God's Politics

God's Politics


Suzan Johnson Cook: What’s the Responsibility of Black Leadership?

posted by God's Politics

Following last week’s candidates forum, we asked the religious leaders on our panel if there were any other questions they wish they could have asked any of the candidates. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, a senior pastor at the Bronx Christian Fellowship, had this question for Barack Obama:
Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby have been criticized for speaking out about the culpability of the Black community. If elected president of the United States, what do you believe Black leaders should do to re-instill/restore traditional faith, morals, and educational values within our community?



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Payshun

posted June 12, 2007 at 7:09 pm


Great question, and I think we have to destroy the stereotypes associated w/ achieving and speaking. Well there is a lot but I will answer more later.
p



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Steve-a-Reno

posted June 13, 2007 at 9:38 am


Just for discussion, would the eventual answers to this be terribly different from the answers for white folks? And since the Latino community in America is now about the same size or larger than the Black community, could Latinos be asked the same question?



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Mark A. Brown

posted June 13, 2007 at 10:29 am


Within this question lies virtually all of the spiritual/faith issues that Sojourners stands for. First I agree with a previous comment that this question is truly a universal question, not just a black question. It also is a question not just for the poor, but for all of us who are in the “human” family. It boils down to individual versus collective responsibility in our civilization. And as always, the answer is very clearly found in Holy Scripture. Jesus makes it clear that collectively we should help the poor, visit the prisoners, etc, independent of their particular situations. For example Jesus didn’t say “visit people who are in prison and who are innocent!” In the Koran of course, giving alms is one of the actions expected of all Muslims. The old Testament is possibly the most radical with its reference to the year of Jubilee and leaving the periphery of fields for the poor to “glean” for nutrition.
Holy Scripture also talks about individual responsibility first to our relationship with God and then to the visable results of that relationship. Scripture over and over again talks about the qualities of a good parent and spouse. It also talks about the value of honest work and integrity regarding our relationships with others. Again zealots can take Old Tviews(eye for an eye, etc.) or strict interpretation of women’s rights in the Koran and stifle individual rights and progress. But that is where “reason” is so important in interpreting Scripture. If one combines reason with the absolute basic of sprituality…GOD IS LOVE!!…then Scripture truly comes alive and the answers I discussed above about individual and collective responsibilities are obvious…Collectively we are obligated to provide a society that provides safety, access to premier education starting in early childhood, access to superior nutrition and health care again starting at birth, and safety nets to help those who cannot help themselves. Indivdually we are responsible to be productive citizens who help those less fortunate, and who are good parents, good students, and good workers, and good neighbors. In other words through a relationship with our God who is LOVE, we spread that love to our family, friends , neighbors, fellow countrymen, and then finally to all of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. If this happens then succeeding generations with start with happy, healthy well educated children who will go on to change the world. No longer will Darfur be tolerated, no longer will we spend more on chewing gum as a nation than twe do to help the poorest of the poor, no longer will groups celebrate a man because of how many children he has with multiple girlfiends, no longer will a $50000 car be the proof of “success”, no longer will we process the world through fear because we know the love of God through our relationship with God and our exposure to our world community who also knows God. All of these grand thoughts are possibly if we as individuals all start withour relationship with God(remember…God is Love!!) and use that love to become the best person and the best neighbor we can be.



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Anonymous

posted June 13, 2007 at 10:55 am


First, build up the self-esteem and self-reliance of people in the Black community so that they don’t have to rely on leaders.



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Eric

posted June 13, 2007 at 1:53 pm


Whether or not the questions could be asked about any community depends on what issues raised by Oprah and Cosby we’re talking about. Fathering children out of wedlock is something you can find in most communities, although I believe it’s higher in black communities. Restoring traditional faith is something one could ask any race or community. But something that Cosby specifically talks about is idolizing the “gangsta” lifestyle, seeing prison time as a badge of honor, seeing working hard in school as “white”, etc. These are problems specific to the black community.
Mark – can you elaborate on what you mean by “collectively” and from where the obligation to provide “premium education and superior (superior to what?) nutrition and health care” comes?



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Steve

posted June 13, 2007 at 2:59 pm


Mark or anyone: can you provide a ready reference to where in the Bible it discusses the qualities of a good parent? With father absent homes being an epedemic in America this needs to come out in the open.
Suzanne, in my mind Oprah and Bill Cosby are saints for discussing this issue and trying to point out some decency and responsibility guidelines in a community. The criticism was puffed up by a desperate media and mostly laughed at by most Americans who see the negative and self destructive culture firsthand.



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kevin s.

posted June 13, 2007 at 3:49 pm


“Mark or anyone: can you provide a ready reference to where in the Bible it discusses the qualities of a good parent? With father absent homes being an epedemic in America this needs to come out in the open”
First, I think there is an assumption that fathers will take care of their children. Raising good children is a requirement for leadership, and there are numerous admonitions for children to obey their parents (it’s even a commandment), which is difficult to do if children are not present.
Proverbs instructs us to use rod and reproof (e.g. Proverbs 29:15) to sharpen our children. Whether this means spanking or not, the message is the trade-off between short term pain and correction for long-term suffering and foolishness. Parents are to take an active role in ensuring that their children are wise, which again is impossible in absentia.
They are also to act as an authority over their children, and to keep Christ as their authority (Titus 1).
The Bible is also full of example of parents praying for their children (e.g. Samuel) and of passing the knowledge of the spirit onto them (Chronicles 28).



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jerry

posted June 13, 2007 at 4:26 pm


dr. johnson is talking about blacks and black leaders. unfortunately the black political leaders seem to be caught up in the blame game and the young blacks seem to be caught up in themselves. a great question … i wonder how obama would answer. or not answer. leaders like sharpton and jackson have reasons to not lead. cosby and oprah don’t lead. who are the black leaders? who do they lead? help me here. i think the gang leaders and rappers have the largest audiences. black athletes seem to work hard at being good role models. help!



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Payshun

posted June 13, 2007 at 7:09 pm


Jerry said:
dr. johnson is talking about blacks and black leaders. unfortunately the black political leaders seem to be caught up in the blame game and the young blacks seem to be caught up in themselves. a great question … i wonder how obama would answer. or not answer. leaders like sharpton and jackson have reasons to not lead.
ME:
What reasons would that be?
jerry:
cosby and oprah don’t lead. who are the black leaders? who do they lead? help me here. i think the gang leaders and rappers have the largest audiences. black athletes seem to work hard at being good role models. help!
Me:
What exactly are you asking?
p



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Rev. Deborah Jenkins

posted June 13, 2007 at 7:25 pm


I think this is an excellent question raised by Dr. Cook. Ironically, I brought up the scrutiny that Dr. Cosby has been under since speaking about issues that we in the black community dare not bring to the open. The fact is that Sen. Obama has said little, of substance, about the state of the Black community. I take offense when anyone says that we don’t need leadership and that we should lead ourselves-this is a part of the problem. We have, to a large degree, bought into this singular-minded mentality of “get all you can for yourself” and let your brother and sister fend for themselves. While it is not Sen. Obama’s responsibility alone to create an atmosphere where strong black leadership can be respected and expected-he does bare responsibility to voice his opinion and position on critical issues.



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jerry

posted June 13, 2007 at 10:16 pm


payshun
sharpton and jackson have histories that do not lend themselves so leadership. specifically jacksons remarks about jews and sharptons remarks about white honkies/racists. also it benefits them as politicians when there are no strong leaders challenging their ideas. both jacksona nd sharpton say that whites are to blame for all the ills of the blacks. neither will even discuss the trash that the rappers heap on black women.
i am asking you to tell me who are the black leaders and how are they helping their constituents/followers? how are they helping to stop the growing unemployment, growing gang violence, growing “gansta” rappers, growing disrespect of black women by black men, growing teen pregnancy of the black youth. dr. johnson cook seems to be asking the same question of obama.



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Chuck

posted June 14, 2007 at 10:36 am


No one would ask that question of a white politician for a simple reason. Whites don’t recognize leaders and anyone who tried to claim such a mantle would be drowned in a sea of laughter.
Of course the question presupposes that a black leader could be elected President in the first place, which is about as likely as the Sun standing still in the heavens.



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Payshun

posted June 14, 2007 at 2:09 pm


Jerry,
Actually it’s obvious that you really don’t know what you are talking about. Sharpton has been a proponent of black development for a very long time. It’s not just blaming white people for all the ills affecting the community. Sharpton has been a very vocal critic of gangsta rap. So again please do some research before you besmirch someone’s character.
But we do need to look at the ways in which racism has led to Nihilism in the black community and in the urban poor in general if we have any hope of dealing w/ the problem. I am all for personal responsibility but I am also for corporate responsibility as well and unfortunately when it comes to my people, the natives of this land, the LGBTQ community, the immigrant we don’t see corporate responsibility taken that seriously from the larger American culture. I don’t think it’s wrong for Sharpton (or any African leader) to call our society on the carpet for it’s continued racism and hatred of all those groups.
In Pasadena there are places like the Harambe center that specialize in innercity uplift. I doubt you would have heard of this amazing man but his name is John Perkins. Google him and look at what he does. He is a leader as are his brothers. Look up the Harambe Center in Pasadena and that will give you an idea of some of the grass roots leaders that are doing great work in their communities. I could list others that are white and are Christian and doing great work. It’s an uphill battle but one that we can win when we stop looking at these issues as just black or white issues and start realizing that is is an American problem.
One last thing.
What are you doing to heal this issue?
As for Jackson, I am going to leave that alone. I am not always the biggest fan but he does do good work.
p



