Sing a New Song: Black Presbyterians United, 1984 (Video)


16 mins 20 seconds. Footage of Black Presbyterians United gathering 1984, including Lenton Gunn, Jr., Gayraud Wilmore, Prathia Hall-Wynn, Joan SalmonCampbell. From Accession 13 0210 PM84 030, Presbyterian Heritage Center. Transcript below, thanks to Archivist David Staniunas, PHC.

Black Presbyterians United, 1984.mp3

[00:00:04] God and King what he's done for me. He has given me salvation he has set me free. Sing a new song Sing a new song Sing unto the Lord a new songSing a new song .

[00:00:25] Sing to the Lord, a new song for he has done wonderful things. His right hand and his holy arm have given him victory. And all the end of the Earth have seen the victory of our God saying a new song.

[00:00:45] As I thought of this, I keep looking in the Old Testament to find the word of the new song. And I never found them nowhere did I find the words of the song written.

[00:00:59] Could it be then that they were not written so that the people of God out of their own creativity can sing the song that only they could sing because God had done something for them that no one else could sing about because it did not happen to you?

[00:01:19] And therefore it was left for the people to write their own words. So no wonder when those slaves in America had been freed. The slave holders couldn't have sung No more auction block for me. No more hundred lash for me No more mistress call for me to out of their experience of having been what slaves and now free. They could sing that song that no one else could sing.

[00:01:52] Yeah. Sing a new song. But there's some old things we ought to keep alive.

[00:01:59] Maybe we got to sing some of the old songs with new meaning. I think some of our young black brothers and sisters don't know the meaning of what we students sang when we went marching Sydney and and waving in in Alabama and in Georgia and in Mississippi back in the sixties, singing Ain't Gon Let Nobody Turn Me Around.

[00:02:21] Keep on walking, keep on talking, keep on marching up the freedom way. And we need to keep that theme alive.

[00:02:30] Is its dying theme of brotherhood and sisterhood and freedom and justice. While you sing the new song keep those themes alive.

[00:02:42] Everybody's saying everything's all right. We are reunited. We are, we are, one Church. But are we? And what I'm saying about black Presbyterians and to you as we sing the new song and keep the theme of watching this church. See I think some of us go to sleep. We don't keep watch over the church.

[00:03:05] As I've understood the work of black Presbyterians, that's our primary responsibility. I hope many of you read the report of the hundred ninety fifth General Assembly on what it called its comprehensive strategy for racial justice in the eighties and it lists 10 reasons why it feels that racial injustice will continue.

[00:03:31] The church said that in its own report, sing a new song. But keep the theme around. It didn't go away. Racism, isn't dead. Just cause we shouted and walked the streets in Atlanta. Sung together. Racism is alive and well and on the move and growing. And we gotta knock it out.

[00:03:58] That's our responsibility. Sing a new song, but keep the old theme.

[00:04:04] You may build great Cathedrals. Large and small. You may build skyscrapers grand and tall. You may conquer. Over failures of the past. But only what you do for Christ. Will last. Remember only what you do for Christ will last. Remember only what you do for Christ will last. Only what you do for Christ will be counted in the end. Only what you do for Christ will last.

[00:06:36] And I offer to you today, I share with you today a friend, a Christian, a man of faith, my friend, Dr. Gayraud Wilmore.

[00:06:54] We black Presbyterians have an appointment to keep the pressure on. To lead in a radical reconstruction, to suffer and struggle. With the cross behind Jesus and the name of truth and justice and righteousness. We have a new work to do by divine appointment. This work of radical reconstruction in the second place in the Presbyterian church is ours by inheritance. That is to say, it was passed on to us from the Black Christian tradition. It is a heritage and a hope for a justice-loving and faithful church for all people that we are smitten with. I contend that we are betraying our inheritance. That is to say, the black Christian tradition, when we permit ourselves to be seduced by the white church, to be corrupted by the very sins that have corrupted that church.

[00:08:15] Have you noticed that some white Presbyterians thrive on bureaucratic games, on shuffling papers, on management by corporation gobbledygook? Have you noticed that? Have you been seduced into that same kind of Presbyterianism? A Presbyterian obsession with Robert's rules of order and decency and order and all of that, too often an excuse for doing nothing and not really being honest about it?

