On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
On Saturday, supporters of the President held a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally in the District. The President and his supporters still falsely claim that the election was rigged in President-elect Biden’s favor, without any sufficient evidence of election fraud. Later that evening, members of the Proud Boys trespassed onto the properties of two historic Black churches and burned Black Lives Matter signs.
Black churches have a long history in civil rights, from the abolition movement in the 1800s to the Civil Rights movements in the 50s and 60s. So, what is the Black church’s role in today’s fight for civil rights?
We speak to Rev. William Lamar IV, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal about the Proud Boys’ protests on Saturday, and the church’s role in fighting for social justice.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Rev. William Lamar Pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in D.C.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Prince George's County received the fourth highest number of unaccompanied children in the country. We'll hear more about what the county school system is doing for those students, but first, on Saturday members of the Proud Boys and other supporters of President Trump held a 'Stop the Steal' rally here in the District. Later that evening several were caught on tape destroying Black Lives Matter signs and banners from two historic Black churches.
KOJO NNAMDIThe pastor of one of those churches responded in an op-ed in The Washington Post. He joins us now. Rev. William H. Lamar IV is Pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown D.C. William Lamar, thank you very much for joining us. Long time no see.
REV. WILLIAM LAMARKojo, listen. The last time we were together I ran into you at the Hitching Post. I want to return to that world of fried fish and wonderful conversation.
NNAMDIWell, hopefully at some point when the pandemic is less widespread than it is now maybe we'll be able to meet up there again.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to turn the conversation with Rev. William Lamar you can give us a call at 800-433-8850. Did you hear about the Proud Boys' actions on Saturday night? What were your thoughts and how did you react? 800-433-8850. William Lamar, can you detail for us what happened on Saturday night?
LAMARYes, sir, and again, thank you, Kojo, for the opportunity. As far as we can tell, Saturday evening under cover of darkness a few supporters of the current regime breached our property and took down our Black Lives Matter sign, which is -- I just checked the dimensions. It's 36 by 92 so it's a pretty visible sign on M Street between 15th Street and 16th Street Northwest. And there was some footage recorded of them chanting and defacing the sign. And those are the facts.
NNAMDIWhat was your reaction to hearing the news over the weekend? And how did you learn about what happened?
LAMARLet me start with how I learned about it. We do virtual worship as do many congregations in the District and around the nation, around the world. And we go live at about 9:30 a.m. I began getting text messages right after 9:00 a.m. The first one I got was from Karen Brau, the very capable pastor of Luther Place. Her church had been -- her sign had been defaced. And she texted me offering her condolence for what happened at Metropolitan. And I was unaware. I said, Karen, what happened? And she texted me the video that had been taken.
LAMARAnd then shortly thereafter I heard from another friend, the Rev. Thomas Bowen who works with the mayor's Faith Outreach Office and he let me know that he was on the way and that the Metropolitan Police was on the way, and that they had also informed federal authorities about what had occurred. My reaction and I've thought about this quite a bit. It was first -- and I think that those who live in the United States of African descent there's always an ancestral awareness of what has happened in this space and what can happen. Sometimes it's communicated clearly. Other ways you just almost -- you receive it just from being around older Black folks, listening, learning. You have to be aware. You have to know.
LAMARAnd so I was aware of a pain of being violated in some way and aware that we were not the first to experience this type of challenge, and unfortunately until the narrative changes, we won't be the last. But also, Kojo, there was tremendous joy. I get joy in knowing that we have been down these types of roads before and that we always, always, always rise. We're always resilient. I was sharing with someone earlier today that we often don't hear about the stories of the revolts, the revolts in Charleston, the revolt that took place in New Orleans.
LAMARAmiri Baraka has said and I quoted him earlier that the Atlantic Ocean has a railroad on its floor paved by our bones. We've struggled. We've had joy. We've had laughter. We've had love. In the midst of all of it, we keep rising and we keep doing our work of building a new world, a world where every human being can flourish, a world where there's healthcare for all, education for all, a world where the prison industrial complex is dismantled. We keep pushing and pressing forward toward that world.
LAMARSo this juxtaposition of awareness of what this place has always been and you juxtapose that with the deep joy of being a part of the struggle to make this place what it is promised to be, but has never quite actualized.
