goto Appendx main menu A Black Manifesto :
Darell W. Fields
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As a child, I used to sit on Sunday mornings and listen to the minister speak eloquently about this world, heaven, and hell.  With his mastery of the Bible, he was able to weave a certain truth that was affirmed by a comforting consensus of "Amen!" offered up from the congregation.  This was possible because we all believed in that textual absolute known as the Good Book and in the solace it offered. We were able to suspend concern about the threats inherent to life—a life existing just beyond the pulpit. 

While holding the Good Book aloft in his right hand and pounding it with his left, this voice, this black voice, admonished self-interest, spoke of pride of self as if it were the worst of evils, and cautioned  members of the congregation not to partake in activities, just beyond the pulpit, unbecoming of Christians. And the congregation, with a great many black voices, all concurred with a resounding "Amen!"  He then slammed the book closed with resolute force while quoting scripture: 

    No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.        Matthew 6:24 
But the minister, while making clear the master distinction, obliterated it as well. For it was he who chastised the congregation for not giving their share of mammon to the church—so we gave and felt guilty when we couldn't. It was he who rebuked us for craving worldly possessions rather than those treasures that would be provided for us in some other world.  All the while he was saying this, I was aware that the minister always seemed to have the largest and newest car in the parking lot, while my mother and I were relegated to the church bus. I became increasingly cynical when I began to realize that the possessions that showed our relative ranks in this world became the criteria used to distinguish members within the church. It seemed to me, if the minister was correct, that the church should be neutral ground, a territory on this earth where the tools of one master could not contaminate the work of another. But as I grew, it became clear to me that the distinction between the world and the church was not always evident and at times, far too many times, there appeared to be no distinction whatsoever. 

 "The meek shall inherit the earth" reinforced this blinding contradiction. It seemed fair that those who had suffered some great historical tragedy should getAppendx 1 page break 18 | 19 something for their suffering, and I believed this line of thinking to be consistent with the church's "you reap what you sow" theory. However, the "earth" that the meek were supposed to inherit had a master that we were taught fiercely not to serve. I began to wonder how our meekness, at this historical moment, could wrench the earth from that other master; what made us think, what made the minister think, that the master of the other world would relinquish an acre (let alone forty) without a fight? 

During his sermons, the minister would preface his references to the scripture with "the Gospel according to Matthew" or "the Gospel according to John."  I didn't have any problems with Matthew or John or any of the others—it was the "according to" that bothered me, for it allowed the minister to speak without speaking for himself. And it followed that the more adept he was at citing analogies or references with the legitimizing authority of the Good Book, the more easily he could "say" just about anything he wanted without fear of retribution from us and our meek souls. All that was necessary was to find refuge in the pulpit, in the Good Book, and in the authority of the church. 

It seemed to me that the pulpit was quite a place—a place where one could conceal one's self, both practically and figuratively. I began to despise not the minister or the church, but this place—a place or space that could offer a man, a black man, such vast and unlimited authority while silencing him at the same moment. This blinding silence was so pervasive because we, the congregation, heard the words but could not see the space that made them possible. To this very day, when visiting that church and those people, I wait until the sanctuary is empty and go to that place and face an audience that is no longer there—an audience, a black audience, that has dissolved into the complex and daily contingencies required of each of its members just beyond the pulpit. next page

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