MLK Enterprises: The Dream Has Changed
History was bound to repeat itself.
Still, I had hoped it wouldn't happen. Wednesday, the Burmese (yes, I'm using the former name of the country as opposed to the military-imposed misnomer) government began to disperse crowds of courageous protesters with randomly placed bullets. This in response to week-long street protests against the country's freedom-crushing junta, protests that were started by some of the country's Buddhist monks, individuals who Burmese citizens understandably hold in the highest regard.
The clarity of purpose that these monks have shown reminded me of a time when Black America could count on its religious leaders to stand up for social justice. Historically, the African-American church has served as a base for those in our community who have fought against tyranny in the forms of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK and many other assaults on black equality. One is left to wonder how our churches have devolved into the sorry state in which we find them today - helmed by men and women who have given up on the constant struggle for black progress and have opted instead for self-service. Men and women who seek not to educate and empower their congregations, but to fleece them. Nowadays, black church leaders certainly seem to excel at this, but when an opportunity presents itself to stand against economic injustice, these guys are too busy Scrooge McDuckin' it to notice.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind trading most of these pulpit coin counters for monks. Monks are well-regarded, and for good reason. They are sincere and live by the simplest of means. Conversely, our church leaders seem to drip with duplicity and pretension. Many can only be counted on to support their own interests. Some of you will refer to the Big Two. But we really can't count the contributions of Al 'Slick' Sharpton and Jesse 'Baby Daddy' Jackson because, well, let's face it, neither of those dudes strikes me as the selfless type. Everything that they do seems to have them at the center of it. Jesse Jackson launched his career based on a rather despicable lie having to do with his wearing a shirt soaked with the blood of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Al rode his way to fame on the back of the dissembling Tawana Brawley. More recently, Jesse Jackson helped conceive a love child in-between marriage counseling sessions with the Clintons. Al Sharpton, dauntless in his quest to become a poor man's Jesse, ran for president with the help of a nasty little Republican Svengali. These transgressions are bad enough but to top everything off, these chumps don't even have a church. When was the last time you heard anybody say, "One of the things I want to do when I come to visit you is get up early and go to Jesse Jackson's church."
But, even those Men-of-God who do have a church generally come with a ton of unseemly extras. By most accounts, Bishop TD Jakes, through his Potter's House charities and other philanthropic endeavors, has really done some genuine good. But the brother also has an affinity for posh mansions, diamond pinky rings and Bentleys. Sure, it was awfully magnanimous of him to dig between his sofa cushions and offer six thousand dollars to the Jena 6 Defense Fund but one gets the feeling that he just as easily could have spent the money on a couple of tie clips.
Another prominent preacher, the good Reverend Creflo Dollar (I do not possess the imagination to make that name up) advocates "Prosperity Christianity," preaches that true belief will be rewarded with material success, and owns three private jets.
Fast Eddie Long, the Georgia-based pastor who unflinchingly said, "I am looked at as one of the church's fathers. One of God's CEOs," created a charity that netted him over 3 million dollars income over a three-year period.
Then there's the "Prophetess" Juanita Bynum, who apparently couldn't predict that her husband would confuse himself with Ike Turner and who will, undoubtedly, write a profitable little book in the very near future about her ability to spiritually stave off an attack.
A friend of mine thinks I'm just being pointlessly mean for criticizing people like TD Jakes. She even defends him by arguing that most of his discretionary income comes from TD Jakes Enterprises, which produces books, (with titles like, Woman, Thou Art Loosed! and He-Motions) albums and movies. My rebuttal is always pretty simple. If Jesus were here, He wouldn't be CEO of JESUS, Inc. He wouldn't wear outlandish five-piece suits or gaudy jewelry. He wouldn't drive a Bentley or a Rolls Royce. He wouldn't have his own private jet. He wouldn't live in a mansion. WWJD? Not this. If you disagree with me you're either doing so out of spite or you've missed the entire point of Christianity - which is, of course, to be Christ-like: humble, obedient, steadfast, unworldly. It's relatively simple. To those Christians who don't think any of this is a big deal, consider this: If you're constantly distracted by moneymen like Jakes, perhaps you won't notice when the genuine article finally comes back around. Perhaps because you've spent so many years being led by Offering Plate Pastors who treat spirituality like a commodity, you'll find him too plain and pedestrian.
The thing is, I don't necessarily knock people for going to church. It's easy to figure out why they do it. Most go because it makes them feel good. Apparently, waking up early on Sundays, listening to choirs churn out the same songs and hearing a lavishly-dressed preacher loudly re and/or misinterpret a couple of already-familiar passages from the Bible while he theatrically wipes sweat from his brow is soul nourishing. Hey, to each his own. I just don't think it's a good sign when we can walk past the First Baptist ATM machine and not bat an eyelash.