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Rev. Deborah Jenkins

posted June 15, 2007 at 8:06 am


This is to Payshun’s last comment regarding the derogatory remarks made by Revs. Jackson and Sharpton in the past. You seem to be filled with angst against these two powerful leaders but here’s the question for you-are you familiar with Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness? Based upon your comments it would seem that you are not and if you are you choose to ignore them in your life. Both have apologized more times than I believe necessary and have gone on to do tremendous work across racial line. When was the last time you negotiated the freeing of hostages (white might I add)? When have you brought advertisers to their knees due your outrage at the degradation not just of black women but women in general? It is time out for needless criticisms-as Dr. Joy Leary would say, “Be the Healing”.



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Mark Brown

posted June 15, 2007 at 10:25 am


To answer Eric’s questions- First by collectively I mean we are given through our relationship with God the obligation to take care of each other, especially the less fortunate. Practically that means through individual charity or collective giving(taxes) we are obliged to make our world better. Regarding superior education I encourage everyone to Google “Carver High School-Atlanta Journal Constitution” to see what I mean. This inner city school has shown an incredible turn around in the past 3 years by dividing into smaller schools. The graduation rate has gone from about 33% to nearly 100% over that time. Research has shown smaller high schools will work to better educate our children, but it costs money! That is where our collective responsibility comes in.
Regarding nutrition and health care, I am a pediatrician so the importance of childhood nutrition is obvious and absolute. Also I am a member of the Physicians for a Single Payer System and we are working to imporve our health care system especially to the 45 million who have no insurance. Many of those are children who don’t get proper early health care that may pick up physical or emotional problems that can be dramatically changed by early intervention. We know a $1 spent on early education/intervention saves $7 later in life. But there will be an initial extra cost(though not as much as we are wasting on our present inefficient system). But again all of this requires us to contribute collectively for the better good of all of us.
Many will say “paying taxes for a government anwer is just wasting money!” Unfortunately in the past many times this is true, but also many times government intervention has been incredibly successful(head start/food stamps). Also we are much smarter now as to what works and what doesn’t. We can’t allow ourselves to be constant synics, to be constantly ruled by fear!



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Mark

posted June 15, 2007 at 10:39 am


Answering Steve regarding Bible passages about parenting:
Ephesians 6:4 “and fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”
There are many others but this verse to me “says it all” Again by combining reason with our reading of scripture the answer is there. This verse I believe addresses the issue of proper discipline along with the ultimate goal of parenting. Many use the bible to condone physical punishment(spare the rod…spoil the child) Discipline of course is necessary, but reason(scientifically sound research) tells us violent discipline creats fear and ANGER in our children leading to more problems than solutions. And as parents if we always look to developiong the spritual life and character of our children, we will be good parents.



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Mark

posted June 15, 2007 at 10:51 am


I have to agree with Paysun regarding the good Rev. Sharpton and Jackson are doing. Of course they are not perfect and have made embarassing statements, who among us have not? But having just finished Taylor Branch’s trilogy on America during the King years, I will never criticize anyone for pointing out potential issues in our society of any kind of oppression. We are much better that we were in the “60′s”, we have moved away from the ‘hard racism” of that age. But we must acknowledge there is still racism in our society and we need leaders like Rev. Sharpton to constantly bring it to our attention. Because whether overt or not racism is a reality and it still causes us to drift from the love God describes when he says to “love your neighbor as yourself”.



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Eric

posted June 15, 2007 at 11:19 am


Mark Brown – I think you’re making a big leap when you say that Jesus said we should collectively help the poor and that by “collectively” you mean both individual acts of assistance as well as paying taxes to the government so it can help the poor.
I’m not saying paying taxes to the government to help the poor isn’t wise policy or doesn’t do any good, but to base one’s advocacy for government programs is Jesus’ teaching is a stretch. Once you make that leap any level of taxation or government power could be justified by Jesus’ teaching, because there will always be poor to assist. It’s a scary road I’m not ready to go down.



