Although the trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has attracted some of the nation's most famous men of the cloth, I am surprised by the absence of spirituality associated with this sad ordeal.
Preachers are coming out of the woodwork, with the Nation of Islam leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, decrying the wickedness of the court; Bishop George Augustus Stallings Jr. threatening to bring "hell on Earth"; the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson becoming a constitutional lawyer; and, perhaps as early as today, the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York bringing God knows what.
Even the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, a candidate for mayor, visited the trial yesterday, perhaps expecting that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson would bestow celebrity on him by banning him from the courtroom the way he had Stallings and Farrakhan last week.
Fauntroy was admitted.
Nevertheless, it is odd how a legal ruling by Judge Jackson has enraged the ministers far more than the moral issues raised by Barry's videotaped conduct. Unfortunately, these are the preachers who will most likely have access to media microphones when so many others have so much more to offer.
I am reminded of the Rev. D.L. Dykes, a minister from my home town of Shreveport, La., whose recently broadcast sermon was particularly relevant to the Barry case.
"You only have to stay in the pastor's study for a few hours to know that people go through hell, terrible suffering, because of sin," the Rev. Dykes said. "People may suffer with us, may suffer because of us, but they can't suffer for us. Jesus, God . . . nobody can save us from the natural consequences of our sins."
Dykes's sermon was essentially about accepting responsibility for our behavior. Although we may be "saved," or, as Farrakhan said of Barry, "repent," this does not save us from the repercussions of violating natural and man-made laws.
What we can be saved from, Dykes preached, are bad attitudes -- such as fear and hate.
"We can be saved from the need for power, recognition and things," he added.
A few days after Barry's arrest at the Vista Hotel in January, another minister spoke out forcefully and with impressive relevance. It was, ironically, the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr. of Metropolitan Baptist Church, which Barry joined three weeks ago.
"I assure you that it is not my purpose to be blatantly political in what I say, but I do intend to exercise my prophetic office to speak to the times in which we live," Hicks said. "Pity the preacher who must ask permission to speak boldly in the name of our Christ. Pity the preacher who, when faced with a godless, sin-loving, gold- worshipping, cocaine-idolizing, materially oriented culture is afraid to say like Joshua: 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!' "
The sermon was entitled, "What to Do When You Are Arrested," but Hicks made clear that many people lose their freedom without spending a day in jail.
"It is when we are imprisoned by twisted thinking, captured by negative conduct, locked up by self-doubt, self-defeat and personal despair, we are already in jail before we ever get arrested," he said.
I don't expect that any of the preachers congregated for the Barry trial will have much to say about its most important aspect: Barry's use of drugs.
In fighting the disease of addiction, a sense of humility, as well as acceptance of the problem and its consequences, are strongly desired. It is no longer clear whether Barry truly appreciates this. Although he maintains that his legal "fate is in God's hand," he has nevertheless surrounded himself with men who seem hell bent on manipulation and bravado.
Instead of bringing salve for what the FBI videotape of Barry portrayed as a morally bankrupt soul, the ministers have descended on the courtroom as if they were soldiers for a Mafia don.
Their efforts to show a united front for Barry has been strained and incredulous from the beginning. On one hand, the Nation of Islam denounces black public officials who use drugs and chase women. It also condemns homosexuality. Then Farrakhan embraces Barry, who embraces Stallings, whose church says homosexuality is okay. Barry claims to be mad at Fauntroy and implies that he doesn't think that much of Jackson, but he seems to welcome the Jackson-Fauntroy "show" of support.
This doesn't even make good politics, let alone moral sense.
If these ministers really want to help Barry, and this city, they could take a tip from Nelson Mandela. They could at least stand for something.