Like most of you, I’ve been following news stories about Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice over the course of the past several weeks and days. I watched in horror as St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson would not be indicted in Brown’s death. I looked on with unspeakable grief as headlines flooded my social media accounts, all indicating that no charges would be filed against the officer who choked Eric Garner to death. I’ve read with deep offense numerous stories seeking to criminalize twelve-year-old Tamir Rice.
As I’ve followed these stories via various news outlets and in the world of social media, I’ve experienced a deep sensitivity to the phenomena of absence and silence. I’ve paid special attention to the ways in which influential faith leaders are (or are not) using their platforms to call out the injustices which have diminished and even extinguished Black lives in America. Almost predictably, there are certain white pastors whose presences are conspicuously absent– but their silence is not my concern. Of greater concern to me is the silence of Black ministers, many of whom pastor megachurches consisting of thousands of African American Christians.
For instance, it’s impossible not to notice that the Facebook and Twitter pages belonging to T.D. Jakes (which currently host 3.85 million and 1.68 million followers respectively) are devoid of references to the deaths of Brown, Garner and Rice. The same is true for the heavily-followed social media accounts belonging to folks like Creflo Dollar, Frederick Price and Juanita Bynum. However, abundantly distributed on all of their accounts are posts inviting devotees to “press into their anointing,” “go to the next level,” “defeat the devil,” and of course— buy a new book or register for the next conference.
You may feel tempted to dismiss those named here as low-hanging fruit– but before you do, please consider this: These “low-hanging fruit” are operating the most successful church model(s) in the country today. They have a certain something that pastors all over the country have been trying to cultivate and duplicate: Credibility. Broad Appeal. Undeterred Followers. Staying Power. They are the empowered few—wielding television and media reach, but yielding little in terms of advocacy at a time when compelling mobilizers are needed more than ever. I think it’s more than fair to ask why the people who are arguably the Black community’s most influential religious leaders have had little if anything to say about issues that impact our lives so profoundly.
And so, in recent weeks I’ve felt repeatedly drawn to consider what it means for high-profile Black religious figures who have captive audiences of thousands of people (diverse populations, no less) to forfeit their prophetic mantle when Black folks most need their ministry. I’ve thought about the state of Christianity in America, and the ever-growing need for the justice-centered message of Jesus to overtake and supplant the self-centered message of salvation that has come to dominate Protestant theology. And unceasingly, I’ve ruminated on the degree to which “Religion is the opiate of the masses…”’—that is, I’ve thought about the condition of our collective consciousness as religious Black folks. At times, it does indeed seem as though we’ve been sedated—as if we’re asleep. I’ve wondered whether the success of the new civil rights era will require religious Black people to abandon the prosperity preachers who “cry out ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace…”
What does it mean to succumb to sedation at the hands of religious leaders who are more concerned with taking us to some nondescript “next level in God” than they are concerned with the level of oppression we experience? What is the cure for this kind of sedation? Can we wake up?
 By “prophetic,” I’m speaking to the responsibility to call an oppressed people into freedom, and not to the practice of telling people that God is getting ready to give them a new house, car or husband/wife. Yes, I have very strong opinions about the latter, but this article is not the appropriate space in which to air those concerns.
 Karl Marx said this.
 “From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed. From prophets to priests, they are all frauds. They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:13-14