Jim Jones 2.0: The Black Church Pastored By White Men.
By Khalil Amani
(Jim Jones, leader of a black congregation. They all committed suicide for him!)
I’m what they call a “Conscious Brotha”—an afrocentric thinker—someone whose worldview is seen through the lens of the African experience. I beez book learned too! Dr. James Cone's "Black Theology and Black Power," Gustavo Gutierrez's, "A Theology of Liberation," Dr. Na'im Akbar's, "Breaking The Chains of Psychological Slavery," and Dr. John Henrik Clarke's works are the foundation on which I speak.
In my estimation, black people have no business being Christians. Period! Pointblank! In a utopian world where the need for salvation—the need for a savior and the need to be saved were nonexistent, we would be like our African ancestors before the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which was spearheaded by Europeans who came to our country and pillaged, raped, robbed, ravaged and razed the continent. Karl Marx, one of the writers of the Communist Manifesto said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” He called religion the “illusionary happiness” of the people stating, “The call to abandon their illusions [religions] is a call to abandon a condition [like slavery, racism and white supremacy] which requires illusions [religions].” In hood-speak? Religion is a drug that keeps people higher-than-a-muthafucka (like opium/heroin) and if we can create a utopian society/world of fairness, there would be no need for this bullshit illusion, that is religion. Black people’s “illusion” is Christianity.
Mind you, when I speak of Christianity, I speak of the Eurocentric version given to black people through slavery. Indeed, Black people were part of what became known as Christianity going back to Simon the Cyrene (African/Libyan) who helped carry Jesus’s cross! (Mark 15:21) We know that the oldest Christian church in the world is not the church of Rome, but rather the Ethiopian Coptic Church. We also know that there were at least three (3) African Popes—Pope Victor (189-199 A.D.), Pope Militiades (311-314 A.D.) and Pope Gelasius (492-496). Furthermore, one of the earliest Church fathers, St. Augustine was a North African who wrote some of the most prolific Christian dogma on his way to sainthood, while wrestling with his homosexuality as noted in his "Confessions of St. Augustine." The African presence in early Christianity is without doubt! Israel, the birthplace of Christianity is geographically located on the African continental plate, so it was no wonder that the baby Jesus hid out in Egypt (Africa!) to avoid Roman persecution.
Furthermore, at the most important gathering in Christian history, the Council of Nicaea (or Nice) in 325 A.D./C.E., bishops and prelates (including the guy from whom Santa Claus is derived, Bishop Nicholas of Myra) from Asia and Africa came together to establish the most pressing issue of the day regarding the personage of Jesus; Jesus's divinity. North Africans, most notably, Arius and Athanasius established the divinity of Jesus! Africans were in-it-to-win-it!
I speak of Christianity as the “white man’s religion” once it was transplanted to Rome and given European symbolism (like a white Jesus). The Christianity that emperor Constantine the Great codified, harmonized, and unified into one Eurocentric (white) Roman voice. This is the version that has found its way into the hearts, minds and souls of black folk here in America through a system of white supremacy via the Transatlantic Slave Trade and became the unofficial State religion of "That Peculiar Institution" (i.e. American Slavery).
Be it as it may, I understand Black folk’s love affair with Christianity. I don’t fault my people in the least! (It’s been crammed down our throats ad nauseam!) Every great stride made to empower black people was made by the will of the people! Christianity, nor Jesus freed us from slavery, ended sharecropping, segregation, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, voting rights, etc., etc. The Jews of old were told to put lamb's blood over their doors and the next day God had killed the firstborn of Egypt (according to the myth) and set them free. No such thing happened for the African slaves! The Jews were "God's chosen people" and the Africans were a barbarous people, removed from civilization. That's what they say, so I say, "Who needs a god that has favorites? He is no god, but rather a shit-starter and a divisive cretan who pits his creation against one another!"
Black folk have received no Divine Intervention until this very day! We have struggled, even with Jesus in our back pockets!
Using the Bible, simply because we can all relate, it says, “My people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:7). Furthermore, the Bible describes a people comparable to the plight of Africans brought to the New World when it writes, “…Know of a surety that thy seed [children] shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs [America], and shall serve them [white people]; and they [Europeans] shall be afflict them [Africans] 400 years” (Genesis 15:13/Acts 7:6). Doesn’t this sound eerily close to what happened over 400 years ago when Africans were taken to a strange land—the New World—where they were afflicted? There is even a religious school of thought that says that in fact, so-called African-Americans are the true Jews, the Hebrews of the Old Testament Bible! Can you really blame them?
