Unlike most of my peers, my teenage rebellion stage did not include drugs, alcoholism, and disobeying my parents. My youthful rebellion was best expressed via religion; or more appropriately, resisting each and every scriptural tenet that I was taught to believe at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
Truthfully, much of my aforementioned rebellion flowed from historical curiosity, a ‘bit of’ knowledge, and youthful arrogance. The alluded to arrogance, character traits that I would eventually recognize as character flaws, was most prominently displayed when talking with Christians who had little supporting their faith as they were historically and scripturally illiterate; it was common for me to appear at random Bible Study classes to highlight this reality to the children of Christ. Although many Christians had sat in a church pew for sometimes in excess of fifty-years, they remained comfortably unlearned, most did not care that they did not know
I remember pointing out to a group of such believers that the blond-haired and blue-eyed figure that was currently adorning their church wall was historically incorrect. I then explained to them that if their Messiah was a Jew, just as Moses was a Jew, well then he had to have been a person of color; a logical realization that was accessible to anyone who knew the story of Moses’ rearing in the Pharaoh’s home. Although these Christians agreed that the Egyptians were persons of color and the only whites in the region were Romans whose representative, Pontius Pilate, that related in their Holy book that he had no authority over this man that the angry horde was demanding be crucified because he was not a Roman citizen; incredibly, they still would not agree that their Messianic figure was a man of color. They merely replied “Boy, it doesn’t even matter.” A quip to which I always responded, “Well, if it doesn’t matter. Why don’t y’all tell the truth?”
Such was my relationship with Christ, Christians, and the Church during my teen-years and through much of my twenties. Most troubling to me were the ‘men of God’ who found it impossible to answer what had become a pivotal query in my life. I thought the question a relatively simple one; “Is it possible for a Black man to be both a Christian and love his people.” None, not a single-one, were able to answer this question; that is, until the Rev. Dr. Johnny R. Heckard stepped into my religious/spiritual life by entering the pulpit at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. Rev. Heckard not only explained on a weekly basis that it was possible to be both a racially proud Black man and a Christian, but also displayed it with every fiber of his being.
From the pulpit, a space that far too many immoral, unlearned, and uncalled ‘men of God’ have uncomfortably situated themselves within, Dr. Johnny R. Heckard proved to be the very breath of God distilling out hardy slices of hermeneutics for a starving body of Christ.
It was this man of God who made his transition to be with the ancestors earlier today that would explain many of the most pressing problems affecting this world via scripture and an acute historical knowledge that would make him a welcome discussant among such luminaries as John Henrik Clarke and James Cone.
In time, I came to realize, unlike so many others who had eyes yet could not see and ears yet they could not hear, that Mount Calvary Baptist Church was uncommonly blessed to have what I considered ‘the very breath of God’ speaking from their pulpit. I told anyone who would listen that Pastor Heckard was top 3, dead or alive, when it came to preaching the Gospel.
As a historian, from the moment that I heard this man of God speak, I knew that his voice and prophetic vision was one that must be captured; and I am proud to state that I have countless sermons that I still reference to this very day. Although the human side of me is saddened by what many term Rev. Dr. Johnny R. Heckard’s ‘passing’, I think of it more as a promotion. In fact, due to this great and wise man’s teachings, I KNOW that it is a promotion to a heavenly seat.
Such beliefs are supported by a conversation we once had regarding the preparation time that Pastors preferred to give their kind if they needed them to stand in for them for one reason or another. Pastor Heckard, my pastor, related, “well I like to know by Wednesday or Thursday if I am speaking on Sunday.” This exchange makes me smile, because that omnipotent and omnipresent ‘Lord of Lord’s and King of King’s’ decided to bring his true and faithful servant home in a timely manner; providing him enough time to preach this coming Lord’s day.
Dr. Heckard realize that although you have been promoted to the Heavenly court, you are also being expected to deliver one of those hardy hermeneutical slices of the Word to the Apostle Paul, Moses, Jesus, my mother, your grandmother, and all of the other saints in Heaven. I am absolutely after you lay a plentiful slice of hermeneutics before ‘the King of King and Lord of Lords’ he will examine you intently, smile and say “well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Rest in Peace, Power, and the realization that you fought the good fight and choose the victorious side to soldier upon.
ETERNAL LOVE TO YOU PASTOR JOHNNY R. HECKARD
James Thomas Jones III,
Spiritual Son and Student of the Rev. Dr. Johnny R. Heckard
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2015.