Incredibly, on June 26, Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was sentenced to 3-10 years in state prison. His crime? Preaching the Word of God in a newspaper article in November, 2007. Judge Dennis Wiley of Berrien County ruled that Pinkney’s use of a quotation from Deuteronomy 28 was a threat and therefore a violation of his probation.
Benton Harbor was once a thriving industrial city that is now suffering from the economic desolation common to many Rust Belt communities. Rev. Pinkney is a longtime community leader who was convicted in 2007 of “voter fraud” in a hotly contested trial that many viewed as racially motivated and fraught with constitutional irregularities.
In his controversial newspaper article, Rev. Pinkney sharply criticized trial judge Alfred Butzbaugh and stated that his actions were contrary to God’s commandments. He then quoted from Deuteronomy 28 on blessings and curses, including verses 15-16, 18, 22, and 45 to warn of the consequences for disobedience to God. (The article appeared in the November issue of the Peoples Tribune http://www.peoplestribune.org/PT.2007.11/PT.2007.11.18.html).
A threat by definition is “an expression of intent to inflict evil, injury, or damage.” It is clear that Rev. Pinkney’s article contained no such expression. While the words from Deuteronomy are unquestionably harsh, the author of the quotation is not the mild-mannered Rev. Pinkney, but the Almighty Himself. At no time did Rev. Pinkney state, suggest, or imply that he, Rev. Pinkney, would commit any of these actions. The very idea that a human being can cause another to be cursed by God or to be smitten with consumption, fever, and inflammation is patently ridiculous.
A review of Biblical history indicates that Rev. Pinkney’s words were not only unthreatening, but scripturally appropriate. It is precisely the role of the preacher, prophet, and teacher to warn the people and their leaders of divine consequences for sinful actions. Jesus did so repeatedly. So did Paul. In fact, prophetic warnings of impending disaster are designed not to foment bloodshed, but rather to diminish and avert it by prompting repentance.
Deuteronomy 28 is simply a strongly worded, Old Testament-style statement of the Biblical truth that we reap what we sow. The government can try to punish and persecute the bearers of this message, but it cannot reverse or repeal a law of God.
The sentencing of Rev. Pinkney is ominous also because it follows the well-publicized attack on Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Rev. Wright preached virtually the same Deuteronomy 28 message to American government officials after the terrorist attacks on 9/11: you reap what you sow. For this he was isolated, pilloried, and denounced by the media and Democratic and Republican politicians alike.Preaching Biblical truth to government power has now become a crime in America. It will continue to be so for as long as we allow Rev. Pinkney to remain in prison. The last time this happened was during the years before the Civil War, when abolitionist preachers and publishers were suppressed and even murdered. It is no accident that it is once again primarily the African-American church that is being targeted first. Let us pray that the current crisis has the same result now as then: an upsurge of the American people in defense of human freedom.
Sandy Perry is Outreach Minister at CHAM Deliverance Ministry
San Jose, California.