Yesterday, Fr. Mike Pfleger spoke at Howard University as part of the Rankin Chapel speaker series. The program included marvellous music from the Howard Gospel Choir, a presentation by the Beacon Dance Ministry and prayers by a number of local clergy, led by the dean of Rankin Chapel, Dr. Bernard Richardson.
Fr. Pfleger read from Acts 4 about Peter and John being arrested and their courageous testimony for Jesus. Fr. Pfleger's theme? We have to become dangerous. Pfleger believes that there are too many "safe" churches in America where no one says anything controversial for fear of offending someone, but he argues that "our very discipleship demands that we be dangerous because we follow a radical Christ." Jesus is more than just the baby we adore at Christmas and the Crucified and Risen One we celebrate at Easter.
Using the example of the late Mamie Till Mobley, who opened the casket at her 14-year old son Emmett Till's funeral to show his body bruised and broken in one of the most infamous racist lynchings in our country's history, Fr. Pfleger argued that the Church needs to "open the casket and expose the evil of a nation that has abandoned its poor." To nods of agreement, he expressed his disappointment that the poor were not mentioned in this year's State of the Union address. He noted that his parish, St. Sabina's in Chicago, had had to provide food to 12,000 people in December, four times as many as usual.
Fr. Pfleger, a known Obama supporter, took the president to task later in his sermon for his failure to act decisively against gun violence. He begged the president to transcend the current political climate where "the blood money of the NRA takes precedence over the blood of our children running in the streets" and called on President Obama to ban assault weapons and make his term in office stand for something. "We have become immune to the genocide of black and brown children...not in Rwanda, not in Darfur, not in Uganda, but in the United States of America," Fr. Pfleger lamented.
Fr. Pfleger also talked about the ongoing systemic discrimination against African Americans, particularly the disproportionate incarceration rates. He noted that African Americans account for 13% of illegal drug users, while they are 35% of those incarcerated on drug-related charges. "We are shuttling our children from second class schools to first class prisons...There's no money to build schools and pay teachers' salaries but we can always find money for prisons and more guards."
Deploring America's current fascination with the foibles of the rich and famous, Fr. Pfleger pointed out that we are a nation that is "more concerned about Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, and even Justin Bieber's haircut, than about children and families living and dying on the streets."
Finally, he encouraged Howard students not to remain in the comfort of classrooms and safe churches but to take it to the streets and ask the prophetic questions. Our job, Fr. Pfleger said, "is not to make people comfortable with Pharaoh, but to tell Pharaoh to 'let our people go'."
The audio of this sermon is embedded in this video: