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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hypocritical Incursion into the Black Church

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh to finish one’s Christmas shopping. I’m referring to the hypocritical incursion into the black community by the candidates running for president. However, this year’s arrival is filled with all of the drama of the latest Tyler Perry film – Church, politics, homosexuality, and a black presidential candidate with a serious chance of being the Democratic candidate during the elections. Barack Obama and his rivals are just the latest in a long line of political ancestors who have tapped the allegiance of the black community.

The candidates’ quadri-annual solicitation for the black vote has always been filled with promises and convenient amnesia when it comes to the black voters. It is not my intention to play the race card for any nefarious reason, but it must be understood that blacks, whites and most other ethnic groups bargain for different issues with politicians. As an example, most whites are at best ‘lukewarm’ towards affirmative action, while affirmative action is a vital issue within the black community. Despite what Justice Clarence Thomas may say about it, until America becomes colorblind, affirmative action is like the locks that keep honest people honest.

During a recent campaign swing through the South to build support from the black Church, Obama hosted three Gospel concerts. He has been criticized by the homosexual community for inviting Donnie McClurkin to perform. McClurkin, a black minister and Gospel Artist, advocates that homosexuality is a choice that could be “cured” through prayer; a view that is condemned in the gay community. Despite the negative reaction from homosexuals during the Gospel crusades, the reason that Obama and all other candidates for the presidency leech onto the black community through the Church is because they know that if they are successful in securing the White House, they have no allegiance to the black community. Besides parroting the white evangelicals, the black Church has no real, national agenda. So, it is safe but necessary terrain to navigate when one is looking for votes.

Consider this – the biggest controversy of Obama's Bible-Belt tour is whether he should permit Donnie McClurkin to participate in the Gospel concert, because of his perceived anti-gay bias; and that descent is coming from the Gay-Lobby. Where are the black leaders lobbying this candidate for a promise of more funds to HBCs? or obtaining his commitment that he will take a strong line against racial profiling? or finding his position on loan-shark type interest rates that affect the poor and black community? or whether he is a "strong" proponent of affirmative action? or whether he is willing to make domestic violence a federal offense? or removing the disparity between the sentencing guidelines for blacks and whites? or a dozen other issues that are crucial to the health and wellbeing of the black community?

Obama knows that once the singing, shouting and sweating stops, the black Church will not make any demands on his presidency should he be successful. Some of the black leaders will jump at a headline-grabbing issue, like calling for the termination of Imus for calling a team of black, female athletes "Nappy-headed hos", but won't use that same standard in a sustained effort to rid Hip Hop of the same vile.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sean Taylor

I was saddened to hear of the shooting and subsequent death of Sean Taylor. This senseless killing has shocked people around the nation, and has many struggling to understand how someone can be so ruthless to an aspiring young life. We may never know the motivation of Sean’s attacker, but one thing is for sure, Sean is not the first young, black male casualty of inner city violence this year, but he may be the most prominent. Thousands of young, black men just like Sean have been gunned down in the streets of cities around the nation; and what’s being done about it? Certainly not enough is being done.

We can split the atom, build bridges that span for miles and travel to the outer fringes of the universe, but no one has been able to develop an antidote to tame the hostile heart.

The killing of our youth is a social plague that will take more than good police work or rehabilitation in the criminal justice system to remedy. In fact, I suggest that good police work and prison rehabilitation are oxymoronic as they relate to reducing violent crime. Men (and women) who are inclined to violent acts will fair better in a system that demonstrates care, concern and compassion more than they will in the criminal justice system. We need more social leaders in the community to roll up their sleeves and meet the challenge head on. There are many organizations that are working tirelessly to rid the inner city of violent crime; however, the crime statistics demonstrate that much more work is needed.

I am wondering out loud: Where are the prominent social leaders, who are quick to grab a headline in a race related issue, but no where to be found on issues that take sustained efforts?

Anyway, my prayers have been with Sean’s family, friends and fans during this time of bereavement. He was a great football player and he will truly be missed.

Sean Taylor, RIP
April 1, 1983November 27, 2007

Symptoms of a Society in Ruin

Human history is littered with scourges that have wiped out entire segments of populations – wars, famines, pestilences and diseases have been responsible for the annihilation of hundreds of millions of people. The Black Plague of the 14th Century killed one third of Europe’s population, while more recently; 60 million people died in World War II, including six million Jews. Although these events seem light-years away from a modern, so called civilized society, we are standing at the flash-point of an epidemic that has already destroyed entire villages of indigenous people around the world, and is now mushrooming in urban centers in America – the AIDS virus.

Aside from Form 1040, nothing raises the anxiety level like the prospect of contracting AIDS; a deadly virus that breaks down the body’s immune system and prevents it from fighting diseases. According to a new study released yesterday, AIDS has reached epidemic proportions in Washington D.C., hitting particularly hard in the black community. Of the 3,269 HIV cases identified between 2001 and 2006 in the District, 80 percent of them were black men, women and adolescence. Among women who were tested positive, 90 percent were black. According to the Washington Post, the District’s AIDS rate is worst than any city in the country, nearly twice the rate of New York and more than four times the rate of Detroit, and it has been climbing faster than that of many jurisdictions.

AIDS, once considered by many Christians to be God’s judgment against homosexuals, has dismantled that stereotype. The rate of increase in new cases is now higher in the heterosexual community, at 37 percent (in the District only), than in the homosexual at 25 percent. If AIDS was in fact God’s judgment, has he now turned his anger against straight men and women in the black community? Who knows the mind of God, but I doubt it.

The study attempted to offer a number of explanations for the spike in the number of new cases in Washington, but really…do we need a sociologist to explain why AIDS is ravishing the District of Columbia? The part of this ‘modern epidemic’ that no one in the media seems to be addressing is that the soaring AIDS cases in the US is directly related to the triplets of sexual promiscuity, drug use and more importantly, banning God from our public institutions.

Let’s face it; America could virtually eliminate AIDS if men and women lived sexually pure lives, and if drug abusers would stop neglecting their bodies with intravenous narcotics and if God were invited back to the dinner table. However, that’s too many ‘ifs’ in a society where "Sex and the City" was one of the most popular cable network shows and was nominated for more than 50 Emmy Awards during its six season run; where the War on Drugs is simply a cliché; and where God is an immigrant without a visa. In fact, this country is sitting on a ticking bomb according to this new study. If we are not careful, America will become the next sub-Sahara where AIDS will wipe out entire cities; where 70 percent of the beds in a hospital are occupied by AIDS patients and where orphans have lost both parents to the disease.

AIDS is actually a symptom of a society that is out of control: too many children eschew authority; too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities; too many corporate leaders have placed profits above ethics; too many social leaders are more interested in publicity than finding solutions to social ills; and too many religious leaders have abused their authority. These are clear signs of a nation that is sinking; consequently, unless we take our country back, it will continue to slip into the throngs of ruin.

A good start to reclaiming America would be to become a better person; a better way to reclaim America would be to become a better person and volunteer one’s time in one's community to make it a better place to live; but the best way to reclaim America would be to follow II Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

God Bless America, land that I love!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Uncle Sam's Listening

Where’s the outrage? Civil liberties and constitutional rights are crumbling before our eyes, and the best response that most people in our society can muster is a yawn and then a request to pass the giblet gravy and sliced turkey. The propaganda machine in our country is churning at a furious pace in an attempt to condition us on one hand to believe that terrorism is the biggest threat that this country has ever faced and on the other hand to trust the government’s response to this threat. But can any public official with a straight face stand before us and confidently declare that a few thousand loosely knit insurgents are anywhere near the threat posed by the former Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War or the Third Reich during WWII? Or can they say that they have been completely forthright concerning intelligence gathering since September 11th?

Talk about weapons of mass destruction; President George Bush invaded Iraq by insisting that Saddam Hussein possessed (maybe) one WMD, while nine previous American presidents watched the former Soviet Union amass nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons. Americans never witnessed the encroachment into constitutionally protected areas during the Cold War that we are observing during the Global War on Terror (GWOT): Until recently, the government did not grant itself the power to surreptitiously break into your home or place of business; or access your medical and other financial records without your consent; or open your mail without your approval; or furtively listen to your telephone conversations and read your fax transmissions and emails; or hold you indefinitely in a secret prison without a writ if habeas corpus. These are all infringements into civil liberties that have inexplicably taken place since September 11th.

Now that it is clear that Saddam didn’t have a nuclear weapon’s program, the tone of the conversation coming from the Bush administration has been altered from Saddam having WMD to him being an evil ruler who needed to be overthrown, which has supposedly created a safer world. Well, if that’s the standard for preemptive action, does America now overthrow Kim from North Korea and Ahmadinejad from Iran; the remaining two prongs of the so called Axis of Evil?

