Every declaration is susceptible to a rejoinder. If you politic prepare for a parry. Nothing wrong with that, but never assume there’s not someone out there mulling solid questions about motives. Politics in the pulpit has become something of a rite of passage in Bridgeport and other places. It can also blur the lines of the meaning of calling. Is it about you or your flock?
Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez shares her observations about recent OIB articles penned by Herron Gaston, senior pastor of Summerfield United Methodist Church. The young pastor’s words have drawn interest in the OIB comments section: is he a politician or a pastor? Or maybe aspires to both.
I read with interest two recent Only in Bridgeport (OIB) articles regarding Rev. Herron Gaston, a Methodist Minister in Bridgeport. Lennie Grimaldi has performed a public service by presenting Rev. Gaston’s two commentaries and thereby introducing OIB readers to a newly arrived member of the Bridgeport Religious Community.
After reading the articles and the comments of OIB contributors, I could not help but contemplate the historic role played by Religious leaders in Bridgeport’s political and community life.
Since Rev. Gaston is a United Methodist Minister, I am confident that he is intimately familiar with the life of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church.
Wesley did not seek the “places of honor at the feast … and salutations at the marketplace.” He did not call press conferences, curry favors with the political machine or brandish his resume for all to worship and admire.
Wesley never ran for public office. When Church of England pulpits were closed to him, he preached in the mines, and not to the rich and powerful.
Wesley empowered the community and in so doing, changed the course of human history.
Many historians credit the Wesleyan Revival for saving England from a violent revolution similar to that experienced in France.
Unfortunately here in Bridgeport, our clergy of all races and creeds have too often preached the Gospel of Partisan Political Proselytizing, rather than the Good News. Instead of promoting their Parishioners (Rev. Anthony Bennett being a notable exception), the Clergy take the places of honor for themselves, including places on the Ballot.
Rev. Gaston claimed in a July 12, 2018, Florida newspaper (The Ledger), that he has “forged a close relationship with the Office of Mayor Joe Ganim.” This “close relationship” undoubtedly landed him a seat on Bridgeport’s Civil Service Commission.
However, when Ron Mackey, the former head of the Firebird Society questioned Rev. Gaston’s relationship to Mayor Ganim, his questions went unanswered. Instead, Rev. Gaston told this respected Bridgeport community leader and advocate for minority causes for decades, to “call my secretary.”
That dismissive response appears to be an example of political spin, rather than bold preaching.
Why didn’t he simply acknowledge to Ron Mackey that which he is quoted as telling the Ledger, a Florida newspaper?
A contemporary role model for all Pastors, in the tradition of Wesley, can be found in the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King did not aspire to be a Senator, a cabinet member or President of the United States. However, his enduring legacy includes civil rights legislation which transformed a nation and consigned Jim Crow to the dustbin of history. Dr. King also left to the faith community his inspirational testimony contained in his “Letters from Birmingham Jail.”
Rev. Gaston, in a January 11, 2017 Open Letter to former President Barack H. Obama, published in the Huffington Post, announced that because of President Obama, “I, too, one-day hope to run for the highest office in this land.”
This is a worthwhile goal, but Rev. Gaston should realize that political ambitions and pastoral duties are often incompatible.
It is past time for the pastoral leaders of the Bridgeport Faith Community to call attention to the issues which prevent this community from making progress. That goal will best be served by nurturing the spiritual health of parishioners and of the community as a whole. Primary among those issues is almost religious adherence to machine politics and its stifling impact on public participation and community empowerment. Religious leaders must call attention to the issues and not to their own credentials, and accomplishments.
A recent Gallup poll revealed the tragic fact, that only 37% of Americans have a high or very high opinion of the Clergy. Perhaps one reason for this dissatisfaction is that the Clergy have devoted their efforts to constructing a Golden Calf to political ambition and have blindly worshiped that idol.
Those of us who acknowledge that we are “little sheep” in need of pastoral attention, are dismayed when those entrusted with our nurturing are more concerned with pursuing votes, rather than with spiritual enrichment.
As we welcome this New Year, we should all hope for a spiritual revival in our City of Bridgeport. Hopefully, led by true Spiritual leaders and mentors.