Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Pan-African Vision

BOND: And you described a moment ago about how your style had changed. What about your vision? Has your vision changed?

BUTTS: Yes. My vision is now beyond the parochialism of a particular neighborhood and city, and it’s even beyond the confines of the United States of America. It’s a broader world vision that has been brought about by the opportunities to travel, and it is a particular vision that is focused primarily on people of African descent. Du Bois has a very powerful influence in terms of reading him and the Pan-Africanist point of view is very important to me and I think people of African descent need to be united and understand our common struggle.

[We] recently celebrated the bicentennial of Abyssinian Baptist Church. We took a trip to Ethiopia, took one hundred and sixty-five people there and while there, of course, looking at the religious artifacts, reconnecting with our history, it dawned on me that we as a church and our influence, not only our philosophy, if you will, but our vision, needs to see beyond just what we’re doing in terms of at home. Charity starts at home, but now we’ve got to reach out and try to unite as much of the world, particularly the African world as we can. Now, how that’s fine tuned is being determined now. I mean, that trip to Ethiopia had profound impact on me, but I’d been to East Africa before and Kenya and I’d been to Egypt and other places. Been to Ghana, many places, but how to do that and just to show you how the Holy Spirit works, our youth minister came into the office the other day to sit down and he crossed his legs and he sort of talked and he said, “You know, Reverend, our church is large enough and strong enough that we need to have an NGO that seeks to do development in Africa.” I said, “Well, don’t they exist?” He said, “Yeah, Catholic Charities does it and, you know, the United Methodist Church does a very good job, but we need to do it.” He said, “I don’t know of a black church that does this this way,” and I looked at him. He’s a Morehouse grad and his heritage is Jamaican, West Indies, and I said, “Well, Lord, have you provided an answer? Here’s this young energetic man with a vision.” I said, “Well, don’t you want to be a pastor?” He said, “Well, I’m twenty-some-odd years old." He said, "I’ve got time.” That touched me deeply and it made me go back and think that once again God has provided a key to unlock or a way to the vision.

I mean, I've got — my assistant pastor is a woman. My minister for Christian education is a woman and these two women are dynamic and strong preachers, and they are intelligent beyond — I mean, they’re just great. One of the sons of our ministry is now the pastor of Ebenezer in Atlanta, Raphael Warnock. Another one took Bill Gray’s place in Philadelphia. Another one leads the Covenant Churches, is the chairman of their board in America. These young men and women are just dynamic and the Lord gives them to me. I mean, they get up and they preach and the congregation is just in a frenzy and I just sort of shrug my shoulders and say I can’t get rid of them. They just keep coming and so, yes, I have a broader vision and the Lord is revealing how to realize that vision.