Church and Society / Cultural Critique / Religion / The Color Line

An Uppity Negro Response to Eddie Glaude’s “The Black Church is Dead”

The following is a response piece from a forwarded article to me by one of my readers and Twitter followers @tsboddy on a piece that Princeton professor Eddie Glaude, Ph.D. wrote for the Huffington Post entitled “The Black Church is Dead.”  Clearly this is up my alley and I’ve finally gotten around to responding to it. The original article as posted here on UNN can be found at this link.

Let me first respond bluntly: the Black Church (yes as a proper noun) and as an institution is not dead.

From the tenor of the article even, I never got the impression that Eddie Glaude was truly convinced that the Black Church was dead himself.  He seemed to give reasons of critique for the institution. The only definitive statement that he gave was the following:

The death of the black church as we have known it occasions an opportunity to breathe new life into what it means to be black and Christian.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a true statement.  But that still is a qualification, “the death of the black church as we know it.”  Well most certainly, the denominational black church particularly the black Methodists, the black Baptists, COGIC and even black Presbyterians have certainly given way to these various non-denominational ventures, numerous different fellowships even including the recent Full Gospel Baptist Church, various Pentecostal fellowships such as P.A.W. for instance, and even these random off-brand holiness groups that are highly regional.

But not to mention that what I’ve somewhat dubbed the “neo-Black Church” has now taken it’s place in the center of the black community.  Now we have the “super preachers” who have far reaches past their congregations on Sunday morning.  Not to mention the big three of T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long, but even persons such as Jamal-Harrison Bryant, Juanita Bynum,  the late G.E. Patterson or even an E. Dewey Smith all influence the consciousness of their listeners.  And in the age of social networking, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen “retweets” from Jamal Bryant and his fellow AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie on my timeline.

Glaude states that:

…the idea of a black church standing at the center of all that takes place in a community has long since passed away. Instead, different areas of black life have become more distinct and specialized — flourishing outside of the bounds and gaze of black churches. I am not suggesting that black communities have become wholly secular; just that black religious institutions and beliefs stand alongside a number of other vibrant non-religious institutions and beliefs.

Although Glaude highlights the differentiated space of the black community, I would still charge that regionally the Black Church still holds great sway over the mindset of the community.  Especially down South. Given the last eight years of me living down South, the church is highly central to their life.  Even to the mega churches, individuals are quite serious about going to church and being a part of the life of their churches.  Glaude perhaps is right in noticing this shift toward the religious institutions not being the high pinnacle of producing a metanarrative, but I’d still level that non-religious institutions are still penultimate in the minds of many.

Moreover, I think Glaude’s article is indicative of how many approach the conversation of religion, specifically religion in the black community and of course the Black Church. Recently, me and a fellow colleague at school had a similar conversation concerning the Black Church. I simply said, the Black Church is not dead, but it most certainly is irrelevant.

I think that bears repeating: the Black Church is not not dead, but it is irrelevant.

Many of us divide the denominational Black Church and  that of the megachurch and non-denominational movement of black churches.  My friend was quite clear that Creflo Dollar was not a part of the Black Church.  And of course, as Glaude said, he did begin to say “The Black Church has always stood for…” and et cetera et cetera, but I asserted that these newer churches are still apart of the institutional Black Church, we just don’t want to admit it.

These super pastors, as I said earlier, hold great sway over the lives of many African Americans in this country.  And these listeners by in large are full fledged members of the black community (whatever that looks like) and they listen to them.  They are influenced by the prosperity gospel, to the neo-Pentecostal theologies to the “kingdom” theologies that are being said. These streams of consciousness affect the everyday routine of the individual even as related to the community.

