By Rev. Dr. Jim Holley
Does anybody know what time it is? Does anybody really care? These two questions seem so simple on the surface, yet they are questions that must be answered by everyone who has a vested interest in the wellbeing of African Americans in Detroit and beyond. And, yes, even my brothers and sisters of the pulpit must render answers.
By most estimates, there are about 4,700 churches in Detroit. With a population hovering around 700,000, that’s roughly one church for every 149 people in the Motor City. So, what does it mean to have so many churches in Detroit? It means that preachers have a spiritual, social and humanitarian duty to know exactly what time it is, as it relates to helping underserved communities and assisting people to do better. I’m not saying Detroit’s preachers are not doing anything now…I’m saying much more has to be done.
We are living in perilous times, where the midnight hours of darkness are defined by the trials and tribulations that we, as black people, find ourselves enduring night after night and day after day. We all know the pain, suffering and problems from the darkness of life, when it looks like the night will never end.
Leaning on Isaiah 21, Verse 11, I say to my brothers and sisters of the pulpit: “Watchman, What of the Night?” We, the preachers of Detroit must answer by saying, “The morning comes and also the night.”
How much longer do preachers have to wait when we see problems negatively impacting underserved people living in underserved communities across the city?
What problems, you ask? How about the exceedingly high black homicide rate in Detroit that’s on a steady upward projectory, or the influx of drugs that continuously destroy our communities? How do we address mental illness issues, or issues of ex-offenders released back into the community with no skills or jobs but with only a path, in many cases, back to prison?
Tell us Watchman…What of the Night? We, the preachers, are the Watchmen that must tell the people what time it is, and help correct many of the wrongs we see in the community. Yet, how do we correct a foster care system where there are 14,000 young people affected in the state, with half being in Detroit? How do we correct a system that neglects our senior citizens and their rights to age in dignity? How do we correct a school system in disarray, punctuated by high rates of student absenteeism, decaying buildings, and limited supplies and books? How do we address, even by a generous count, 18,000 homeless people in Detroit?
To my preaching brothers and sisters, we must do more than just occupy space in the pulpits of our respective churches Sunday after Sunday. We must find effective ways to right the wrongs that impact our people.
I believe Luke 4, Verses 18 and 19, best states the marching orders for preachers to follow, which is…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
These two beautifully accurate verses don’t say anything about waiting for legislators and legislation to do God’s work. We, as pastors, have been anointed to reach and positively impact the poor, downtrodden and those who are destitute, every day and in every way.
We, however, have to take the fight, in the name of Jesus, to elected and appointed officials and policy makers, to make them do what’s right to help empower communities and people. However, we can’t sit and wait for them to do the right thing. We must find ways – individually and collectively – to amplify and multiply bold changes to and for our people. African Americans are the third tier of people in the United States, and in a very few years, as it relates to population, it will be Hispanic people first, followed by white people, followed by black people. So, we have to wake up right now – there’s work to do!
Yet even in the darkness of night, we know the morning light cometh. When it comes it’s better and brighter when we, who occupy the pulpits of 4,700 churches in Detroit, truly understand that our responsibilities must expand.
So, the question to my preaching brothers and sisters is: How do we challenge each other to turn things around for our people and our communities?
And, we can turn this around but we can’t turn it around by just standing and preaching in our pulpits on Sundays. We must go far beyond our church’s four walls. After all, much of Jesus’ best work was done outside, not so much indoors.
Yes, preaching the word of God is vitally important to eternal salvation, but doing the work from His word to help His people – here on earth – is mighty important, as well, and is exactly what Jesus did when He walked the earth more than 2,000 years ago. Therefore, we must find holistic ways in which to touch and impact entire communities and their people. And that’s what time it is…And that my friends…is The Gospel Truth!