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The Black Church, Homegoing Services and Whitney Houston

Whitney Elizabeth Houston, 1963-2012 Matt Sayles/AP/File

On February 18, 2012, the family of Whitney Houston paid their final respects in an invite only, yet televised homegoing service at her home church, New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.  Initial reports had said that only BET was covering the full service, but certainly shocking to me, the major cable news networks of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News covered the entire service from beginning to the recessional.  This isn’t a post to eulogize the wonderful talent that is and was Whitney Houston, but rather a cultural commentary on what Whitney’s homegoing service, an experience she didn’t get to see, meant for the larger culture.

Particularly on CNN, between the hosts of Piers Morgan, Soledad O’Brien and Don Lemon, they were all tripping over their words trying to set the most politically correct tone possible when speaking about this as a “traditional Baptist service.”  To which myself and others, I’m sure, couldn’t help but roll our collective eyes.   Even Don Lemon gave a cringe worthy comment when walking the street trying to get interviews from well wishers and invited guests to the services when he said this would be a service with “jumping and shouting and fanning.”  That is to say, the experience that is the institutional Black Church as we know it, shouldn’t and can’t be expressed in those three words.

The Black Church, as we know it historically and even in a contemporary setting is not monolithic; indeed it is really black churches.  What the nation, and indeed the world saw today was but a glimpse of an ecclesiastical culture that is unique to the black American experience.  From the order of service, to the music, to the ebb of flow of words uttered by chosen guests and even the sermon.  The collective swaying of the choir, to the ecstatic utterances from Donnie McClurkin to the emotion displayed by Ray J as the casket of Whitney Houston was carried out of the door.

This is but a glimpse of how we worship, and the world for a brief four hours in time was able to see that.

That being said, I, personally, am of the opinion that if  you are aware that you have a national audience, you need to speak to the national audience.  I do think that one can employ rhetoric that speaks to the immediate and present persons and one that transmits through the TV and other mediums.

I’ll never forget when Albertina Walker, the Queen of Gospel music as she was called, died.  I happened to be living in Chicago at the time and people were questioning me about what church was this that the funeral was to be held at.  I knew the church just because of my proximity to it and that it was a church my mother used to go to when she was growing up.  Not to mention, it was Albertina Walker’s church where she held her membership and it was an historic church that was institutional in Chicago as it was a home church to many of those who arrived during the Great Migration.

What was peculiar about it was that this was a public figure, nationally known, having a funeral at a smaller church.  Now a public musical was held two days prior at Apostolic Church of God to accommodate the large crowds, but the homegoing services were held in a much smaller church.

I’ll never forget watching the online stream of the services where the pastor of the church, in the middle of his eulogy decided to address the critics.  The pastor took the time to put people in their place, so to speak, surrounding the issue of why the services were held at his church and why he was chosen to speak and not a preacher with larger recognition.

I cringed in my seat.

The problem, as I saw it, with that type of rhetoric was that it was highly localized and frankly it did nothing but detract from celebrating the life of the deceased: Albertina Walker.  The pastor of the church was relatively unknown at the time, and guess what?  He’s still unknown.  If he had simply preached a great eulogy, people would have been more inclined to remember him as the pastor who preached a wonderful eulogy about Albertina Walker.  Unfortunately since he didn’t say much and what he did say did nothing to call to attention the reason they had gathered that day, no one outside of his circle knows who he is.

Pastor Marvin Winans preaching the eulogy of Whitney Houston entitled "Prioritize" from Matthew 6:25

Today, Marvin Winans, pastor of the Perfecting Church and part of the Winans family, a gospel singing group was charged with the task of delivering the eulogy for Whitney Houston.

To be frank, there wasn’t much positive I could say about his eulogy.

Now, I know there are varying schools of thought when it comes to preaching eulogies.  Some question the necessity of using a scripture as a text to preach from, or the need for a theme or title to preach about.  Some see a eulogy as merely a call to be saved by the members while others believe that rather than preach a text or a title, one ought to indeed eulogize the person who has died.  Some believe if you know the person, you ought to most certainly talk about the person, and if you don’t, one should talk about Life and Death and what does that all really mean when a family loses one of their.

Amazingly, Marvin Winans didn’t do any of that.

Now, I’ve caught bits and pieces of Marvin preaching over the years and there’s one sermon of his I’ve heard in it’s entirety that’s on YouTube his famous “That’s It, and That’s All” sermon he preached a few years back.  I think by the time I heard the aforementioned sermon, I knew my personal theology didn’t align with his.  However, his theology aside, the sermon lacked a certain cohesiveness that I think was needed for such an occasion as this.

For me, Pastor Winans failed to give a good word over the life of Whitney Houston as he never mentioned her once in his discourse.  Additionally, he didn’t say anything directly encouraging to the family and certainly not to the thousands of persons who had tuned in via television.  I think when it comes to basic pastoral care that needs to be done in the pulpit, comfort in the time of sudden and unexpected grief is needed and it seemed that Pastor Winans was drawing from an empty well when it came to giving words of comfort to a family that has lost its daughter, sister, cousin, mother and even ex-lover.

Not only did Winans seem to falter with his basic tasks, it was just a poorly organized sermon.  We went from Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount to a story about reading car manuals and why the Bible is our manual and by the time he meandered through controversial doctrines we ended up with him endorsing a prosperity theology.   Let me be honest, by that moment, I had abandoned all hope for a decent sermon and I would have been shocked for him to make sense of it all.

The whole time, I kept waiting for him to turn to Cissy Houston and say something direct and personal to her about Whitney, and that moment never came.

What I heard was a’ many a well-turned phrase, some basic catchphrase theology, his Pentecostal and therefore theologically conservative theology conflated into a sermon that had little if any practical application.  I couldn’t even give him the benefit of the doubt that he was really making a plea for persons to take this moment to get saved and get right with Christ which is sometimes par for the course when preachers have to preach the eulogies of persons who have died through violent means.  I couldn’t say that because he gave no practical applications, and he use of ecclesiastical language meant that he was only talking to church people.

The sermon Marvin Winans preached was more fitting for a Sunday morning service than for a eulogy for someone so famous and iconic.  Personally, I don’t care about an altar call, or really calling for persons to get saved, that’s not really what I look for in preaching, but rather something that raises, or at least broadens one’s consciousness culturally, socially, political etc. all while having a conversation with theology.  If I wasn’t already self-identified as Christian, there was nothing Marvin said that really piqued my interest enough; there was nothing digestible that he said.  It was if one were eating rice cake–no flavor, no taste, and little if any nutritional value, certainly nothing that could solely sustain you for any length of time.

Winans did nothing to raise or broaden the Houston family’s consciousness, let alone the nation’s consciousness, about Whitney Houston, nor God or Jesus for that matter.  Using extremely churchy language did nothing to open the door and give someone with little or no church experience to want to come into the conversation and sit and listen for a while.

Alas, I know I’m being hyper-critical of Pastor Winans, but preaching what amounts to a national eulogy opens him up to the criticism.  I am not suggesting that because of a national audience one ought to put on a show so that larger society doesn’t look at us as caricatures, but I honestly hope that people who are not a part of the black church tradition don’t think that Marvin Winans’ preaching is a middle-of-the-road and representative of the comprehensive black church experience–it is not.  Rather, I believe Marvin preached out of his context.

Some say he didn’t let loose as he might have wanted to given another setting.  I disagree.  Well to an extent. Obviously Marvin is a whooper and he obviously didn’t do that, and I wish he had.  I think if he had closed, it would have done wonders for how his sermon went over with many persons.  Based on Facebook statuses and tweets, people were expecting that performative aspect that has become unique and synonymous with a black church experience.

Ironically, where I believe Marvin Winans failed, Tyler Perry excelled.

Tyler had the first word of encouragement and in recalling the life of Whitney.  He related a text to her life, and the life of her preach the text.  Granted it was short and simple, it still did the job.

Given the confines he had to work with, Matthew chapter six, verse 25, Winans had an opportunity to raise the level of consciousness beyond our earthly lives and to prioritize the things in life that matter.  That is to say, we should leave a legacy, as Whitney did, through her talents.  The talents that are given to us and those gifts that we pick up on our journey are not for our own self-aggrandizement but for the betterment of our own sisters and brothers whom we encounter daily.  I would have suggested that we prioritize the people we have in our lives in addition to the things that we do in life.  And I believe by the time you get to verse 33, it provides a proper close for a Christian context about seeking first the reigndom of God and everything else will fall into place.

Personally, I would have went back to Romans 8, as Tyler Perry did simply because I find great joy in understanding God as Love, an inseparable love indeed.

To that end, Whitney, we love you, we miss, take your rest and go on home.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

We miss you Whitney!

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56 thoughts on “The Black Church, Homegoing Services and Whitney Houston

  1. Excellent!!!! I am sooo proud to see you apply your critical thinking in such a powerful and profound way. I agree with you 100%. I, too, was waiting to see how he would tie it all together and was sorely disappointed. I, too, felt Tyler Perry did the job that Marvin Winans failed to do. Great Job Joshua!!!!

    • While I appreciate your attempt at an eloquent critique, I encourage you to find a good editor. Your grasp of the english language, and overall knowledge of proper sentence structure leave much to be desired. Remember what The Word says about that LOG in your eye.

      • @Areshia

        Usually I don’t respond to comments that don’t attempt to address the content, but what do you mean by my “grasp of the english language and overall sentence structure leave much to be desired”? If you’re volunteering for the job as my editor, please, by all means show me where the syntax and “grasp of the english language” was just so abominable that it distracted the reader.

        And as always, it’s so lovely when fellow Christians take the time to point our fellow person’s log.

  2. JLL thanks 4riting this. I got challenged on FB 4 offering my critique of Pastor Winans’ HORRIFIC Eulogy. There was no HELP, HEALING AND HOPE in his message! Whitney deserved betta!!!! I appreciate ur analysis!

  3. Excellent critique and analysis!.Personally, I knew we were in trouble when I saw Pastor Winans had a robe on, when the pastor of the church did not. You have to follow protocol out of respect for the shepherd of the house.

    The purpose of the eulogy is to heal the family.It isn’t to incite histrionics, coerce people into salvation, or in this case, showboat and have an impromptu family song fest. Pastor Winans “put his Bible in his pocket” and jumped from topic to topic with no cohesion as you pointed out.

    Conversely, Tyler Perry, preached what I believe was a God-breathed sermon, though I don’t think he even realized it. He had a thesis statement, a relevant question, an exegesis, and an isogesis. I say this not to be an intellectual snob, but to say because of those things, people could grasp and understand the message. The key difference for me was, if you caught it,when Tyler said these Scriptures had been “burning in his spirit”. That says to me this is what God told him to say. I didn’t hear that expressly stated or implied by Pastor Winans, but it should have been.

    I am going to say to Tyler Perry what my pastor used to say to us: “Come on out of the woods, Jeremiah!” (and acknowledge your calling.)

  4. I searched the internet this morning to find out if I was just crazy. What did other people think about Reverend Winas’s eulogy of Whitney Houston? I initially thought that Reverend Marvin Winas was a member of the local archdiocese in Newark, New Jersey. He looked like a Catholic priest with that robe on! Leave it to Black preachers!

    That said, I think your analysis of the tone of the funeral and, of course, Reverend Winas’s egotistical and completely disjointed eulogy is absolutely correct! Your analysis confirmed what my notes indicated.

    Furthermore, your comments about speaking to a broader audience is correct in my view; but, Reverend Winas’s comment confirmed that he was basically speaking to “patch folk” and was not prepared to move to the world stage. When you have millions of people around the world watching and listening to you—well, you are on the world stage.

    Unfortunately—and here again your use of the word “consciousness” is beautiful and right on the mark—the majority of these Black preachers are incapable of expanding the thinking of their congregations. They are playing on their emotions. This is the main reason why I don’t attend most Black churches. They are largely noted for hollering and screaming and choirs.

    Another thing: the church where the funeral was held in Newark is surrounded by desolation. What’s the relationship between the “word” and the larger socio-economic conditions of Black folks? Or does this matter? So, here you have Whitney Houston, an icon, eulogized basically in the epicenter of urban poverty for all the world to see. That’s another story.

