Black Heritage stamp unveiling at Bethel AME Church in Baton Rouge delights crowd _lowres

Rev. Dr. Herman O. Kelly, Jr., pastor of Bethel AME Church in downtown Baton Rouge. photo by mark h hunter

"Prayer or Protests.”

In a recent message, the Rev. Herman O. Kelly, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, said they should go hand and hand. And any form of protest should be rooted in prayer and faith — much like the demonstrations of the civil rights era.

“'Black Lives Matters' is a slogan,” Kelly said. “But it’s got to be grounded in a faith experience. The civil rights movement was grounded in the black church.”

In fact, Kelly said the Old Testament prophets' prescription for justice still applies today, referencing Amos 5:24: "Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

People of faith need to be in prayer for justice, Kelly said.

“The civil rights movement taught us when they left marching, they went to the church and had a mass rally, and they opened the mass rally with prayer," Kelly said.

Noting the spate of protests around country — including in Baton Rouge; Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma — sparked primarily over police shootings, Kelley said this younger generation of protesters needs to know there's a "higher source" and to call out, "Lord, fix this community. Lord, fix Charlotte. Fix Tulsa.’”

In addition to the element of prayer, protests should also be nonviolent and have a plan, said Kelley, an adjunct instructor at LSU, who teaches a course called the Black Rhetorical Tradition in the African and African-American Studies Program.

"I teach young people that the civil rights movement tells us that protests were good, but we've always protested in a nonviolent direct action," he said. "Not only were we nonviolent, but we had an agenda. I told my class the issue that I have with Black Lives Matters is 'What is their agenda, what is their plan?' … All of our great civil rights leaders had a plan."

Those leaders also had hope, something lacking in this generation, Kelly said.

Instilling hope in young people in the community is something Kelly has worked on as a teacher and pastor.

"I explain to them that I'm a local pastor, but I'm also an instructor," said Kelly, who has been leading Bethel for 18 years and been in the ministry for 30 years. "As the pastor, I just want to tell you the community climate. As your instructor, I want you to think things through. I want you to give your input. … I want young people to have hope."

Sadly, too many are losing hope in light of the recent police shootings and other incidents.

Kelly witnessed that hopelessness during a recent class discussion on the tradition of Protest and Rhetoric in the African-American diaspora.

He said he was blown away when a student declared, "Dr. Kelly, why be concerned? We are getting killed anyway."

The statement gave Kelly chills, so much so that he went back to his office and put his thoughts to paper.

Here's some of what Kelley wrote: "My heart is troubled by the statement, and we also should be troubled by the statement. My job and calling is to teach and instruct students to be creative and reflective positive individuals. I was taken back by these words. Could it be that our most reflective and creative minds in society and in the academy are losing hope? I trust that we will all do some soul searching and deep reflection. … Presently, in Baton Rouge, we all have been engaged in the Flood of 2016. We have reached beyond Race and Color to help those in need. Why can't we do the same to make the beloved community a reality? Guns, violence and chats with no substance is not the answer. Yes! We all want justice. We all want a wholesome quality of life."

Dialogue among various races, religions and other groups can go a long way toward helping solve some of those problems in the community, Kelly said.

"I think after we finish marching and protesting, we've got to have dialogue," said Kelly, who hosted an ecumenical prayer vigil following the shooting deaths of three Baton Rouge police officers in July. "We had vowed that we were going to stay together and have dialogue. … We've got to train our young people to look at history. We have never won anything with violence. Never."

Kelly said he wasn't able to host or engage in that kind of dialogue immediately following the Alton Sterling shooting because was out of town at the AME's general conference. As the father of a Washington, D.C., police officer, Kelly said he's symphathic to both sides of the police shootings.

"Somebody's got to be the mediator," Kelly said. "Somebody's got to talk for the community. Somebody's got to talk for the police officers. I feel the pain of the Sterling family. I feel the pain for the police. As a pastor, I've got to stand in the gap for both entities."

The Book of Isaiah

Readers will find the answers to almost everything they've wanted know about the Old Testament book of Isaiah and more after reading "Isaiah: A Ride in the Chariot" (AuthorHouse) by Theodor B. Rath.

"The overwhelming theme of the book (of Isaiah) is salvation," Rath writes. "Other themes include judgment, punishment, captivity, the fall of the nation, comfort, hope, holiness and salvation through a coming Redeemer. While the first 39 chapters deal primarily with messages of judgment and call to repentance, the last 27 chapters are messages of forgiveness and hope."

Rath explains that Isaiah was one of 16 radical or writing prophets who spoke the nation of Israel during a difficult time in its history. He says the book of Isaiah is broken down in three parts: Proto-Isaiah or First Isaiah (Chapters 1-39), Deutero-Isaiah or Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) and Trito-Isaiah or Third Isaiah (Chapters 56-66).

A highlight of Rath's thorough 237-page book is his description of the nine different roles or images of God as found in Isaiah Chapter 40.

"First, God, a loving Father was ready to forgive, restore and to re-establish the exiles into a wholesome relationship; this is also true for all human beings," Rath writes.

Rath doesn't get just delve into the life and times of Isaiah, but he gives a mention to all the other prophets that make up the last 17 books of the Old Testament.

Chapters in "Isaiah: A Ride in the Chariot" include "The Prophets in the Beginning," "No Other Gods," "God's Promises of Deliverance" and "The Babylonians — From Their Past to the Present."


Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at trobinson@theadvocate.com or call (225) 388-0238.