It's not that folks don't share the Rev. Bennett W. Smith's concerns.
It's just that, even as they have steeped themselves in the traditional religious observances of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, they have also come to treasure an accompanying secular tradition -- dressing up in their finest for Easter.
So Smith, a Buffalo minister who heads the eastern region of the predominantly black Progressive Baptist Convention, has been waging an uphill struggle in his effort to promote a "Sacrificial Black Easter" -- a call for black congregations to purchase only essential items during Lent and invest what they save by not buying clothes.
Like the Rev. P. James Preston, many local ministers declined to mention the challenge to their congregations. "I heard about it, but I don't concur with it," Preston said. "If the need arose I would go naked myself, but I think there are worse things than buying new clothes on Easter. We've been doing it a long time."
Another Baptist minister reported that members of his congregation smiled and chuckled sevral weeks ago when he mentioned the buying boycott during his sermon.
"On Easter Sunday the church usually looks like a flower garden," said a third pastor, the Rev. R. Clinton Washington of Jerusalem Baptist Church. He said he considers the campaign " a worthy cause, but I realize it's kind of hard to get people not to shop for Easter clothes, especially with kids.
"When I mentioned it, the adults seemed receptive but the younger folk didn't much care for it," he said. "They kind of booed me and made funny faces." Washington said he thinks more than half of his congregation will ignore his pleas and buy Easter clothes.
Although he agress with Smith's resolution, the Rev. Fred E.X. Porter is not sure what he will see Sunday. "We are following his resolution but this is bad timing. Buying new clothes is a tradition all over America. People want to celebrate the Saviour who has risen from the dead. That's not easy to change."
Following two appeals from the pulpit, the Rev. Carroll Baltimore, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Alexandria, is confident that members of his congregation this Sunday will not be dressed as well as in past years. "They are totally for it. I know this is the week to worry about," said Baltimore, "but so far they haven't bought anything."
Smith, a noted Buffalo civil rights leader, started his campaign on Ash Wednesday and has toured the East Coast cities with his message in hopes that black Americans will open savings accounts or buy needed household items instead of Easter clothing and candy. He is speaking every night this week at Antioch Baptist Church in Northeast Washington.
"There is a vein of violence against black people all over the nation and we think we have no weapon to fight it," said Smith. "But we have in our hand a great weapon, and that's our spending power, I want my people to know they don't need Pierre Cardin or Yves St. Laurent; they can be just as dressed from Robert Hall, and Sears or Penney's basements."
"This is a positive protest; we're trying to get corporate America's attention," said Smith. If the cutback is successful, Smith believes, "it will force corporate America to come together and say that violence against black people must stop. I would then hope that the major corporations would begin to open their board rooms to allow blacks to participate at the top decision-making levels."
Smith also has asked ministers to encourage their congregations to be more frugal after Easter. "The Monday after Easter, our program shifts gear and, instead of total abstinence, I'm asking everyone to go into an automatic cutback of everything from groceries and clothes to automobiles," said Smith.