Nation of Islam minister preaches common ground Farrakhan speaks from Bethel pulpit

November 22, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan delivered a rousing sermon last night from the pulpit of Bethel A.M.E. Church, highlighting the vast common ground among Muslims, Christians and Jews and calling on people to "sacrifice your will, your desire, to obey God."

It was a remarkably orthodox message from a man whose words of morality and self-help have been drowned out in the past by remarks perceived by many as separatist and anti-Semitic.

Mr. Farrakhan's reputation made his appearance at Bethel a subject of controversy among some leaders in the 9,000-member church.

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, Bethel's pastor, told the congregation that he endured a similar controversy when he asked Mr. Farrakhan to speak in 1982 at the Ward A.M.E. Church, the Los Angeles congregation Dr. Reid previously led.

"It caused a great uproar," Dr. Reid said. "Ministers got on the phone. . . . They wanted to know what kind of Christian minister would allow a Muslim to speak from the pulpit on Sunday."

He added, "Not much has changed in the minds of many of our people."

But Dr. Reid said he chose to ignore the critics because "I have examined the fruits of this man's ministry for myself." He called Mr. Farrakhan a man of God, and more than that, one who has a grass-roots appeal that many leaders can only envy.

Dr. Reid defended his decision by reading from a letter from a member that said, "Black people can and must choose to support each other."

Indeed, the controversy did nothing to discourage people from coming to hear Minister Farrakhan. More than 2,000 people had to be turned away from the West Baltimore church last night because the sanctuary was packed for the Nation of Islam leader.

Mr. Farrakhan talked about the need to respect women. "For any man to disrespect a woman, it is to misunderstand God," he said. "We can't honor Jesus and disrespect Mary."

He talked about the need for different religious groups to work together.

"We have become a totally divided, fragmented family claiming one God, but we are all at each other's throats," he said. "Muslims, Christians and Jews should be one."

He told the people that to pass from "death to discipleship" -- the theme of Bethel's Men's Day services -- they must find God. "We don't know any more what's right and what's wrong," he said. "We make a mockery of God."

He also said that young people are turning to drugs and violence because they see no moral leadership coming from their elders.

Young people "don't want the weak thing that you represent," he said. "We've been whores, sleeping with the world."

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the NAACP, was welcomed by Mr. Farrakhan and sat in the pulpit as he preached.

In a service at Bethel earlier in the day, Dr. Chavis preached unity and spiritual rebirth. "How can we lead if we don't talk to each other?" Dr. Chavis asked.

Some of the nation's top black political and civil-rights leaders, including Dr. Chavis and the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, publicly embraced Mr. Farrakhan as a full partner in efforts to improve the lives of African-Americans during a town meeting in September.

Mr. Farrakhan seemed to be reveling in that new found acceptance yesterday.

"When I come before you, you can't believe I am the same thing you heard I was," Mr. Farrakhan said to applause. "I am more than what the white man says I am."

Some listeners seemed to agree. "He's a good speaker," said Wilda Holt, a Bethel member. "He preaches the word of God just like my pastor does."

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