    Reverend Marvin Winas proved to be an embarrassment. Whitney’s life, which was far, from perfect, is a cautionary tale. But, Winas seemed to be more content to call his family members to the pulpit and then ramble on. Whitney soared to international heights in the world of entertainment; however, her family’s selection of Revered Winas to eulogize her proved that they are still folks from the patch.

    • Now whose the one focused on Vanity in their critique of Pastor Winans?
      You see, this is the problem I have with “patch folk” of the white church. They offer nothing but judgments and a seriously flawed view of the world we live in. The black church’s message is a global one! It’s not confusing at all. Yeshua was a simple man with a simple message of love. I’m sure based on the many blogs I’ve read that his message came through loud and clear during yesterday’s homegoing service to Whitney Houston. Whitney’s death brought glory to our heavenly father; and for that I am grateful. For those ignorant enough not to have understood the message; maybe they’ll catch it next time.
      I have never known a Christian to insult the pastors, congregation or choir of any church by claiming they “holler & shout”. If you understood scripture you would have a better understanding of why Black churches lift their voices with such passion and praise God as aggressively as they do. These are a people whose only light during their 400 years of bondage & struggle came through their faith in God. That is how they “made it over” during the slave & jim crow era. It is a unique experience in that sense. African-americans are a spiritual people who truly understand the meaning of calling on the Lord in times of sorrow & thanking him/it in times of joy and that legacy has been what has held us together ever since. This is something white churches will never understand….no matter how insulting or offensive they become.
      As for our condition as a people, I take an entirely different view. It has only been 50 years since our parents and grandparents received full rights as citizens in the south. Despite all the obstacles placed in our way by the so-called religious “Dixicrats” aka Republicans of today, his grace guided us; God saw us through the worst of times and he continues to do so.
      Back to our being loud & hollering, read Psalms 149:3. Then again, blacks have been praising a spiritual creator long before Christianity as given by europeans arrived on the scene. Our people understand and know very well that the DEVIL is ALIVE & controls the world in which we now inhabit. So we aren’t meant to live like Kings in this world that doesn’t belong to us. This world belongs to satan’s and his servants and is the very representation of death in my opinion. YOU take that last sentence any way you like. I do know the devil is LIAR and represents death, greed, selfishness, hate, deceit, and most important confusion. What righteous person would we want to live in this??? No, the children of God have no need for any of this.
      Yesterday millions of God’s people finally were fed the gospel in a loving spirit from the pulpit of simple black church whose members actually serve the people in a community at the bottom of the economic &social ladder. instead of the usual cold, unspirited twisted gospel from some crackpot evangelical preacher (white, that is). To God be the Glory!!

  5. Well I am left to wonder if the Houston family will ever support Marvin Winans again — buy his music, listen to another one of his sermons or even ask him to pray for them. After listening to his sermon, I thought maybe that I had missed something and asked my brother who is much more knowledgable of the bible than myself to give me his feedback on what Winans could have meant. The Pastor never said anything about Whitney in his eulogy — his only reference to her was when he had his entire family come up – strange! He never offered any condolence to the family (Cissy, Bobbi Kris, her brothers). I was confused. Could this have been what Cissy wanted…

    My brother explained that it was a negative sermon and he wondered if Marvin understood the bible. He was shocked that he would preach about the B-attitutdes at a time of unexpected grief and loss of a well known world singer, daughter, mother and friend as well as millions of fans. It appears that some hate was possibly spewing from this man!

    Maybe he should have taken a lesson from Bishop T.D. Jakes and just spoke about Death vs Love. Let the Houston family and others who will miss Whitney know that time will heal and they too will smile when Whitney’s name is mentioned.

    • Don’t be a snob — I support the Houston family in having Whitney’s homegoing celebration at the church she was raised in. Yeah it’s a depressed area but if Cissy and Bobbi Kris could handle it, so can the world.

      I hope that you’re not a Negro/African American who writes that you don’t care for Black preachers and the Black church. I consider myself fairly sophisticated but I’ll always love being African American and the history that comes with it.

  6. JLL
    I believe that your critique and analysis is accurate. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to hold pastors to a higher level of excellence. I am concerned that there are so many people who actually defend and applaud this sermon which would not have gotten a passing grade in any seminary in America. I am a product of the Black church experience and from Sandy Ray, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Gardner C Taylor, Susan Johnson Cook, Cynthia Lynette Hale to our current pulpiteers, pastors and preachers the challenge to prophetically deliver a eulogy that celebrates the life of deceased, brings comfort to the family and addressed the role of God in the lives of those who are grieving. Pastor Winans failed miserably at each task.

  7. I live in Detroit. I have heard Marvin Winans preach many sermons. Let me say, he is a dynamic singer.

    I wonder if the Reverend Winans is humble enough to read a book of homiletics. His preaching is heavy of theatrics and light of substance.

    Concerning the eulogy for Whitney Houston, he confirmed that he is absolutely and utterly clueless when it comes to having the basic skills of a Minister.

    • I commented earlier. I misspelled Pastor Marvin Winans’s surname. It is not spelled “Winas.”

      My description of Houston’s family as essentially “patch folk” comes from a novel called Billy by Albert French. The term is not deployed to disrespect the family or, for that matter, the role of the Black church within the Black community.

      I failed to disclose that I am A Black-American and, furthermore, that I have not been a card-carrying member of what is euphemistically called the “Black church.” It does not speak to my intellectual sensibilities in many ways. That’s another discussion.

      As an institution, the Black church is probably the only place in America where Black folks can be “somebody.” As a result, there is also a lot of unchecked autocracy, sexism, hypocrisy, sin, and outright stupidity.

      One of the commentators mentioned preachers like Sandy Ray, Gardner C. Taylor, and Susan Johnson Cooke and others. Reverend Winans is not “intellectually” in the league with these pastors. Gardner C. Taylor, arguably one of the greatest living preachers in America, could say (with depth) in five minutes what it would take most preachers to say in one hour. Pastors like Winans are obviously, as one of my colleagues remarked, are not even familiar with basic church protocol. For example, Whitney’s pastor in Atlanta was not allowed to speak. And yet there was R. Kelly front and center at the rostrum.

      Church politics was on full display at Whitney’s homecoming and, in fact, it did not achieve the elegance and beauty of Michael Jackson’s public celebration.

      This is the problem with most of the churches that Black patch folk attend: performance preaching (hooping, etc.) and a lot of hollering and screaming (call and response) has not been sufficiently “balanced with a theology that raises the consciousness of its members.”

      One need only look at the larger socio-economic conditions of the neighborhoods most Black churches are located in. The Black church and Black-owned funeral parlors are the best examples of prime real estate and architecture. How does one square the so-called life giving message of the Black church with the breathtaking poverty surrounding churches literally on every corner?

      Right outside the very doors of church where Whitney’s homecoming was held is stark urban dustbowl-like desolation.

      These churches, led by their largely male making-it-up-as-they-go-along pastors, are now part of a central layer of economic parasitism within many of Black communities. Most of these churches have not, nor have they ever been, central to civil rights and/or liberations struggles of Black folks.

      Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that the Black church needed to reassess itself. His sermon, “A Knock At Midnight,” is clear evidence of this.

      So, when I initially saw Reverend Marvin Winans on the pulpit, I thought to myself: even the Newark archdiocese (Catholic church) sent a representative from what is called “the Black desk” to Whitney’s funeral. I did not realize that he was a member of the famous Winans family.

      Rev. Winans is an example of the peacock pageantry that has now enveloped the Black church—what Cornel West has called “chamber of commerce” church life—and was on fully display during the course of his eulogy. It was completely disjointed. Winans is probably too big to read “The Certain Sound of the Trumpet: Crafting A Sermon of Authority” by Dr. Samuel D. Proctor.

      • “This is the problem with most of the churches that Black patch folk attend: performance preaching (hooping, etc.) and a lot of hollering and screaming (call and response) has not been sufficiently “balanced with a theology that raises the consciousness of its members.”

        I totally agree with you. Jesus warned about those who love to “have their ears tickled.” Too many folks are concerned with how well the choir sings and all the other theatrics that they are missing the real meaning of being there- learning and growing in your relationship with God through dilligent study of God’s Word. Maybe if they focused less on church events and more on God’s words, things may flow a little more decently.

        “As an institution, the Black church is probably the only place in America where Black folks can be “somebody.” As a result, there is also a lot of unchecked autocracy, sexism, hypocrisy, sin, and outright stupidity.”

        I couldn’t agree more.

  8. I wonder what Jesus “thought” of his sermon? Or what God thought? Because Gods opinion is all that counts! Pastor Winans preached with the love of God on his heart. I doesnt matter if he spoke of the entire book of revelations or went back and forth between the torah and new testament it was the word of God. Before he began preaching he made it clear that he is not giving a speech he is about to preach!! Shame on all those that throw stones at a God fearing man.

    • @Gods Child

      He did indeed, not give a speech. But by the same token, what he said could have been said at any church on Sunday morning–I just don’t think it was appropriate for a eulogy, especially one of such widespread renown.

      Moreover, I believe our opinion should be reflected in God’s opinion. If we, the people, are not edified, then I’m not convinced God was glorified.

      • Whats interesting about your reply is that your not convinced God was glorified. He wasnt trying to convince you God was being glorified he was trying to convince God. Pastor Winans had a message and he was preaching the word of God and i understand that alot of people wanted him to talk about Whitney but in my opinion i think he focused more on getting a message across to the millions of viewers watching….PRIORITIZE…

  9. The piece by the “Uppity Negro” columinist was very insightful. It raised (once again) a lot of issues that Black folks are thinking about these preachers/pastors/bishops/reverends, etc.

    Rev. Winans is a Preacher-King to the patch and/or patch-like folks. But, when you are on the world stage with millions of people watching you on television, you have to bring your A-game. Unfortunately, he was not the right pastor to deliver the eulogy and, furthemore, in doing so, he just exposed some of the faultilines in the contemporary Black church: one of them is egomania among the pastoral class.

    These days, just about any garden variety Negro (no oun intended) who can (or cannot) put together a few vowels and consanants can stand up before Black folks and be their “pastor” and get paid to do so. Winans is living proof of that. He should stick to singing gospel music.

  10. Marvin Winans is a great singer and preacher…but I simply think he didn’t do what God told him to do. I believe he got caught up in the “national stage” and “self” He either wasn’t obedient to God or couldn’t hear for all the “noise”(media). I believe Marvin Winans was very capable of preaching the eulogy only if he would have been God led and not by people and self.

  11. Sister Carmen:

    I have been reading the articles on the Uppity Negro Network for awhile; but, I never posted a comment until a day or so. It is a very interesting blog—one of the best that I read. I read widely. But, the Uppity Negro’s piece about Whitney’s funeral forced me write a comment. That’s how deep it is.

    Whitney Houston’s oldest brother (Gary Garland) was in my high school graduating class in the 1970s. He was star basketball player in high school and college. He was also drafted by the NBA. I saw him twice during the televised funeral on CNN. Whitney was not famous then; so, I never knew until recently that she was his sister. The Washington Post recently published about 50 photographs of the family.

    I don’t think Reverend Winans was caught up in the national stage. The venue merely put his unchecked ego into overdrive. There are really only a handful of great Black preachers to begin with, living or dead, and I doubt if he is on that list. The eulogy was a time for deep and sober reflection—an ecclesiastical teachable moment if you will. And why?

    Whitney’s life represents, in part, the arc of pain and sorrow—a sister who, according to her bodyguard, did not go anywhere without her “big and tattered Bible” and yet she could not fight the pain and drug addiction while whispering the name of Jesus on a regular basis.

    The Black church is also a place where deep pain and emotional issues of its congregants are circumvented by feel-good sermons. Why? Most of these preachers (including Rev. Winans) don’t know anything. They are not educated. Sometimes prayer and faith are just not enough. We have to seek other avenues of professional help to deal with “our issues.”

    Even Kevin Costner alluded to Whitney’s “self-doubt,” which, of course, is real whether you are a superstar like Whitney or a crackhead on the corner trying to get another three dollars.

    Reverend Winans, to put it in the parlance of the street, showed his natural Black behind. Paraded it. Flaunted it. He looked ridiculous in that Catholic preist robe. I’m deeply saddened by this; however, I understand it. Reverend Winans’s “show” (nee eulogy) is what passes for a lot of Black preaching these days—preaching that lacks any substance, preaching that does not speak to the deep guttural pain that envelopes so many lives within the Black community, and preaching that is executed, now, to move preachers into the realm of movie star-like adulation. He is a typical “patch” preacher.

