse 40, as his text: “They, without us, shall not be made perfect.” The audience, Bradford said, was electrified. “Even though they did not shout or say amen–which in those circles, most people don’t do–they quickly understood that he was speaking to them, as Black people–and to the nation as well.” The word “perfect” means “complete,” Bradford continued.

Taylor, “realized that this text can be applied to Blacks in the United States,” Bradford said. To be “complete,” Taylor was saying, “this nation must eventually come to terms with, and acknowledge, the enriching, but long-denied genius of African Americans and their seminal contributions to its life and culture.

But, Bradford was asked, “was he, the greatest preacher on the planet?
“Oh sure,” he replied.

Dr. Cain Hope Felder, Professor of Biblical Studies at the Howard University School of Divinity, was uncomfortable with Walker’s assertion. “He doesn’t need hyperbole,” he said of Taylor, “his record speaks for itself.”

What is that record? Dr. Felder was asked.

“He was a distinguished and eminent statesman for Black preachers across the nation,” Felder replied, “irrespective of denominational ties, they looked to him for guidance, given the way he conducted himself, and, of course, his sermon preparation and execution.”

Felder, who has taught at Howard Divinity School for 33 years, continued. “He wasn’t just a pulpit minister, he was a leader; he spoke with the authority that people identified with. . . .You cannot find an African American preacher who would not say that he was not the most distinguished preacher of our time. His legacy is singular,” he said.

While Felder was concerned over what he feared was hyperbole, he, with Wheeler and Bradford, were in
solid agreement on Taylor’s humility.

“When I was a student at Rochester Colgate,” Wheeler said, “I always picked him up at the airport. He could have ordered a limousine, but he was humble enough to want to ride in my 1965 Ford station wagon with artificial wood panels. He could have had dinner anywhere, but he took the time to come to our little, one bedroom apartment, on campus, to share the dinner my wife had prepared for us. Afterward, he complimented her as though she was the chief in five-star restaurant!”

In Concord’s Sunday worship services, Taylor, in his robe and red stole, projected quiet dignity and towering, spiritual strength. Thousands of members and visitors sat in hushed silence, straining to hear his messages.

Riding the wave of the Hymn of Meditation, Taylor would rise, without haste, from his chair on the pulpit. As the choir eased toward the end of a favorite, “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross,” he would release a deep breath. Then, approaching the lectern, be would begin. Starting slow, then “striking fire”, he soared at the peak of sermonic power for 20 to 25 minutes and was then ready to “come home”.

After a gentle tug on the cord to turn off the lectern’s soft, white light, he walked down the steps to give his call to discipleship. “God is calling you, tenderly calling you, why wait? Come and bask in the peace, joy and sunshine of His love!”




“Let The Church Say Amen”

Andrae’ Crouch’s Mission, Journey and Legacy

Andrae’ Crouch, long hailed as the father of modern gospel music, left a dazzling legacy that future generations of writers, arrangers and composers will doubtless strain to match.

For more than 50 years, Crouch stamped his footprints on every dimension of traditional and contemporary gospel music. Credited with “revolutionizing the sound of contemporary Christian music,” he was among the first few Blacks to “cross over” into mainstream markets and rack up a plethora of record, album and CD sales.

Crouch, only the third gospel artist awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won eight Grammy and four GMA Dove Awards, performed for royalty in several countries, at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, on The Tonight Show and in 73 nations.

With his unique ability to photograph life’s sojourn through spiritual lenses, Crouch wrote an astounding catalog of sacred songs, many of them shouts of triumph and deliverance from pain, poverty and rejection. His triumphal recordings include “Soon and Very Soon,” “My Tribute,” “Mighty Wind,” “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus”, while “The Blood,” Through It All,” “Let The Church Say Amen,” “Alleluia” and “Bless The Lord, O My Soul” evoke the silence of spiritual contemplation.

Mesmerized by “My Tribute’s” universal appeal, famous artists by the score joined the peers who preceded them in covering it. At least 600 ultimately did so. Elvis Presley and Paul Simon, recorded Crouch’s songs. As an arranger, Crouch brought new light and life to songs recorded by Madonna, Elton John and Rick Astley. Other beneficiaries of his genius were Diana Ross and master writer, arranger and composer Quincy Jones.

Among Crouch’s film credits, “Once Upon A Forest,” “The Lion King” and “Free Wily” drew rave reviews, along with his soaring score, “Maybe God’s Trying To Tell You Something,” that gave “The Color Purple” its electrifying crescendo.

Crouch’s journey in song and ministry began in early childhood, when, besieged by “dyslexia, stuttering and bullying,” according to a biographical sketch, he “found comfort in memorizing Biblical stories that provide the assurance of God’s guarantee to liberate” the suffering. At age seven, singing in the Sunshine Band of Los Angeles’ Emmanuel Church Of God In Christ, he stunned adults by adding melodies to Scriptures stored in his memory.

