Ebenezer pastor calls for new generations of leaders to rise up

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 2, 2019

Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. once served, laid out four needs in a new generation of leaders.

Leaders, he said, are agents of equality, embody integrity, imagine great possibility and believe in inclusivity.

Warnock drew upon the scripture found in Isaiah 40 as the context for his charge to the students and guests at the opening of the 18th annual African American Leadership Conference at Troy University Friday night.

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“What an amazing way (Isaiah) holds before us the ideal of leadership,” Warnock said. “A voice crying in the wilderness says ‘make straight in the desert a highway for our Lord.’ Leaders speak up in a place where a voice needs to be heard.”

The verse goes on to say that valley shall be exalted and mountains shall be brought low, that crooked ways will be made straight and rough places made smooth, and that all flesh shall see the glory of the Lord.

The imagery of the valleys being lifted and mountains being brought low is an allusion to how the low will be brought up and the high will be brought down.

“Isaiah talks about the valleys being exalted and the mountains and hills made low,” Warnock said. “In other words, in the divine order of things there is often a reversal of things. The high places will be made low. Jesus says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. There’s a strange reversal in the order of things. The folks accustomed to sitting high must come down so that folks who sit low can come up.

“That doesn’t sound like good news to some. For those who have become accustomed to privilege, parity and equality might feel like oppression. Leaders in this brave new world called to fight for equality … We live in a time in which the high sit very high and the low sit very low. The gap between the haves and the have-nots in our great country has gotten wider and wider across Republican and Democratic administrations … The high must be willing to give so that there might be an even playing field.”

He said leaders must also always have integrity, echoing the scripture’s call for the crooked to be made straight.

“Integrity is when you say what you mean and mean what you say,” Warnock said. “It means people can count on you keeping your word and standing on behalf of what’s right just because it is right; giving yourself over to something bigger than yourself. Even when you fall and make a mistake, you don’t mind admitting you made a mistake.”

Warnock also criticized the incarceration rate in America and the “War on Drugs” by the U.S. government, which he said disproportionately affects people of color. “When it’s cocaine and black and brown faces it’s a war, there are enemy combatants, but now with opioids it’s a public health crisis and they’re called patients,” Warnock said.

It will take all people working together on an equal level to finally achieve the greatness possible, Warnock said.

“Geese fly in a V formation and believe it or not, the goose out front is working harder than all the rest,” Warnock said. “The one really pushing in the limelight is actually working the hardest. And the other geese are not jealous of the one out front, but fly together. When (the lead goose) gets tired, it move back and another moves in its place. The geese do this without a war, the geese do that without a church schism. They do it even though some are on the left and some on the right. Geese do that without some geese deciding to shut the whole geese government down. They know each goose’s location is not as important as our collective destination. We need to work together and strive together and pray together and sing together and stand together.”

The leadership conference continues today and will conclude with a speech by Dr. Quintin Ross, president of Alabama State University.