    Faith is important. Prayer is important. But, there comes a time when we have to seek professional help to deal with your demons. This is one of the cautionary tales of Sister Whitney’s passing to the Black community writ large and to the nation as a whole.

    When you have a loved one addicted to drugs, there comes a time when you have to be prepared for “that call.” That’s how deep the struggle can be. As a nation, we need to understand drug addiction and substance abuse as a hard struggle and not relegate its alleviation, especially within the Black community, to rites of prayer and faith.

    The same can be said of inter-generational emotional issues and dysfunctionalities passed down from one generation to another crippling Black family and community life. These maladies cannot be solved by just thinking about and praying to Jesus. This is where the “substance” of great Black preaching comes into play: the ability to deal with the sacred and concrete and unabashed ability address the profane: the lives that we lead.

    Sister Whitney touched a lot of souls. That’s for sure. As for Reverend Winans, I hope a representative of the Vatican was watching the service. Maybe they will make him a cardinal.

    • I have never replied to this or any post, but I had to now. My reply is to “Think.” Uppity Negro, I’ve already told you what a great post this is! Thank you for your courage to speak truth, which may be uncomfortable for some. This is a conversation that must take place and it’s not about trashing the “Mand of God!” (misspelling intended)

      To “Think,” you have articulated my very frustration with the current “Black Church” and I go to one every Sunday and have been a church going person all of my life. In fact, let me go on record to say that I am a pastor. All of your responses resonated with me, but this last response was the shouting moment for me (and I’m not a shouting person).

      “Whitney’s life represents, in part, the arc of pain and sorrow—a sister who, according to her bodyguard, did not go anywhere without her “big and tattered Bible” and yet she could not fight the pain and drug addiction while whispering the name of Jesus on a regular basis.”…. “Faith is important. Prayer is important. But, there comes a time when we have to seek professional help to deal with your demons.”

      In nearly every Black community, there is a church on every corner. In our most depressed communities, while there may be shortages of economic, social, and political opportunity, there are no shortages of churches. This is why, along with all the points Uppity and Think previously articulated, we must have academically prepared clergy who have not only the credentials and the calling, but also the courage to move beyond “Jesus Pep Rallies,” which enable our people instead of empowering our people – inoculating them from their painful reality for the moment, but leaving them unable to overcome their adversities when they leave the church doors. Our people can no longer afford to just sing and shout our way to heaven – awaiting eternal life while our earthly life (the only one verifiable) is in utter despair.

      Our mental enslavement is what motivates and keeps me in the vineyard. I yet remain hopeful.

  12. Hey Thinker….I believe this blog has placed your ego into overdrive or there may some deeper issues you may need to pray, believe, and seek Christian counseling from professionals. Carefully read your blog….you sound like you have “over the stop” anger and criticism. You sound like someone who is fighting demons themselves…. take care.

  13. I felt like it was more of a celebration than a homegoing. However, Tyler did preach in that church. Preaching may not be his calling, but he is spreading the Word through his plays. However, I don’t feel that Pastor Winans showed an ego. They showed love to Whitney because they knew Whitney sang their music. He acknowledged that in his remarks. I can hear Whitney now singing “Tomorrow.” I do believe that Pastor Winans, I’m saying this because I am also a minister, was in correct protocol. The Pastor of the Church was not required to wear a robe because he was not preaching the word. I didn’t see an ego. I did not see a show. I see alot of criticism which is merely an opinion. So WE are not tearing down Pastor Winans. We’re just making him famous. I enjoyed the sermon Pastor Winans preached. It kills me when Christians excuse me I mean church folks always want to point out flaws and always want to say someone is in the “flesh.” Maybe you’re the one caught up in the fleshly aspect. Who are you to judge? That’s what I thought

    • Thank you for posting minister. I also enjoyed his sermon. Of course there will always be an “Amen Corner” to criticize. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how good you do anymore, there will always be naysayers and criticizers to find every little negative thing they can find about someone and then crucify them. These are the people that make Christianity a turn off.

      • Right! People will get mad when it’s the truth and if it’s a message that is talking about something that they are guilty of.

  14. Sister Carmen:

    I am a lifelong member of the Black community. I am not a member (nor do I ever intend to be) of the Black church. I should seek Christian counseling? You mean the kind that Eddie Long should seek or, in fact, gives to gullible young Black boys? And why? Because I expressed a series of opinions about Rev. Winans’s eulogy and linked it to the overall madness that is pervasive among the Black pastoral class within the Black community–a class that will protect its own at all costs?

    Demons? What demons? If you are Black in America demons and evil have to be quantified within the living social order and body politic. That’s what King did. He took his education in the realm of theology and philosophy and applied it to real problems in American life. King was the absolute master of speaking to regular folks; but, his sermons have such depth and substance that he was always speaking on the world stage. The contemporary Black preacher class, as a whole, represents spiritual and theological anti-intellectualism. Church has become a show, a cheap form of entertainment.

    Your “opinion” is valuable. I don’t think you should seek counseling. However, I do think that the foolishness that most of these Black preachers articulate every Sunday needs to be critically assessed. They get a free pass from Black journalists, intellectuals, and even Civil Rights leaders. There needs to be a greater “internal dialogue” about the Black pastoral class.

    There is a great silence within the Black community when it comes to criticizing the Black preacher class.

    Frankly, I was surprised that the Uppity Negro wrote this piece about Reverend Winans. There is also a pervasive silence within the Black community when it comes to the politics (the real politics) of the Black church as a major institution within the Black community. That’s my point or, indeed, one of them. And it was played out when the “great” Reverend Marvin Winans’s opened his mouth and showed up dressed at Whitney’s funeral like he was from the “Black desk” of the Catholic church.

    He wanted to be spectacular!

    As far as Reverend Winans being famous: It does take much for any preacher to become famous within the Black community. Or get “paid.” It does not take very much to even become a preacher. Any so-called Negro (garden variety or uppity) can literally become “Dr. This” or “Bishop That” and end up the “pastor” of a huge congregation of spiritual Kool-Aid drinkers. While these preachers are taking a little walk with Jesus, they are also taking a littlewalk—excuse me: running–to the bank. This is what Black folks “will pay for” within the Black community: spiritual vacuity and pageantry. It is an outright religious lottery system. You get your payment at death, during your homecoming; but, your life on earth is hell. This is the message reinforced to the Black masses time and time again. You can go “home” in a horse drawn funeral procession like you are a head of state and live on earth under deplorable conditions.

