Skip to main content

Bankole: Why is John James snubbing a Black church in Detroit?

Bankole Thompson  |  The Detroit News

It is sacrosanct for any Black candidate running for public office to speak to the Black church. It is almost sacrilegious for a Black candidate to walk away from an opportunity to address the Black church because in the Black community, the church is the center of life.   

In fact, the late eminent theologian Cain Hope Felder, a longtime professor of divinity at Howard University, underscored the importance of the Black church as both a civic institution and a spiritual force whose relevance is rooted in socioeconomic emancipation. Felder saw the Black church as a vehicle for reckoning with the challenges facing the African American community. 

But apparently the campaign of John James, a Black Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, may not agree with Felder’s view of the Black church as a forum that discusses solutions to the myriad challenges facing Black people in Detroit. 

The campaign recently declined to participate in an important Detroit political series called “Code Red: 2020 Community Conversations,” organized by Triumph Church, one of the fastest growing churches in the city under the leadership of Rev. Solomon Kinloch. 

The ministry at Triumph church captures the whole spectrum of the Black community: young and old, well-educated and less educated — key demographics that a James campaign would need to woo in challenging his Democratic rival U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. 

But Alissa Frazee, the scheduling manager for the James campaign, sent an email on Sept. 8 noting that the date the candidate was supposed to speak at the forum no longer works for his schedule. 

“My apologies for any inconvenience. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions,” she wrote. 

James was invited to speak on Sept. 13 but was replaced by Peters, who was already scheduled to appear on Sept. 20. Peters considered it an honor, readily accepted the invitation and spoke to the church last Sunday. 

“As a pastor it is our job to make sure that our community is informed with information, good or bad, so that Detroiters can make decisions that are best as a community,” Kinloch told me. “The day has come for those that are seeking to be in positions of power in our community to stop ignoring and take into consideration our perspective when they are dealing with policies that affect us. That is what the forum series is all about. We want to make sure we have a platform where the concerns of the community are getting addressed.”

Let’s remember that James lost big in Detroit in 2018 during his first senatorial run against incumbent Debbie Stabenow. He netted only 9,000 votes. The latest email from his campaign suggests it felt James had better things to do than engage with a Black church dealing with issues that are unraveling in the largest Black city in the nation. 

One would have thought that Michigan’s lone Black Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who has been playing up his Detroit roots would clear his entire schedule to participate in a crucial public policy forum to explain how his candidacy would make life better for Detroiters. 

But it is entirely possible that those calling the shots in the James campaign may not have any conceptual or cultural framework about the dynamics of the Black church, even though the candidate himself has roots at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, a historic Black church. 

James, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, touted his Christian values during his race against Stabenow and appealed to white evangelicals. I strongly doubt his campaign would have turned down an invitation to address a policy forum planned by a white evangelical church of the same stature as Triumph church. 

If the campaign strategy is to ignore Detroit and focus elsewhere, Detroiters should not take kindly to that kind of condescending treatment. And if his campaign is wondering why this is a big deal, it ought to read, “Black Power and Black Theology,” written by theological giant James Cone. 

Picking up a copy might help James’ campaign to fully appreciate and understand why the Black church matters in politics, especially in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.