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Black Clergy as Social Activists and Political Operatives: An Interview with Marvin McMickle

When the Rev. Marvin McMickle searches for the root of his beliefs about social activism, he remembers a providential rally in Chicago in the summer of 1966.

“I decided to attend a rally at a local church in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Chicago where Martin Luther King Jr. was to be the speaker,” McMickle told EthicsDaily.com. “He was in town to kick off a summer-long rally against segregation in housing in Chicago.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
McMickle said that at that time Chicago was the nation’s most racially segregated city in terms of housing. It still is today, and Cleveland, Ohio, where McMickle pastors ABC-affiliated Antioch Baptist Church, is the fourth most racially segregated city in terms of housing.
“King wanted to demonstrate that segregation and racial discrimination were not southern problems, but were American problems,” McMickle said. “I attended that rally, got involved in the civil rights movement and my life was forever changed.”
King’s focus on race, economic justice and militarism turned McMickle’s desire to enter the ministry into a fervent calling to ministry as social activism.
“I still believe that racism, poverty and militarism are the triune evils against which progressive persons in this country must struggle,” he said.
In order to deal with those three issues, McMickle decided to run for political office—the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998 and the U.S. Senate in 2000.
In his book From Pulpit to Politics: Reflections on the Separation of Church and State, McMickle argued that black clergy have always been involved in politics.
“The first black person to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1869 was Hiram Revels of Mississippi, an African Methodist Episcopal clergyman who filled the seat which was vacated when Jefferson Davis resigned from the Senate to become president of the Confederate States of America. What an irony,” he said.
Black clergy should continue to run for office, McMickle said, “so long as they are trying to advance a social and not a theological agenda.”
McMickle said members of the religious right have been involved in American politics in an aggressive way for 20 years. “Those of us from a more moderate position must not leave the field to their interpretation of what the faith demands.”
King’s triune agenda has only increased in importance, McMickle said.
“Poverty has expanded in America and around the world. Racial profiling and racial segregation in housing remains a problem,” he said. “Resources that could be used to address social issues like discrimination and poverty are being diverted to the military budget and the war on terrorism.”
McMickle said that if America produced fewer weapons, supported fewer insurgency movements around the world and stopped arming groups who might later turn on the United States (i.e. Iraq and the Mujahadeen in the 1980s), it might contribute to a safer world.
“The enemies we are fighting today are the friends we equipped to fight against the Iranians and the Russians 20 years ago,” he said. “What twisted foreign policy.”
McMickle said America needs to think about the wars it should wage on its own soil.
“If America wants to fight a war against terrorism, it needs to fight a serious war against drug abuse and drug dependency,” he said. “We sent 300,000 soldiers to fight in the Gulf War in 1990. At the same time we had fewer than 5,000 people guarding our nation’s borders against the importation of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs.”
Investing money and other resources to battle the war on drugs, McMickle said, is a war on terrorism the United States should declare.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.
Order McMickle’s books from Amazon!
From Pulpit to Politics: Reflections on the Separation of Church and State
Preaching to the Black Middle Class: Words of Challenge, Words of Hope
Living Water for Thirsty Souls: Unleashing the Power of Exegetical Preaching