Dear journalists lingering in Baltimore: There's more to black church than politics

Toward the end of this week, clergy from the whole Baltimore area gathered to pray for peace in our city and for its future.

I don't know that this happened because of anything that I read in the news. I know it because my own parish's Divine Liturgy this morning ended with an Easter-season litany of prayers, with a heavy emphasis on the Resurrection, that grew out of that meeting.

So did all churches in greater Baltimore say the following words today?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

So why do I bring this up? This week's "Crossroads" podcast, as you might expect focused on the many, many religion ghosts that hovered over the events here in a very troubled Charm City. Click here to tun that in.

As our own Jim Davis noted, in a post about New York Times coverage, it really was impossible to witness the front-line events here in Baltimore without seeing the role that pastors, priests and others played.

But seeing a very familiar set of urban clergy in action is not, I argued in my conversation with host Todd Wilken, is not automatically the same thing as being sensitive to what is happening here, in terms of the broader religious angles in this story.

As I have stressed many times, in print and in podcasts, its important for news consumers to understand the degree to which most journalists view life primarily through the lens of politics and even partisan, horse-race politics. This can even happen when covering an institution like the African-American church, in part because -- true enough -- of the prominent role that black clergy have historically played in politics and community life.

But is there more to black church life than politics? Of course there is. Still, what's your reaction when you read through the top of this A1 political report (according to the online filing system) from today's Baltimore Sun?

Unrest in Baltimore put on display the widely different leadership styles that Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake brought to a crisis that could come to define their administrations.
As Hogan toured inner-city neighborhoods Thursday, glad-handing with residents who likely never voted for him, Baltimore's mayor was cloistered in a private meeting with supporters.
All week, the new Republican governor calmly told Marylanders he would deploy all necessary resources to restore order in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody sparked demonstrations. The veteran Democratic mayor found herself on the defensive, trying to walk back an awkward comment about the mayhem and defending her record.
"Some folks have had the impression that the mayor has been indifferent and aloof and the governor has been more active, coming in to save Baltimore from its inclination to implode," said the Rev. Todd Yeary of Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake's pastor.

And right after that quote from one of the city's high-profile, politically active pastors there was this quote:

"Perception, unfortunately, can be reality," said the Rev. Delman Coates, an influential pastor from Prince George's County who ran for lieutenant governor last year. "You can argue with the reality, but in this media-driven, technology-driven environment, perception becomes reality."

Let's see. We have two clergy there and the perspective is political and political, with a heavy undertow of Republican vs. Democrat, white male vs. black female tension in there, as well.

Was this political presence, on the part of clergy, part of the story this week? Of course it was.

Was this the only role that religious faith played in Baltimore this week or even the dominant one? Of course not. However, how would readers know the answer to that question, simply by watching CNN and reading the newspapers? At some point, it's hard to see anything other than politics, when that is what keeps ending up in print. Trust me, the black church is way more complex than what we are seeing in the newspapers.

Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots?

We will see.

Enjoy the podcast.

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