By Marvin A. McMickle
An African American hymnwriter named Lucy Campbell reports that she was walking along a street in Memphis, Tenn., when she came upon a blind man named Connie Rosemond who was sitting on the street playing spirituals and church songs on his guitar. As he played, people would drop some money in his cup to express their support for his efforts. At one point, a group of men approached Connie Rosemond and told him they would give him five dollars if he would play one blues song.
Understand that for Connie Rosemond who was blind and poor with his feet wrapped in burlap bags because he could not afford to buy a pair of shoes, five dollars in 1919 was an enormous amount of money. However, this blind and broke guitar player turned down money that could have taken him off that street corner for at least a few days.
The men kept asking him why he was not willing to stop playing gospel songs for a while and play some blues tunes instead. Connie Rosemond answered by saying, “I can’t do that. All I know is, there is something within.”
Those words inspired Lucy Campbell to write the words to this song:
Something within me that holdeth the reins,
Something within me that banishes pain,
Something within me I cannot explain,
All that I know, there is something within.
This is the mark of authentic Christian faith, something within us that is unashamed to share our faith in public and unwilling to compromise that faith for any short-term financial or political gain. We are not governed by the headlines in the newspapers, or the breaking news flashes on CNN or MSNBC or Fox News.
I do not doubt that many Republican politicians in the Ohio legislature or in the U.S. Congress have the outward signs of religious faith. They are likely familiar with passages in the Bible. They might even keep a Bible in their office or in their home. However, based upon their recent actions I very much doubt that the teachings of the Bible have penetrated their hearts.
You cannot read the Bible and then plot to overthrow a free and fair election. You cannot say you are a Christian, but then work to undercut democracy, take away people’s right to vote, and rig the process so you can challenge or overturn any election result you do not like.
These Republican politicians have essentially substituted Donald Trump for Jesus Christ and claim that not to support Trump was equivalent to not supporting God! Many of these people are so-called “evangelical Christians” who say they believe in the authority of scripture. But you would not know that by listening to their words or observing their deeds.
I wonder how many people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol on January 6th were self-declared Christians who attend church somewhere and read the Bible and claim they believe in God?
I saw them standing on the podium where the Speaker of the House sits when Congress is in session and when the President gives the State of the Union Address. I saw them claiming to pray to God in the name of Jesus. Of course, that was after they stormed past the Capitol Police, smashed in the doors and windows of our national capitol, chanted “hang Mike Pence,” left urine and feces in offices and hallways, and went through the desks of U.S. Senators taking pictures and putting their feet up on those desks. It was after all that when they decided it was time to pray.
Pray to whom? Pray about what? Pray in the middle of an Insurrection? Pray in the middle of an attempted coup of the U.S. government while a presidential election was being certified? Pray after a Capitol police officer died after being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher? Pray after a Confederate flag was paraded through the lobby of the U.S. Capitol, something that never happened even during the Civil War? Pray after the Capitol had been forcefully invaded, something that had not happened since the British did it in 1814 attempting to reconquer the colonies they had lost in the Revolutionary War? Pray to whom and about what?
None of this would have occurred if any of those so-called “evangelical Christians” had actually been real Christians who understand the word of God must work from within them, guiding their thoughts, and words, and deeds. They should learn a lesson from Connie Rosemond and have something within them that is greater than their petty, partisan agenda.
— The Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D. is pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, retired in 2019 as president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York, where he had served since 2011. This article first appeared on January 7, 2022 in The Real Deal Press, the premier fully digital news organization in Northeast Ohio targeting the news and information needs of the more than 400,000 African American residents of the area.
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