The GWOT has been the impetus behind the domestic spy program, where the Bush Administration listened in on private telephone conversations by American citizens. Much to their disappointment, this program was ruled unconstitutional this past August by a Federal judge. Part of the fallout from this controversial surveillance program has the telecom companies, including AT&T and Verizon, seeking immunity from lawsuits as their involvement in the program come to light. Although the Bush Administration assured the public that this program didn’t begin until after September 11th, former Qwest executive, Joseph Nacchio, among others claim that the National Security Agency asked their companies in February, 2001 to participate in a potentially illegal surveillance program six months prior to September 11th.

George Orwell warned us in the book 1984 that this day would come; a day when the all seeing Big Brother would scrutinize our every move. Despite that these potentially illegal incursions into our privacy have come to light, we are still discovering that Big Brother is routinely tracking our phone conversations. According to the Washington Post (11/23/2007) Federal officials are obtaining court orders to access real time cell phone records without demonstrating that there is a probable cause that the surveillance will yield evidence of a crime. Does anyone believe that this is the type of society that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and the other freedom loving delegates to the Constitutional Convention envisioned when they drafted the most sacred document in human politics? If so, the burden of proof is on them. We have crossed the threshold into an era where very powerful tracking tools are at the Government’s disposal. Sure we’ve heard the mantra that these tools will only be targeting terrorist suspects so that they will have no place to hide, but then, in the words of Robert O’Harrow, “there’s a chance that neither will we.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sleepwalking Parents

Glenn Ivey, the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, recently threatened to fine parents and incarcerate them if they did not have their school age children immunized. The parents of more than 2,300 students were given until September 20th to comply with the mandate to have their children immunized or their children would be barred from class. Unbelievably, almost two months after these children were suspended, the majority of them still had not been immunized. It was not until Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols ordered parents in a letter to appear at the courthouse and either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail that many parents complied with the vaccination requirement.


Am I the only one curious about parents who would neglect their children’s health and welfare by refusing to have them vaccinated and permitting them to remain out of school for two months? But then one must also question the oversight of a school system that did not aggressively encourage compliance with the immunization requirement within days of the students’ absences. And to add to this paradox, these school officials expect excellence from our students.

But before I stray too far off the beaten path, it is not my point to inject common sense into the matter of the childhood inoculations. In fact, I believe that Glenn Ivey and Judge Nichols have done the right thing by requiring accountability of somnambulant parents. However, I would like to see them take the same aggressive action against parents of disruptive and delinquent children. Some schools in Prince George’s County are so disorderly that teachers must spend valuable instruction time trying to bring order to the classroom.

I have visited a number of schools in the county and found them to resemble the local playground instead of an institution of learning. This type of atmosphere poisons the climate for academics and betrays the standards of excellence that our schools should promote. Teachers have been coerced into roles that they didn’t bargain for when they accepted the challenge to educate our children. Many of them have become quite adept in the classroom as referees, mentors, counselors, juries, judges, surrogate parents, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers; spending more time trying to preserve a semblance of calm to the learning environment than actually fertilizing the nimble minds that have been placed in their care.

Sometimes the government must save us from ourselves, and if a stiff fine and/or jail time for parents will motivate some to control their unruly children, then let’s baptize them so they can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Children who are infected with preventable childhood diseases are a risk to fellow-students and teachers, but children who distract from the learning environment through their disorderly conduct may one day grow to become a threat to every decent, law-abiding citizen in Prince George’s County.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Living Large on Charitable Contributions

Some of you may read Michelle Singletary’s The Color of Money column that is published in Sunday’s Washington Post’s Business Section. This column passes along financial advice, and in this past week’s column she wrote an article titled The Pulpit and the Bling-Bling, which discusses an investigation that is being conducted by Senator Charles Grassley into the financial practices of a number of high profile ministries, including Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers, Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar. Singletary does not render judgement on whether a pastor should drive a 2007 Rolls Royce costing more than most people’s homes, but she writes a very sobering column on whether the public should be concerned over the use of charitable contributions to buy such luxury.

Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee is probing to see if any of these ministries have misappropriated charitable contributions to subsidize opulent lifestyles. He has called into question whether it is proper for a religious organization to purchase mansions and exotic automobiles for its leaders and whether these leaders should earn the salary of a CEO who runs a Fortune 500 Corporation.

Sure, I ask the same questions, and frankly I believe that it would be a challenge for most ministers to justify using charitable contributions to finance a standard of living that resembles Bill Gates, Oprah or Michael Jordan. However, in rare instances I believe an organization could justify extravagant expenditures. For instance, Dateline did an expose on the ministry of Benny Hinn in 2005. During the investigation, we learned that his organization paid as much as $10,000 per night for him to stay at an exclusive, luxury vacation villa.

