The great silver tongued orator Frederick Douglas once said “Praying for freedom never did me any good till I started praying with my feet.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel said “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” He spoke these words while on a march with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
There has been a long debate and disagreement among preachers, pastors and people who claim a relationship with Jesus The Christ of Nazareth.
The discussion has centered around whether the focus of the ministry of Jesus and the purpose of the Bible is to “Get people saved,” so they won’t spend eternity in Hell.
The proponents of this theological way of understanding cite scriptures in particular from the book of Revelation and its often vivid and blood-curdling images to advocate that everybody must confess Jesus so they won’t “go to Hell for all eternity.”
The word salvation to them means being saved from sin so that Hell won’t be one’s final destination. The whole purpose of the church, bible study, praying, worshiping and taking communion is to show that they are saved from Hell’s damnation and have a seat in heaven.
Therefore this group usually is not comfortable if a preacher uses the backdrop of the current political situation in their preaching and/or teaching. These are church people who are likely to tell the preacher “Just preach the gospel,” we don’t want to hear about politics in the sermon.
This debate has been raging on in particular, for my purpose in this article, among Black Christians. It is a debate among white Christians and non- Christians also but for my point it is the Black church I am most concerned about.
However, I’m contending that faith in Jesus Christ is not some pie in the sky when you die, by and by, but it is something that is sound, on the ground, by the pound while you are still around!
The other side to the debate says that when you examine the scriptures carefully what you find, in particular in the New Testament is that Jesus speaks more about politics than about heaven. Jesus’ most passion filled and emotion laced sayings are to those who oppress others, like the Pharisee, teachers of the law, priest and Sanhedrin.
In many ways Jesus gave a sort of litmus test for entry into heaven when he said in Matthew 25 “When I was hungry you did not feed, when I was thirsty you did not give me water to drink…” And it goes on until Jesus tells this group known as goats to “depart from me, you who are cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This is political.
The intention of the words of Jesus are clearly seen as a political response to the political reality that there are people who don’t have enough of the necessities of life to survive, and that His disciples, His followers, have the responsibility to do something about their condition so they will one day hear the commendation that Jesus gave the Sheep, “Come you are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance…” The reason for the commendation is that this group addressed the political plight of the poor by doing something about their condition.
And to add to his seriousness Jesus says “As often as you either did it or did not do it, you did or did not do it unto me.” Jesus makes this political plea personal. Jesus takes it personally that people don’t have enough because of a nation’s greed. In another familiar text of the Bible, Luke 4, Jesus is handed a scroll and he reads from the book of Isaiah these words “The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the acceptable year of The Lord’s favor.”
This text is dynamite to those who profess and preach a heaven only, saved from hell exclusive gospel.
“Good News to the poor,” is distinctly political. In fact the Brazilian Bishop Dom Held Camara once said “If I feed a few hungry people they call me a saint, but if I ask why are people hungry in the first place, then they say that I am a communist and an enemy of the state.”
People were hungry and without food in Jesus’ day for the same reason that people are hungry and without food in our day. It is because of the greed of the wealthy and the support of political leaders in elected offices who enact policies that unfairly rob the poor of resources and give those resources to the rich.
“Proclaim freedom for prisoners…” There were illegally incarcerated people in Jesus’ day just like there are in our day. Remember Rome is the Empire that has colonized the Black African population of North East Africa and that included the Black African Jews of Palestine. Rome like in present United Sates of America, had political prisoners, people who were incarcerated for debt, and people who were profiled and either murdered by the Roman military (the police of the first century) or jailed. Jesus understands this and through the prophet Isaiah proclaims that his responsibility is to proclaim freedom for those illegally incarcerated.
Then he says “Set the oppressed free…” The Africans of North East Africa be they African Jews or Muslims or of other nationalities and religious systems were being oppressed by the Caesar in Rome. Jesus targets this as an aim of the faith. That too is political.
Next, Jesus says “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor.” This statement by Jesus directly refers to the Old Testament practice of Jubilee. Jubilee called for the erasing of all debt incurred by African Jews every 50 years, because the premise is that no one should live their entire life under the weight of debt, no matter how that debt was incurred. The practice recognized the humanity of people and their God given right to live a life that was not shackled with debt for the entirety of that life. That is political and economic justice.
Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” He also demonstrates that being filled, or covered with the Holy Spirit is way more than just shouting in church (by the way I like to shout when the Holy Spirit hits, but). It also means that under the unction of the Holy Ghost you should not only treat people better but fight to create a society of Justice and Righteousness for all. This is politics from the Prince of Peace. If Jesus saw these political issues as sacred and significant then anyone who claims to follow Jesus should follow the way Jesus preached and lived.
The Black church in this nation had its beginning doing exactly what Jesus preached and taught concerning the political, economic, social, educational and health plight of people, in particular Africans, enslaved for profit by white people. It was only when Black churches began trying to gain favor from white people, the white power structure, and white organizations that were the ones either supporting slavery or engaged in selling people for profit, that the focus in many churches diverted in practice and thought away from what Jesus intended for the church.
In many Black communities because of the Church those communities resembled the church in Acts 2-4 where “no one in that community had a need because everyone contributed whatever they had to make sure everyone had enough of what they needed.” That too is a political statement.
Those who say politics does not belong in the pulpit and church, to be examined and challenged, has either chosen to ignore Jesus of the Bible or has not been educated on how to properly read the sacred text of the Bible.
Remember, Jesus was executed by Rome as a subversive to Rome. He was a political threat to Rome and crucifixion was the punishment specifically reserved ONLY for those who were a political threat to Rome, just as was the lynching of Black bodies in the United States of America in the 19th and 20th centuries.
More next week. “To identify the enemy is to free the mind of the people. Free the mind of the people. Speak to the mind of the people. Speak truth.” Be Free, today!
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.