RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–At a time when society’s definition of masculinity drives too many men to a fruitless quest for a misguided worldly ideal, nearly 200 men took aim at the spiritual ideal during the third annual “Be the Man” conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center.
Through passionate preaching and inspirational gospel music, they celebrated their brotherhood both in Christ and in a common cultural heritage.
Jesus Christ is the model every African American male needs to follow, conference leaders said often during the April 8-9 conference, set in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
“Turn to the brother next to you and tell him, ‘Be the man!’” Tyrone Barnette, pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., said.
“Say it like a real man,” Barnette intoned, his fiery discourse revving up the crowd. “Be the man!” he shouted to a resounding chorus of response.
Leaders talked about the strength it takes to show submission before God, moving beyond a dark and humiliating history of slavery and racism as well as resisting the mindless pursuit of material gain, promiscuity, drugs and alcohol.
“Many times we feel it’s a battle to be a black man in America,” said Kevin Smith, pastor of Watson Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., who led a breakout session. “Multiply that by many-fold and think about what’s against the man of God.”
Citing alarming statistics on the exodus of men from churches from Bill Perkins’ book, “The Six Battles Every Man Must Win,” Smith said it is time to turn the tide on the feminization of the church.
“Women are twice as likely to be involved in discipleship at church as men,” Smith said. “We’ve got to put a more masculine face on the church.”
Part of the problem, he said, is a cultural misconception equating sensitivity and taking responsibility with weakness — a spillover from the 1960’s stereotypical “Koombaya” image of Jesus as all about compassion, without regard to the strength He exhibits in the Bible.
The conference touched on biblical principles to help stem the tide of absentee fathers and to reach a younger generation for Christ, and attendees were encouraged to reject hate-filled perceptions of Christianity perpetuated by people like Louis Farrakahn, leader of the Nation of Islam.
“Farrakhan has told black men that Christianity is a white man’s religion,” said keynote speaker George O. McCalep Jr., senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. “Christianity has been so whitewashed that we hate ourselves.
“We need to find our identity and then we need to give it up. It’s not about us. It’s about Him. It’s not about culture. It’s about Christ,” McCalep said.
McCalep, who has authored several books, founded the Cushite Movement, a Christian group calling black men to reclaim what he says is a biblical heritage dating back to Cush, the son of Ham.
“You cannot be a Chushite man and be a racist,” McCalep said. It is a Christian movement based on Christian principles, he emphasized. Members take vows of love and obedience to Christ, to racial equality and human rights, sexual purity, fidelity and the sanctity of marriage.
“Here’s where some brothers fall right out,” McCalep smiled, shaking his head. “We tell the ladies back home, ‘You better not marry one of those Cushite men, because they ain’t getting no divorce. I’ve been married 43 years. I told my wife when she packs her clothes, pack mine too.”
Barnette asked God to look “past the toughness of our manhood and see the tenderness of our spirit.”
He offered his personal testimony about repentance, and his struggles in college with worldly temptations of drinking and women. He recalled preaching a message 18 years ago about the inconsistency of the Apostle Peter, and suddenly admitted to the congregation that the Peter he was talking about was himself.
“I really believe if I had not made a decision to trust Him that day with my sin, I would not be here today,” Barnette said in an emotion-filled plea for men to trust Jesus and come forward to rededicate themselves to be the men God wants them to be.
The men filled the aisles, hugging each other, some with tears in their eyes.
“It was intense. There’s a high level of emotion. Men need to see that, because a lot of time men don’t have a place where they can show that. They think church is not really a place for men,” said Michael Robinson, a conference participant.
Robinson, who serves as an associate minister at First Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., added that, “If you can’t have intimacy with God, you can’t have intimacy in your relationships.”
“Breaking it down, it’s really simple. I found out that God shapes us through the crises in our lives,” Will Johnson, a deacon at Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Tuskegee, Ala., said, adding that he has been a recovering cocaine addict for seven and a half years.
“It’s powerful to see a bunch of men getting together who are really real about being a Christian. There’s a heartfelt unity here,” Johnson said, summing up the value of the conference for him. “You can see the love that we have for one another, and in the common sector, you don’t have that kind of bond.”