Not long afterward, his father, Benjamin J. Crouch, arrived at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a small congregation in Val Verdes, California and discovered that the church had no minister or musicians. Discouraged by the daunting task of building membership without music, the elder Crouch, in a prayer, pledged “to stay and pastor this church if you (God), will give my son the gift of music.” “The Lord directed me to lay hands on my son,” he said, “so that the anointing of God would be upon him to play the piano.” Two weeks later, he wrote, “Andrae’ began playing the piano.”

At 14, his son wrote “The Blood,” but, despairing that “it wasn’t good enough,” he threw the paper on which he wrote the song into a trashcan. His twin sister, Sandra, however, perceived otherwise. She pulled it out of the trash and told her brother: “this is a good song.” The Blood, Crouch’s first hit single, was the first milestone in his journey toward international acclaim.

Civil Rights leader and minister Jesse Jackson, at Crouch’s January 21 funeral at Los Angeles’ West Angeles Cathedral, praised his quiet and courageous leadership. “He fought hard, not just to change people, but to change our society. Andrae’ was not just a local or national singer, he was a transformative and historic figure who eclipsed his time and changed its course.”

Gospel Music Experts Respect the Crouch Legacy

To bring the source and inspiration for Crouch’s genius into sharper focus, Message contacted five nationally respected leaders: Dr. Margaret Doroux, the highly regarded writer/arranger and composer, Dr. Michael L. McFrazier, Associate Provost and Associate Vice-President of Prairie View A & M University, who is also an authority in African American culture, Charles M. Blake, Presiding Bishop of the Church of God In Christ, Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Los Angeles and John Phillips, 92, believed to be the world’s oldest gospel music announcer.

God-given abilities

Blake, after pondering the source of Crouch’s inspiration, replied, “God gave Andrae’ the insights he communicated through his music. These insights were gifts given by God, so Andrae’ was already a skilled musician when I met him, although he was only 11 or 12. He didn’t learn these gifts, because they can’t be taught. Nor are they something that can be explained. God gave them to him to communicate through his music,” the bishop said quietly.

Accessible Music

Doroux, who penned “Give Me A Clean Heart,” “If It Had Not Been For The Lord On My Side,” “He Decided To Die” and a plethora of other moving favorites, said Crouch’s writing was grounded in keen sensitivity, the basis for what she described as “his Sunday morning church songs.”

“He knew his songs had to have a church sound so church choirs could sing them. So they were always geared to the church and didn’t have to be performed, they only needed a choir, an organ and a piano. None of them needed drums, guitars or background singers. Andrae’ always asked (young writers), ‘can my grandmother sing your songs?'”

Most church pianists and organists could not read music, Doroux said, “but when they heard Crouch’s songs they were able to play them. In the back country of Louisiana, she said, “choirs were always able to sing them because they weren’t catchy, could be sung slow or fast and didn’t need instrumentation or a rhythm section.”

Man in the Mirror

McFrazier, who served Houston’s Church Without Walls as Minister of Music for 15 years, spoke to the source of Crouch’s inspiration and his gratitude for it. “Andrae’ devoted his time to cultivating his gifts. We all have gifts and are called to identify and develop them to a level of maturity to bless us and the Creator who made us.

“Andrae’ was totally focused on his gift,” McFrazier continued. “A lot of things America says represent the ideal life did not interest him, so he didn’t seek to acquire them. When you give yourself to the gifting, the other areas of your life take a back seat. Andrae’ was devoted to teaching, promoting and writing the music of God, which he used to touch the core of the human spirit, which is the moral high ground, that which is right.

“Oh yes,” McFrazier predicted, “his music will definitely live on because it is integral to worship for all churches, religious gatherings and among people who don’t even know the name Andrae’ Crouch. His music contained so many, many variations, what he was able to do with it, that it will live on, forever and ever.

McFrazier cited the Crouch song “My Tribute” as an example. “It’s used in periods of jubilation, celebration, sorrow, hurt and pain and for so many different events: weddings, grand openings and as a tribute to loved ones who’ve gone on.

“With “Man in the Mirror,” Michael Jackson’s hit song, Andrae’ was saying that we should look at ourselves before pointing at someone else or holding others accountable. That is an example of what set him apart, trying to move gospel outward, beyond the walls of the church and what takes place inside its walls. He knew that Christ was not confined to a church, but went to the people.”

Spiritual Relationship Is Key 

First and foremost, said Thompson, “the guiding force behind Andrae’s music was a personal, venerable and vibrant relationship with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His message, through song, was birthed out of a personal experience and the observation of world occurrences. When these streams are merged into one river, we have the message and the mastery of Andrae’ Crouch.” Phillips, the KTYM Radio gospel announcer who said he has played “the music of Andrae’ Crouch since the 1960s and will continue to do so,” pointed to God as the inspiration “to get up and do something good.”