As Glaude highlighted, me and The Critical Cleric had also said in a late night discussion, that black churches only know how to do conferences.  As he said we know how to get Megafest together or various convocations, but we don’t have a viable intellectual community.  Well, The Critical Cleric disagrees and refuses to accept the situation is that dismal, but I think it is.  What black church groups know how to do is call in a whole bunch of preachers and ask them to expound on some random hot-button topics–as if they’re going to give an answer that we’ve never heard before.  And when discussions on The Lexi Show probably are classified as intellectual discussion to the average black churchgoer, then we indeed have a problem–if you ask me.

I think Glaude’s article would have been stronger if he had highlighted the vast impotence of the Black Church as an institution.  His three points, I believe, point to the irrelevance of the Black Church, but Glaude’s necrophilia towards the Black Church would best be posited, in the words of Stanley Crouch as a “premature autopsy.”

And if I can throw salt, this is Glaude we’re talking about.

The guy is a self-proclaimed pragmatist. John Dewey is his Jesus. I can’t really hate on that, there are some tenets of pragmatism that I most certainly can appreciate .  But, as Glaude wrote extensively in his book In a Shade of Blue, he pressed his claim for pragmatism–as if John Dewey isn’t dead.

HAHAHA! I kid, I kid.

But, Glaude, as he’s said himself, doesn’t go to church and for some of us, his “regeneration” status or to be real churchy, his “saved” status is still up in the air.  So for him to write about this, was clearly as an outsider looking in and critiquing.  I’ll admit, I would have received this article much differently if I knew he was a member of someone’s church…on the ursher board…the deacon’s board…a greeter or something.

The hyper-critic in me really wants to ask the question is this the post-racial movement rearing its ugly head or the age-old notion of blacks simply not valuing that which is inherent to us.  We live in a society where no one has a problem with the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, American Baptist or the German Lutheran, but as soon as we talk about the Coptic Church or the African Methodist Episcopal Church or God-forbid mention the Black Church, we don’t need Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck to begin their invectives, we do it ourselves.

The hyper-critic in me also wonders is this type of rhetoric (and I’ve moved passed Glaude per se) is indicative of this pseudo-intellectualism that we love in this country, and specifically we love in the black community.  We love to take this staunch “anti-” argument on issues and we act as if we have received some fresh new revelation and said individual, I say, suffers from the “I’m-the-only-enlightened-one” syndrome that results in an inflated and unnecessary arrogance.

I’m just saying.

Is it dead? No, not by a long shot. But please believe this is not your mother and father’s “Black Church.”  But as any organism, it grows and morphs.  I’m no longer the buck-toothed eight year old that I was 17 years ago, but thank God I’m not what I used to be.

Leave your thoughts, comments and rebuttals.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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8 thoughts on “An Uppity Negro Response to Eddie Glaude’s “The Black Church is Dead”

  1. Thanks Uppity,

    I missed the Glaude Huffpost article and I’m glad you linked it to your post.

    We have much work to do. Theology is in the doing.

    Keep it uppity…

  2. Another factor is the growth of multiracial, integrated churches, especially amongst Pentecostals, charismatics, evangelicals, and megachurch. Just look at Joel Osteens church. At Lakewood, you see just as many blacks and Hispanics in the congregation as whites. At many Assembly of God churches today, blacks make up a huge percentage of the congregation, especially in cities and college towns. There is more an emphasis on unity in Christ than race or culture in general, especially amongst evangelicals.

  3. you just had to mention the PAW in this piece, huh?! (inside joke)….anywho, i agree with your statement of the black church not being dead, but being irrelevant. part of the problem i see is that we are so insular. as if we possess all the keys to the kingdom and NO ONE else can have an intelligent thought about religion, spirituality, etc. it really is a sad state of affairs from where i am sitting. and the realist in me isn’t seeing much change on the horizon.

  4. GREAT READ!! I agree with you. The black church in many cases has become irrelevant and that’s the part to me that is dead. We need to find ways to make the institution relevant again. Take on things that matter to the community, ALL issues alike….

  5. I am a doctoral student working on my dissertation and I would like to interview. My topic is “Revitalization of the African American Church”. I found your comments to Dr. Glaude quit interesting and I would like to further this conversation.

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