Protests and prayers
Warren G. Blakney Sr.’s long fight for racial equality stretches…
OKLAHOMA CITY — When I first heard about the sermon preached at an Oklahoma City-area Church of Christ on a recent Sunday, I was shocked.
I couldn’t believe the hateful words that Mike Mazzalongo of BibleTalk.tv used to blame Black Americans for the nation’s abortion problem and criticize the widespread unrest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
“Oh yeah, don’t give me your crocodile tears and your phony outrage when some small-time crook or some gangbanger is killed while being arrested,” Mazzalongo said from the pulpit of the 300-member Choctaw Church of Christ, about 15 miles east of Oklahoma City.
Related: Protests and prayers
That statement came after the minister earlier declared: “Every color will get judged. His judgment will condemn those responsible for the 862,000 babies killed every single year in the United States. … And I’ve got news for the social justice warriors promoting White guilt: African Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population but are responsible for 38 percent of all the abortions. That’s 327,560 abortions in the African American community every year.”
“He should be held accountable for his words.”
As editor-in-chief of The Christian Chronicle, I found myself torn: Should I report on the inflammatory sermon that was making waves on social media? Or — to avoid lending credence to the hurtful rhetoric uttered in a house of worship — should I ignore it?
I asked my friend John Edmerson, who is Black and serves as the senior minister and an elder of the Church of Christ at the Vineyard in Phoenix, for his advice.
Unlike me, Edmerson was not surprised by what Mazzalongo said. He had heard it before. Too many times.
“He needs compassion and patience,” Edmerson said of Mazzalongo.
But also, my friend stressed this: “He should be held accountable for his words.”
With Edmerson’s encouragement, I invited Mazzalongo to dialogue about the June 14 sermon, in which the Oklahoma minister referred to George as “a petty criminal who was killed while in police custody.”
Mazzalongo said in the sermon: “But here’s my point when it comes to race and justice. Where’s the Black Lives Matter group? And where’s Antifa? And where’s the Hollywood fake outrage and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and YouTube? And where are the pro athletes leading the vigils and giving interviews? And where’s the mainstream media and the pundits and the experts? And where’s the White liberal politicians taking a knee out of respect? … This is the same gang that also put their energy into promoting abortion on demand and making it available for free at any time. These are the guys that are establishing what’s moral.
“Oh yeah, don’t give me your crocodile tears and your phony outrage when some small-time crook or some gangbanger is killed while being arrested,” the preacher continued. “Yes, police brutality is wrong and even worse when motivated by racism, and it should be punished by law every time it happens. But don’t use this statistically rare event as an excuse to trash and kill and burn and loot innocent Americans of all colors.”
Floyd, 46, died May 25 after he was accused of trying to pass a fake $20 bill at a Minneapolis convenience store. Viral video footage captured a White police officer pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck as the handcuffed Black man complained, “I can’t breathe.”
Mazzalongo declined my request to talk about the sermon, instead issuing a written statement on behalf of the internet teaching ministry that he leads. Mazzalongo is listed on the Choctaw church’s staff webpage as BibleTalk.tv missionary.
“Recently, a sermon on the topic of abortion caused some controversy among some African American brethren,” the statement said. “The point being made in the lesson was that no one seemed to show the same outrage over the hundreds of thousands of innocent Black babies aborted each year as was demonstrated over a single criminal man who was unjustly killed while in police custody.
“My question was, ‘Why the demonstrations for one unjust killing but silence at the callous destruction of these helpless babies?’ In the end, I warned the audience that God will judge all of us for what we have done, and that includes divine justice for every baby unjustly killed, whether white, black, red, yellow or brown.”
Despite Mazzalongo’s refusal to join, the Chronicle organized a live online panel discussion this past Friday with the title, “Is this REALLY who we are?”
I should stress that the full, 90-minute conversation — which I’d urge you to watch — delves into a number of important topics. These range from systemic racism to good-vs.-bad cops to resources for Christians to become better educated on such issues.
But for the purposes of this column, I felt compelled to focus on Mazzalongo’s sermon, which drew forceful responses from all three guest panelists: Edmerson, Taneise Perry and Jeremie Beller.
Edmerson said he read the transcript of Mazzalongo’s sermon about a dozen times. The video of Mazzalongo’s message was removed from the church’s website after the controversy arose.
“And a lot of the points that the preacher mentioned were fairly solid,” Edmerson said. “But when he got to George Floyd and abortion, he made the mistake of really telling people how he feels and what he thinks. When you try to take the abortion dynamic and use that against Black people, what you’re doing is you’re weaponizing victimhood. You’re taking one group, which is the babies that have been aborted, and you’re taking that as a bat and trying to beat down another group.”
