Bishop Vashti McKenzie invites her daughter and granddaughter to stand with her after receiving award at Blessing of the Elders program, June 23, at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. (Photo credit/ Deborah Bailey)

By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO D.C. Editor

How do you get Shirley Caesar, Vashti McKenzie, Tony Evans, A.R. Bernard and T.D. Jakes in the same room for three hours?

Blessing of the Elders.  Christian scripture requires adherence to the elders in the Christian Church. 

The Museum of the Bible reached into the heart of the racial divide in Evangelical America. This week, the Museum featured several well-known evangelical leaning pastors and leaders in a star-studded, celebrity-filled event June 23. 

“I’m thrilled that the inaugural event for Blessing of the Elders is being held at Museum of the Bible,” said Museum Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board Steve Green.

“The Black Church has a unique and rich history in our country, leaning on the Bible for strength, courage and perseverance, and this powerful story of faith needs to be told. We are privileged to play a part in this pivotal event,” Green said.

The “Blessing” of Caesar, McKenzie, Evans, Bernard, Jakes and veteran evangelical Christian evangelical leader and speaker John Perkins, at this week’s event was a path forward for the Museum to honor black men and women in America who have made lifetime, significant contributions to the Black church, according Green and the Museum’s Chief Relations Officer, Jon L. Sharpe. 

Museum leadership expressed the need to better connect the Museum with the story of the church in Black communities throughout the U.S. However, the idea of highlighting the “Black Church”, its history and future, elicited a range of responses from the evening’s honorees. 

Bishop Vashti McKenzie invites her daughter and granddaughter to stand with her after receiving award at Blessing of the Elders program, June 23, at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. (Photo credit/ Deborah Bailey)

John Perkins, a traditional evangelical, balked at the idea of the “Black Church” as he accepted the     Gold medallion awarded to each of the “Elders.”

“This ought to be the last night we talk about the Black Church,” Perkins said. 

Other honorees, like A. R. Bernard, envisioned the Black Church as America’s hope. 

“I believe the 21st Century will see the Black Church bring hope and healing in a deeply divided society,” he stated. 

Vashti McKenzie, Interim President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA and Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, highlighted the role of forgotten women in the church in her acceptance speech. 

 “I accept this award on behalf of women who thought no one would call their name.  I accept this on behalf of women who have been pushed to the edges of church culture,” McKenzie said, standing with her daughter and granddaughter.  

Jakes used the moment to recall the tragic murder of his grandfather and namesake, T.D. Jakes. 

“When my grandfather was 21 years old, the KKK wrapped him in bob wire and put him at the bottom of a lake,” Jakes said. 

Jakes recounting America’s need to assure that a “grandmother going to the grocery store to get dinner won’t get shot in the head” referring to the women murdered in the Buffalo, NY mass shooting, May 14. 

The “Blessing of The Elders” concept evolved quickly after the murder of George Floyd, said Pastor Sharon Ward of Chicago’s Insight Church.  Ward and her spouse, Pastor James E. Ward Jr. served as advisors and prayer partners with Museum leaders during the two-year process leading to the Blessings of the Elders tribute.  

“This is a beginning of great unity with the Black Community,” said Ward of the Museum’s agenda to acknowledge and strengthen its outreach to Black patrons. 

“We know America is in trouble.  The Bible has to now bring us together.” Ward continued.  

The Museum of the Bible, opened its doors in 2017, and like the rest of world, found itself in unchartered territory with the Covid-19 Pandemic and George Floyd’s murder in 2020. 

The Museum’s all-white leadership staff, in discussion with Black pastors and others, assembled a steering committee of African American pastors. The Blessing of the Elders is the first in a series of events for the steering committee.   

The steering committee, consisting of Bishop Claude Alexander, Rev. A. R. Bernard Sr., Bishop Dale Bronner, Dr. Jacqueline Del Rosario, Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor John Jenkins, Pastor Tony Lowden, Mr. Jon Ponder, Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, Pastor James Ward, and Mr. Roland Warren started their work with the Blessing of the Elders tribute. 

“We seek to honor Black pastors across the United States who have been committed to their call of preaching the gospel and caring for the souls of humankind. We acknowledge and appreciate their exceptional contribution as vitally important to the development of America’s biblical values,” the group said in a statement. 

Is this marketing?  Is it the beginning of a faith-based movement to unite a fractured nation across ethnic and racial lines? Or, a little bit of both? 

“I would not call this marketing,” said John Hope Bryant, C.E.O of Operation Hope, and financial literacy entrepreneur. “It’s positioning.” 

“It’s a God thing,” remarked Ward.

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