Friday, July 18, 2008

"Reverend" Jesse Jackson?

Two years ago, I drafted a post firing many of the major Black Civil Rights leaders on behalf of all of African America. My wife, discerning and gracious, suggested I not publish it. I keep it in my draft file, and every once in a while I read the "pink slip" hoping to send someone packing on a Friday afternoon, never to return to the office.

Today I learned that Rev. Jesse Jackson said more than the already crude statements regarding Sen. Obama's private parts aired on news channels over the past week. He apparently used the N-word. Now everyone from the ladies on The View to the usual TV pundits are trying to figure out what's going on with Jackson. And I'm dusting off my pink slip marked Jackson.

I don't know what it is, but iconic African-American clergymen in the twilight of their careers have been falling like flies around Barack Obama. First Wright, now Jackson. Men who have served for decades now watch either their reputation or their work burn like wood, hay, and stubble in the flames of indiscretion, immorality, and public outrage. What will the flames of Christ's judgment do?

I remember the first time I heard John Piper pray that the Lord would keep him from falling and would enable him to finish well. It was a lightning bolt through my soul. I had not been praying that way for myself or for others, and I instantly knew I needed to. I can fall. I can ruin myself, my family, and the reputation of my local church, and most of all bring disrepute upon Christ. In an instant, off-mic, leaning to a colleague, I can do almost irreparable harm.

So, Jackson reminds me that mine is a public life as well. Every pastor's life is a public life. And perhaps a case can be made that every Christian life is a public life. And we all can fall to depths that make us shudder when we're sober-minded enough to think about it. We are Christ's, but Satan has asked to sift us like wheat, sin lies crouching at our doors. We'd better watch our lives and our doctrine carefully.

Having said that, I wonder what the term "Reverend" now means in the minds of Christians. When people call me "Rev. Anyabwile" as they sometimes do, what are they thinking? Are they thinking anything at all really? Is "Reverend" a quaint little title we normally assign to kind old men in collars who've served a gray-haired flock for some time, but also a title that happens to land on younger men destined for that same humble little future? Is anything of reverence, respect, holiness, God-fearing, Christ-likeness associated with the word any more?

Not if Jesse Jackson can be justifiably called "Reverend". I'm not singling out Jackson. We could list the Swaggarts, Lyons, Paula Whites and others who for various reasons make the name meaningless either by their lack of reverence or their misplaced energies. After all, Jackson hasn't been involved with a church as an active pastor for some time as far as I can tell. But beyond the recent comments, we might also point to Jackson's adulterous relationship and illegitimate child just a couple years ago. If the title is going to be more than ceremonial, if Jackson and every other pastor would dignify the pastoral office and the title, we must not only pray that we would not fall, but if we should fall we also must "step down," see ourselves as disqualified, hasten to refuse the label, choosing instead to encourage and pray for others who run the race by God's grace without being disqualified and entangled with the affairs of this world.

Jackson's comments are deplorable. There is no compelling way of explaining why anyone associated with the risen Lord Jesus should say such things, much less why His ministers should profane His name that way. Jackson's words deomonstrate a lack of integrity--campaigning for the abolishment of the N-word's use while freely using it "off air." We will be judged by every idle word we speak. And judgment will begin at the household of God, where those who teach will receive the stricter judgment.

Jackson has run his race. He's run out of bounds set by Scripture. He should dignify the pastoral office and the men who give their lives to it by setting aside the title "reverend," for his actions do not warrant the honor.

We all should be watchful, lest we fall. Let's all pray that those who stand to proclaim the gospel of Christ would be kept and sanctified by the truth in the power of God's Spirit. That "Reverend" would mean something deep and beautiful and awesome and Christ-honoring and cross-embracing and holy and profound and gracious and trustworthy. That those who don the title would be wholly committed to Christ, not distracted by politics and studio lights, humbly working as slaves of Christ for the glory of Christ with the joy of Christ.

To paraphrase Mc'Cheyne, the greatest need our people have is the holiness of their pastor. The perishing world needs to see that as well.


Stephen Ley said...

Excellent word! This is a msg we (pastors and laypeople) need to hear regularly.

Anonymous said...

For someone who is still very young, I am grateful for your words. I have seen way too many shepherds fall since I've been involved in ministry, and for the vast majority of them it was just one sin that ended it all for them. One could say that there is no tenure for shepherds-- one sin and the race is over. How vigilant we all need to be, brothers, to live our lives in conformity to Christ, by the strength which he provides.

KG said...

The unfortunate thing is that Jackson has NEVER been a pastor in a church. He was given the title by a pastor on the south side of Chicago a long time ago. He followed protocal for the time of preaching a sermon and being honored by a standing pastor.

So for him the title is and always has been a bit of a joke.

Of course, where does this title of Reverend come from. That would be a good thing to find out more about. It is obviously not a Biblical title so it has been added by those in the church at some point.

Excellent post and warning to a young pastor like myself.

I pray that we all finish well.

Bruce Sabin said...

On April 29, you wrote “Irreverent Wrongs” about Jeremiah Wright’s apparent willingness to sabotage Obama. At that time, I commented that perhaps Wright really didn’t want Obama to win because a black president wouldn’t be good for black liberation theology, which bases itself in the plight of the oppressed. Similarly, Jackson has made his career out of crying out for the black victims of white society. Not long ago, he criticized Obama for not taking a prominent stand in the ‘Jena 6’ case, which Jackson compared to Selma. Seriously, he compared Jena to Selma.

