Blind to Farrakhan's faults . . . . or to his spiritual message?

February 10, 1994|By Frank M. Reid III

THE FUROR over the remarks of Khalid Abdul Muhammad in a speech given at Kean College and the negative reaction by some to Minister Louis Farrakhan's response to these remarks are excellent examples of what happens when religious traditions are used as shields for the political and social agendas of people who claim to believe.

To take the focus off of the spiritual dimensions of the current Farrakhan debate is to choose to wallow in misunderstanding, accept the painful divisions between our communities and stoke the fires of hatred instead of putting them out with understanding.

I believe that Mr. Farrakhan is a spiritual person as well as a spiritual leader. He has tried to handle Mr. Muhammad and his remarks in a spiritual fashion.

Yet most of the responses to Mr. Farrakhan's actions have been politically motivated and intended to destroy his influence in the African-American community.

This political response has also sought to instill fear in other African-American leaders while further dividing the leadership in the black community. Perhaps if we attempt to refocus on a spiritual response rather than a political one, we can emerge from this debate on the road to dialogue, healing and reconciliation.

Politics is a serious game in which groups and individuals fight to the bitter end to maintain power. Forgiveness plays almost no role in traditional politics.

But in the spiritual realm forgiveness plays an essential role. Where would David have been if God had chosen not to forgive him for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah? Where would Peter have been if God had not forgiven him for his cowardly denial of Jesus, not once but three times?

Were these men beyond forgiveness? Were they consistently and consciously beaten down for the mistakes that they made, or were they given an opportunity to show their true gifts and talents?

Clearly, remarks that are racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or homophobic are spiritually unacceptable. At the same time, however, there is no race, gender, ethnic group or religious community that is beyond criticism or correction.

When Isaiah, Amos and Haggai say that God is not pleased with the worship and sacrifices of the people because they oppress the poor and needy, is this anti-Semitic?

When John in the book of Revelation talks about one church that has left its first love and another that causes Christ to vomit because it is neither hot nor cold, are these anti-Christian remarks?

Or are they spiritual criticisms of traditions that have strayed from their spiritual foundation, and which are being called to correction?

As a spiritual leader, Mr. Farrakhan has disciplined Mr. Muhammad. His racist and anti-Semitic remarks were denounced for both their maliciousness and their style. Yet once denounced, the minister has a spiritual responsibility to try to correct the brother so that he might be forgiven and restored.

If the Anti-Defamation League and the Black Caucus had reached out to Minister Farrakhan and requested a closed-door meeting to discuss Mr. Muhammad's remarks and Mr. Farrakhan's response to them, perhaps they could have helped shed more light than heat.

It is possible, however, that some members of these organizations have an unforgiving spirit and don't care what Mr. Farrakhan says or does, because they seek his political castration and destruction.

When I was the pastor of a church in Los Angeles, I was faced with a very difficult decision regarding homeless people in our city. I called my father and shared with him my dilemma and asked him what should I do. His response was to ask me, "What would Jesus do?"

As the Farrakhan debate continues, perhaps we should ask ourselves this question: How would the great spiritual teachers BTC and leaders of our traditions have handled this situation?

I believe Paul would say this to us: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became mature, I put away childish things."

Frank M. Reid III is pastor of Bethel African-Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore.

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