Is the black church really dead?


The black church in America may be lukewarm, but it is not "dead" as suggested in an article by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University. While Glaude offers fantastic observations about the how the black church has lost her way, such analysis is troubling because it reduces what it means to be "alive" to socio-political and "prophetic" activities instead of focusing on moral formation.

Glaude rightly points out that the black church is in trouble, because for one thing, it is not homogenous. Historically the black church has followed the theological trajectories of other major denominations and theological movements in broader Christianity. The idea that the black church began in a single theological tradition, for example, Reformed, and then became "liberal" is something that no black religious scholar would find evidence for. Secondly, black communities are socio-economically diverse, which broadens the need for differentiated applications of Biblical truths. And thirdly, much of the black church's historic prophetic voice to cultural immorality has been neutralized and often viewed only through the lens of history. Additionally, Glaude points out that the explosion of the prosperity megachurches has distracted and derailed many black Christians.

Again, Glaude raises vital matters but sadly dismisses black churches that are protesting genocidal abortion and supporting Judeo-Christian designs for marriage outlined in the biblical story. He wonders why those same protestors are not also speaking out on poverty or supporting a public option in our healthcare reform circus. Glaude does not emphasize enough that the claims of Christ and his Kingdom demand that Christians mediate between moral and social issues. The black church is dead if there is not a call for black people to follow Jesus with all their heart, minds, souls, and strength. The black church would be doing a huge disservice to black people if she were not vigilant about the morals of human sexuality, the black genocide via abortion, building stable families, and the like, in addition to sociopolitical issues.

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The black church, like all churches, must speak to society with a Truth-oriented "both/and." The moral questions are more easily discerned because of what is clear in the biblical text. The social questions, however, call for prudential judgment and may not be so easily defined and should never be reduced to a political party's narrow agenda. For example, maybe some black churches do not support a public option because they recognize that it likely will enslave black's healthcare choices, making them susceptible to another "Tuskegee experiment." Maybe some black pastors want blacks to have full and absolute authority over their own healthcare decisions, freeing them from dependence on government telling them what health services and procedures they can and cannot have. Maybe some black pastors are aware that a public "option" is a misnomer because having surrogate decision-makers for the physical bodies of black people will actually limit people's options. Again, these are prudential judgments and cannot be used as a litmus test for what an "alive" black church entails.

In the end, what is needed is for the black church to focus on her dual liberation emphasis: Liberating people from the power of the devil (Acts 10:38) and liberating people from the social structures that destroy human dignity (Proverbs 14:31) are both component parts of being "salt and light" (Matthew 5:13-16) so that God's will for how the world should be can be realized on earth as it is in heaven.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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