NNAMDIThe late Amiri Baraka was the poet laureate of New Jersey. You can look him up if you haven't heard of him before. We're talking with Rev. William H. Lamar, IV. He's the Pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown D.C., one of two historic Black churches from which Black Lives banners were removed and destroyed over the weekend, William Lamar, yours is a historic church. Tell us about the Metropolitan AME Church. When was it founded?
LAMARSo we are 182 years old. We are a merger between two churches, one was called Union Bethel, one was called Israel Bethel, both early AME churches in the District. And one of the fascinating stories is that where some of the current congressional office buildings sit, one of our churches, one of predecessor churches once sat there. But, of course, those are no more. The federal government got the land necessary to build what it was building.
LAMARBut our history -- and I told this story about you got to walk by our church, see the soaring architecture and hear the ancestral voices saying, we are going to make a statement five blocks -- six blocks from the White House that we are here, that we are beautiful, that we are strong, that we have a contribution to make. And we will be incessant in raising our voices in building the kind of world where all human beings can flourish and enjoy God's good creation.
LAMARAnd so in that church we've done spiritual work. We've done academic and educational work. W.E.B. Du Bois spoke there. Ida Wells Barnet spoke there. We have hosted the funerals of the first Black United States Senator, of Rosa Parks, of Frances Cress Welsing. And right now today what we're doing, Kojo, is we're in the frontlines with the Washington Interfaith Network making sure that Reservation 13 that huge plot of land near RFK that a third of the housing that will happen there will be able to house those in D.C. who are the most economically vulnerable.
LAMARRight now we're partnering with congregations to make sure that our neighbors who live in public housing can live in places that are not mold and rodent infested. So our ancestors said, we're going to make a strong statement and we're going to be deeply involved in this community. One story that's fascinating is Daniel Alexander Payne who was the bishop who really by force of will made sure Metropolitan was built.
LAMARHe went and visited President Abraham Lincoln. And this was during the time when enslavement was legal in the District. He went to visit him. Strategically prayed with him and talked to him and lobbied him. And shortly thereafter Lincoln issued the proclamation that emancipated the enslaved in D.C. That's our history. We interface with people so that we can be in the frontline of liberation and emancipation of all people. And that's what Metropolitan embodies at our best. And that's what the prophetic Black tradition embodies at its best.
NNAMDIThat in a nutshell is a small part of the history of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. Rev. Lamar the Black Lives Matter movement is relatively new. But you see the concept as familiar given the history that you just told us. What do you think of the symbolism behind the Black Lives Matter movement? What does it mean to you?
LAMARWhat it means to me, Kojo, it's a continued unbroken assertion of humanity in this space of belonging, of desire to create community in a space that has not been hospitable. And so I see this movement as akin to the morone movements of the past, the revolts of the past, people raising their voices and saying that the status quo, the economic order, the political order, the social order is crushing, exploitative and oppressive and we want to move in another direction.
LAMARMany people have talked about the fact that many of the prior movements were housed in the church, birthed in the church. And we need to take note that when the prophetic tradition borrows ethics from outside itself, it wounds itself. And I say that because the Black Lives Matter movement, the pioneers were queer Black women, who because the Black prophetic tradition borrowed from really the anti-human theologies of white evangelicalism, we pushed those people to the margins, and so they founded a movement outside of a church, because the church was not welcoming of them, pushed them to the side because they did not fit a perspective that many in the church held that was borrowed.
LAMARPrior to this movement the civil rights movement was fully populated by queer people, by rich people, by poor people, by respectable people, by people that folks would not consider respectable. And so this movement comes from our DNA, but calls us to return to the large broad acceptance of all humanity and service of a new humanity and a new community. So I see Black Lives Matter as a part of that tradition.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. We'd love to have you join the conversation. Should churches and religious communities play a role in the fight for social justice? If so, what do you think that role should be? 800-433-8850. Before I go to the phones, Rev. Lamar, some have said we're entering another civil rights era with the Black Lives Matter protests. Do you agree? And how would it be similar to previous eras?
