Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

Dear Rick: Form Letters Undermine Reconciliation

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Some of the comments left here on the blog in response to Rick Warren’s form letter to African American ministers have left me shaking my head. (I’ve just been too busy with other matters to come back in and comment on the comments.)

Some folks want to know what’s the big deal. Others think we oughta cut Warren some slack. Some think that instead of putting what they feel is Warren’s naive, but well-intentioned, gesture “on blast” (as the youngun’s would say), I and other black ministers should reach out to fifty-four year old Warren and use this as an opportunity to enlighten him and help him understand race and racism in America. A couple of you seem to think the scripture “Judge not, lest you be judged” means Christians (and non-Christians) should refrain from commenting on what we see going on in the world. Thank God, we don’t all think alike.

With pride I post here on the blog official responses from colleagues around the country to Rick Warren’s form letter.  I post them here as proof that the Black church in America is not as gullible, stupid, and irrelevant as many in blogosphere suppose. I post them also to show that thinking women and men of faith must not mistake patronage for reconciliation, nor tokenism for justice. I post my colleagues responses (at least two of them), finally, as my way of insisting that neither Rick Warren nor the media gets to decide who our leaders are in the Black church. We are called by God “at such a time as this” to be ministers, community activists, prophets, and public thinkers even if we’re never invited by Larry King Live, MSNBC,  The New York Times or the Saddlebrook Churches of the country to be on panels or offer our opinion on today’s current events. As African-American ministers we are many, and we are not a monolith.

Earlier today I posted Iva Carruther’s response as General Secretary of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc., an organization representing a cross section of some of the most dynamic and progressive African American faith leaders and their congregations in the United States.

Tonight I post a letter to Warren sent by Frank Thomas, Senior Pastor of Mississippi Blvd Christian Church of Memphis, TN and Co-Executive Editor of The African American Pulpit (the journal Warren used to find and identify African American ministers for his project).


Dear Pastor Warren:

First, let me thank you for subscribing to the African American Pulpit. We appreciate your interest and support. Without our subscribers, The African American Pulpit would be defunct.  Thank you for the wonderful support you provide.

I must make you aware that I was initially disappointed and later angry to find that many clergy were getting the same “form” letter from you as I received. While you have the right to email letters to anyone that you deem necessary, the fact that we all got the same letter with only the first paragraph changed made your personal request impersonal. I have several friends that cross racial boundaries and based upon our relationship, we ask each for advice on sermons and even situations in our churches. Often more than the advice, it is the fact that someone will listen and talk through the concerns – in other words relationship and listening is more important than the advice.  I know that you are a very busy pastor, with many huge responsibilities, and I did not expect that there would be dialogue or relationship between you and I. I am not looking for that, and I am sure that you have many quality relationships as well, but I did want more than my opinion to be a response to a form letter that was sent to many clergy. It said to me that you were not serious, and I wondered about the real motive.

I think questions such as you ask about preaching the King service are best asked in relationship and intimacy with an African American pastor. Form letters are not the best forum, and in true relationship such questions get responded to easily and quickly.  I appreciate your ministry of reconciliation and the fact that you are always trying to build bridges to African American pastors. I would suggest that it might be better that such bridges are built one pastor at a time in one on one relationships rather than form letters. Form letters undermine reconciliation.

I have found in my community that my relationship with a white, Presbyterian pastor has meant more and effected more change than all of the mass clergy meetings that I have done. It starts one on one with one pastor confiding in and relating to another. I believe that we can change the world one pastor at a time. Form letters do not change the world – they give the illusion of intimacy, when in fact they are de-personal.

I will pray that you preach well at the King service. May it be a blessing to a world that is starving for justice, truth, and peace.

Frank Thomas
Senior Pastor Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, Memphis
Co-Executive Editor of The African American Pulpit


Finally, just in case there are those of you out there who still think we’re being unfair to Warren. Here is the “form letter” response everyone, regardless what they write, gets from Warren’s office:

Thank you  _____ - I am humbled by your words. This is really great and thank you for sending to me! This is so helpful as I am getting ready to speak on Monday. I look forward to working with you in the future! We’re praying for you -


Lend Me Your Anointing

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

On January 11, selected African American clergy from around the nation received a flattering and enticing form email and offer from Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church.  The email offer celebrated a specific sermon of theirs he had read in the African American Pulpit, praised them for their insights, and then requested their input into the sermon he was preparing as the “first white pastor to preach” at the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

This is the same Warren who has yet to respond to a letter from an interfaith group of clergy on racism in America, sent in July 2008.

