At Kirkwood Temple C.M.E. Church last night, 120 or so congregants petitioned an Ecclesiastical Court on behalf of a decidedly earthly cause: that of embattled Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, the target of a sweeping FBI probe.
Matrons fanned themselves with "A Night of Prayer and Preparation" programs as perfume wafted through the cool wood-panel-and-brick temple. Women both old and young (surprisingly, given Price's constituency) swayed and clapped in time. Meanwhile, the Kirkwood choir boomed in a raucous and exalted call-and-response with Reverend James Searl: "I want to praise the Lord! I want to praise the Lord!"
Unfair Park could have stayed for the choir, but we came for the corruption-probe-as-religious-parable. And we weren't disappointed. The Wednesday evening service was a testament, in fact, to the extent to which politics and religion are inextricably intertwined in South Dallas.
On hand were any number of powerful pastors. Frederick Haynes, the senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church, made allusions to "Gestapo-like tactics," characterizing the probe as "a witch hunt, which, in a real sense, presumed guilt," particularly by "certain media outlets." As we cringed in our pew, we were relieved he didn't name names. Though he did name-drop a certain beer-summitting Harvard professor and his run-in with profiling police.
Haynes spoke of the black church, "as a conductor and a station on the underground railroad during the dark days of slavery in this nation."
"The black church," he said, "served as the headquarters of the civil rights struggle. The black church right here in Dallas has had the anointed audacity through the leadership of the African American Pastors Coalition to fight for economic justice, recognizing it's one thing to have civil rights, it's another thing to have your silver rights." The crowd erupted into applause.
[Schutze sat with me and injects this by way of context: Actually the black pastors of Dallas, under the leadership of S.M. Wright, were opposed to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and much of the civil rights movement associated with King. Haynes is faithful to history, however, in stating that Wright and others fought for what Haynes now calls "silver rights" -- a commodity usually delivered to Wright personally in the equivalent of a brown paper bag.]
"Now we pray for the one we're gathered here for tonight," Reverend Dr. S.C. Nash began. "Besides Jesus Christ, John Wiley Price. The thing he's getting ready to go through, he needs you to go with him. Fortify him with your strength."
That thing being a hard a look at a lot of unaccounted-for money, a massive car collection and some circuitous land deals. But for now, a Mavs allegory by Reverend John Morris, with the Power Structure as Goliath and JWP as David: "The team that won wasn't supposed to win."
"If God's people just stay here, we can suck the air out of the new Jim Crow," he thundered. "We can suck the air out of the new Tea Party Pharaohs in this land! Can I get a witness in the house!"
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The congregants roared.
"For 27 years, John has been our man downtown."
It wasn't only religious leaders representing their "man downtown." Council member Carolyn Davis was on hand, as were former council member Diane Ragsdale and Constable Derick Evans.
But it was a 45-year-old A/C repair man in dusty work pants named Johnny Johnson who summed up the evening's mood most succinctly: "I know many people who keep that kinda money in the house," he said. "And John has always liked cars. If John has done anything wrong, God's gonna be the judge, not man."