LAMARKojo, you said something very interesting about how should churches interface in politics. And I want to say that all religion is political. Politics has to do with how we order our society. What I share with people is the denominations in people who say we should not be political are as political as I am if not more so because their politics is the politics of maintaining the present order, maintaining crony and kleptocratic capitalism, maintaining racial disparity, maintaining a regime were people's votes are suppressed, stolen, maintaining a regime were people can work and not earn living wages. That is a clear politics of keeping power where it is and structures as they are.
LAMARI am more honest. My faith is clearly political. These are the politics of Jesus who said he came to set oppressed free. He came to heal those who were sick and bind up those who were broken, and to preach a new order, the acceptable year of the Lord. Those are my politics rooted in Jesus's own saying that he was filled with the spirit of God. It wasn't a political agenda. It was an agenda that flowed from deep resonate relationship with God's spirit and it played itself out ethically.
LAMARAnd so the question of whether or not this is a new civil rights movement, I would say that the agenda of the movements of the past have never quite been fulfilled. What happens is that the agendas are often co-opted by political parties. We win some of what we ask for, but not all. Let's think about the Voting Rights Act. Well, shortly after, under the current Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts they allowed preclearance to be gutted. So voting rights offered by Congress, of course, a lot of people never really enacted it. They found ways to not obey the law, but then the Supreme Court guts it, right?
LAMARSo what I share with people is the gains of the past are never permanent. What is permanent is organizing, struggling and building the power to do the community the way that we know it can be done. So it is -- I would not say a new movement. It is the continued human striving to be what we ought to be.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll return with this conversation with Rev. William H. Lamar of Metropolitan AME Church in Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Rev. William H. Lamar IV. He's the Pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown D.C., which along with Asbury United Methodist Church was one of the churches that had their Black Lives banners torn down over the weekend by supporters of President Trump, including the Proud Boys and destroyed.
NNAMDIRev. Lamar, there are a lot of people who want to join this conversation on the phone, but before I go to them, got to deal with this. You wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post today. You said that it's time to move -- well, yesterday. You said it's time to move beyond our founding myths including the idea that the country was founded on the principles of liberty and democracy. What do you feel is the appropriate narrative that might move us forward?
LAMARThe appropriate narrative is that very flawed human beings had an idea that they had a God given right to take what was not theirs and to force people into a project that they did not willing want to participate in. And that that work has been morphed by propaganda and history that is more hagiography that history to say the intensions were pure, the intensions were religious, that intensions were about freedom. The intentions were about conquests. The companies, the corporations that founded that funded they were corporations that sent people here, funded the voyages to make money.
LAMARIt was a corporate scheme that was slathered over by the kinds of language that makes people think that those things are okay, the conquest, exploitation, extraction is okay. Now the principles themselves are good principles, but they have never been lived or embodied in our economics, our politics in any sustained way.
LAMARSo you start with that truth. You start with the truth of what happened to the natives. You start with the truth of what happened to Africans. You start with the truth that white supremacy also wounds tens of millions of poor white people, who also have been cut out by the powerful and played and pimped and used in ways that have kept them from earning what they should and growing as they should grow.
LAMARAnd you say we started off very wrong. We can imagine a new community truly where all are welcome. Truly where we can build a multiracial, multicultural, multifaith type of environment, where people's worth is not determined by race or zip code or wealth, but we provide, Kojo, universal healthcare. How about that? We ensure that every human being can earn a living wage. We ensure that education is accessible and free. We ensure that there is housing.
LAMARAnd people will say, this is socialist. This is this. This is that. Most people can't even define the words that are thrown around. What I am saying is there is enough abundance. We choose to give more to those who have instead of sharing the abundance that belongs first in my theological perspective to God and that that must be shared with humanity. It means really -- I'm just going to be honest. We have to imagine an economic ordering that looks much different than the capitalism that we say is the only way forward to order our economic live.
LAMARWe're going to have to do something different. There's just no way to sustain what we see. And even people who are in more conservative spaces intellectually and economic that they know it is unsustainable to live in order of society as we've ordered it. And so there is a way to think about human community that does not extract or exploit. And there are spaces and there are historical ideas, stories, thoughts, communities that can show us a way forward.
