The fracas last week about the existence of strip clubs in Detroit brought a lot to the fore about how leadership in politics and religion comes to bear on either the most important issues that shape the ordinary lives of citizens, or the trivial matters that have less or no consequence on senior citizens scared to come out of their houses even during the day because of drug infested neighborhoods.
It was very telling to watch and hear those individuals who were oozing with sweat in their unlimited desire to dictate the operation of sexually oriented businesses in Detroit that pay taxes.
Arriving on their own self-defined chariots, they came before the Detroit City Council ranting and raving, wagging their fingers, putting the city to a morality test and almost declaring Detroit a Sodom and Gomorrah town because of strip clubs.
In the face of burgeoning unemployment, crime, escalating home foreclosures, the only declaration left out in the mounting opposition against a business whose employees include struggling single Black mothers with children to take care of, was to officially proclaim Detroit a theocracy.
Despite the pressure unleashed on the City Council from those who say that their moral calling against strip club activities is dictated by a higher power, the opposition met another person whose calling is equally authorized by a higher power.
Unnerved, unrelenting and unmoved by the scare tactics, the Rev. Andre Spivey, the only ordained minister on the Detroit City Council, took the uncompromising position that the city cannot ban alcohol in strip clubs.
Not only did he think it was illegal to do so but the pastor of St. Paul AME Church had to walk a fine line between the demands of political and religious expediency and the economic and legal realities of that action.
“I understand that I’m the pastor of my congregation. I’m not here to pastor the city of Detroit. I’m not just a City Council person to Christians in this city. I’m a City Council person for Christians, Muslims, Jews, those who have no faith at all and those of any other ethnicity or faith that may be represented in Detroit,” Spivey told me Monday afternoon in his office.
When I asked if the alcohol decision forced him to think about his faith as a man of the cloth and if, in fact, he thought going against an alcohol ban in a strip club was a one-way ticket to hell, Spivey laughed.
“I didn’t go that far but I did feel I took the brunt of the criticism which I understand is going to come. I think all nine of us are going to have our day where we are going to be thrown to the lion’s den and have fingers pointed at us,” Spivey said. “Yes, as the only clergy person I got a lot because it was said that “why is the pastor doing this?’”
Why the pastor did what he did, Spivey says, is because he understands that alcohol is not illegal and not banning it probably spared Detroit a barrage of lawsuits from strip club owners.
“I’ve said that alcohol is not illegal. Drugs are illegal,” he said referring to drug houses that have been the hallmark of some neighborhoods where some of the city’s churches are located.
Spivey agrees with those who make the argument that those in the religious community who are so full of angst about strip clubs should use the same energy to tackle drug houses in the community, including using “our congregation, block clubs and community groups.”
“I saw some very passionate people last week (during the strip club hearing). And I appreciate them coming down but I hope that same passion doesn’t wane when other issues come up,” Spivey said. “We know (drugs) are illegal and we see the damaging effects of what happens to a person who takes drugs and we’ve seen what it does to our city. It damages neighborhoods, takes lives away and it stops people from wanting to move into the city.”
Drug-ridden houses in the community present a challenge to law enforcement.
“And it’s more work for our police to do. I would rather our police department look at all businesses…but use their limited resources on areas that really affect the public safety of our city,” Spivey said.