Reid preaches politics from the pulpit Sermon reflects loss of congressional race

March 25, 1996|By Ginger Thompson | Ginger Thompson,SUN STAFF

In a 45-minute sermon that stirred his congregation to their feet yesterday, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III made it clear he will not allow himself or his 10,000-member West Baltimore church to be pushed out of the political spotlight.

It was a sermon apparently shaped by the experiences of Dr. Reid's unsuccessful bid for the 7th District congressional seat. Despite an aggressive and visible campaign, he finished second to Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a four-term state legislator from West Baltimore.

Mr. Cummings will replace Kweisi Mfume, who left Congress last month to become president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Dr. Reid, a graduate of Yale and Harvard universities, is focusing on his post as pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And while he said that is more than enough of a job for him, his sermon yesterday, which had all the trappings of a campaign speech, gave the 8 a.m. service the feel of a political rally aimed more at inspiring his congregation to political involvement than spiritual reflection.

At the start of the sermon, Dr. Reid asked people in the audience to turn to the person next to them and say, "Neighbor, oh neighbor, we need liberating leadership."

"What we find today is that we have leaders who don't care about human beings," he said. "We have elected leaders who care nothing about poor people or about young people.

"We have leaders who do not want to lead," he said. "They want to dominate people."

Wearing one of his signature African-style robes, Dr. Reid urged people to think about issues, including the unfair treatment of workers as corporations struggle to downsize; about ways to stop the violence that claims the lives of more and more black children; about government plans to cut welfare.

He warned elected leaders that they will continue to loose grass-roots support unless they begin caring about people more than profits. He pointed to the debate on welfare and said poor children stripped of federal aid would become more likely to abuse drugs and commit crimes.

He said that Bethel will be "more involved than ever" with helping people get elected to city, state and national offices.

As part of his planned Bible college, Dr. Reid said he will arrange courses in political issues that affect people's daily lives. And he plans to provide workshops to train lay people to organize political campaigns and to lobby.

One such lobbying effort began yesterday when he asked people in the church to sign petitions demanding the state to stop efforts to heave more financial burdens onto Baltimore City schools.

The 44-year-old pastor also issued harsh warnings to his predominantly African-American congregation. Raising his voice from its normal monotone, he said the black community will never enjoy responsive leadership unless they get involved in politics and vote.

"God's not going to give you any more leaders because you don't know how to treat what God gives you," Dr. Reid said, pointing to people who packed the floor and the balcony of the sanctuary.

Referring to the Republican speaker of the House, he added, "I'm not mad at Newt Gingrich. We deserve Newt Gingrich because we don't vote. We deserve him because we don't know how to support each other. We deserve him because we stab each other in the back."

In an interview after the service, Dr. Reid said the importance of inspiring voters is one of the most critical lessons he learned during his campaign for Congress.

Only 20 percent of the registered voters in Baltimore turned out to participate in the election. He boasted that his campaign registered some 1,500 new voters and would have gotten many more if efforts had not been stopped by the harsh winter.

"Our community is not going to accept leadership that is noncourageous, dishonest, manipulative and self-serving," Dr. Reid said. "We are demanding that leaders get more in touch with the needs of the community. The Democratic Party can no longer be allowed to try to become a more moderate version of the Republican Party."

While he says he harbors no bitterness over his failed run for Congress, he acknowledges he is writing a book about the campaign and that some of the chapters will describe lessons he learned about back-stabbing and greed.

When asked if he would run again for Congress, Dr. Reid stroked his salt-and-pepper beard and said, "It all depends. If the person elected does an excellent job, then there will be no need for me to run again."

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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