Many abortion clinics are located in poor, urban communities, where Black people often live, the Arizona preacher said.
But that’s a different issue, he said, than police brutality.
“So to take (abortion) — what I think is a criminal act — to take that and use that to say, ‘OK, why don’t you guys be upset at that?’ … We are upset at that,” Edmerson said. “But we can be upset at that and tell you to get your foot off of George Floyd’s neck as well.
“George Floyd is not a saint. You’re not a saint,” he added. “So to think that my righteousness needs to be the precursor for my either being treated or mistreated, that’s the point.”
Perry, a Black mother of three sons, also voiced frustration with the correlation that Mazzalongo tried to make.
“I would like to ask that preacher … what Black Christian person has he ever spoken with that said they didn’t care about abortion,” said Perry, a former member of the Three Chopt Church of Christ in Richmond, Va., whose family moved to Charlotte, N.C., during the coronavirus pandemic and hasn’t placed membership with a new congregation yet.
“Why are my tears called ‘crocodile tears’ because I want (my sons) to live in an equal society?”
She noted that her three sons “are all born and alive.”
“Why are my tears called ‘crocodile tears’ because I want (my sons) to live in an equal society?” she asked. “I hate to even talk about abortion, but … it’s a proven fact that the majority of abortions are committed by women who are in the grips of poverty.”
Even if abortion were eradicated immediately, she said: “Does that solve the problem of racism in the police and the justice system? Absolutely not. But are you capable of caring about both issues? Absolutely.”
Perry also took issue with Mazzalongo’s characterization of Floyd.
The slain suspect was arrested nine times between 1997 and 2007, mostly on drug and theft charges, according to court records in Harris County, Texas, which encompasses Houston. But according to the online magazine Religion Unplugged, partners in ministry recalled Floyd as a Christian. They referred to him as their “OG,” or original gangster, and a “man of peace.”
Perry said she was “floored” that Mazzalongo made his comments in a house of worship.
“And I want to point out,” she said, “that this Black petty theft gangbanger — in his death — has done more for me and my family than my White brothers and sisters who can’t even bring themselves to say the words ‘Black lives matter.’
“Because George Floyd died,” she added, “there are protests happening across the world because not just the church, but the world, recognizes that this country has a problem.”
Beller, who is White and serves as congregational minister for the multiracial Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, was the other panelist.
After learning what Mazzalongo had said, Beller said he called Dwayne M.L. Case, minister for the predominantly black Northeast Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
“I am praying for you guys. He does not represent me,” Beller said he told Case. “I’m appalled by what he said.”
“The White church needs to say that this is not the spirit of Christ, that this is not what Jesus represented in the New Testament.”
“Thank you,” Beller recalled Case replying. “But you need to say that publicly.”
“The White church needs to say that this is not the spirit of Christ, that this is not what Jesus represented in the New Testament,” the White minister, whose Ph.D. dissertation focused on religion and racism, said of Mazzalongo’s sermon. “And the frustrating thing is, I don’t know who was there that Sunday, but I know that if that had been said in our pulpit, the sermon wouldn’t have ended well. Somebody would have stopped it.”
Beller praised the elders of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City — the nation’s second-largest Church of Christ with 2,700 members — for issuing a public statement against what Mazzalongo said.
Noting that the sermon made the local news, the Memorial Road elders said Mazzalongo’s remarks “were painful to Memorial Road members of color as well as people of color in our sister congregations.”
“These offensive comments do not represent what we believe the Bible teaches, what our family seeks or what our leadership espouses,” said the statement read by elder Max Pope on the congregation’s June 21 livestream worship. “We call upon this congregation not to be like the priest or Levite, but in our thoughts, attitudes, comments and actions to be like the Good Samaritan and ultimately imitate Jesus.”
Like Mazzalongo, the Choctaw church’s elders declined to have a representative speak on the Chronicle’s panel.
The statement shared by Mazzalongo said BibleTalk.tv was “reaching out to some of our African American brethren for guidance on how we can improve our communication skills so that we might express more clearly the truths of God’s Word using language that effectively teaches, convicts and encourages without unintentionally being offensive or insensitive towards the unique and often difficult experience of Black Americans.”
Hopefully, that guidance will help Mazzalongo understand just how offensive and insensitive his words were. Maybe his next statement will come across as less defensive and dismissive. Maybe he’ll issue an actual apology.
If he wants to seek reconciliation, the Chronicle’s offer to bring Mazzalongo and Black Christians together for a public dialogue still stands.
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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