Allow me to say, first of all, that I try extremely hard to continue to swim against the flowing tide of preachers who have been caught up and carried away in the rushing waters of political and social movements. My desire is to stay on a spiritual course and stick with my calling as pastor/teacher. The Apostle Paul said: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). That, too, is my primary objective in life. Yet, there comes a time in one’s life when one must address other issues as well. Paul did (Romans 13; I Timothy 2). Therefore, I beg your indulgence as I exercise one of the most basic of our Constitutional rights as free Americans–freedom of speech.
Posted on the bulletin board at Good News Baptist Church is a list compiled by our members consisting of the names of twenty-four of America’s finest. I am talking about black men and women who served proudly and courageously in the Middle East. I thank God for each and every one of them and I pray for them every day; sometimes several times a day.
On Friday, February 15, 1991, as I listened to CBS This Morning, I heard the encouraging news that Saddam Hussein had made overtures relative to the withdrawal of his troops from Kuwait. A few minutes later, Paula Zahn, the co-host of CBS This Morning, introduced two of her guests: Rev. Joseph Lowery of SCLC and Rev. Benjamin Chavis of the United Church of Christ. These two men were there to voice their opposition to the war and especially black participation. They were offering sanctuary in churches to blacks who would claim conscientious objector status, and therefore, refuse to serve in Desert Storm. This all happened on the very morning that the brave engagement of our American troops had caused Hussein to finally blink and to move him to the verge of saying, “uncle.” Listening to these men ignited within me several emotions: embarrassment, pity, anger (i.e. righteous indignation), etc. It also became so clear to me that if these men represent the mindset of today’s so-called black leaders, then these leaders are out-of-touch with the true feelings of the majority of blacks in this country.
I have heard from the mouths of missionaries and others what life is like in Haiti, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and the list goes on. My heart goes out for my kinsmen–blacks, who are suffering all across this world. These precious souls would love to experience the privileges that we have in America. I know that we don’t have all that we should have but we do have the right to have it if we would leave the pity party and join the “I can do it” party.
I thank God that I was born in the U.S.A. The movie, “Glory” was a reenactment of the experience of an actual U.S. Civil War army regiment made up of ex-slaves who found pride in serving in the same cause as other free men. How ironic that in our day our leaders are telling us that it is a reproach to fight in defense of freedom for all Americans and for the freedom of others as well. How ironic it is for them to cast aspirations upon those who have chosen to be patriotic and proud Americans (our military is all volunteer)? What are they going to say to these proud black Americans when they return, victoriously, from the Gulf? Will they shun them as the Vietnam veterans were shunned? Will they label them as deserters from the black cause? Will they try to exploit them when their families and other patriotic black Americans receive them home with praise and adoration? As a matter of fact, where is the encouragement in their words for that mother and that father who have spent sleepless nights in worry and in prayer for their sons and daughters on that distant desert? Will they ever admit that these proud black Americans represent what has always characterized blacks with real character–a quest for freedom and a will to fight for it? I have many, many more questions, but for now, I would like to know how our leaders would answer these.
Rev. Lowery and Rev. Chavis exercised a right on Friday, February 15, 1991, a right for which I would fight to maintain. But rights don’t always come easy. Sometimes I have to fight for your rights and sometimes you have to fight for mine. This, I believe, is the prevailing philosophy of the brave military personnel of the United States of America. I am not ashamed to fly my flag in honor of my country and in honor of my fellow countrymen and women. I am not ashamed to voice my patriotism. But now, I must hasten back to the Gospel for I dare not stay away from it too long. But I have one final request, and that is: Black leaders, remove the shackles of doubt and despair that you constantly place on our people. Grant to us the freedom to pursue the excellence that we are so capable of accomplishing–LET FREEDOM RING!
Rev. John W. Coleman | Good News Baptist Church, Petersburg, Virginia