By Vincent L. Hall
Many of my fondest childhood memories were framed at the Church. I had the pleasure of living much of my formative years with my grandparents, specifically the Reverend Zecharia Alexander Peter James John Figures, known to the public and his fellow pulpiteers as Z. R.
Living in the Goodwill Baptist Church’s parsonage just 60 feet diagonally from the steps of the sanctuary taught me a lot. Anything I didn’t glean from Papa’s strap, I learned by watching the people who came in and around the perimeter of the Church.
Most of the “well-trained” pedestrians who strolled the streets paid strict obeisance to the stature and the church grounds’ sanctity. If a smoker walked by, he extinguished his cigarette and resumed his puff sensation after he was well beyond the front door.
Likewise, winos, jickheads and drunks, secured their serum safely in their posterior pockets as they made their sinful procession toward home or some den of ill repute.
It was not enough that their liquor was hidden in pint-sized paper bags; they eased by as if the church walls impaired God’s vision.
Of course, Rev. Figures had taught us that God was omnipresent and omniscient, so we knew these sinners were paying their respects.
God had the “whole world in his hands,” and it was just his “Amazing Grace” that allowed those sinners to live. I was not smoking and drinking then, but I knew I was a sinner, too, just a different kind.
The Church; every Church in our community was sacred. You would have thought Jesus could see you from each picture frame. It was the place where I learned what it means to be a “gentleman.”
Our mothers had a healthy disdain for heathens and took stringent measures to see that we did not fall among the brood of them.
Once we were in Church, we could not chew gum, talk, or fidget. My mother scolded me often for having the nerve to put my hands in my pocket as I stood for prayer. She deemed it disrespectful to do anything that did not reverence God or his Holy Temple.
Reverend Figures was even worse. He never condoned clapping as a matter of applause or keeping the beat of the music. He could never have accepted the instruments and “worldly music” that dominate today’s church services. God was God, the world was the world, and never the two were twain.
There were several occasions when I despised my rigorous religious regimen. I grew weary of attending Sunday School, Worship Service, and three o’clock Teas with all the older women. The mints, peanuts, punch, and cookies were good. However, in the back of my mind, I knew we still had B.T.U. (Baptist Training Union) ahead of us at six post meridiem.
All that good religion came rushing back to me the other day as I heard the news that another young Black man was gunned down.
Which one? Pick one! Similar murders are happening among our Brown brothers. What have we become? What are we teaching this generation?
My childhood has long since been gone, but some images do not die. I finally rid my subconscious of that “White Jesus” that “Lorded” over the walls of seemingly every Black Church.
Nevertheless, I cling to the Ten Commandments, and “Thou Shall Not Kill” is chief among them.
America does not have the answer for the growing issues of men and violence. Young men of all races seem less inhibited about taking another life.
We politicize their espoused beliefs, but frankly, whether they quote Trump, Farrakhan, or The KKK is less critical than their propensity to use lethal force as an option.
Church and religion cannot solve all our problems, but we need to kill this trend.
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.