Every successful movement faces a crossroads when it nears success. When the March of Dimes, for example, succeeding in eradicating polio, it could have continued fighting a virtually non-exist cause. But instead, the organization moved on to the larger cause of birth defects. As the civil rights movement succeeded, too many of its leaders chose to continue pretending they lived under Jim Crow.

Interestingly, Jesse Jackson defended Bill Cosby after Cosby said things very similar to what Obama is now saying. According to Jackson then:
"There is no real debate in the African American community concerning personal responsibility. It is well settled that while institutional inequality and injustice are real, they never excuse doing less than one’s best to overcome the effects. Certainly, African Americans and the poor face structural inequality. Cosby argues that while it may NOT be the fault of Blacks for being in poverty, it IS our burden to challenge and break out of it."

What’s the difference between Cosby and Obama that warrants such drastically different responses from Jackson? Perhaps Cosby, besides being an old friend known for supporting black causes, was an entertainer and therefore less of a threat. Many blacks have been celebrated as entertainers, even during the harshest times of segregation. Obama, however, represents an entirely new kind of success for black Americans. If white Americans votes for Obama, they’re not simply letting a black man make them laugh; they’re letting a black man lead them. No racist would do that, so that would change Jackson’s world. And Jackson hasn't yet figured out how to get rich in that world.

Caleb said...

Very well said Thabiti. Jackson's words highlight a serious lack of any moral authority in the black community. I think because of this, many are looking for Barack Obama to help fill this void. I don't think that's the answer. My prayer is that God would continue to raise up black men like yourself, Pastor Thabiti, who would boldly and courageously hold firm to the Scriptures and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's time that the black community stop holding on to it's fading icons of the past, and it's current love affair with the celebrity health and wealth pastors, and embrace Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior and ultimate moral authority, and in turn respect and follow those faithful pastors value Jesus Christ over worldly gain.

david r. said...

Thank you Mr. Anyabwile for defending this office the Lord has established with dignity and for th sober reminder to be on guard.


Anonymous said...


Great post! I made a link to it on my African American Opinion Social Networking page: I am not sure if you can open it. I keep that page so as not to preach only to the choir. I hope those not in the choir will come to this page.



Jonathan Hunt said...

May I refer you and all brethren to the excellent Mr (Not Rev) CH Spurgeon's comments on the title 'Reverend', found here:

The link's gonna give you a clue as to which line he's taking ;-)

Shane Vander Hart said...

Good word Thabiti!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying what should be said. When I was a child in the Purity Baptist Church at 1325 Maryland Ave. (down the street from your former church), the "Rev" Jackson spoke a a church function. Even as a child, I was disappointed when he spoke about D.C. statehood rather than "preach."

Incidentally, a former pastor said Psalms 111:9 (in the KJV) showed that no human should be called "reverend."

John said...

"Jackson has run his race. He's run out of bounds set by Scripture. He should dignify the pastoral office and the men who give their lives to it by setting aside the title "reverend," for his actions do not warrant the honor."

I agree; the title in conjunction with his name is just one more way for unbelievers to justify their belief that we are all hypocrites.

Blessings, brother.

CD-Host said...

What they mean by "reverend" is an honorary prefix to the names of many Christian clergy and ministers. The same "Justice" is used for judges. That is all it means. And as far as I know that's all it ever meant. There never was a theological meaning to the term.

Anonymous said...

"Every pastor's life is a public life. And perhaps a case can be made that every Christian life is a public life."
Don't know about "perhaps" - how could anyone possibly deny "that every Christian life is a public life"? Seems to me that just as everyone worships, it's just a matter of what/who, so also everyone witnesses, it's just a matter of how well/badly. Every single time I come into any contact (or fail to come into contact) with someone, my attitude/behaviour/words/actions either point towards or away from the love of Christ.

'Reverend' is a term I mistrust every time I see it. It feels like the person who chooses to attach it to himself is more concerned with himself than his work. I would be less sceptical were people to refer to themselves as 'Honoured Joe Schmo' rather than 'Reverend Joe Schmo'. 'Honoured' seems more Biblical to me (e.g. 1 Tim 5:17).

Jeff T. said...

I was born and raised in South Africa. I watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison and was at his presidential coronation in Cape Town. JJ and Sharpton aren't interested in real change - Mandela was. He proved it when, after change happened, he nobly stepped aside instead of clinging to power - and let the next generation take the movement he started forward.

Forget policy specifics - Obama represents the kind of change that JJ and Sharpton have (Allegedly) been fighting for their whole lives. But now that he's here, and trying to lift the African American community to greater levels of responsibility, parenting and accomplishment - JJ and Sharpton can't bare to step aside and relinquish their positions as the mouthpieces of the African American community.

In Obama, the African American community has someone who's at least interested in real change - not just race-baiting.

Mandela wrote the book on how this should be going down - somebody should mention that to JJ...

Anonymous said...

Well when we speak of God (that is my God) let me tell u all now that he will not be impressed with Barack Obama's support for gay people can we plse get our bibles out and check what it God's word says!!!!! Also the issue of stem cell research! Whatis he thinking and how much more is he going to reveal about himself. Christian NOT!