I had the honor and privilege on April 19th of attending President Barack Obamaâ€™s second annual White House Prayer Breakfast.Â The food was superb (although there were no grits, bacon or eggs), AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie gave a stirring opening prayer, The President eloquently stated the occasion and set the tone for the morning, an excellent Washington children’s choir rocked the house with their rendition of â€œEncourage Yourselfâ€ and Bishop T.D. Jakes delivered a solid meditation on the significance of Easter.
The speakers were good, the choir was good, but what stuck with me the most was something said by gospel recording artist Whitney Phipps. He delivered a powerful rendition of “When Peace Like a River,” but before he did so, he offered a few words of encouragement to President Obama, who has faced more than his share of mean spirited, racially tinged criticism. Mr. Phipps urged the President to stay the course and keep on soaring as the eagle that he is. Phipps said, “Do it because they feed pigeons who simply eat what’s thrown on the ground before them, but they shoot at eagles who dare to spread their wings.”
Mr. Phipps was on target. Those who can’t handle the reality of an articulate and thoughtful President who happens to be black have been relentless, withering and irrational in their criticism, but President Obama has kept his cool, stayed the course and is slowly and quietly but profoundly changing America for the better.
The President’s determination should be an object lesson for all people of faith. Our April 24th celebration of Easter is a reminder of how Jesus courageously faced withering criticism and even death to pay the price for our sins and assure us of salvation. Richard Allen and the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church refused to accept racial prejudice in religion and boldly established a church for people of all colors in 1787. Our ancestors in the faith stood up and spoke out in the face of a power structure that could take their jobs, their well being and their lives.Â Down through the ages, authentic faith has shown through in brave and determined action by people of faith.
Too often today, we fail to walk in those footsteps of bold and assertive faith. Too many churches today are consumed with worship style and numbers in the pews, with little or no regard for the struggles faced by those in the pews beyond throwing a few pennies their way. Too many churches today chase grant monies instead of paying their own way as our ancestors in the faith did, and are careful not to criticize politicians who might drive dollars their way and enable them to build bigger churches. As retired AME Bishop John Adams often says, “You can’t bark when you’re chewing on a bone.” Too many churches today close their eyes to real world concerns and settle for a bogus, sterile spirituality that’s long on shouting and short on service.
If we are to be the church, then we can’t be compliant pigeons who gobble up what’s thrown our way and quietly coo in return. We have to soar on eagleâ€™s wings as did the prophet Amos, who said that justice and righteousness should flow freely, soar on eagleâ€™s wings like the Apostle Paul, who rejected the status quo of his religious heritage and said that we are all one in Christ Jesus, soar on eagleâ€™s wings like our spiritual ancestors who once sang, “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.â€
In a time when newly elected Governors – like the one in South Carolina – are following a suspect and amoral script to turn back the clock of progress, when the rich are favored and the poor are neglected, when public education is under attack and when political decisions are often driven by prejudice and fear, the Lord requires us to be more than greedy, well fed and quiet pigeons – we have to be soaring eagles, speak truth to power, confront spiritual wickedness in high places and set the tone for positive change.
We may be shot at, but we’ll do the work of a bold and liberating Savior, work for true progress and find victory, walking in the footsteps of the Risen Christ who said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”