Zero. That’s the number of times I’ve heard the crisis in the Darfur region of The Sudan mentioned from a black pulpit or from a black TV ministry. The ongoing African genocide, which the U.N. has characterized as, “the world's worst current humanitarian crisis,” has not, in my hearing, been spoken of from a black pulpit here. The Bush administration and major US news outlets have also given the crisis, which has resulted in 60,000 (US State Dept.) to 400,000 (Coalition for International Justice estimate) deaths, short shrift. It is an ongoing disaster and terrible shame for black people to be so unconcerned about back people. For the black church to be seemingly unaware of the conflict, it’s origins, efforts to stem the violence, or the Bush administration’s response. For the black church to be so obsessed over Annual Days, anniversaries, musicals and other pageants and to leave our people so under informed about the world around them.

African tribal conflicts remind me most of

church folk. Except that, when church folk fall out, they just leave and start a new church. African tribal conflicts go back centuries and have deeply entrenched and intertwined roots; motives and origins we barely understand. So do feuds among us church folk. There are people holding grudges about me, people I barely know and have certainly done no wrong to. But the dislike, disrespect and dishonor was grandfathered in, passed on from one tribe to another. It now has a life of its own, wandering the halls of churches here, people disliking me without even knowing why.

It’s difficult for me to fathom why, say, an Irish man and a Jewish man can’t live on the same block in peace. Here in America, they probably can (although what is said behind closed doors might be another thing). But, out in the world, there are ancient rivalries and peoples who favor their emotion over their intellect—much the same way many church folk do. Intellect tells us members of the same tribe can live in peace on the same street. Emotion tells us to pick up a gun and fight to the death; the last man standing wins.

This is terribly immature thinking, but it is, in many aspects, the way of the world. The concept of ethnic cleansing has been part of the human condition since time began. It was in the Bible—condoned by God. God gave Canaan to Israel, and Israel went in and, with God’s blessing, wiped out the indigenous peoples. Thus, for centuries, people have been slaughtering other people in the name of God. In the name of some greater good. When, usually, the underlying motive is simply greed.

Black on black crime is simply heinous. Bad enough blacks have been victimized and enslaved by whites for centuries. That we run around killing each other is an utter disgrace. In the Darfur region of Sudan, the Janjaweed, a militia group recruited from local Arab tribes, have been killing the indigenous, non-Arab (i.e. black) people. Burning their homes, raping women and girls, looting everything in sight. All in the name of some alleged greater good—though I can’t begin to imagine what that might be. I also can’t imagine why a Janjaweed and an African can’t live in peace together. The conflict appears to be purely racial: slaughtering the blacks and running them out of the Darfur region. Some experts suggest the cause is competition between farmers and nomadic cattle-herders who compete for scarce resources. The killing has gone on so long, even the perpetrators may have forgotten what the conflict is about.

Bottom line: ethnic cleansing has been going on in the Sudan for years. The American media has paid this wholesale genocide fairly little attention, while leaders in the African American community have been all but silent about it. I’d suspect the average black churchgoer has no idea at all about this conflict and the average church does little or nothing to support Sudanese or Chadian relief efforts.

The ongoing atrocities in the region are terrible indeed, but our own atrocity—the atrocity of indifference to suffering—seems much worse.

From Wikipedia.Org:
The Darfur Conflict is an ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, mainly between the Janjaweed, a militia group recruited from local Arab tribes, and the non-Arab peoples of the region. The Sudanese government, while publicly denying that it supports the Janjaweed, is providing arms and assistance and has participated in joint attacks with the group. The conflict began in February 2003.

The conflict has been described by the Western media as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” In September 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 50,000 deaths in Darfur since the conflict's beginning, mostly by starvation. In October, the organization's head gave an estimate of 71,000 deaths by starvation and disease alone between March and October 2004. Both of these estimates were misleading, because they only considered short periods and limited locations. A recent British Parliamentary Report estimates that over 300,000 people have already died, and others have estimated even more [1] the United Nations estimates that 180,000 have died in the past eighteen months of the conflict. [2] More than 1.8 million people had been displaced from their homes. Two hundred thousand have fled to neighboring Chad.

My biggest problem with male choruses and quartet-style groups is that they, in large measure, parody the great quartet groups of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The wailing, wounded-bear ruckus these brothers put up is usually topped only by their bad taste in clothes: shiny, bright orange or purple suits or hideous double-knit blazers and loud ties. All of which misses the point that those classic quartet groups dressed the way they did because it actually *was* the 1960’s. I assure you, Joe Ligon (legendary lead singer of the Mighty Clouds of Joy) no longer wears sharks skin. The Dells wore loud matching suits because that was the shot in those days. Our male choruses, in large measure, live almost exclusively in those fond, bygone days without actually understanding them.

