A recent movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” is based on the real-life account of the late Eugene Allen, an African American gentleman who served as a White House Butler for 34 years. Allen’s character is played by Forest Whitaker who goes by the name of Cecil Gaines, and his position as butler allows him to be a first hand witness to many of the notable events of the 20th Century. These events include the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Freedom Rides, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As you view the film, it makes you realize that our nation has come a long ways on the issue of race, but it also makes you realize that we still have far to go. The film also drives home the point, that it has been average, ordinary, everyday people like Eugene Allen who have played a key role in making our nation great. Indeed, Lee Daniels, the firm’s director dedicates the film to “the heroes of the Civil Rights movement — including the unsung maids, Pullman Porters, janitors and kitchen workers who toiled far from the limelight.”
I believe the film also offers a clue as to why Washington, DC has now become so dysfunctional even to the point of recently shutting down the operations of the federal government. The film shows that Eugene Allen was intimately involved in the lives of the Presidents and other key officials that he served. But what the film doesn’t show is that Allen was a man of prayer. I learned this directly from a conversation with his pastor, Dr. Winston C. Ridley, Jr., Pastor of the Greater First Baptist Church of Washington, DC of which Eugene Allen was a member. From my conversation with Pastor Ridley, it is clear that as all of the events were unfolding in the White House that Allen was praying about them. But not just Eugene Allen, there were many other people of faith, serving in the White House, the Congress, the Department of Defense, the NSA and other key governmental offices and they were praying as well.
These people were members of the great churches in Washington, DC including Mount Carmel Baptist, Shiloh Baptist, Metropolitan Baptist, and the Isle of Patmos Baptist Churches, and I believe that it is their prayers — the prayers of the righteous that allowed God to shine His grace upon our nation. Cleary, it is only by the grace of God that our nation has been able to stake any claims to greatness. Indeed the Bible tells us, “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation” (I Timothy 2:1-2).
Why do we see so much dysfunction in Washington now? I believe it’s because, although the story has been untold, the churches in the District of Columbia have been under assault. DC churches have been under assault due to the forces of gentrification including rising property values and city administrations that at times have been hostile to the needs of the church. These hostilities have included new parking restrictions that make it difficult for persons to park during funerals, and the result has been that many churches have been forced to leave the city. Unfortunately, as the churches have left, so has the soul of our nation’s capital.
This says to us that we must do all that we can to preserve the churches and to make certain that our churches are equipped to deal with the forces of gentrification that are occurring not just in Washington, DC, but throughout the nation. We must advocate and keep on praying for our President and all of our lawmakers that we may lead lives of peace.
Peace and Blessings, Pastor Kip Banks, Sr.