Earlier this fall, there was an infamous photo of some well-known prominent (TV) pastors that were seen praying with (or for) GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. It was one of those moments that made the rounds of a short-lived news cycle on September 29 of this year. Pastors Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, David Jeremiah and Darrell Scott along with TBN broadcaster Paula Crouch and other non-Christian clergy were present. It was awkward. Donald Trump didn’t close his eyes. The prayer was extremely christo-centric even though there was an obvious clergy of the Jewish persuasion. In fact, it was weird.
But it wasn’t weirder than the last 48 hours in the black church world of social media. As many of us woke up on Wednesday and dreams of turkey and ham, collard greens and dressing, chess pie and sweet potato pie made by grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles–not Patti LaBelle–this digital flyer screen shot began to make the quick rounds on Twitter and Facebook.
Donald Trump plus black people and specifically black clergy usually elicits a strong reproach from most cultural black sensibilities. The combination of a Black Lives Matter based protester getting roughed up at a Donald Trump rally combined with the release of the dashcam video of the death of Laquan McDonald from Chicago, this poster seemed dubious at best and the flat out epitome of “Uncle Tom” at worst.
By the time most of us were settled into our homes for the evening, already sampling dishes and such, what ensued through the joys of social media was nothing short of monumental. Almost simultaneously, Periscope videos were rooftop assassin roosts, essays were penned on Facebook like cocked double-barrel shotguns fired in self-defense and Twitter feeds turned into killing fields were the dozens were being played. Due to the nature of Periscope, the videos expire after 24 hours and most of them are lost to the ether, but below is a sample of the tweets that went out last night.
To be fair, the tweets don’t hold a candle to the nature of the Periscope videos.
Pastor of Empowerment Temple AME of Baltimore and nine-day Congressional candidate Jamal-Harrison Bryant jumped into the fray first. He recorded a Periscope video on Thanksgiving Eve that has officially become the golden standard for black clergy when it comes to “calling out” other people. No longer is the Sunday morning pulpit the place to call out others, but rather social media in some regards. Bryant proceeded to run the list of names beginning with Bishop Clarence McClendon proceeding to explain why they should not be meeting with the likes of Donald Trump.
This is where the pornography of church politics was on full display like a parent walking in on a teenage son.
For starters, this meeting seems to have been set up by Darrell Scott, the same pastor who was at the prayer meeting in September and also the same pastor who was married to one of the women on the short-lived Lifetime TV show “Preach” that was canceled after a few episodes. Secondly, McClendon has not found himself completely outside of controversy when it comes to some of the ministrations of what it means to be in ministry. McClendon has built much of his current ministry off of ecclesiastical expediency: he left Full Gospel Baptist Church to follow the renegade fellowship of Global United Fellowship presumably over the ultimate appointment of Joseph Walker as the presiding bishop. And for those that have been following McClendon for years already know the controversy surrounding his first wife and the subsequent marriage of his second wife.
Then the likes of Bishop George Bloomer aren’t much better. This was the moment in the Black Church that foolishness aboundeth. With Bloomer still not having emerged from his past as a former cocaine addict, it wasn’t far behind that the reminders of Bryant’s salacious past all became fodder for digital dozens amongst prominent black clergy commenced.
Honestly, this was one for the record books.
Clarence McClendon wrote that “whoever becomes our next President, whichever party or political persuasion he or she may represent, they will need real prophetic voices and not pulpitting court jesters in their ears.” It’s no secret he was referring to Bryant as a “court jester.” The many ways I hollered and laughed when I read this.
Not to be outdone, Scott weighed in as Bryant, no doubt, was recording his Periscope videos.
Yup, he went there.
Pastor Mark Burns, of South Carolina, also listed on the flyer joined in the Periscoping back and forth. Bryant issued a second Periscope present a bit of a mea culpa because as Thanksgiving morning dawned, some of the people listed on the flyer were issuing public statements that they were not associated with this all-call. One of the earlier and public persons who disavowed themselves from this was Bishop Corletta J. Vaughn, a pastor from Detroit, who issued a statement via Facebook that said
So, there is a flyer going viral for a meeting in New York on Monday November 30th with Black Pastors and Donald Trump. My INBOX is blowing up with inquiries, so let me clear the air.
I was invited to attend a gathering of clergy to listen to Mr. Trump on Monday November 30. I [sic] respectively declined as I do not support nor will endorse Donald Trump.”
I will not be in New York with Mr. Trump, nor am I a part of the coalition of Black Pastors being led by Pastor Darrell Scott of Cleveland Ohio.”
Later Vaughn issued her own Periscope, significantly less belligerent than her male counterparts.
However, the supreme existence of just how public and comedic this got was epitomized by Shaun King with his tweets. King, not currently being a pastor and someone who doesn’t really don his clergy title much, certainly had nothing to lose in this midst of this and had no problem going forth.
Let’s be clear, this was the funniest of all.
Despite the back and forth “he said, she said,” it is pretty evident that the checking process for this was lax, if non-existent. Bryant in one of his videos made the claim that verification for attendance for this was done in passing at an airport, and Vaughn is making the claim that while she was invited, she declined. Which all begs the question who put these names on the flyer without anyone double-checking attendance? And moreover, since when did clergy attending something automatically mean that they, as individuals, were endorsing a particular candidate. Much of what precipitated the second video from Jamal was that Jamal did not call anyone but went off of the flyer to make his assassin-esque claims.
And Jamal likes playing the dozens.
Seriously, Jamal in his second video was doing direct responses to McClendon and Scott, especially when Scott made the claim that Jamal knows where he could find him. Jamal goes on to say (paraphrased) “Not only do I know where I can find you, I know where I can’t find you: I can’t find you at the protests and rallies….” And then in response to McClendon’s Facebook essay, Jamal took the opportunity to remind everyone that McClendon does not have a seminary degree.
No, this is not my typical post, but I feel that we need to memorialize this moment because of the way that social media allowed this to happen. Twenty years ago, this would have been phone calls here and there as these pastors made these proclamations from the pulpit, not Periscoping after and before Thanksgiving dinners. The fact that so many people were off from work and school also meant that there was an audience that was able to pay a lot of attention to this. Not to mention the political entreé that these clergy chose to engage. Knowing that Donald Trump is universally classified as bigoted and racist by everyone except his supporters and a media and press corps that is dumbfounded that he’s the leading candidate, this meeting has large implications.
This is also a lesson in the ways that we, as a black church-going public, eat up the gossip-ness surrounding all this. It’s funny, I’ll admit, I laughed at a lot of this, but it’s also an interesting way that the performance of all of this has played itself. And I’m sure it’s safe to say this saga is not over and nowhere near it. Even as I conclude editing this, McClendon issued a Facebook statement that he will not be attending the meeting.
All of that being said, this occurrence needs to be documented into the annals of Black Church history on the day that the circus came to town.
[Originally posted at Uppity Negro Network]