NNAMDIHere is Helen in Triangle, Virginia. Helen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HELENYes, I began a new book last night. I just started. It's a very beautiful, physically, book and I was looking at the cover and all the founders -- his co-founders at home and all these lovely people dressed in satins and I thought, where are the Black people? And I started flipping through it looking at the lovely pictures and I'm thinking, where are the Black people? So I was going through the book and looking at it and searching for different historical moments that I knew of. And so my white hands are flipping through and I'm going where are the Black people? I don't know. I just started it. And I'm finding some Black people. But, you know, if I were 12 years old it would be okay and I wouldn't have thought anything about it. But I'm 73 years old and I'm disabled now.
NNAMDIWell, go ahead.
HELENSo many hearts are with, Kojo, even if I'm not Black and not a member of the Black community. So many white hearts are with you and I'm broken this morning and sick to the stomach.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your call. Our caller Helen said, Rev. Lamar, so many white people are with you. Care to comment?
LAMARYes. And I want to thank you, Helen, for what you have developed is a vision for those who have been erased. And whoever wrote that book they have a politics. They have a political agenda and it is that of erasure. And you have determined that you will no longer allow the erasure to occur without speaking out. I want to share with you, Kojo, that there have been thousands of people, emails, calls, white folks around the country who have offered support.
LAMARThere is a lot of light in the world. And I am encouraged by the number of people who want to do the hard work of a new narrative of a new ordering of our society. And what happens when you think about the history that we've been taught -- I can remember learning American history and they get to the founders and they get to slavery. And they say, oh, they were men of their era. They were men of their time. Well, that is lazy history because there was historical conversation and philosophical conversation at that time that what they were doing was inhumane. That the people that they were treating, Natives and Africans, in the interest of their corporate and economic goals and dreams that it was inhumane, that it was ungodly.
LAMARThey choose to ignore those voices and to press forward with their idea. Washington did. Jefferson said, "I tremble when I think that God is just and that God's justice can't sleep forever." He knew. They knew what they were doing, and they knew that there would be a price to pay. Now it is time for this nation to stop turning a blind eye to the machinery that was put in place from the founding, the machinery of erasure and pretending when we do things that are immoral and inhumane that we are people of our day. No, we're not people of our day. We are people who refuse to hear the truth, because we have agendas that we believe are more important than the sanctity of human life. And there is nothing more enraging than that.
NNAMDIDo you feel, Rev. Lamar, that it is that narrative that caused the Proud Boys and others to feel empowered by shouting, "Who's streets? Our streets."
LAMARYes. Yes. I think that it is resonant with the white settler colonial reality. And I encourage your listeners to read and study about settler colonialism, which says, when I come to a space, it is mine. The people who are there be damned. Their customs be damned. It is mine and by force and violence I will take it. And the Proud Boys live according to that narrative. But they're also captive to it, because many of them have lost jobs.
LAMARMany of them have lost the ability, because we have gutted organizing to organize and deal with corporations that exploit them. They have lost so much. And so they move to a narrative that is false that destroys possibility of community for all of us. And they move to that because they have lost so much. What I am saying is that story is what motivated their ethics.
LAMARThe story that motivates my ethics is the story that I was told by my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents and church that we love people that we are all human beings that we take care of one another. The story by which I order my life would not allow me to go to someone's church and take down a sign. I cannot do that.
LAMARThe story that orders their lives tells them not only is it their right, but their duty to drive away undesirables. This is the story underneath Birtherism. This is the story that says Warnock is not a Georgian. This is the story that says Mexicans are rapists. That we determine who belongs. It is ours no matter how we got it and by might and violence and by disruption of law, politics we will keep it at any cost.
NNAMDII have to close by saying this, Rev. Lamar, because several people have called wanting to know what they can do to help the churches that were vandalized. You ended your op-ed by saying, "Metropolitan will replace the sign. Will the United States replace the story that makes such acts of desecration inevitable?" I guess you would be calling on those people to join the struggle of which you are a part.
LAMARYes, sir. And to say thank you to the many who have offered support. We have received enough to rebuild our sign. But we want people to walk with us in rebuilding a new, more just Washington D.C. and a new, more just United States and a new, more just world. That's possible.
NNAMDIRev. William H. Lamar, IV is the Pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Washington. Rev. Lamar, thank you so much for joining us.
LAMARKojo, thank you as always, my friend.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, what the Prince George's County school system is doing to help the thousands of unaccompanied children in that system. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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