- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Call-and-response is as utilized by hip-hopsters as it is by blues and jazz musicians, and it is long familiar to Southern Baptists, evangelists and Pentecostalists and others who love music along with their sermons. The soulful Sam Cooke, whose sweet vocals began in the church, used call-and-response often. As his preacher father used to say, once you get a response from “Sister Sadie,” you can reel them in.

Pulpits certainly offer a different perspective, but it’s the call, or the message, that most matters. Do people fail to hear the message because of the messenger?

Hear me now.

Another prominent Baptist minister is under fire for using disparaging terms to describe homosexuality. The “offense” came during Palm Sunday services at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington. The “offender” is Bishop Alfred Owens Jr., who urged “straight men” to testify “Jesus as lord and savior.”

Bill Cosby is again drawing criticism for telling black Americans that, while it takes a village to raise a child, raising a child starts where that child lays her head at night — home. It’s a self-help message that Mr. Cosby has been preaching across the country for the past year-and-a-half, challenging black Americans to stand at the gates of their own communities — large and small — and fight the good fight.

The venues change, but the message stays on target: Black Americans are in charge of their own destinies.

Mr, Cosby brought that message full circle this week with an appearance in Washington. It was two years ago this week that Mr. Cosby chided black America at a Brown v. Board of Education ceremony in Washington, where he said: “We cannot blame white people. White people don’t live over there…It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we are not doing.”

Lambs who have lost their way?

Ask Kweisi Mfume, who hugged Mr. Cosby after that first call out, and who points his finger in the same direction. At an afternoon meeting this week with reporters and editors of The Washington Times, Mr. Mfume, a candidate in the Maryland Senate race, didn’t hesitate when asked who’s to blame and when did we go wrong: “The baby boomer generation,” he said. “Somewhere we dropped the ball … family values are missing … [we] didn’t move quick enough and still are not moving quickly enough.”

Family values. Illiteracy. Teen killers. Abortion. Violent video games. Pornography. Drug dealing. Pedophilia. Free love. Heterophobia. Child abuse. Gangsta rap. Etc., etc. etc.

The segments of the culture war and the warriors on the phalanx are as disparate as the ancestries of the 300 million people who call America home.

Bishop Owens of Greater Mount Calvary has been miscast in the same light as the Rev. Willie Wilson, who, as director of the 2005 Millions More March with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, had “offended” homosexuals when speaking from the pulpit. Here are a few excerpted words from Rev. Wilson’s “offensive” sermon: “You got to be careful when you say you don’t need no man. I can make it by myself. Well, if you don’t need a man, what’s left? Lesbianism is about to take over our community.” The congregation, as Baptist congregations do, unbosomed its approval.

Now comes Bishop Owens, a Christian warrior who believes “the ministry of the church must stretch beyond the four walls of the sanctuary.” In his Palm Sunday sermon, the bishop simply said, “It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and savior.” What irks the “offended” is that he went further: “I’m not talking about no [offensive terms] … Let the real men come on down here and take a bow … all the real men. I’m talking about the straight men.”

To say reaction was swift is an understatement. The homosexual community has demanded the bishop be ousted from Mayor Tony Williams’ interfaith council. My counterpart at The Washington Post, the highly respected Colbert King, has also demanded full time and attention from the mayor. The mayor, meanwhile, has asked the bishop to make a public apology.

Bishop Owens made his comments in the pulpit, where it is his spiritual duty to not only evangelize but to encourage congregants to proclaim their Christianity.

Four men: a native of Washington; a native of Philadelphia; a native of Newport News, Va.; and one who grew up on the mean streets of Baltimore. Four pulpits. One message: Black America must reclaim its families and its communities.

Trying to get a grip on the slow-burn pathologies that have permeated much of black America won’t be easy. But today’s blacks no more want to live on Uncle Sam’s Plantation than they did Jim Crow’s. And it’s not just homosexuals or baby boomers or Christians who need to hear the cultural call outs. The message must be pounded home to every segment of black America in every possible forum in every imaginable way.

As Sam Cooke said, “Bring It On Home,” “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

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