[00:08:49] A smoke screen so often used for holding down dissent and maintaining control by elites. But my Bible tells me in First Corinthians 1:26. Not many of you are powerful. Not many of noble birth. God chose what is weak in the world. To shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world.

[00:09:16] Even the things which are not. To bring to nothing but things which are. I see in our church a falling away from that self understanding. I see in our church and increasing Ecclesiastiscism and I refuse to participate in.

[00:09:39] New standards for ordination. Standards for calling pastors that are more stringent than they ought to be. Pressures on seminaries to conform to some Presbyterian idea of what theological education is. The white church, my friends, is closing its ranks. It's closing its ranks. It's into a kind of fortress mentality against fundamentalism and the charismatic movement.

[00:10:05] And we're going along lock step. Black Presbyterian don't have to play those kinds of games, and we ought to say so on the floor of Presbyteries and Synods and general assemblies.

[00:10:20] To the extent that we become Little Negro Presbyterian's posturing and nit picking in our little BPUs or on the floors of presbyteries and Synods, we, I say, are infected by the same disease.

[00:10:37] We betray the black Christian tradition. That's not our task.

[00:10:44] Our task is to claim that tradition, even if it is less sophisticated than white Calvinism, to refuse the solemn assemblies and the arrogance and the proprieties of a white middle class. And to tell our good white Presbyterian friends that that kind of Presbyterianism is ill suited for the kind of world that we're living in today and we won't play that game.

[00:11:45] [Lift Every Voice And Sing]

[00:11:46] There is no limit to what I can have? I know of no where where God has promised us that there is no limit to what we can have. Life is a miracle. Our existence is a miracle. There is no limit to what we can be. There is no limit to who we can be. There is no limit to how we can be. That's strange music. I don't care what beat it's to.

[00:12:09] It's strange music for it focuses us in on the materialistic mania of the culture and we can't afford it. And it's not about these clothes we're wearing. It's not about the cars that you're driving. For heaven knows our mothers and fathers sighed that we might come to this place, that we could wear some clothes and drive some cars.

[00:12:37] But there was another stanza to their song, you know, when they told us, get your education and then things will be better for you. They meant it. They believed it. And we received did, didn't we? But that was not all that they sang. There was a second stanza to their song, and I'm old enough to remember it.

[00:13:04] That song said. And when you get yours, then you will be in a position to help the rest of us. That's what they said.

[00:13:20] Ours must be a manner of life that gives profound unity to our prayer-thoughts and to our action, to our willingness to pick up the cross. That is the weight of the world and its miseries and sorrows. Because this comprehensiveness is undertaken under the movement of the Holy Spirit. We can expect that the spirit will guide us into all that is true. The truth, which gives shape to our life and which makes us free.

[00:13:57] Free to be. Free to speak. Free to act. Free to claim the promises of our savior. This power and spiritual depth, constantly renewed, is offered for a great service of God and his people's sake. It is a freedom to love. It is a freedom to serve.

[00:14:20] We must allow such freedom of perspective and truth to move us then to an experience of solidarity, a solidarity with the God-man, Jesus and his sheep. Solidarity with yes, Africans, Asians, Spanish, Native Americans and our Anglo brothers and sisters. Solidarity with the dispossessed.

[00:14:50] Commitment to the poor. Conscience which prods those who think they are affluent. Such actions will arouse suspicions if we dared to love and serve in such a manner. We will not be popular. I can promise you. But I can also promise you that the eyes once shut to personal racism and injustices will begin to open.

[00:15:19] Ears heavy with worn out phrases and cliches become light and attuned to new themes and new trends which we as Black Presbyterian to begin to live and to act.

[00:15:34] Hearts once fat with the thought that we weren't ready as Blacks or were somehow inferior and that their base of power was somehow sure will grow lean with compassion and sensitivity. I profess that the church will change. I profess that the world will change. [Sing A New Song]


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“Sing a New Song: Black Presbyterians United, 1984 (Video),” Global Library for Antiracism & Digital Citizenship , accessed July 20, 2024,