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Mark

posted June 15, 2007 at 1:22 pm


To Eric,
I respect your opinion , but have to absolutely disagree.
Isn’t more compassionate government policies with decisions about the poor and oppressed based on faith and interpretation of Scripture the reason for Sojouners’ existence? Isn’t Jim’s by- line “Faith is personal but never private?”
Indivdual charity will not solve the problems of the 2 billion of our brothers and sisters in poverty, and the 30,000 a day who die preventable deaths. As people of faith, I believe we are obligated to infuse government with a spirit of generosity that uses our collective resources for the betterment of mankind and to help those who are suffering.
Also , I believe that by offering help rather than always invoking the threat of military action we will be safer as a country.



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Eric

posted June 15, 2007 at 4:09 pm


Mark – The problem with this line of thinking is that there are many many things God and Jesus call us to do and not do. How can we decide which ones are appropriate for the state to enforce and which ones aren’t? When you use words like obligation you’re implying compelled by God. Are we then obligated by God to legislate on adultery, which is pretty clearly condemned in the Bible? I would say no. But again, I’m not the one arguing for state intervention in any area of society simply because we’re obligated by God. Or is poverty a special case?



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Mark

posted June 15, 2007 at 4:39 pm


Eric,
You articulately point out the dilemma we face as politically active Christians(or Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. for that matter)as to the limits of faith based politics. For example even though I am absolutely anti-abortion, I do not feel it should be illegal, but as Christians we should work individually, as congregations, and as US citizens to use every way to minimize and hopefully eventually eliminate abortions unless the life of the mother is at stake.
Again, I think reason and using the incredible intellect God blessed us with will help to sort out His will in our lives which then dictates our voice as to particular issues. For example I see one dividing line as being private versus public or societal issues. Poverty, child health, education are all issues that affect all of us directly or indirectly and are more efficiently addressed through public action. Personal issues such as adultery certainly are important but also would appear to be situations where individuals as friends/professionals/local congregations can use personal charity/professional expertise of time and money to help.
I again go back to the spiritual issue of fear. Fear will create paralylsis when looking at issues. It will create the temptation to look at the situation and see what issues will prevent success. As Christians though I feel fearlessness is the key. As his brother said at his funeral, one of Bobby Kennedy’s favorite quotes was:
“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”



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Anonymous

posted June 15, 2007 at 8:02 pm


Deborah said:
This is to Payshun’s last comment regarding the derogatory remarks made by Revs. Jackson and Sharpton in the past. You seem to be filled with angst against these two powerful leaders but here’s the question for you-are you familiar with Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness? Based upon your comments it would seem that you are not and if you are you choose to ignore them in your life. Both have apologized more times than I believe necessary and have gone on to do tremendous work across racial line. When was the last time you negotiated the freeing of hostages (white might I add)? When have you brought advertisers to their knees due your outrage at the degradation not just of black women but women in general? It is time out for needless criticisms-as Dr. Joy Leary would say, “Be the Healing”.
Me:
Actually Deborah,
I have other issues that have nothing to do w/ Jackson’s foolish and stupid comments. I have issues w/ his leadership style, the outdated methods of boycotting… I think sometimes his style is still useful today but often times it doesn’t really help as much. I have other issues too for which I do not judge them for. No where in my comment have i said or alluded to them being condemned. I just don’t always agree w/ Reverend Jackson’s ideas. He is still a brilliant man and a remarkable leader. The world has seen that and I agree w/ that. But I am not sure if he is the best leader for us now. As a matter of fact there are better. But I love me some Sharpton. I have been a fan for years and my love continues to grow for that man. he’s amazing.
p



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nancy rogene

posted June 29, 2007 at 12:49 am


In a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-class nation, subgroups need strong leadership. This is especially true with groups which have been oppressed and unequally treated. No group more qualifies for this description, in my opinion, than Black America. Native Americans have also borne huge burdens as have Asian and Latino/a
Americans.
I thank Oprah and Bill Cosby for speaking out because they are black cultural leaders who are also appreciated by whites. As a Euro-American I believe it is very important for the black community (and other Americans of color) to have strong, vibrant leadership to help cohesiveness. I also believe it is crucial for white Americans to understand that racism continues today in our courts, housing, education and jobs (to name a few). If we want to have a healthy America we can all be proud of, we who are of Euro American ancestry have a responsibility to take the American dream further than white male political and economic control and expand it to women, blacks, hispanics, asians, gay and lesbians and ALL Americans. Every American leader should strive to support All Americans and help subgroups in strengthening their own situation so that as we function together, both as one and as unique groupings with unique histories, the American ideals and dream can shine through.



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