    The cemetery where Whitney Houston is buried in Westfield, New Jersey would constitute better living conditions for the majority of the Black residents and church folks in Newark, New Jersey. The city, itself, is overwhelming White and upper middle-class/rich.

    Black folks in cities like Newark (which is a hellhole) should be angry to see Black churches on every corner and literally every two feet and yet see no discernible improvement in their lives except for the Black preacher class who are living quite well off their backs. So much for the life giving word! It is the new slavery, the new plantation, and the Black preacher class is the overseer.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his sermon “A Knock At Midnight” raised questions about the state—really the leadership—of the Black church. I made this point earlier.

    Reverend Winans’s eulogy just forced me to think about these issues. His eulogy of Whitney Houston marked a new low in shameless self-promotion and was a free commercial for the Winans’s family business: gospel music.

  15. ” I’ am a member of the black Clergy, a ministry that you have so totally misunderstood. Most of the preacher I know work full time jobs and don’t live off their Church. They actually are the person who paid most of the bills and infact they were moved by God to do the best they could under some of the most difficult circustances. Many of them have gone to corners of our city where the human needs are overwhelming, moved by concerns and the Holy Spirit to make a difference. Most Preachers have limited formal education, no seminary training; all they have is the Love of God in there hearts. My brothers and sisters this is not a career choice or many of you would have chosen it.

    Pastor Winans’s career choice was gospel music and he and his brothers did very well at it until the day he felt led to start a church which has grown into one of the bright stars in Detroit. In building this Church he lost his wife, She left him because she (like you) didn’t understand God’s call. Pastor Winans remained faithfu,l raised his sons, live the best he could and did a wonderful job with his sons and the children who were his first members. They are all grown and are still members of his Church. You are viewing the Perfecting Church now as the Mega-Church it has become, I wish you could have been there when he labor untiringly with those 6 or 7 babies in his home, until they could afford to rent a place and grow it.

    Pastor Winans was not trained to be a pastor, he was a man who was raised in the church and felt that he could make a difference in the city of Detriot, and he has. Did he display the homilitical skills of Dr. Taylor? No!, but he did the best he could to make a difference. I submitt that his love for the Houston family and their love for him speaks to his ability to be relevant for them in the midst of their hour of need. They could have chosen any number of great preacher to bring the word in this moment of pain. They selected a friend who was with them in the midst of their struggle to save Whitney and I saluted them and respect their choice.

    • To Earl:

      With everything said and in light of the expectations that have been rightly or wrongly placed on Pastor Winans preaching ability, I firmly agree with you.

      I am open to the possibility that I have been too harsh and judgmental concerning Pastor Winans’ preaching skills. He is not a good homiletician. Still, he did his best.

      In general, the Black community seems to be hyper-critical of the Black Church. The truth is that the Dr. Gardner C. Taylors of the world are few and far between. Moreover, it is true that most Black clergy are bi-vocational and are expert at making bricks with no straw.

      I love the Black Church. In this Church I claim to love, there are many more preachers (not singers/entertainers) like Pastor Winans than not.
      Of course, there is room for everyone in our Faith Community. Amen.

  16. As a minister, I felt the message was spiritual and appropriate. Pastor Winans had a world stage and preached Jesus. A lot more than any of these folk on here would have done. The truth is, who cares what we think? He preached Jesus in front of cameras, criticizers, demonic singers/musicians, actors, etc etc etc. He didn’t back down like Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyers did on camera. If you don’t like the way he preaches then you are welcome to not attend his church. However, I am amazed at how “astute” some of you supposedly are in your “critique” of his message. He obviously explained in the beginning of his message that this is church and that he is going to preach. Period. If they wanted a whack ecumenical message talking about “one foot in-one foot out” Whitney then they should have gotten Tyler Perry. Tyler Perry was decent, obviously emotional, but how does he know grace took Whitney to heaven? The truth is, none of us have the right to put Whitney in heaven or hell that is up to God, but her walk was definitely questionable. I think Pastor Winans did an excellent job of not putting her in heaven or hell, but yet using this opportunity to preach Jesus. Lot of people were turned back to Christ on Saturday, many people came back to church on Sunday and got saved. Whitney did not reach much of the lost with her music approach, but at least through her death Jesus was preached. The media praised Whitney all week long for her accomplishments which is definitely worthy of recognition, so I find no fault in using her death as an opportunity to preach Jesus. As long as Christ is preached, the kingdom is exalted and God is glorified. Thats all that matters in my book.

    • @Chris

      If you can question how does Tyler Perry know grace took Whitney to heaven or not, then I think it’s safe to ask: how do you know “people turned back to Christ…many people came back to church on Sunday and got saved”?

      And for the record, I don’t believe Tyler Perry ever said that by grace Whitney Houston is in heaven; he spoke about God’s love and how she wasn’t separated from it.

      Final question: what does it mean that “Jesus was preached”?

      • I believe Tyler Perry words came from a place of deep love for the family and is based on his personal encounters with Whitney. He was not speaking as a member of the Black Clergy, He is a movie producer and playwrite, He spoke as a friend who is also a member of the body of Christ. Did Tyler’s testimony point others to the Devine Love of God, Yes! Did his testimony point to the fact that neither death nor life could separte us from God’s love and that God is able to keep us, Yes, I think so. Tyler Perry in during this, honored his creator. I never heard him put Whitney into heaven but he did leave us with the possibility that the Grace that brought Whitney into this world; llfted her before the world to admire her gifts, propelled her career, and kept her through her difficult moments and was able to keep her and carry her home.The fact is people may have rediscovered their faith through this celebration.

