Ben Chavis Joins the Nation of Islam

Article excerpt

Benjamin Chavis, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a former leader of the denomination's Commission for Racial Justice, says he has joined the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan. "l am affirming that the God who called me into the Christian church is the same God who is calling me into the Nation of Islam," Chavis said February 23 in Chicago.

Since leaving his position as executive director of the NAACP under a cloud of controversy in August 1994, Chavis has been a key Farrakhan aide, helping to organize the 1995 Million Man March in Washington and the 1996 Holy Day of Atonement rally in New York. Chavis, 49, made his announcement at the Nation of Islam's annual Saviours' Day gathering, which attracted 6,000 people to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. Saviours' Day is an annual celebration honoring the Nation's founder, W. Fard Muhammad, and his sucecssor, Elijah Muhammad, who turned the Nation into a national force within the American black community.

To join the Nation, Chavis would have had to sign a proclamation of faith that holds that Allah appeared on earth as W. Fard Muhammad, who founded the Nation in Detroit during the Depression. W. Fard Muhammad mysteriously disappeared in 1934, at which point Elijah Muhammad took over the group. W. Fard Muhammad is revered in the Nation as the messiah awaited by both Christians and Muslims, and Elijah Muhammad is believed to be his messenger. Members of the Nation also believe that white people were created some 6,500 years ago by a black scientist named Yakub, who did so in rebellion against Allah. This is the basis for the Nations belief in black supremacy and white inferiority. These beliefs have prompted mainstream Muslims to label the Nation's brand of Islam heretical.

USA Today quoted Chavis as saying: "Too many of our people are in prison. Too many of our people are on drugs. Too many of our people are on the way to self-destruction. I see Nation of Islam as a vehicle to resurrect our people from the dead." Lawrence H. Mamiya, a longtime observer of the Nation if Islam, said Chavis's apparent conversion could complicate Farrakhan's effort to align himself with African-American Christians.

Mamiya, an associate professor of religion and African studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, noted the difficult relationship the Nation has with many black church groups, which it has historically criticized as extensions of a white religion. …