Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. discusses church concerns, and President Clinton claims West Angeles Redevelopment is blueprint for national initiative to improve quality of life in urban communities.
By Tanya Young Williams
LOS ANGELES – Former President Bill Clinton and a host of Los Angeles-based politicians descended on West Angeles Church of God in Christ (COGIC), where Bishop Charles E. Blake is the pastor. West Angeles has one of largest congregations in America with over 25,000 members. Local and state representatives often visit West Angeles, especially during the campaign season, however, a visit from a former President is not commonplace.
“When a former President of the United States is inclined to visit West Angeles Church of God in Christ for Sunday worship service, out of respect for the highest office in our country, we are honored to oblige, irrespective of party affiliation. The attendance and participation of any politician is not an endorsement from Bishop Charles Blake, the leadership of West Angeles, nor the COGIC denomination,” said Gladys Ross, Chief Operating Officer of West Angeles COGIC.
The 1954 tax reform act, commonly termed the “Johnson amendment,” instructs that all tax-exempt organizations are banned from supporting or opposing political candidates. “Legally, constitutionally, the church cannot and should not exert influence over the outcome of elections and individuals involved in elections. Morally, and from a humane perspective, the church should take positions on issues that impact people; the poor, disenfranchised, those who cannot speak loudly for themselves either because of lack of resources or lack of access. We don’t take partisan positions, nor do we endorse individuals. However, the church can educate people and encourage people to participate in the electoral process.”
Blake and Clinton are both natives of Arkansas. Prior to attending the service, Blake and Clinton met privately. “I welcomed the unique opportunity, as the Presiding Bishop of over 12,000 COGIC churches and the Co-Chair of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA), to share with President Clinton that we cannot compromise our stance, and are doctrinally opposed to all policies that support same sex marriage and abortion. It was also important to begin a conversation about what I perceive is an increasing infringement on the religious rights and freedoms of the Black Church,” said Blake.
“West Angeles…If we did what you’ve done here everywhere in America, we could bring people back from the depths of despair” – Former President William J. Clinton
Clinton addressed the packed church and was received with a standing ovation. “I was in West Angeles before you had such fancy digs, I have noticed that you did not just move into your fancy digs, you also helped to develop the whole area: something you should be very proud of,” said Clinton.
West Angeles COGIC has developed over 400 units of housing and commercial property, including West Angeles Plaza, in the inner city of Los Angeles. It has initiated and implemented scores of civic, social, financial and educational programs that have assisted thousands of congregants and Los Angeles County residents. West Angeles’ newest development initiative will provide modern housing for senior citizens in the Los Angeles Community. Blake and West Angeles are in the midst of a capital campaign to develop the West Angeles Family Life Center which will provide educational, medical, financial, social and recreational resources to its congregants and community-at-large.
“We are very proud the of expansion and redevelopment initiatives that have improved the quality of life of our members and our community. COGIC Urban Initiatives is our national platform that is positively impacting our neighborhoods throughout the country. The Black Church remains the cornerstone of our communities and it’s our responsibility to provide access to resources oftentimes out of reach for our neighbors,” stated Blake.
Clinton continued to praise the success of West Angeles’ programs to audible cheers and claps from the congregants. “Do you believe that we can have shared prosperity like you are trying to create all around this church? If we did what you’ve done here, if we did it everywhere in America, could we reduce inequality? Could we restore upward mobility? Could we help bring people back from the depths of despair? I believe we could,” stated Clinton.
“It would be tremendous if West Angeles’ CDC and COGIC’s Urban Initiatives could be implemented in communities around our nation. Helping our community, our ‘brother in need’, the ‘widows and the orphans’ is not political, its scriptural and we will continue to do the work of the Lord at West Angeles Church of God in Christ,” concluded Blake.