Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Black Church

BOND: I meant to touch on this earlier. But what role do you think the AME church, as opposed, let's say, to the Baptist church, plays -- AME is a race church, is a race, race church --

COLE: Richard Allen made it so.

BOND: -- what did the church do to you? Or do for you?

COLE: A lot. A lot. And I've been through, by the way, the whole cycle. I mean, from growing up in the AME church to deciding it wasn't high sidity enough and becoming an Episcopalian and going through my little agnostic stage. I've been through all of that. And I am now in a situation of great tension and joy with the church. I mean, tension around some issues that I've still got so much problem with. I mean, the woman question in the black church is a big question for me. And yet I find myself constantly renewed in those gatherings, because when the black church is at its best, it's off the chart. You know,when it is -- when I am literally participating in serving homeless men and a few women in First Congregational Church in Atlanta, Georgia, that's at its best. This church assumed to be high sidity with all the yellow folk in it, serving the homeless, that's the black church at its best.

Yes, I think the AME church will always have the distinctiveness of being the race church. It also has a much more progressive history than the Baptist church on the woman question. The Baptist church on the woman question is in another era. And so to be now in a place where I can imagine the black church actually taking yet a new leadership role in this era is very exciting to me. Let me give you an example. Sunday morning, the first Sunday morning after September 11th, I heard Norman M. Rates -- pastor of First Congregation, on the ministerial staff, was the college minister when I was at Spelman -- give a sermon that I still can't get rid of. And Julian, I don't care how much time we've got I've got to give you this from that sermon:

Reverend Rates stood in the pulpit of First Congregational Church and he said, "Let me tell you a story. A child only one year old is hit by a car, is in the middle of the street, the sirens are going off, the police are rushing there, the crowd is gathering around. A woman in her home sees all of this, rushes to the scene, grabs the baby, puts it into her arms, holds it to her breast, and then she moves the baby back, looks at it and says 'This ain't my baby!' And puts it down." He said, "America, when all of the children of Africa have been suffering you said, 'That's not my baby.' When there was terrorism in country after country in Europe, you said, 'That's not my child.' When the people of Latin America have been devastated by what they've gone through, you said, 'That ain't my child.' Well, America, on September 11th, that was your baby."

Now the ability of black ministers, men and women, to speak that kind of truth. You see, that is a role that the black church can play that even we academics --

BOND: Cannot play.

COLE: -- cannot play.

BOND: We don't have the language.

COLE: Listen to James Forbes in Riverside. Hear Barbara King in Hillside in Atlanta. Listen to Calvin Butts. These are voices trying their best to speak some truth.