Rising to their feet, hundreds of worshippers cheered as the pastor linked the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and biblical history.
"You can kill the dreamer, but another one will rise in his place," Bishop Charles Ellis III preached to the crowd Sunday inside Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. "For every Jacob, there is a Joseph ... for every David, there is a Solomon. ... And for every Martin Luther King Jr., there is a Barack Hussein Obama."
It was a powerful theme heard in churches across metro Detroit, as pastors spoke about Tuesday's inauguration of Obama on the eve of the holiday that honors King, the slain civil rights leader. They drew on the significance of the rise of an African American to the highest office of a land that once enslaved Africans.
The messages were part of an ongoing discussion about religion that became a significant part of the presidential race over the past year -- from the furor over comments Obama's former pastor made to false claims that Obama is Muslim. And Obama's selections of religious leaders to speak at his inauguration -- some of them controversial -- raised anew the debate about religion and politics.
Inside churches Sunday, the focus was on the future.
"Barack Obama does not have the power to change all that is wrong or fix all that is broken in the world today," the Rev. Marshall Dunlap said during services at Redeemer United Methodist Church in Harper Woods. "But he has already shown that he has the ability to inspire millions and to give hope. He has already said thousands of times 'Yes we can.' And people are beginning to believe him."
In Warren, at Renaissance Unity, the Rev. Greg Barrette said that Obama embodies the hope that people move past negative histories and explore new possibilities.
"People were willing to think outside the box, to let go of their old patterns, to let go of the historical prejudices of generations to move out of their old ways of thinking," Barrette said. "They were willing to think with a new mind and see with new eyes."
Ken Johnson, 40, of Birmingham said Obama's campaign touched people on a spiritual level in tough economic times because of the "amount of faith it's given to people."
Renaissance Unity plans to hold a celebration and prayer service on Tuesday.
"People are really into this," said Sharon Lonskey, 66, of Clinton Township, a church member. "And hopeful of change."
Obama chose several religious leaders to speak at his inauguration. His first pick, conservative pastor Rick Warren, drew some criticism because of his view of gay marriage. Obama then chose an openly gay Episcopal bishop to speak, too, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and drew criticism from conservatives. And last week, he announced that a Muslim woman, Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, will speak as well, and some people charged that she's linked to extremists.
But on Sunday, the emphasis was on the positive, especially in Detroit.
"When I see Barack Obama, I see we've gotten closer to the dream," the Rev. Kenneth Flowers said at Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. "Because of Martin Luther King, we will inaugurate a black man."
At Greater Grace, Ellis urged the crowd to realize their own dreams as well.
"God said, this is the year," Ellis said. "Don't you dare let go of your dream."
Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.