Once Again, Black Pastors Conflicted on Farrakhan Gathering

c. 2005 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Just as it did a decade ago, an event on the National Mall spearheaded by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is prompting both support and criticism from African-American clergy across the country.

Billed as the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, the Millions More Movement is expected to bring throngs of African-Americans to the nation's capital Oct. 15. Organizers predict a wide range of religious organizations will participate, including some that chose not to endorse the 1995 version. But some Christian critics of Farrakhan say the differences between his and their theologies are too severe for them to support a day of unity.

The Rev. William Revely, pastor of Holy Hope Heritage Church Baptist in Detroit, plans to attend with about 50 of his 350 members, traveling by bus and car from his city. But he knows others plan to stay away.

``We need to buy more into black causes,'' said Revely, whose church is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention, USA. ``If we're more into the cause than into the leader, then we could get more done, but we like being leader-oriented.''

Some predominantly black denominations have changed their stance on the gathering since the time of the Million Man March. This time it includes men, women and children rather than solely men.

For example, the Progressive National Baptist Convention distanced itself from the 1995 event but passed a resolution in August endorsing the Millions More Movement.

``We fully support the goals, programs and ideals of this very important movement,'' said the Rev. Major L. Jemison, president of the Washington-based denomination, in a statement. ``Our concerns and issues and those of the Millions More Movement are one in the same.''

Like the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Dallas-based National Baptist Convention of America has chosen a new president since the time of the Million Man March. The Rev. Stephen J. Thurston, its new leader, said he doesn't think the theological differences between Christians and Muslims should prevent African-Americans from working together on ``the larger picture'' of unemployment, imprisonment and other concerns facing black families.

``Personally, as president, I am committed to the movement, as I believe it addresses a lot of the needs that we have with African-American men across the country,'' he said.

But other prominent black church leaders have withheld their endorsement.

In a column in the September issue of Charisma magazine, Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., a Washington-area megachurch pastor, ticked off several reasons why he objects to the event, including the Nation of Islam's efforts to ``blur the lines between Muslims and Christians'' and the faith group's history of racial division.

``We must sidestep the Millions More March and other causes that will mute our voice and dim our vision,'' he concluded.

Farrakhan, the event's national convener, acknowledged in an interview in the September/October issue of Gospel Today magazine that he continues to have difficulty drawing support from some key church officials.

``I've made several calls to all of the denominational leaders and many of the preachers of the day to no avail,'' he said. ``Even some of the pulpits that were open to me in 1995 are now closed.''

Linda Wharton-Boyd, a spokeswoman for the Millions More Movement, said she is not surprised by comments like Jackson's.

``People have a choice and so they choose,'' she said. ``But certainly the content and the flavor of the program will address concerns for anybody.''

Prayers and songs will permeate the day's agenda, she said, and participants will include Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Native Americans.

``They're coming by train,'' she said. ``They're coming by plane. They're coming all kinds of ways.'


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