Likewise, the black church, in large measure, parodies the church they remember—the black church of the civil rights era. The 1965 black church. We still decorate our churches that way. Our order of service has not changed much in 31 years, and, worse, our *mentality* hasn’t changed much, either. Many of our churches cling to the old ways, the old traditions, the old music. This is all simply old folk clinging to a day that is gone. Facing backwards. It is not Christian or Christ-like in any sense of the word, as God is a forward-facing God. A God of progress Whose self-revelation is both orderly and progressive. Facing backwards and fixing our worship in a static point in time denies God’s very omnipotence because God exists outside of time. Limiting God to an approved hair style or approved music style or approved clothing style or interior decoration denies His very holiness as we are, in so doing, making idols of those things. Imbuing things made by man—hair styles and art forms like music—with divine properties.

Saddest of all, in the black church’s backwards march, we are emulating the church we fondly remember as kids or as young adults without actually understanding it. That church was an effective church. That church was a progressive church. That church embraced new ideas. And that church knew what was going on in the world.

That church stood up to injustice. That church sacrificed to right wrongs. That church didn’t face backward but marched forward to a day when freedom meant freedom for all men and for all women.

My main problem with the black church today isn’t just that it’s 31 years behind the times and glad about it, but that it makes a mockery of the very church it longs to be.

The 1965 church would never have ignored the ongoing slaughter in Darfur. Would never have ignored the two missing boys in Wisconsin. Would never embrace potty-mouthed crooner and alleged statutory rapist R. Kelly.

The 1965 black church had standards. Most of all, it had a social conscience that went beyond the corner upon which the church was located. The black church of today, in larger measure, wants to look like that church and sound like that church; wants to sing like that church and dress like that church and decorate itself to look like that church, but is only the merest and saddest shadow of its former glory. In this country, the black church isn’t a threat to the political and economic powers of this country or this world. We are easily written off, as President Bush and the Republican party discovered—they didn’t even *try* to win any of the black vote and continue to largely ignore the Congressional Black Caucasus because Black America is largely unconcerned with politics and can do the GOP no harm.

The black church today chiefly exists to congratulate itself for being here and buy its pastor a new Cadillac with curb feelers and that fake tire on back. That’s about all it efficiently does. Every time I try and put anything on the church calendar like, for example, feeding the homeless or evangelizing in the streets, there’s head scratching and meetings and all this talk about money. Money. And, inevitably, the idea is voted down. But Ushers Annual Day is fully funded and rehearsals are underway.

The fact is, we understand Ushers Annual Day. We know what that is. We’ve always done it. It’s a fixture on the calendar. But feeding hungry people is not something our church was used to doing. It was this radical idea—passing out sandwiches to hungry people. And who would pay for all those sandwiches?

This is, in large measure, the sad state of the black church today.

From The Washington Post:
The Bush administration's challenge on Darfur is to persuade the world to wake up to the severity of the crisis. On his recent visit to Sudan, Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick took a step in the opposite direction. He said that the State Department's estimate of deaths in Darfur was 60,000 to 160,000, a range that dramatically understates the true scale of the killing. If Mr. Zoellick wants to galvanize action on Darfur, he must take a fresh look at the numbers.

The lowest Darfur mortality number previously cited came from the World Health Organization. Last year it reported that 70,000 people had died, and many observers repeated this number without explaining it. WHO's estimate referred only to deaths during a seven-month phase of a crisis that has now been going on for 26 months. It referred only to deaths from malnutrition and disease, excluding deaths from violence. And it referred only to deaths in areas to which WHO had access, excluding deaths among refugees in Chad and deaths in remote rural areas. In other words, the 70,000 estimate from WHO was a fraction of a fraction of the full picture. The 60,000 number that Mr. Zoellick cited as low-but-possible is actually low-and-impossible.

Other authorities suggest that mortality is likely to be closer to 400,000 — more than twice Mr. Zoellick's high number. The component of this estimate involving deaths by violence is based on a survey by the Coalition for International Justice, a nongovernmental organization operating under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which asked 1,136 refugees on the Chad-Darfur border whether family members had died violently or gone missing. These interviews yielded a death rate of 1.2 per 10,000 people per day. Extrapolating for all of Darfur's displaced people, John Hagan of Northwestern University estimates that 140,000 people have died violently or gone missing since the start of the conflict. It's possible that the refugees in Chad experienced atypical rates of violence, making that extrapolation unfair. But a study of camps for displaced people within Darfur, published last October in the Lancet, a medical journal, found that more than 90 percent of fugitives had fled their villages because of violent attacks, making the extrapolation appear justified.

