In his final book, “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed dismay over the emergence of false prophets in the African-American community. King surmised, “The majority of Negro political leaders do not ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support. Although genuinely popular leaders are now emerging, most are selected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied with resources and inevitably subjected to white control. The mass of Negroes nurtures a healthy suspicion toward these manufactured leaders. Experience tells them that color is the chief argument their leaders are offering to induce loyalty and solidarity.” His words ring true in New Jersey where some Black clergy have publicly endorsed the re-election of Governor Chris Christie.
It is not the endorsement of a candidate per se that is offensive, though some might take exception to the appearance of impropriety by clergy, presumably in their own name but affiliations not invisible, offering partisan pronouncements. What is troubling, and echoes the concern raised by Dr. King, is that the endorsement fails the accountability test and most troubling is the support of a candidate with a record that runs counter to the interests of African-Americans in the state. Just last week the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against Governor Christie’s abolishment of the state affordable housing council. So clergy presumably called to preach the Gospel of a Messiah who began life homeless are supporting a governor who feels no responsibility to help provide shelter for those in need?
While I can respect a difference of opinion over a political endorsement what I find shameful about the behavior of these clergy is the indifference to the conditions of the people they purport to represent, and the hypocrisy of supporting a candidate who has been equally indifferent to their flock. My objection is not about party or personality, but principle.
This governor has done nothing to protect the state’s most economically challenged residents and has voiced little concern for the poor. It was his administration’s bungling that cost the state $400 million in much needed federal education funding for which he blamed a subordinate. This is a governor who relishes the role of bully and has shown a particular disdain for women. In a state that has failed to implement a mandated Amistad black history curriculum, Governor Christie tried to manipulate his stand on gay marriage and mangled history by suggesting a public referendum during Jim Crow would have expedited civil rights gains.
It is this ethical blindness of Black clergy leadership that has caused many of the faithful to lose faith and why the church has been called out for the hollowness of its holy witness. How can you proclaim to be a servant of Christ when your choice in the earthly realm exhibits little of the compassion and concern for the “least of these” that serve as the linchpin of the New Covenant?
Why is it that in many Black neighborhoods where million dollar church edifices have been constructed, poverty is pervasive, children go hungry, Black men stand on corners abandoned and Black women and girls are left to fend for themselves? Thunderous sermons on Sunday are drowned out by the silence of clergy to daily suffering. The Black church has been soiled by the stain of self-interest and has lost its moral authority. The deception to which Dr. King took exception has sadly infested some pulpits. Where is the faith, not the title; the witness and not the deal? Did not Jesus himself weep?
As a Black Christian, raised in a family of church going folks, the behavior of these clergy bears little resemblance to the lessons I recall learning as a child. Knowing that such a claim borders on heresy for some, let me offer the most basic, non-theological interpretation of what I believe are the tenets of my faith. At the core is love and compassion, concern for the poor and a disregard for the attainment of wealth and personal status, a humble spirit and commitment to justice and a passionate objection to the abuse of power. Most importantly, the belief that what is done for “the least of these” is done to the glory of God. Yet, I see little of this in the endorsement of the incumbent governor by these clergy.
Many Blacks in our state, in some of the very communities represented by these clergy, are being crushed under the weight of poverty. Joblessness is epidemic and homelessness the next stop on the misery train. A litany of health challenges threaten Black mortality, among them gun violence. Many Black children are trapped in failing schools and “choice” and vouchers, two concepts that some of these clergy support and have been vocal in their enthusiasm, and would benefit from their implementation, are but two alternatives that are insufficient to truly meet the totality of educational needs in the African-American community. On most, if not all these measures, their candidate, Governor Chris Christie has failed. And I welcome a rebuttal that illustrates how African-Americans and the poor have been served well by this administration.
Blacks in New Jersey should heed the words of Dr. King, published posthumously, “A black face that is mute in party councils is not political representation; the ability to be independent, assertive and respected when the final decisions are made is indispensable for an authentic expression of power.”
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.
How can you proclaim to be a servant of Christ when your choice in the earthly realm exhibits little of the compassion and concern for the “least of these” that serve as the linchpin of the New Covenant?