Do black pastors of today have the collective power and influence in Pine Bluff as pastors did years past? If not, why? And if so, are they using it to uphold justice? With the recent passing of Pastor James Wilkerson (New Direction) and Pastor Gable Lee (G.L.) Ford, Sr. (Rose Hill) their deaths are cause for deep reflections. As I put pen to paper, let me be perfectly clear: This is not meant to be disrespectful to pastors but to shine a light on the work and mission of Christ. This discussion has taken place among black preachers in the past.
What was it about the older pastors that is lacking in pastors today? I don’t believe pastors such as John H. Nolen, (Pleasant Grove and Damascus) Curlee Thomas, (New Jerusalem) Robert Dickerson, Sr., (St. Paul) Albert King, (St. Hurricane) S.B. Scott, (Indiana Street and Highland) William (W.M.) Fane (Greater Mt. Calvary) James McKissic (Mt Calvary) John Watson, Sr. (St. Bethel) G.W. Westbrook (Grace Temple) Silas Easterling, (Belmont) W.L. Brown (Galilee, Old Morning Star) Horace J. Evans, Sr. (Amos Chapel) T.J. Taylor, (Lampkin Chapel and Pine Hill), H. Curtis (H.C.) Curry, Jr. (Wheeler Chapel) and Robert (R.C. Pierce) Bethany Chapel would ever band together as pastors did in Chicago to endorse “same sex marriage” during their times. Of course there were other strong black pastors, i.e., AME’s and COGIC that were purposely not mentioned because I wanted to focus on the black Baptist pastors only. What did these pastors do that kept the people focused on a better quality and value of life, respect for the church, and their fellow man which seems to be going lacking today?
These men of God would have never tolerated a “talk back live” program in this city. A program hosted by a black man and black preacher aimed at denigrating the black pastors, the church, black women, Martin Luther King Jr. and UAPB. Talk back live used very disparaging remarks almost daily regarding the black folks in this city. Blacks were called monkeys, fools, etc., on this program without a strong public push back from the pastors in the city. I can’t even imagine the aforementioned pastors allowing such a cancer to exist in Pine Bluff.
If a Muslim and a couple of other blacks had protested in front of Saint Hurricane Baptist Church where Rev. King was pastor, he along with deacons probably would have left the pulpit and deacon bench and walked outside and dispersed the gathering because pastors at that time did not accept foolishness. When these men were pastoring, the city did not experience the high rate of homicides, the drug dealing, robbing and breaking-in of homes, domestic violence and gun violence, among other things that negatively impact the quality of life in Pine Bluff. As a matter of fact, these ills were almost nonexistence in this city. Therefore, I ask again: Where is the collective power and influence of today’s black pastors in Pine Bluff? I’m sure the question could be asked of the white pastors as well but for this discussion I will only deal with black Baptist pastors.
I raise this issue today following these deaths. There are more black pastors of churches in our city than you can shake a stick at; yet their influence appears to be miniscule. Today’s pastors have more and do less while pastors in the past had less and did much; therefore, we search for the power failure. Many pastors that came before us pastored two churches but found time to deal with the ills facing this community. Some of them, like Pastor Wilkerson, were bi-vocational; some worked in other businesses including having businesses of their own; yet they found time to get involved with economic development and crime prevention.
If the black pastors can’t collectively bend the moral compass to bring change to this community, it says something is terribly wrong, and gentle reader, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions related to the power failure. You can contact me at (870) 536-7274 for further dialogue.
Jesse C. Turner is pastor of Elm Grove Baptist Church at Pine Bluff.