Detroit’s theater of the absurd

City of Detroit

Some years ago, I attended a presentation of the Grand Kabuki at the Kennedy Center for the Performance Arts in Washington, D.C.

As with the renowned Japanese coordinated dance – or drama – where the participants engage in elaborate imitations, we are watching Detroit’s version of Kabuki Theater played out on the political stage.

To put this in perspective, the word Kabuki means out of the ordinary; avant-garde or bizarre theater. With the D.C. performance, it wasn’t until the actors came out for the curtain call did the audience become aware that the entire cast was comprised of men masquerading as women. It was a fascinating charade.

No less beguiling are the events over the past few weeks in which a group of ministers and so-called community leaders rallied against the consent decree offered by Gov. Rick Snyder to solve Detroit’s fiscal problems. Their opposition is no less a farce.

The worst kind of double standard raised its unholy head when Rev. Charles Williams and his cohorts sided with Mayor Dave Bing in his effort to maintain control of city finance and operations.

“We are calling, unequivocally, Gov. Snyder a liar,” said Rev. Williams, the Michigan chapter president of the National Action Network, an organization based in New York and founded by the infamous Rev. Al Sharpton. “We are standing up (against) hypocrisy,” continued the key organizer in the fight to repeal Michigan’s emergency manager law.

The position taken by the opposition might make sense if church and political leaders weren’t torn between principle and political expediency.

Local ministers have been reluctant to hold the mayor and council’s feet to the fire because many of them covet political patronage, which color their view and blunt their criticism of officeholders. Some operate Head Start programs or receive other contracts and government grants. Mayoral or council appointments to panels, boards and commissions might turn up healthy numbers of clergy. Some accept paid staff positions, compromising any “moral authority” they have. Others receive special land deals to build huge, expensive edifices in poverty-prone neighborhoods.

Rev. Williams’ use of the word “hypocrisy” was particularly intriguing.

There was a time when the church was a powerful force that held neighborhoods and families together. Today’s church leaders are revealing a flawed and unflattering characteristic, an acute talent for the melodramatic and not much else. Their preacher tones and flaming rhetoric provide a convenient backdrop for public policy exaggeration. But by and large, Detroit churches don’t have a good record of doing what churches are supposed to do.

I would hazard a guess that Detroit has more churches per capita than most American cities. For sure the city is home to some of the worse poverty and the most violence found anywhere.

An even harsher reality is that too many children and adolescents reach adulthood uneducated, unemployable and lacking moral direction and a vision for a productive future.

You would think that with so much turmoil surrounding their churches preachers would have enough to do providing prayers and hope for members of their congregations.

Young people, after all, not only need guidance and protection from the scourge of crime, the homes in which many of them reside need liberation from the culture of poverty and dependency. What better institution than the church to promote the message that adequately raising children is half the battle for safe and stable neighborhoods?

Efforts by the clergy leadership to move the city into political directions that have no practical significance, and where they have no expertise, is not in the best interest of their flock. All of us would be better served if they focused on “soul” saving rather than playing fast and loose with the tenets of the church for the sake of power and influence.

As best, they merely pretend to represent symbols of propriety. At worst, they epitomize Detroit’s Kabuki Theater of the absurd.

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