  17. Pastor Earl:

    Very few members of the Black clergy display your courage. But, it is time for Black folks to wake up and look at our condition in America overall. Thank you for displaying that courage. The Black pastoral class has to be challenged with critique, insight, and love.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Their can be no question that we as a members of the Boby of Christ have to have high expectation, and we should put our best foot forward at all times. Maybe we should invest some money and time to record our sermons for personal review, critique, and perfecting. A sermon that please’s everyone is a sermon without devine content. You may help your Pastor by making sure he has the ability to attend school, are a class where writing organization is taugth and presentation is practice, at a minimal, you could buy him a tape recorder to help him improve himself.

  18. Can you imagine the ridicule Jesus got when he was walking the streets teaching the word? If that was Jesus standing up their at Whitney’s funeral he would have gotten criticized also because nothing is ever good enough in our society. If a person is living up to YOUR standards then rocks are thrown and fingers are pointed. I cant recall the exact verse in the bible but i will speak in verbatim Peter was so worried about the sins of another person and expressed this to Jesus and Jesus basically said to him MIND YOUR BUSINESS AND FOLLOW ME!!!!!!! (Praise God) only if we as faulty humans can take this stand.

  19. Marvin Winans is ridiculous a Cardinal robe really??? He should also take a look a himself and his behavior during the service ….so fidgety

    • Elena your opinion of how he looked doesnt change what he was there for..to preach Gods word. Another judgemental finger pointer rock thrower….please dont be offended your not the only one.

  20. Godschild

    Reverend Winans is certainly not Jesus. You need to stop it now. The Newark neighborhood where the church is located in is rough. If Moses showed up carrying the Ten Commandments (The BIG TEN!) and a staff after midnight (how about shortly after dark?), he better have the same level of security that the President of the United States has. Moses might find himself confronted by the proverbial homies, beatdown, and even robbed. Now if Moses with his connections needs to deal with this kind of reality, where do you think this leaves the little old Black church going lady? A lot of these Black pastors are living large in homes in neighborhoods far removed from the battlefield where Jesus would be doing his work. But, they don’t mind setting up these churches in depressed neighborhoods and taking money from poor and working-class Black folks selling them spirtual dreams-as-lottery-tickets.

    • THINK….I was referring to the topic of Pastor Winans sermon im not sure where your going with your comment….My point was that he preached a sermon regardless if it was good or not he preached Gods word AND who are we to judge? Really what authority do you have to judge THINK? And where in my comments did I ever say Pastor Winans was Jesus? Take time to read and understand my comments before being so defensive. God bless you

    • “A lot of these Black pastors are living large in homes in neighborhoods far removed from the battlefield where Jesus would be doing his work. But, they don’t mind setting up these churches in depressed neighborhoods and taking money from poor and working-class Black folks selling them spirtual dreams-as-lottery-tickets..”

      I find it interesting that many pastors claim, “it’s my calling.” Yet, how many would do it for free (as did Jesus and the Apostles), exclusive of the perks and big payouts they receive? Preaching/teaching/leading others to salvation was Jesus’ life not a career/job as it is with “leaders” today.

      • @nae20123 and @THINK

        In all fairness a lot of pastors don’t “set up” churches in depressed neighborhoods. Many of these churches, storefronts and free-standing churches alike, are dwindling congregations that were established from as early as the Great Migration to just 40 years ago and have limped along ever since. Most pastors of those small churches don’t live lavish lifestyles and have to work a regular 9-5 job or do something else to support their income because the church can’t afford to pay them full time. And many of these small churches can’t afford enough to give health insurance and retirement options to these pastors.

        For the pastors that are living in the suburbs, it’s usually because at one point or another, they lived around the corner from the church but church people didn’t understand the concept of privacy and were always in the pastor’s family’s business or knocking on his door etc.

        And just food for thought, who said Jesus was the best model for how to be a pastor?

        **drops mic**

  21. I agree with your analysis. I was very disappointed and a bit upset at the negative connotations made regarding the “Baptist” church. Especially the statement that the services would start on “CP Time”. I was offended and I am an AME pastor.

    All of the concerns I had during Rev. Winans’ sermon, and have conveyed since then, you have so eloquently addressed. The eulogies, to me, we’re given by both Mr. Perry and Bishop Jakes.

    I also want to express appreciation for what others have said regarding this matter. I thought it was me being too critical.

    This is my first time on this site, but I will most definitely be coming back.

    Thanks again.

  22. Godschild:

    You inferred that there is a connection on between Jesus’s travails preaching the word and that of Reverend Winans. There is not the case. When Dr. King preached, he had that rare ability to craft sermons that spoke to the “consciousness” of regular people while simultaneously conveying big ideas for the world stage. Imagine King preaching Whitney’s eulogy.

    Whitney’s death was and, indeed, remains a teachable moment. To me, the substance of Winans’s eulogy should have directly addressed the arc of Whitney’s life in an attempt to save the living from a similar fall: those John and Jane Doe crackheads and substance abusers sitting right in the church who believe that faith and prayer are enough to resolve their issues.

    What is the pastoral response when faith and prayer are simply not enough to deal with drug use, emotional trauma, sexual abuse, shame, and a laundrylist of other issues? What should good Christian folk do? What should Whitney have done? Her tattered Bible was not enough. These are the questions that should have been folded into his eulogy.

    Homecomings, as it were, or eulogies cannot always be about celebration, the majesty of gospel music, or the acute call and response tradition that is one of the hallmarks of the Black church. They have to be about affirming life, the good life, on this earth—using the deceased as a focal point to make a moral contract with the living and challenging them to do better in their lives. It is a time for reflection and action.

    The problem with the Black pastoral class is that they are dedicated to preparing Black folks for death twice: on earth and after they die. This sort of theology (emphasis on “social death”) has destroyed the thinking of several generations of Blacks.

    Winans was more concerned about pomp and circumstance—providing his part of the dyad: the pageantry of contemporary Black church life that congregants have been socialized to expect. To be more precise, most of these Black preachers are talking loud and saying nothing. Winans proved to be one of them.

  23. Seemingly, the best thing that has happened from Whitney Houston’s funeral is that we are talking about the art of preaching! I love it.

    Based on the comments, our expectations for our Black clergy are growing. This is very good.

    My pastor is a practicing lawyer and a graduate of Virginia Union School of Theology in Richmond. He has introduced the congregaton to ideas, insights and innovations that I doubt a less well rounded clergy could bring.

    As Black America becomes more educated so must our Ministers. Still, a less educated Minister is not disqualified from service. There is room for everyone.

