The RNC Is Over, but Can We Talk About Pastor Mark Burns?

Pastor Mark Burns addresses delegates on the final night of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.
Pastor Mark Burns addresses delegates on the final night of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.

Look, I’m a simple black man. I only have a few rules in life. If you call it “stuffing” instead of “dressing”—the way all right-thinking black folks refer to it—don’t bother friending me on Facebook. You either root for the Los Angeles Lakers or you’re just wasting my time. And if you’re against black people, then I’m automatically against you.

And that brings me to everyone’s new favorite black right-wing reverend: Pastor Mark Burns.

Oh, Pastor Burns.

The good Pastor Burns is from South Carolina and is an evangelical Christian televangelist for something called the Harvest Praise and Worship Center. Personally, I’ve never been there, but I’ll bet that the Harvest Praise and Worship Center is housed in an old defunct Circuit City … but that’s just me.


Let me admit that, like 99.99 percent of black folks in America, I gave all of the black-eyed peas walking around this Minute Rice GOP convention a side eye usually reserved for people who bring turkey dogs to a cookout. The cheap, 99-cents-store-turkey-dogs side eye. But hey, whatever floats your boat. If you like thinking that you’re a special snowflake that will benefit from free trade, low taxes and smaller government while your compadres cheer lustfully for a police state that regularly blasts your cousins up and down in the street, that’s your psychological conundrum, not mine.

But then there’s Pastor Burns.

Burns is one of those people who, when you see him, your brain rapidly checks its database of “sketchy cats,” and like a Wikipedia entry, his face pops up. And that’s before you even hear him speak. He’s the type of dude who, when something dodgy comes up, makes a great deal about not being about that life but who privately sends you a DM asking for more details. Again, I don’t know him from Adam, but I can tell that he probably bends the corner of the big Joker, just to make sure that he can take an extra book in spades.

Yeah, that guy.

The GOP apparently has its own database of sketchy negroes (small n), and after it made sure that its No. 1 pick, the Rev. Darrell Scott, had a place of prominence, the party knew it needed someone else. A black guy who’d bring its white house down. Someone who’d speak without thinking, and do it in such a way that would buttress the GOP's white supremacist notion that if black folks would just get with the white supremacist program, other folks would be able to stop shooting us.


So it picked Pastor Mark Burns to deliver that message.

I’d never paid much attention to Burns before this, other than to know that my Kappa Alpha Psi friends were a bit peeved that he’d falsely claimed to be a member of their fraternity. And that he tended to pop up whenever the media needed someone black to say something insane about the state of black America. But other than that, Burns wasn’t on my radar. After all, I wouldn’t be able to find the NOW network, the Christian cable station he owns, if Jon Bon Jovi personally came to my house and programmed my Direct TV stations. But there he was Thursday, front and center, “re’d” to go.


The Pastor Burns experience actually began Monday when he was tasked with one job: to kick off this festival of racism, misogyny and xenophobia with a simple prayer. Just a few of Jesus’ words of inspiration before the four days of policy positions that forgot anything Jesus stood for.

And this is what he said:

Hello Republicans! I’m Pastor Mark Burns from the great state of South Carolina. I’m gonna pray and I’m gonna give the benediction. And you know why? Because we are electing a man in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ. And Republicans, we got to be united, because our enemy is not other Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Let’s pray together. Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.”

To defeat every attack that comes against us, protect the life of Donald Trump. Give him the words, give him the peace, give him the power and authority to be the next president of the United States of America. In Jesus’ name, if you believe it, shout ‘Amen!’


Even the white folks in the audience were appalled, and damn, that’s pretty appalled. But OK, after he went on CNN and told freaking Don Lemon that he may have gone a bit too far, that he was just caught up in the emotion, I thought … that’s just your standard sorry-not-sorry. Cool. But knowing how badly he’d botched his one job, I knew the GOP wouldn’t give him a second chance.

Au contraire. The GOP had a special wonton soup for black folks Thursday, making sure that as we waited for Donald Trump’s ode to fascism—er, presidential-nomination-acceptance speech—we’d be entertained by, you guessed it, Pastor Mark Burns.


And boy, did he deliver.

Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure that before he went onstage, Burns sent a very special prayer to his personal white Jesus. How can I be inspired to sell out as many black people as possible? When he got to the microphone, his message was simple: “I am the living embodiment of the Clarence Thomas ‘I Hate Negroes’ meme, and y’all are gonna love me!”


With a thunderous, raspy voice, Burns proclaimed to the world that all of the things that black folks love, he was against. You go out in the streets and say that black lives matter, then Pastor Burns is gonna put his dirty boots on your couch and tell the world, “Forget that; all lives matter!” He declared that Trump would get everyone jobs. How? Because he was not a “race baiter” like those dastardly Democrats who have the nerve to be concerned with the lives of black and brown people! Sweating like Justin Timberlake at a Janet Jackson fan convention, Burns glistened as he gestured and shouted and pointed and then shouted some more.

The monochromatic crowd ate it up, greeting his simplistic utterances with rapturous nonrhythmic applause, all the while asking themselves, “Who is this black guy, and why don’t other black people listen to him?”


Burns was definitely a hit with this crowd, and I predict that he’ll get a book deal soon. Something emphasizing the “bravery” of going against black people and our interests in order to be the ultimate American. Or something like that.

But here’s the deal. We actually need a viable Republican Party in this country. It should be one that isn’t based on white supremacy and that has new ideas for the country, including the black community, but I’m not holding my breath.


But Burns is the reason the GOP is polling at around 0 percent with black folks in multiple states. You can’t take a guy like Burns, give him a red-white-and-blue tie, a pat on the head and a microphone, and think that black folks are gonna take you seriously. We’ve always had the Pastor Burnses of the world, and we’ll always have more.

But if you’re gonna convince me that you won’t break my nonnegotiable rules about black folks, you’d best keep him off the stage. If not, I’m gonna have to think that your efforts to reach black folks are nothing but buffoonery.


Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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