By Mashaun D. Simon
Eldren Morrison, senior pastor of Shaw Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Smyrna, Georgia, used a sermonic moment to share his thoughts. His intent, he said, was to strike a chord with his congregants while also fulfilling his pastoral responsibility.
“I have been a pastor for about 18 years now, and have always thought and been taught that the black pastor, who has the freest voice within the community, that it’s on black pastors to really speak to the things going on that affect the black community,” Morrison told NBC News in a phone interview. “My hope was that I would encourage our congregation from my commentary while also bringing forth the truth of the gospel.”
Morrison shared with the congregation that he was not surprised by Trump’s comments.
“But I was surprised by the way those in his party, especially those that were in the room, were struck by amnesia and how those that admitted to hearing the statements played them down,” Morrison said he told the congregation. “And that I was shocked that Dr. King’s nephew stood up in the White House some days later and defended Trump.”
By speaking to the issue, Morrison said he also hopes that his congregants are inspired to follow his example. As pastor of his church, he said, he has a unique opportunity of leading a unique congregation. While his church sits in a suburb northwest of Atlanta, half of his members are residents live within the city of Atlanta while the other half hail from the more suburban and mostly white Cobb County.
“They need to be able to speak and not be ashamed to have a voice in the midst of a white community. They need to be able to speak without feeling bad for speaking up and cautious of upsetting the status quo,” he said. “Hopefully, that message is getting out to them.”
Trump has denied that he insulted Haiti and many of his supporters, some church leaders, have come to his defense. Pastor Robert Jeffress said he didn’t agree with Trump’s language, but that he supports Trump’s views “100 percent.” In an interview with MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid, Evangelical Pastor Mark Burns, doubted Trump made the remarks and later suggested Reid “just move to Haiti.”
Rev. Maurice Watson, a senior pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, Maryland, also denounced Trump during a Sunday morning sermon while Vice President Mike Pence and his wife were in attendance.
Earl Fisher, senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee also used his sermon to shed light on Trump’s comments.
“The gist of what I said to my congregation Sunday morning was, ‘There are no s—hole countries. But we do have a–hole people who produce s—hole policies that exploit people’s resources which cause inhumane living conditions. So we need to vote the a–hole people out of office,’” Fisher told NBC News.
As a black religious and social justice leader, Fisher said he is of the belief that it is their responsibility to inform and inspire.
“I’m mindful that people of faith (black folks included) are not monolithic and see things differently as a byproduct of our experiences,” he said. “And while I do believe everyone should stand and speak as they feel compelled and convicted, if we are to effectively be (black) religious and social justice leaders, we must stand on the side of truth and justice for all.”
William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., agrees. While he did not preach on Trump’s reported comments, he believes it is necessary that Trump and his evangelical supporters not control the narrative in the church.
“God is the God of justice and beauty. God is concerned with the earth, women and everything that God. God’s vision is one of harmony, equality, justice and peace,” he said. “It is that message of justice and peace that drives worship and preaching and Christian social ethics. Therefore, I am also moving in the trajectory of justice, liberation and freedom regardless of who is in the White House.”
Trump’s language, even Trump’s presidency, is not an anomaly, said Lamar. For him, anyone who thinks the current political climate is unique to the times is ignorant to American history.
“We exist in a time when the rhetoric is coarse, but we have always existed in spaces where there was course rhetoric. As African-Americans, we have always existed in a time of coarse actions meant to subdue us,” he said. “There are a number of people in this nation who feel the same way as Trump, who will say that what he said was not racist or that his actions are not racist.”
Fisher said as long as policies and practices of the Trump administration “tilt towards the most powerful and injure the most vulnerable,” black religious leaders have a moral obligation to denounce it.
“We must further, demand and inspire a more just representation from our leadership, and be willing to also organize to remove from office anyone who is doing our communities (and country) more harm than good.”