I’ve had it up to here!
While there are substantive ministries that exist in our cities today, just how much is tradition going to mire us in the prototypical Civil Rights Era of the Black Church. The fact that I watched a Nightline episode this past week about a Humanist society in Palo Alto, California juxtaposed to what was deemed “regular church” and it was clearly an atypical representation of many black congregations across this country further let me know that we, the Black Church is operating in irrelevancy.
I have a friend here at ITC that has conveyed this sentiment to me many times and at first I had an argument for him, but as I’ve pondered over the days, I’m more and more convinced that he was really on to something. One of the first problems as I see it, is that the Black Church operates to easily in a vacuum. And more over a vacuum within a vacuum, and the attempts to operate outside of those microcosms are thwarted simply because of the avenues attempted.
The evidence of the first vacuum to me was driven home when I watched a recent Nightline episode about some atheists who called themselves Humanists who had a congregational meeting in Palo Alto, Calif. Well, the opening shots juxtaposed I guess what the producers considered “regular” church to that of the Humanist society. And clearly, “regular” church was noted by church bells, and large steeples and quiet serene cathedrals–and let’s be totally honest–and white people walking to church. I’m not trying to defame the white American church experience at all, however, the black church experience is part of a sub-culture in the larger picture of the United States worldview. With that in mind, it’s no wonder the comments of a Jeremiah Wright were so completely misunderstood.
The Black Church was initially put in this vacuum as a direct result following slavery, but since the modern Civil Rights movement, I’ve yet to see a cross-cultural move between white churches and black churches of both historically black and white denominations to bring both experiences into the forefront and recognise that both are viable avenues of doing theological work and both are credible communities of faith. Now there will always be the extremes such as Southern Baptists (even though there are a substantial number of black congregations that are a member) versus that of the Church of God in Christ, but definitely those in the middle need to be aware of this.
Now, I am not suggesting that in order to legitimize the Black Church it must come into full communion with the predominant mainline church, but, the two need to recognize that the other exists. This Uppity Negro being who I am, is more demanding of the fact that the news media outlets would find those who are more representative of the African American culture rather than, um, shall we say, a FoxNews finding a Rev. David Manning or the dumbassness of a Jesse Lee Peterson who calls himself a reverend, but there is absolutely NO evidence of degrees on his website.
Especially in the wake of the Jeremiah Wright and Obama media blitz, I failed to see credible individuals speak on the Black Church immediately following this story. As much as I appreciate Roland Martin (didn’t used to because he always used to talk over his callers on his local show in Chicago on WVON), and appreciate his veracity simply because of his experience as an African American, his credibility on this issue of Black Liberation Theology falls quite bankrupt–his only source was his wife who was an ordained minister. Trust me, there are more than enough black theologians in this country who were more than capable of speaking on this issue. Let alone, enough black pastors of historical black congregations that have thriving ministries in many of the black urban centers.
Despite this “forced” vacuum of isolation that is more so the result of predominant American thought and culture, there is the own bubble that the African American church has placed itself.
Denominationalism. I’m all for ecumenism, I go to the Interdenominational Theological Center. But, when I start hearing the wonderful catchphrases such as “they don’t shout right” or “they aint got the Holy Ghost” or “they to quiet” or “they don’t hoop like we hoop” I cringe. It’s just this in-house fighting amongst ourselves that prevents us from standing together against other social issues that face the black community, and moreover face our country–yes the United States is our country no matter what these other yahoos want to tell us.
Lack of education. Just for a quick second, think about how many pastors and preachers have attached to the front of their name “Dr.” I would challenge the reader of this to do a quick biographical search via Google and see just where the Eddie Longs and Paul Mortons and the Liston Pages and the T.D. Jakes and the G.E. Pattersons and the Charles Blakesmwent and got their degrees. This idea that “all you need is the Holy Ghost” or if you’re Apostolic “all you need is Jesus” as an excuse to not go to school and formulate into a working theology what you teach and preach at your church, then we are dead in the water as it is.