What of nonviolent deaths? According to the WHO's misquoted survey, which is based on interviews with nearly 17,000 internally displaced people, the mortality rate from malnutrition and disease comes to 2.1 per 10,000 people per day. Again, extrapolating for all displaced people, Mr. Hagan estimates that 250,000 people have died from malnutrition and disease since the conflict began, so that the total of violent and nonviolent deaths comes to 390,000. Mr. Hagan suggests that this number is conservative, because it assumes that only displaced people are at risk. Many people who remain in their villages have been exposed to violence and food shortages.

We should repent of not watching the news. Of sucking down Steve Harvey and Mo’Nique and all that other mindless trash on television while never opening a book and rarely reading a newspaper. As a demographic, my suspicion is the black church in America is woefully uninformed. Tavis Smiley was reading off economic statistics during his State of the Black Union address, but he should have been reading off literacy statistics, and statistics that tell us how every black person in the United States—every man, woman, and child—knows who Michael Jordan is but couldn’t find the Sudan on a map.

A local church here has a children’s time during every service where all the children gather around up front, sitting on the floor, while the youth leader teaches them some Biblical principle. As nice an idea as this is, I’d rather see church implement a news time where, during every service, they touch on one topic of the moment. That’s primarily why we started running news headlines on the PraiseNet—we realized a great many black church folk simply have no idea what’s going on in the world (other than when Fred Hammond’s new CD will drop).

The old church was once our power station. The center of Afro-American life. It served its community holistically, meeting needs that extended beyond our Sunday morning experience. I therefore challenge every black Pastor visiting this page to examine their Sunday routine. In the time it takes to sing the Doxology—a dreary ceremonial rite not many people pay any attention to—you could brief the congregation on peace efforts in the Sudan, on the Iranian nuclear threat or on domestic politics. In your church bulletin and/or on your website, you can maintain a prayer list of news bullet points. Little things: a few minutes of our time. Take out 120 seconds from hollering and rolling in the aisles to educate and inform.

Start here: 400,000—of our brothers, our sisters our mothers and fathers—are dead. Maybe that’s worth a few minutes of our time.

From Reuters:
Violent demonstrations and angry proclamations against a Darfur peace deal have marred the agreement hailed by the international community as a first step to end the violence that has killed tens of thousands. Anger in the miserable camps where more than 2 million have sought refuge over three years of rape, killing and looting, has boiled over into violent protests throughout all three Darfur states and Khartoum. Many Darfuris say they reject the deal, signed by only one rebel group faction on May 5 in the Nigerian capital Abuja. Two other factions, including one led by a member of Darfur’s largest tribe, have refused to sign.

The African Union, which mediated the Abuja deal in addition to providing a 7,000-strong force to monitor a shaky truce in Darfur, is to meet on Monday in Addis Ababa to decide the next step on Darfur. The AU is under international pressure to turn over the region’s protection to U.N. peacekeepers but Sudan has not agreed to allow U.N. troops into its vast west and European Union diplomats say Khartoum’s resistance to the transfer seems to be growing.

Some disputed the Abuja agreement was even a peace deal with only one rebel faction signed up. “They (the international community) want to hail themselves on paper regardless of what’s happening on the ground — they didn’t do their homework,” said Mariam all-Mahdi, spokesperson of the popular Umma Party whose traditional base is in Darfur. Sudan signed a peace deal in 2005 to end a separate and bloodier civil war in its south. That was reached after almost a decade of on and off talks and clearly outlined the south’s shares of Sudan oil wealth and modalities of implementation.

Mahdi and others said in contrast the Darfur deal was rushed, vague and with no clear schedule for its implementation, no one knew what the next step was.

At press time, it's worth noting that a local church here, Emmanuel, will be receiving a delegation from The Sudan today, and that Pastor Benjamin L. Reynolds has graciously opened his pulpit to these visitors to discuss “One Day In The Sudan.” We salute the Emmanuel church and Pastor Reynolds for this bold initiative (and for ruining a perfectly good complaint).

We implore the PraiseNet family, currently averaging 8,000 distinct visitors per month, to join us in corporate prayer for our suffering family in the Darfur region and throughout the world. Furthermore we pray for an end to ignorance and complacency within the Household of faith, that we should instead be visited with unrest and discomfort so long as any of our sisters or brothers are suffering under unspeakable acts of terror.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus...

Christopher J. Priest
21 May 2006

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