Dissing Pulpit Politics

How about a little respect for the black minister politicians who got us here?


Let me make it more clear: For 52 years, there was at least one black minister seated as a representative in Congress and for most of that time a minister was president of the NAACP and SCLC. Those representatives and the civil rights groups worked together to advance civil rights policy in Congress. When the administration of Ronald Reagan determined in 1982 that the Voting Rights Act had run its course just 17 years after it was signed into law, it was Fauntroy, Jackson, Hooks and Joseph Lowery at the SCLC who led the charge to get the act renewed for another 25 years.

It was the same coalition, inside the Congress and out, that worked to get Dr. King’s birthday established as a national holiday and forced the Congress and President Reagan to impose economic sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Throughout the history of black people in America—from slavery to the successes of the civil rights movement—ministers have been both the spiritual and political conscience of our communities.

Since the Rev. Absalom Jones was ordained as the first African-American Episcopal priest in 1795 and the Rev. Richard Allen became the first Methodist preacher in 1799, this has been the case. Together they founded the Free African Society, one of the earliest civil rights organizations and possibly the first established by blacks. They are the beginning of a more than 200-year history of ministers leading the way on political and civil rights matters.

Ironically, it is with the Republican Party where we have seen some resurgence of black ministers involved in politics. Fauntroy himself has stood with President Bush on issues of gay marriage and abortion. Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham, Md., a self-described Democrat, has been one of the most vocal black ministers on how Republican values are closer aligned to those of the black church. And the party is currently considering electing a former Catholic seminarian, Michael Steele, as its chairman.

If Steele is elected Republican Party chairman Friday, African Americans will be faced with an interesting dilemma. Maryland’s former lieutenant governor is nobody’s Uncle Tom, and he’s not a token, certainly not if he ends up leading the party. As we move away from ministerial politics, we have to consider what’s next. If President Obama is not the end of African-American political advancement, then we have to consider the options ahead. It may very well be equal distribution of our political power in both parties. Imagine the most powerful Democrat and Republican being black men for the first time in history. Talk about change you can believe in. What have we got to lose?

Brian DeBose has been covering local and national politics in Washington for 12 years and is a frequent radio and television commentator.