(Indeed! One of the first ships to bring slaves to the New World was called the "Jesus of Lubeck" commandeered by Sir John Hawkins in 1562. Malcolm X called this ship "The Good Ship Jesus." The old Negro spiritual, "Steal Away To Jesus" was about this ship! Not going to meet Jesus in the sky!)
Yes! I understand why and how black folk became steeped in Christianity. It was a slow progression. At the end of slavery (circa 1865) Africans—who were then called niggers, nigras and colored people had not fully accepted Christianity—a mere 38% while the rest held on to some form of African ancestor worship and Islam.
Christianity was given to the African captives/slaves through intimidation, fear, coercion and out of sheer ignorance of former African religious practices! A spiritual people who needed something to believe in, so they adopted the religion of their captors & masters, which leads us to our current “shit-uation”—black churches pastored by white men. After all the shit white people have taken black people through we still find it in our hearts to let them teach us and give us our salvation, yet you will nary find a white church with a black preacher. It's a about control & power.
When I hear about black churches being pastored by white men—it hearkens back to a white Christian preacher named Jim Jones who pastored a predominantly black church in the 60’s & 70’s. Jones founded the “People’s Temple” in San Fransisco. Jim Jones started off helping black people. In return, black people swarmed to him in droves, putting their salvation in him. Jim Jones was a charlatan—a hallelujah huckster—a pulpit prankster! If you didn’t know, this white Christian preacher took 909 mostly black people to hell with him! 304 were children! Jim Jones, in a paranoid fit, convinced these people to drink grape Koolaid laced with cyanide down in Jonestown, Guyana. Next to the terrorists attacks on 9/11 this was the single most loss of civilian life in American history (as a single event). Jones preached, “Don’t be afraid to die! This is revolutionary suicide!”
Google “Jim Jones” and get the details of how this white man was able to manipulate his black laity. Even before he made them commit suicide he was fucking the bejesus out of his congregation—men and women, boys and girls! A sexual deviant who used the Bible on an unsuspecting black people to use and abuse at will.
(909 mostly black people dead by suicide. Thank you Jim Jones!)
Why did—and why do black people think there is Salvific opportunity within the confines of black churches headed by white men?
With the wretched history of white people’s treatment of black people in America, why would we choose to put our very salvation in the hands of white people? Today, Sunday is still the most segregated day of the week—most whites go to white churches and most blacks go to black churches.
And then there is the anomaly—the aberration—white men pastoring mostly black churches. This peculiarity is found in many cities. Take Denver, Colorado for instance. Heritage Christian Center, a mostly black church, which is pastored by a white man named Bishop Dennis Leonard. By all accounts, Bishop Leonard is a good man, a respectable man. Mr. Leonard, like many black preachers is a sharp dresser with a gift-of-gab—charismatic even, but some years ago Bishop Leonard’s church became mired in scandal—financial improprieties—nepotism. He left us and came back with a new church, built from the ground up. He went from Rev. Leonard to Bishop Leonard. The 2.0 version is here and he ain’t playing no games!
How problematic it is that some black religious groups like the Nation of Islam view white people as "devils," yet other black people feel that white people have spiritual power to bless?
They say, “The knowledge of God is in the white church, but the spirit of God is in the black church.” This seems to be the case. Black preachers can preach their asses off! They get into that ol’ Negro “call and response” preaching, which causes their followers to catch the Holy Ghost—something akin to what an exorcism might look like. Speaking gibberish called “Tongues” while flailing around comes about through this thing called “preaching.” Black men are the masters of this oratory process. This is the spirit of God working in the black church, they say. Conversely, a white church is very demure-like. In white churches, white preachers teach, not preach. They give knowledge without the show-like effects of the black church. There is no catching the Holy Ghost! There is no speaking in tongues. They get the word.
A white man who pastors a black church knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows black traditions, black hymns and black cultural aesthetics. He may very well be a “culture bandit” of the Del Jones ilk or a “culture vulture” as spoken of by hip-hop heads. What are the reasons that a white man would leave the cozy confines of white American to shepherd a black congregation? Even more so, why would a black person choose to be led, yea, put his/her spirituality and religiosity in the hands of a white man with the history previously mentioned? In the beginning, white people did not want black people in their church or practicing their religion, so blacks had to form their own Christianity—A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopalian), C.O.G.I.C. (Church of God in Christ, etc.).
