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Historically, the church has been the center of the community. A place in which followers of the faith could come to fellowship, meet new believers, to bring those who were trying to discover their way and to renew their strengths in the battle for our salvation. As a matter of civic involvement, the church served as a rally point for education, support of family and individual alike. A place for guidance and understanding…we were all seen as equal and with the same level of opportunity to be respected and loved.
The church was directed by a pastor whom we trusted as a man of God dedicated to the enlightenment of his congregation; tasked by God Himself to deliver the Word and the Truth as one. He was held solely responsible for providing the knowledge of salvation to those who believed as well as those who had yet to enter into the light of that understanding. Never judging, never condemning.
So how was it that during a conversation with a prominent local pastor, I had to draw the conclusion that this particular theologian was standing as judge, jury and executioner for his congregation?
As many of you are aware, I’ve been in conversations with the governmental body of the city of Sarasota in an effort to right the wrong that was delivered in the form of the statue located in Fredd Atkins Park. In following the feedback from the city commissioners, a petition has been placed into use to discern the position of the community regarding this piece of work. The main focus: is this statue representative of the black community? Would you prefer to see the statue replaced with something more appropriate for placement within a “family-oriented” community park? The petition is worded to allow for those both in favor and against, to voice their opinions on the topic.
Sadly, the pastor of this particular church, feels that this monstrosity does represent this community. He also stated that he doesn’t actually live in Newtown nor had he even seen the statue in person. He blindly supported it as a product of Fredd Atkins’ time in office and as an achievement for blacks in Sarasota overall. I was hopeful that after having seen the other examples of public art expressed throughout Sarasota, he would see the bigger picture. That there has been a shortfall of genuinely expressive and representative artwork for the Newtown community. Yet he chose to maintain his position. I have to question the motives of someone who refuses to re-assess a situation when presented with all of the facts.
We’re all able to form our own opinions and I applaud anyone who can find the grounds to stand their ground as opposed to swaying with the general consensus of public opinion. Especially when that expanded knowledge still goes in line with your initial direction. But, if you were to take a position that was later understood to have negative repercussions, why would you continue to be associated with the downfall?
What made this situation even worse was that this pastor then chose to decide for his congregation. Realizing that there are deeper facts behind what they may have been aware of, he chose to prevent this information from being presented to his house. Had I sent him this as an e-mail, his actions would be akin to reading the message and deleting it instead of allowing his congregation to make up their own minds about the issue… Can we not make our own decisions about what’s in our own backyards? Why would a man who doesn’t even live here prevent those who do from letting their voices be heard? Is this now a part of the job description for church pastors?
I’m so hopeful that this is an isolated incident here in the black community. The churches are still centers of our community and our faith. They stand as places of salvation from spiritual challenge as well as civic ones. We’ve got to recognize that following the whims of a man of God aren’t too far from mind control in general. Read and understand the word of God to your best ability. Where you have questions or lack understanding, meet with your pastor for guidance and to gain that knowledge. Beyond that, please, seek your own understanding.
Make yourself aware of the outside forces that not only affect you but those who will come after your time has expired here. This community is built on the mindful and heartfelt efforts of those who’ve gone before us on our behalf. That’s a tradition worth continuing! Standing in Faith establishes your spiritual connection but that doesn’t mean that you agree on everything beyond theology. Leveraging that kind of control and authority to any one man is more like a cult than a religion…unless you truly are as mindless as the sheep that your shepard intends to herd.