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In time of crisis, where are the good shepherds?

Updated: December 4, 2011 11:05AM

This is the third in a series, “Letters to a Pastor.” It began with an essay John wrote years ago critical of the church in the black community.

Dear Pastor,

I hear you, man. . . . But the people perish. And yet, the clergy flourish.

So many among you, mani­cured and wearing regal, customized preacher robes and golden crosses in the pulpit, wax eloquently Sunday after Sunday about love. And yet, daily, in loveless urban streets, often within the shadow of churches, death, poverty and hopelessness rage like a relentless, violent storm — so-called light and darkness coexisting, like good neighbors.

And I wonder: How is this possible? Doesn’t the faintest presence of light dispel darkness? Where are the good shepherds?

Just the other day, I saw on a street corner in a troubled Chicago neighborhood a symbol of the state of the black church and its glaring disconnection: A proud but lifeless brick building adorned with the symbols of Christianity. It stood dark, protected by black wrought-iron bars, even as life beyond Sunday mornings ebbed and flowed up and down the avenue — unfazed and unaffected by the church that generally remains visionless regarding effectual change for a people.

In these times, far too many pastors fill their coffers on the backs of the poor. Far too many remove themselves from the daily travails of the sheep, choosing instead to dwell on faraway hills of suburban meadows where gunshots, crime and the cries of their people form not so much as a whisper as they lay their heads on peaceful pillows.

Some pastors complain that the road is too hard. Some pervert the calling, preferring the glitz and glam of being a big-shot preacher boasting a large membership, which — if a pastor has political aspirations — also translates to a hearty voting base.

Too many pastors these days trot out for news cameras amid the latest neighborhood tragedy then fade to black once cameras are gone.

Too many are MIA or else remain mum on matters of critical importance to the poor and downtrodden, are prone to going on retreats when the church ought be advancing, prone to say what is politically expedient rather than speak the unadulterated Gospel truth.

Even more conspicuous is the absence of many pastors from the front lines of any war against the ills and evil entrenched all around their churches.

In these times, sheep care for the shepherd.

I have seen pastors use the Bible to browbeat folks into giving their last dollar for “the church” then leave even faithful longtime members to fend for themselves at times of crisis, or else make them feel like beggars when asking the church for help.

But isn’t that why the church exists? Isn’t it supposed to mirror the early church in the book of Acts? Isn’t the church the body, not the building?

Do bricks have souls?

And yet, the twisted focus of this American paradigm of Christianity is one that erects multimillion-dollar edifices, even in the ’hood, leaving congregations saddled with debt for near perpetuity.

It is a model that resembles a more insidious pimpology — carried out all in the name of God. One that systematically takes from the poor and exchanges for their tithe, talents and time a soothing, yet milquetoast, brand of Christianity that leaves them dependent on the institution of church rather than on the living Christ — without the transformative power to break generational curses.

I have witnessed the love of the church wax cold, even as the world itself has grown colder — poverty rising like the morning sun, murder stealing our sons and daughters and the socio-economic gap ever widening.

Preaching these days has become big pimping and the focus of the church insular and characterized by pastoral anniversaries, mega-faith conferences, by holy convocations and other church fare that are more about glorifying man than God.

Clearly, it’s not all pastors, but enough to make the issue pervasive and this son of the church cry. I would be without hope were it not for the words of Jeremiah 23 that warns “shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture” and assures punishment for them, but that also promises that the lost sheep will be restored.

I pray, dear pastor, that you will be part of the promised wind of change and restoration. For the people perish.

Next and final part: Your First Love

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