Black people have had their share on religious con-men, including the likes of Father Divine, Sweet Daddy Grace and Rev. Ike, but none of these black men sought black people’s total destruction and death like Jim Jones. Jones was actually the student of Father Divine. This is where some of his religious swag came from.
White preachers who pastor black churches are Jim Jones 2.0. Is this to say that someone like Denver’s Bishop Dennis Leonard will one day make his congregation drink the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid? Heavens no! But what I am suggesting is that white preachers running black churches should be watched very carefully, even scrutinized. Their words should be dissected for the least bit of inconsistency. It’s one thing to have been raised around black people and naturally feel drawn to their religio-spiritual cause and it’s another thing to deliberately set up among black people to pimp their religio-spirituality. A white man who pastors a black church is getting paid off of black suffering. They receive a wage for their preaching, which comes directing from those poor black parishioners. They teach, "Will a man rob God," while, at the same time, are robbing the people of their hard-earned money. It's sad when we see black preachers doing this dirty deed to black people and even more disgraceful when white men come amongst us with snake-oil salvation and we're too ignorantly religious to put a boot up their asses and expel them from our communities!
The white preacher in the black church has a duty to stand up for black people! In matters of politics, the white preacher must be a lightening rod of hope for the aspirations of black people. What good does it serve to have a white preacher in a black church supporting the likes of a Donald Trump; someone who is fiercely opposed in the black community? For the most part, black folk are monolithic when it comes to Donald Trump. He opposes our and others very existence! But alas! Those white people who claim to be liberal—who claim to understand the plight and struggle of black people—who claim to love black people and show their liberalism by attending a mostly black church like Denver’s Heritage Christian Center should and must have the same political leanings as the black people they sit next to every Sunday. For verily it is written in their Bible, “…Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:6).
Politics has its place in the church. Jesus was political. He was murked (hung)—not for a religious crime, but for a secular crime—proclaiming himself as the “King of the Jews”—the long awaited messiah who would free the Jews from the yoke of oppression of Rome—and he was super-humble doing it—so-much-so that he rode side-saddle on an ass (donkey) even as they proclaimed “Hosanna in the Highest!” Yet, your preacher preaches a prosperity message as he stunts on you in a Rolls Royce, bought with the nigger-pennies of religiously ignorant people. You drive a Chevrolet—Chev (shove) one foot and lay the other and walk your ass to the church.
Up until the present, many preachers would not push their presidential candidate on their congregations, but we are in uncharted and unimaginable political territory! St. Luke 4:18 says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”
A white preacher in a black church has to preach this and these are not the people who Trump represents! Black parishioners must hold the white preacher’s feet to the fire! Whose side are you really on? Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Do you have my here-and-now best interest at heart?
The white preacher pastoring the black church is merely Jim Jones 2.0. He may not make them drink the Kool-Aid, but he pastors knowing full well what Jim Jones knew; that is, this is a downtrodden people who feel that salvation is best taught through white people.
Try, if you will to make me a racist (even though black people cannot be racist!), but this is commentary on the black experience here in America. Individual white people are not my direct enemy. The social, secular and religious systems are the enemies of black progress! If you choose to be pastored by a white preacher black person, stay vigilant! Those black people in Jim Jones's congregation never saw death coming! They saw that white man as infallible and he robbed them of life! Don't be the next Jonestown! Dare I say that white men have a fixation with death? Honorable mentions to David Koresh, a white preacherman down in Texas who led his flock to death when the government incinerated their asses. And "Do," another white preacher and his Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego who made his congregants commit suicide. Death seems to be their answer to the problems of life.
No amount of preaching from any preacher moves me to action and certainly not a white preacher! I did II Timothy 2:15 (Study to show thyself approved unto God). I did Jeremiah 15:16 (Thy words were found and I did eat them). I am Song of Solomon 1:5 (I am black, but comely) and I come reciting the wisdom of Jesus, "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." (Mark 10:45) Don't invite me to your church to hear your preacher and if he's a white man, that goes double! I know it all!
Khalil Amani writes for Allhiphop.com, Straight Stuntin Magazine, Originators Magazine. Author of seven books. His work has been featured in the LA Times, Miami New Times, The Biography Channel's "I Survived A Religious Cult" (2010) and The Biography Channel's "Escaping Evil: My Life in a Cult." (2013) Amani has a degree in English from San Diego Mesa College. He majored in Black Studies and Minored in Religion at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.