Hinn is one of the most famous people in America and can’t simply stay at a $500 per night hotel and be insulated from the public during periods when he needs to break away from everyone. Obviously, wherever he goes in public, people want an autograph, want prayer or simply want to express how they have been blessed by his ministry. $10,000 would pay for five weeks stay for me and my family on the beach, but then no one knows us in Myrtle Beach. However, Hinn and other famous ministers need the exclusivity of a private villa to maintain their privacy during times of incognito.

Is $10,000 too much? Generally speaking, I would say yes, but perhaps a handful of the most prominent ministers could justify it. The Pope certainly could and perhaps Hinn; however, he never responded to Dateline’s queries about the travel expenses.

According to Singletary, David and Joyce Meyers of Joyce Meyer Ministries have been asked by Grassley to explain why the ministry spent $23,000 on a toilet, $30,000 on a conference table and more than $11,000 on a French Clock, and Creflo Dollar was asked to explain why World Changers Church International purchased him a Rolls Royce. Most people cannot fathom spending almost $65,000 for a toilet, table and clock, or more than $300,000 for an automobile. And why would a Christian leader want to bring his/her judgement into question with dubious expenditures anyway?

I’m not defending the perception that Hinn and other ministers are living too large. In fact I embrace the idea of religious organizations being accountable to their contributors; however, Senator Grassley’s investigation appears to violate the principle of church and state separation. If there is a legal wall that separates churches from the state, then “The State” can’t have it both ways: interpret the Constitution to sanction a separation and then investigate church activity, like how much compensation a church leader receives from the ministry. I have a personal disdain for church leaders living in a stratosphere that is a stone’s throw from Heaven, while many of their members can barely pay their utilities, but in those instances, I simply choose not to financially support that lifestyle, and I would urge those members to run from those ministries like it were the bell of an approaching leper.

I believe my tax dollars would be well served and the citizenry better informed if Senator Grassley would use his office to pry the minutes and findings of the Energy Commission from the office of the vice president; something that would go a long way to promote an open and transparent government like he is attempting to do with the church. Amen

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Attack from the City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is at it again. In one of the most horrifying attacks against American citizens, then Mayor, W. Wilson Goode, authorized the bombing of a home that was occupied by members of MOVE, an organization whose members wore dreadlocks and advocated a back to nature lifestyle. Eleven members of the organization, six adults and five children, were killed and no one from the city was held responsible for their deaths. Now Philadelphia is gearing up to drop another bomb: this time on the Philadelphia chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. In a dispute that goes back to 2003, the city solicitor, Romula Diaz, has given the scouts until December 3rd to renounce its policy against hiring/admitting homosexuals. If it does not amend its policy, Diaz has threatened to remove the rental subsidy that the Boy Scouts of Philadelphia has enjoyed since 1928. If they fail to comply with Diaz’s demand, their rent will soar from the current $1 per year to the fair market value of $200,000 per year.

The point of this post is not whether the scouts should permit homosexuals within their ranks, because the scouts can defend their own moral code. I’m asking why the Evangelical Christian Right, so visible in presidential politics and other social issues, has not put the same type of energy in this issue as they do during presidential campaigns.[1]

The Christian Church has the potential of being the most effective lobby in America: many churches have services as often as two, three or more times per week; they have loyal members who contribute as much as 10 percent of their incomes; and many churches have hundreds of members who volunteer their time and talent for the work of the Lord.

As influential as the Israel Lobby, the NRA and the AARP are, if they had anything close to the infrastructure of the Christian Church, their influences would be magnified exponentially. This begs the question of why American Christianity is unable to marshal a rapid, resourceful response to issues such as what the Boy Scouts are confronting in the City of Brotherly Love. If one condemns America’s cozy relationship with Israel, whether legitimate or otherwise, the Israel Lobby launches a very swift and effective counter campaign that usually stifles the criticism and in some instances it is able to extract apologies.

The Christian Church has the potential of being an even more effective promoter for its cause than the Israel Lobby is for its cause. However, the Church has never realized its potential and has missed many opportunities to demonstrate to the world that morals insulate a society from its own self destructive ways. It is unfortunate but true, that the actions of the city of Philadelphia promote a suicidal pathology that can only end in social ruin. Since I am not a fatalist, I still believe that Christians can reverse our nation’s depraved gallop towards the precipice of oblivion. However, this shall not be accomplished until we recognize that keeping homosexuals away from children is far more important than much of the Church activity that is passed off as God’s work.

[1] I single out the Evangelical Christian Right only because it tends to champion these types of issues more aggressively than liberal Christians.