Aretha Franklin’s memorial service on Friday was an incredible way to honor a woman who deserves even more. Also, the service is maybe the largest and most-viewed religious gathering in the Black tradition we may ever see televised in America. Over the course of the eight-hour service, we got the good, bad and extremely ugly of the Black church. The latter came thanks to a 30-minute eulogy by Reverend Jasper Williams, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Salem Bible Church. The eulogy was less a tribute to Aretha Franklin and more a promotion of the misogyny and respectability politics that have historically plagued so many black churches across the country.
In short, Williams’ speech was disgraceful.
Here are some key points:
– He reprimanded Black people for “Black on Black crime,” which, as you probably know, is a white supremacist talking point that is based on total fiction. Crime is about proximity and the vast majority of white people kill white people as well. This is pretty basic information that should be understood in 2018. He even took it a step further by comparing black on black crime to KKK anti-black violence.
– He said that Black people don’t march for violence within our own communities, which is patently false.
– For these reasons, he disagreed with the notion that black lives matter.
– He touted the old statistic that 70 percent of black children are raised by single mothers, which isn’t exactly true. Yes, according to a 2010 CDC study, 72 percent of black children are born out of wedlock, however, that does not account for non-married co-parenting situations or times when fathers aren’t in the child’s life. Also, the study doesn’t tell us if the single parent is a mother or father.
– Then, the kicker: the notion that black mothers can’t raise black boys. Totally ignorant of the fact that Aretha Franklin herself was a single mother who raised black boys. Williams discredited Franklin as a mother. Let alone all the black women across the world who are raising black boys on their own.
It was all a disaster. Williams sounded less like a man tasked with leading 10,000 the 10,000 black people who go to his churches every Sunday, and more like a Trump speechwriter. The resulting outrage was swift and deserved, with many watching on Twitter sharing their outrage. Even Stevie Wonder himself took the stage to make sure we all knew that black lives do, in fact, matter.
Williams’ lecture was, unfortunately, to cap off a ceremony that had been filled with beauty and respect. Beyond that, his sermon – combined with Bishop Ellis’ groping of Ariana Grande hours early – was a reminder to so many people why they left the church in the first place. Because, sadly, Williams’ ideology isn’t an anomaly.
I’ve been going to churches my whole life and I’ve found them to be places of love, spirituality, camaraderie, and togetherness. But the road to finding great churches is paved with leaving other congregations that have preached respectability politics and misogyny. When I tell people that I go to church, I’m often met with stories from former churchgoers who left because they experienced the behavior shown by Williams and Ellis on Friday, and I can’t fault them.
We stop patronizing places that treat us badly all the time, and the church should be no different. Aretha Franklin deserved better than Jasper Williams. Black people deserve better than Jasper Williams and the men like him. And any preacher who doesn’t stand in the pulpit on Sunday to decry Williams’ charade needs to be called out too. It’s time for the black church to evolve, and to do so means leaving men like Jasper Williams and the ideals he represents behind.