Detroit’s unapologetic movement

Nicholas G. Hahn III
The Detroit News

When Reuben Sheares took the pulpit at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago, the pews before him were nearly empty. The historic, and now infamous, Afrocentric church’s members were drawn to more rebellious religion in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. They became disillusioned with the notion that one could be black and Christian.

Sheares had none of that. Trinity’s new motto, picked up and amplified by his successor Jeremiah Wright, would be: “unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian.” It spawned new growth in a church that, under Wright’s leadership, would become a center of social activism.

James Williams said he’s no Jeremiah Wright, but he wants to bring a version of that motto to the Motor City. “I start with ‘unapologetically Christian,’ ” Williams told me, “because I fear the church is being marginalized.” Williams, who with his wife Kelli established Spirit & Truth Christian Ministries in Detroit, worries that Christians are increasingly shut out of the public square.

He points to a time he was invited to pray before a City Council meeting, but was asked not to mention the name of Jesus. Williams refused and hasn’t been back. That might be a small example of government overreach, but see the Little Sisters of the Poor for more on that.

“Christians shouldn’t be afraid to sanctify their work,” Williams said. “Co-workers shouldn’t be surprised to find out you go to church on Sundays.”

Work, or lack thereof, is where Williams’ preaching hits home for many in his flock, and where “unashamedly black” comes in. “People come to church broken, and if I want to get through to their souls,” Williams said, “I can’t afford to ignore their suffering.”

But the resurrection of Detroit’s impoverished communities will begin only when its people are more unapologetic about faith than politics.

Twitter: @NGHahn3