  24. The emphasis on education seems to negate the requirement to a. be called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and b. be led by the Spirit of God in that calling. While a seminary education is good, I have seen many a seminary trained “pastor” abuse their flocks, live a life totally antithetical to the scriptures and become elitist because of their “education”. We have to remember that a preacher must preach the gospel above all else and the gospel is centered around Christ. While there may be some different perspectives regarding what the gospel should address i.e. social justice, liberation etc., it must not be made devoid of it’s power to save and to transform.

    While I agree that churches, especially black churches, MUST do more in their respective communities- I would add that the people in those communities also need to do more as it relates to their situations. I attend/minister at a church that has a heavy presence in the commuity and we are committed to bringing people out of their slumber regarding social issues as well as trying to preach the gospel and lead them to Christ.

    As for Pastor Winans’ handling of the eulogy- let us look at it this way, outside of the super star status of Ms. Houston, what is her true legacy? What is her legacy apart from music? Parental neglect? Heartache? Bad decisions? If you ask me, the way that I interpreted his sermon was that he preached without offending the family, that this woman died with her life in shambles because her “priorities” were not lined up. While she may have toted that tattered bible around, did she really search the scriptures to find God- or was it simply something to remind her of where she came from and had strayed so far away from? While she may have whispered the name of Jesus, did she really know Him?

    I’d like to also say that we stop the hero worship and look at the deeper issue. How do you eulogize someone that has lived a life of debauchery? That’s a very hard thing to do- and this is coming from someone that has had to do it before. Had he focused his message on Ms. Houston, I don’t think he could’ve sidestepped the fact that her perdicament was caused by her indiscretions. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last ten years or so, everyone knows that she had issues. I agree with an earlier poster that said that sometimes professional help is necessary- there is no doubt that she needed professional help in addition to much prayer and much ministry.

    As far as I’m concerned, as long as Christ is lifted in a way that changes the minds and the hearts of the parishioners, the cross and the power of the cross is preached, and the bible is taught in a way that is clear and life-altering- I don’t really care about how educated my pastor is. We get so hung up on education that we forget the power of God. Peter was uneducated and yet he presided over Pentecost. Paul, while highly educated, persecuted the church for years before he counted it all rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ. The apostles at Pentecost were ridiculed because they were Galileans, uneducated, inarticulate people that were preaching about God’s deeds of power. I’m in no way saying that the preacher, black or white, should not study the Word of God diligently- that was stressed by Paul to Timothy to study, or “work hard” to show himself approved as a workman for God who need not be ashamed and who rightly divided the Word of truth. You cannot rightly divide the Word without diligent time studying, praying and spending quality time with God. You cannot rightly divide the Word of God without the grace of God either- and his grace is more important than our diligence because it is His grace that allows the preacher to be a steward over the Word anyway. If God is glorified and if that is the intent of the preacher, the level of education of that preacher means absolutely nothing, God will empower whoever it is to proclaim his word in a way that will change the hearers.

  25. “As for Pastor Winans’ handling of the eulogy- let us look at it this way, outside of the super star status of Ms. Houston, what is her true legacy? What is her legacy apart from music? Parental neglect? Heartache? Bad decisions? If you ask me, the way that I interpreted his sermon was that he preached without offending the family, that this woman died with her life in shambles because her “priorities” were not lined up. While she may have toted that tattered bible around, did she really search the scriptures to find God- or was it simply something to remind her of where she came from and had strayed so far away from? While she may have whispered the name of Jesus, did she really know Him? ”

    Very well spoken words. I find it very disturbing that folks concluded because she carried her Bible around and sang “Jesus Loves Me” that it was some verification of her salvation and relationship with God.

    “I’d like to also say that we stop the hero worship and look at the deeper issue. How do you eulogize someone that has lived a life of debauchery? That’s a very hard thing to do- and this is coming from someone that has had to do it before. Had he focused his message on Ms. Houston, I don’t think he could’ve sidestepped the fact that her perdicament was caused by her indiscretions. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last ten years or so, everyone knows that she had issues.”

    Agree.

  26. Albert and Nae21023:

    Even in the aftermath of the death of Michael Jackson and the trial of Dr. Albert Murray (which provided a macabre window into the world of celebrity an their sycophants), I found myself discussing the death of Whitney Houston with friends for the past two weeks.

    While I realize that Pastor Winans could not “really preach” a cautionary tale-like eulogy, Whitney’s death certainly provides the Black pastoral class with plenty to preach about this year and the next.

    I find both of your statements to ring true and, of course, there is so much to think about: how can we all face our issues and be better human beings?

    Parental responsibility is a huge issue within the Black community. That’s a 12-part sermon by itself. Drug and alcohol addiction. Sexual disorders and dysfunction. Bad relationships and broken marriages.

    Despite Whitney’s talent as a singer and an entertainer, she lived life in the fast and rugged lane—literally with a Bible in one hand and a crackpipe in the other. That’s the complexity of the human condition: faith and prayer struggling with evil and the vagaries of the human condition. This is what a lot of super religious Black Christian folk call “the world.”

    One is forced to ask if faith and prayer merely forces a deferment, rather than a confrontation, with our demons and darker side. And so the funeral (nee homecoming) represents the “carryin’ on” side of the human condition because we dare not “tell it” so that the living can see themselves.

    Whitney’s legacy is complicated and, in fact, if she was not a pop star, she would be just another Homegirl Jane Doe. Many of them die every year from drug addiction.

    I appreciated your candor on such a difficult and sensitive topic.

  27. What I got from his sermon is that you have to make sure you put God before the materials of this world. He was saying ain’t nothing wrong with having money but make sure you don’t let the money distract you from God. That’s what I got, so I think he was aiming towards all the celebrities in the house and who were watching. I believe all that people want to hear are things that sound good to them and things that would make them wanna shout and dance but that’s not the job of the Pastor. The Pastors job is to tell the whole truth even when man (peolple) get upset because they don’t like what they hear. I applaud Pastor Marvin Winnans for doing the work of the Lord. That message wasn’t for everybody but probably for the majority listening. That’s a very dangerous thing that’s happening today people are focusing too much on money and forgetting about God. People are making sacrafices for money instead of making sacrafices to do Gods will.

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