In their 2000 hit single, “Shackles (Praise You), Tina and Erica Campbell of gospel group Mary Mary sang the lyrics, “Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance / I just want to praise you / I just want to praise you / You broke the chains now I can lift my hands / And I’m gonna praise you / I’m gonna praise you,”
Though Mary Mary may not have been thinking about the institution of American slavery when they wrote those penetrating lyrics, “the afterlife of slavery” is always palpable among Black church folks, notes Saidiya Hartman.
Nonetheless, the theologies proffered by Tina Campbell, specifically, has its limits when just 17 years after releasing “Shackles,” she endorsed the racist, xenophobic, alleged child rapist, misogynist, Islamophobic, non-taxpaying President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.
In a Facebook post published on January 25, 2017, she stated, “I choose to believe that that same power that comes from Almighty God is at work in Mr. Donald Trump, and it will be used for the greater good of this nation and its people.”
The endorsement came just one day after Mr. Trump signed a memorandum ordering the secretary of the army to expedite approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and two days before he signed an executive order titled, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”
“President Donald Trump is the elected leader of this nation so, as a citizen, I choose to be for him,” Campbell writes. “I choose to believe in President Donald Trump.”
Campbell’s invocation of “citizenship” as a prerequisite for choosing to be for the President is alarming for two reasons: 1) people who look like Campbell have historically been denied full humanity, let alone full citizenship, and 2) President Trump’s entire campaign and his current platform as president is built on limiting citizenship to White Americans, including but not limited to the White elite and the White underclass.
And parroting the President’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, Campbell continues, “I choose to believe that America is great, always has been great, and is becoming greater because it is in God that we trust. He is the founding father of this nation, and there is no failure in Him.”
In true revisionist form, Campbell wipes out an entire history of anti-Black state-sanctioned violence, indigenous slaughter, and Trump’s blatant disregard for Black and brown people.
She also claims that God was the founding father of America. In fact, the country was founded by White colonizers, who in the name of a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jesus, stole, pillaged, enslaved, and murdered indigenous people who were already here. Perhaps the question then, as others such as William R. Jones have similarly asked, is: Is Tina Campbell’s God racist like President Trump?
To be sure, Campbell is not the only Black American to drink the ‘Make America Great Again’ Kool-Aid. Others include Omarosa Manigault and gospel singer Travis Greene, who believes we are “not Black or White, but human,” and who performed at Trump’s inauguration.
Bishop Paul S. Morton proclaimed he is “proud to be a slave of Jesus Christ,” when pushed to explain why he encouraged his Black Christian following to pray for Mr. Trump. During the presidential campaign, a host of other Black pastors met, prayed, and issued clarion calls for supporters to back the controversial candidate; though a group of Black liberation theologians, pastors and leaders wrote to those pastors asking them to amend their ways, they refused to denounce him.
Indeed, Campbell’s prayers along with Travis Greene’s post-racialism will not save Black people, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ folks, or women from the wrath of America’s democratic failure or from the President’s White supremacist approach to governance.
Black pastors must follow the Black radical and prophetic leadership models embraced by the likes of the Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan and the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III.
Our Black lives and Black churches depend on it, because oppression of African-Americans promulgated by religious leaders should never be normalized again.
Ahmad Greene-Hayes is a doctoral student in the Departments of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. He also currently serves as an inaugural cohort fellow of the Just Beginnings Collaborative (2016-2018), where his project, Children of Combahee, works to eradicate child sexual abuse in Black churches. Follow him @_BrothaG.
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