This is the same Warren who co-opted the Compassion Forum to ensure that his personal agenda would transcend the agenda of a collaboration of faith leaders.

This is the same Warren who is in need of some public legitimacy and affirmation from the African American faith community and others, because of what his record and words said he believed in, before the Obama presidential election.  Now that we are in the Post-Obama presidential election era, the chameleon is in a constant state of change as he calls for support to fulfill his ministry of reconciliation.

And the net has been cast to see how many African American clergy can be caught for the journey.

Forget the part about truth, confession and contrition.  It’s just time to move on to the post-racial era.

Forget about the data on what’s really happening in African American and poor communities across the nation.  If it’s not on CNN, it did not happen.   Well, it’s almost like the post-Emancipation jubilee; after all the inaugural celebration is done, African American spokespersons, especially clergy, will again be at the crossroad of choice.  Will they serve the interests of powers and principalities or will they hear and respond to the cries of the people?

Oh, by the way, Pastor Warren, for the record, you are not the first white pastor to preach the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Ebenezer.  But, perhaps truth does not matter.

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers
General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc.
Founder and Director of Lois House, an urban retreat center,
Trustee for the Chicago Theological Seminary
January 15, 2009


Dear Rick: A Lesson on Race

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

It took several days for me to decide whether to post the email below. It arrived Sunday night in my mailbox. I read it and became immediately suspicious. “You kidding, right?”  It’s obvious that Warren hasn’t read what I’ve written here and elsewhere about him. Either that, or the letter is a fake. I shut down the computer and thought nothing more about it.

Well, maybe one more thought came to my mind:  Perhaps Warren knows that I’ve been critical of him and is writing because he genuinely and really wants to reach out and find common ground.

But that was before I got here to Florida where I’m vacationing with friends and discovered that I’m not the only one  to receive  a letter from the pastor of Saddlebrook Church. Jessica, Floyd, Jeremiah, Frank, Jim, John, Eboni and many others did too. It seems that Warren (or his emissaries) decided to go through some old issues of The African American Pulpit and write letters to folks with sermons there claiming to want to reach out to us and solicit our advice on a sermon he’s doing Monday in celebration of  King’s birthday there at Ebenezer. Everyone got the same form letter. Change the recipient’s name, the sermon title and hit “send” is all it took.

Is this Warren’s way of getting to know African American preachers? Is this his way of making friends with us?  Is this how he bones up on Black History? Evidently, Warren obviously doesn’t know that black preachers talk, that many of us are friends, and that a letter from Rick Warren would generate buzz enough for us to share and compare notes.

Admittedly, nothing annoys me like white Americans– especially those my age– wanting me to teach them about race and racism.  Where have you been?

Warren, if you (or your people) read this, you’re asking yourself, “What did I do wrong? What harm is there in sending an email out to respected black leaders around the country and soliciting their advice on a King speech you’re slated to give on Monday?”

If you have to ask, then you don’t get it.  You don’t get the whole point of King’s ministry and that of others who suffered and sacrificed working for racial equality in this country. You don’t get that a mass email to black leaders can not substitute for real flesh-and-blood relationships with peers in the African American community. Can not substitute for doing your own reading and research on the history of the American slave trade and race relations in America. Can not substitute for asking God to open your eyes  so you can see, really see, the race dynamics in your church and in your city. Can not substitute for asking how a man like yourself born in 1954 doesn’t know better. And doesn’t know more about race in America.  Where have you been?

What was the King Committee thinking? What got into them to invite Rick Warren who has no street creds in justice work to be the speaker for 2009 annual Martin Luther King service there at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta? But that’s another conversation. In the meantime, follow the money. You can bet there’s a Purpose Driven donation that’s recently been deposited in the King Center account.

Read my friends and weigh in.

Dear Pastor Weems,

Recently I was reading an older issue of African American Pulpit (I’m a long-term subscriber) and I came upon your article, “How Will Our Preaching Be Remembered”.  I thought it was so good I wanted to write and tell you what a great job you did. Well done!

