“Where Are the Elders?”
Growing up I learned early on the meaning of the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Many times I was made aware that my parents were not the only ones raising me. They were not the only ones who had the freedom and even responsibility to discipline me. I recall on one occasion misbehaving and acting disrespectfully in public and an older lady in our community immediately chastised, disciplined me on the spot, and sent me home. By the time I walked home, she had called my mother and upon my arrival I was chastised and disciplined again. In our judicial system this called double jeopardy, and it’s illegal. In our community it was a village raising children together.
Thankfully, there were elders in our community with the same values as my parents, who believed in raising disciplined and respectful children. Even when my parents were not around, they knew they had ears and eyes on us.
As I look around the landscape of our communities today, I can’t help but ask the question, “Where are the elders?” Not only have we lost the accountability of elders in communities, but tragically the elders have been lost in the church as well.
For example, much has been made of the sermon (if you want to call it that) recently preached by Jamaal Bryant in which he encourages all the men in the audience to look to each other and say, “These hoes ain’t loyal.” Many believe Bryant’s words were misplaced, disrespectful, and inappropriate. I am not here in this space to critique or judge Bryant. Those who sit and listen to him preach get what they ask for. My concern is to raise the question, “Where are the elders?”
Whatever the context of Bryant’s remarks, my question is, “Are there any elders who are willing to hold him accountable?” I hope there are older ministers in the ministry and in the church who could pull him aside and say, “Son, you went too far.” Prayerfully, there were some older mothers in the church who could say, “Son, come over here, sit down, and let me talk to you.”
Admittedly, I don’t know if Bryant received such loving discipline or not. Hopefully he did. However, as I look and listen at the current landscape of young preaching today (particularly among black preachers) and the way many try to push the envelope in seeking to be clever and relevant, I wonder if the elders have been all but vanquished from the community.
In other words, “where are the elders?” Where are those older saints who won’t be dismissed or excused (as Bryant did), but are actually taken serious and into account as the preacher prepares to preach? Where are the elder ministers who will pull a young man’s coattail and let him know he’s gone too far? Where are the elder women who will check that young minister when he disrespects himself, his wife, or other women? Where are the elders who know their responsibility of overseeing the village and making sure God is honored and community protected? Perhaps decorum in preaching has been lost in many quarters because the elders are absent.
What do you think? Does it still take a village? Are the elders as essential as I suggest they are? What is and is not appropriate from the pulpit? Do our mothers and fathers in the church have a responsibility to discipline the young – even, and especially, if he is the preacher?