How [We] Gonna Win When [We] Ain’t Right Within?
By Rev. Sidney Williams, Contributing Writer
Lauryn Hill penned these lyrics to an incredible sound track on her hit song, “That Thing.” I still can’t help but sing along and tap my feet when I hear this song. Recently, this song came to mind after reading Ralph Warnock’s book, “The Divided Mind of the Black Church.” As the Black Church strives to stand on the moral high ground and proclaim truth to power, there is still something deeply wrong within. Warnock argues that “the Black Church has had a divided mind which in turn has shaped our ambiguous history.” While we remain committed to addressing both “the slavery of sin” and “the sin of slavery,” we have ignored our own internal systems of oppression and dehumanization.
Whom have we marginalized in our churches and our communities? Whose voices remain unheard? How do we measure successful ministries and ministers? When the disciples argued among themselves who was the greatest, Jesus responded “For the least among all of you is the greatest” (Luke 9:48). On another occasion, Jesus responded, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26). How have we applied the words of our Savior and chief pastor in the Black Church? In what ways have we divided ourselves while striving for Christian unity?
It can be argued that African Methodism is the Mother Denomination of the Black Church in America and possibly throughout the world. We have the distinct honor of being the first church established by Africans in the Diaspora. Unfortunately, many of our historic churches have either become ruins or museums. Meanwhile, new churches have moved in and are growing both numerically and spiritually. Is it possible that our focus and our funding is targeted more on the Institution and less on the mission? Recently, the AME Church received national attention. Yet, in many of our local communities our church is unknown and we have little or no impact.
The current political climate has taught us a lot about the importance of local elections and grass root activism. While we enjoyed many White House visits during the Obama years, perhaps now it is time to turn our attention to having a transformational impact in the local communities that we serve. Rather than sending pastors to congregations without resources until something else becomes available, what if we invested resources in these local congregations and the clergy who serve them? If we have to close one church so that another church can thrive, then perhaps at least one church could achieve the mission we proclaim.
If we are going to win, something has to change within. Our voice must be heard in every community, in every nation, where the doors of our church have been opened.
The Rev. Sidney S. Williams, Jr. is the pastor of Bethel AME Church, Morristown, New Jersey. He is an adjunct instructor at Payne Theological Seminary and author of Morning Meditations: 100 Days to Believing You’re Successful.