After reading your work, I decided to ask you for your help. On Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19, I have the humble privilege of being invited to be the first white pastor to preach the annual memorial message in Dr. King’s home church in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist.  I consider this opportunity as one of the greatest privileges in my ministry. It is even more important to me personally, than praying the invocation for my friend President Obama’s Inauguration the next day.

I’d like to know your thoughts. If you were preaching the annual Martin Luther King sermon at his church on his day – what would YOU say?   I just felt led to write you.  Please help me, your brother in Christ. I’m open to any ideas, texts, or suggestions you might have for me, and I’d deeply appreciate it.

For so many of us, Dr. King was a role model, not just for justice, but also a role model for local church pastoring and preaching.   I have a personally typed and signed letter by Dr. King framed on my office wall.

I am committed to the ministry of reconciliation, so I’m always trying to build bridges to my African-American brothers and sisters in ministry. We’re a part of the same Body, saved by the same Grace, filled with the same Spirit, preaching the same Word, serving the same Lord, and called to fulfill the same Purposes on earth.
Thanks again for how your words touched me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Rick Warren

How Do We Explain To Our Children?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I noticed the white man wearing sneakers and a blue parka standing nearby.  I first noticed him when I was in the cookware section. I was on the hunt for one of those pretty color Le Creuset cast iron pots that I love to collect, hoping there might be a deeply discounted one on the shelf to snatch up. The white man in the blue parka stood a few feet from me pretending to be studying stainless steel cookware.

I knew immediately who he was and why he was standing there.

And when I looked up in the bath towel section and saw him standing one aisle over to my right I stopped and glared. We looked at each over. His cover was blown and he knew it.

But the process started all over again when I reached the book and magazine area and was searching around for a new magazine. It was a different man this time. But his job was the same.

Am I imagining this?

I’m a middle-aged black woman with gray hair, but that didn’t seem to matter.

Other women in the store — whose color was different from mine– were going about their business shopping with no one seemingly following them around from section to section.

I am a southerner by birth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Back then I didn’t understand why my mother lectured us kids so about not touching anything in the store every week we accompanied her  on our  Saturday excursions downtown to shop at Woolworth, Kresge, Rich’s, and Davison’s department stores.”Touch something, and I’ll slap you” were her words. It would take years before I understood that fear, not just strictness, was the motivation behind her words.

But I understood my mother’s fear that day as I stood in the check-out line with my purchases and the teenager who lives in my house reached for some item there near the check outline and threw it in the check-out basket. You know those items at the check out counter for impulse buyers and for kids to harass their parents into buying. Those “Oh well, what the hell” store items you pick up because they are right there at your finger tip in your line of vision.

Like I said, the teenager who lives in my house picked up an item from the shelf and threw it in the basket. Except it didn’t quite land in the basket. It landed on top of my purse which was in the basket. And the teenager who lives in my house thought nothing about it.

But I did. Fifty years of being a southern black woman shopping in hostile “white stores” caused me to snap. “Are you crazy?” I muttered under my breath in my mother’s voice. I was trembling. The teenager who lives in my house looked at me clueless.

The world has changed. But not that much. Despite our excitement over what’s to happen on January 20, 2009. In truth, her father and I have protected her, buffered her from the ugliest side of racism. “Why are you trippin’?” she asked.

We had this conversation before, I kept thinking to myself. But it was at bedtime? Or was it in the kitchen when we were cleaning up after a meal? Or was it one of those times in February when she was at her desk working on some obligatory African American history assignment that was due the next morning and instead of looking up the research for herself she’d decided to ask the crazy woman who lives her house who’s always talking about history to rattle off a few names and dates for her. Irene Morgan. David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain. Ruby Sales. Regardless, it wasn’t real to her.   

So there I stood in the checkout line of TJ Maxx looking and sounding  like a crazy woman, giving the teenager who lives in my house a Cliffnote lesson on evil, racism, racial profiling, talking to her about on cameras hidden in department store walls, men (and women) in parkas lurking nearby, people in other rooms looking at monitors following women like me and her as we shop in the store. It must have sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. It did to me.

“Just remember the next time you come to the store with your high fallutin’ friends. The camera won’t be on them. It’ll most likely be on you.” Somberly she removed the box from on top of my purse and put it squarely into the check-out basket. Neither of us spoke after this.  I was spent, trying to hold back tears. She stood stiff and quiet.


Years later, black (and brown) parents in America are still having to have this conversation with our children before going into department stores.