Jesus as the panacea. Perhaps I’ll get in trouble for this one, but I believe the Benjamin Franklin quote “God helps those who help themselves” is appropriate. When pastors and preachers make the claim in the pulpit and in Sunday School and in mid-week Bible study to the effect that “all you need is Jesus” it sets up an “us vs. them” dichotomy. This is not just a black church thing, but rather a Christianity thing, but since I’m on the Black Church, let’s look at it in this context. Those who don’t have Jesus, however one interprets that, they exist on the outside of their world. Extrapolated to a church setting: there are those in the church, and those outside of the church.
Too often in the black church do hear this defensive talk about those “of the world” and what “those who are saved” need to do to bring them into the church. Well, if I’m outside of the church, why would I want to be a part of something where you’ve already categorized me as being “less than” before I even came near a church building? Secondly, this idea of Jesus as a panacea gets tossed around as some metaphysical cure-all in fact, the cure-alls needed are VERY physical in actuality. Jesus alone is NOT going to get someone off of drugs; Jesus alone will NOT stop a 17 year-old from gangbanging. I guess I’m getting into semantics a bit, but if anyone has more questions for me to flesh out this topic, feel free to leave a comment.
As a result of this line of thinking, the Black Church has become an isolated system within a larger system that has isolated it. There is no way that an institution can be relevant in the larger world if it suffers from this double isolation, such as the Black Church as we know it. So, let’s just be conscious about what we say, how we say it, and to whom we say it. Let’s be realistic, many churches in our community are dying, and getting and increasingly older population.
But I guess those are the churches who pride themselves on “being hated by the world” based on the teachings of 1st and 2nd Peter admonishing Christians of the 1st Century Chuch “to suffer as Christ suffered.” And in this suffering, there is the hope of redemption in heaven, that God will ultimately reward those who dilligently toiled in the vineyard for Christ.
Blah, blah, blah.
I mean, come on now people, IT IS A NEW DAY. We act as if Christianity is a club. Those who don’t smell right, like homeless people; those who don’t live like we live, gays and lesbians; those who don’t dress right–if you don’t have on a suit and big ass church hat, but come in with a doo rag on and sag your pants; those who don’t Holy Ghost (as YOU define it), can’t come in.
I mean wow! Wow! Jesus twice!
I am convinced that we have really come this far in our story. Honestly, look at the homogeny of churches, not just black ones, but across denominations and races–there is a distinctive cross section of culture and society that The Church attracts. And we just love it when we do our missional work because “Jesus saves from the utmost to the guttermost” working in the inner-city with the disadvantaged youth who live in public housing developments, doing what Christ did on the streets of 1st Century Palestine.
By being this exclusive club, we, those of the Black Church have rendered ourselves impotent. We are merely shooting blanks when we go out into the community expecting to change lives and reshape consciousness! The Black Church is doing nothing more than swapping members–one member jumping from one church to another because of the “anointing” and other manner of foolishness. This is doing nothing to help reshape the ethos of the black community, but rather is detrimental because the ones who need to be reached as a result of lifestyles that are harmful to themselves and to the larger black community, as a result of maligning by the black church and other societal issues, ARE NOT BEING REACHED.
Preachers and teachers say it all the time, and I’ve finally been able to outright reject this notion: Why is it that a Sunday service is a fill-up because I’ve been drained from dealing with “the enemy” the rest of the week? Annnnnd, why is Wednesday a “topping off” so I can get through the rest of the week? But church folk love it when you say that because it SOUNDS good, but why isn’t the sermon on Sunday or the lesson on Wednesday night something that helps reshape your consciousness for the rest of your life? So, that merely meeans that the pastor or preacher is only giving you a [rhema] Word worthy of only 7 days–and I guess at some churches only 3 days because you go back on Wednesday.
To the Black Church, I would like to present you with the following:
Doing the same thing, expecting different results is one of the definitions of insanity.
Keep it uppity, and keep it radical, JLL