Reverend and congressman speaks about anger at North United Methodist Church

Friday, September 4, 2009
Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II preaches at North Street United Methodist Church Sunday, Aug. 30. Cleaver began serving in July as assistant to the bishop for African American congregations. His visit to Marshall was to consult with church leaders about the direction they want for the church. He delivered the sermon during a special evening service. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

In the first of what he promised would be a series, Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II visited North Street United Methodist Church Sunday, Aug. 30, to consult with church leaders about the direction of the little church in Marshall.

And to preach.

Cleaver, a Democrat and U.S. representative for Missouri's Fifth District, was in Marshall not as a Congressman but in his capacity as assistant to the bishop for African American congregations.

North Side United Methodist Church, which often attracts 15-20 people, was full Sunday evening, Aug. 30, as members and non-members came to hear a sermon from Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

The new role comes after more than three decades as pastor of one church, St. James United Methodist Church of Kansas City.

"I reached a point where I felt I could be of more value in another area," Cleaver said after the evening service. "The bishop tried to talk me out of it. My family tried to talk me out of it. My congregation tried to talk me out of it. But I decided it was important for me to do. I'm hoping to be in small congregations to help them figure out what they want to do."

His presence at North Street Church certainly generated community interest. The church that usually has about 15-20 people attend services was full Sunday evening.

"I'm going to be coming back," Cleaver said.

He indicated that one goal he wants to help the church pursue is attracting more young people. He said future visits would include other special guests who will help accomplish that goal.

Church members have reported that ConAgra Foods is interested in purchasing the church. Asked whether he had discussed that issue with church leaders, Cleaver said, "That's what brought me here."

"This church is one of the oldest churches in the state. Certainly one of the oldest black churches," he said.

Cleaver's sermon Sunday focused not on new directions for the church but on an issue that has received attention nationwide in recent weeks: anger.

"I'm not going to do a sermon based on the news or based on any political position, but you've seen a lot of TV clips of people yelling and screaming at townhall meetings. And it seems to me that those of us who believe in the words of the Lord Jesus should look at anger, or at least struggle to look at it, from a theological point of view."

In his message, Cleaver referred to the Bible to distinguish between destructive anger and righteous anger.

He said that during a recent townhall meeting he held, he was able to set a tone of civility, and he did so by recognizing the validity of participants' views.

"I'm not one of those who will say that you have no right to come to a meeting angry," he said. "I used to organize sit-ins and demonstrations. I appreciate people who organize. I certainly can't condemn somebody for doing what I have done."

But he cautioned that anger unmitigated by courtesy can undermine the mission of those who wield it.

"You never ever try to push a noble cause with nastiness. The nastiness cancels out the nobility," he said.

The central Biblical example Cleaver referred to was Jesus' healing on the Sabbath of a man with a withered hand.

With the Pharisees looking on, determined to catch him in the act of violating the Sabbath, Jesus defied convention and healed the man, Cleaver said.

"There is an anger that is virtuous. And if you are angry and if it is compatible with the word of God, it is righteous anger," he said. "Every Christian ought have some righteous anger inside him or her. Paul writes: Be angry, but sin not."

He noted the role the media play in fueling public anger, saying even the best television talk shows these days allow participants to interrupt each other and raise their voices to the level of shouts and screams.

"This is the leading nation on the planet and we cannot even have a civil discourse without people screaming at each other," he said. "This is a disgust and a shame to democracy."

Cleaver, who founded the House of Representatives Caucus on Civility, spoke after the service about his efforts, with Republican colleague, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, to model civil debate and encourage the nation's legislators to serve as better examples.

"She and I have had debates for the purpose of showing people how they could actually argue over something that they feel passionate about and still maintain the highest level of decorum," he said. "We debated tort reform, which is a toxic issue, but we did it for one hour. After, we shook hands. We are continuing to encourage others to do that."

The often raucus townhall meetings during the August congressional recess have not helped the situation, he said.

"I think people are going to come back angry because of the anger they have had thrown on them," he said. "It's a shame that we'll go back in the fall and continue the nasty tone that has become part of the political process, which I find appalling."

Contact Eric Crump at

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  • not trying to start anything racial, but can u be white and go to a black church

    -- Posted by Hood on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 3:37 PM
  • You're right, Hood. North Street Church has white members, in fact. Did you see anything in this story that suggested otherwise?

    -- Posted by Eric Crump on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 4:01 PM
  • In my community, two Methodist churches have black ministers and both congregations are "integrated". Indeed, the audience in the picture accompanying this article look as if it is "integrated."

    The church looks very attractive. I hope ConAgra's offer holds open the possibility of moving the church rather than "tearing down" yet another historical building.

    -- Posted by upsedaisy on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 4:41 PM
  • Interesting to note that Reverend Cleaver supported Hilary Clinton for President.

    -- Posted by upsedaisy on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 10:02 PM
  • i appreciate the thought of a "black" church, but isn't that a little racist in its own to refer to a church as a black church? i could not refer to my church as a white church, i would be ran out of is not a religion, color has no place in a church or in front of god and i really do think that once EVERYONE stops segregating comments and beliefs others, the educated ones anyway, might catch on

    -- Posted by thisguy on Wed, Sep 9, 2009, at 9:48 AM
  • It's a subject that's open to debate, of course, but referring to North Street Church as a "black church" is really just a factual historical observation.

    The church currently has white members and a white pastor, but throughout its history, its membership and culture have been predominantly black. If you said First Baptist Church or Covenant Presbyterian Church were white churches, that would be about the same thing. They are predominantly and culturally white.

    If you've been to services in all three churches, you can see the difference in terms of racial composition of the congregation and in terms of the habits of worship.

    A friend and local pastor of another black church in town once told me that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of each week in Marshall. I think he wished it wasn't so, but the observation itself is not racist, in my opinion.

    -- Posted by Eric Crump on Wed, Sep 9, 2009, at 10:02 AM
  • eric, i will agree that even though christ teaches us to love everyone, the golden rule for example, and that segregation or racism would seem ridiculous in a church congregation, but the truth is he is right, it does exist, and thats a whole different article, lol. My point was only this, historically it was a "black" church along with so many others, but the wording should be different, why not press that this church, started by a black congregation was a vital piece of history in this area, pertaining to the times of segregation and separation and that through time all races and cultures have come to find a home here, making it all that more valuable a piece of not just marshall history but american history.

    -- Posted by thisguy on Wed, Sep 9, 2009, at 11:56 AM
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