September 26, 2013
Has the African American Christian Church lost its influence? Has it become weaker? Do some pastors spend too much time hiding in their churches? These are questions many people are asking so it is time to examine and consider the power the Black church and the black preacher has had on our religious, urban, and social lives and history.
In this column I am writing about mostly African American Protestant denominations including the National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Convention, the African American Episcopal Church, the African American Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God in Christ and the United Church of Christ.
Theologian James Cone writes “The black church is the single most important institution in the black community. Beginning in the late eighteenth century and continuing to the present, it has been the oldest and most independent African American organization. Its importance is so great that some scholars say that the black church is the black community, with each having no identity apart from the other”. My question is are African American clerics doing enough?
There are some black preachers on the battlefield daily, fighting for justice and freedom, administering to the masses and overseeing medical aid, but the numbers are too few. We know the few that concern themselves with these topics but are the masses leaving the work to a dedicated few? Is your minister or cleric involved? Is he or she marching for liberating causes? Are they urging you to register to vote? Do they have food pantries?
Nearly every black preacher in America had comments and opinions and even preached sermons regarding the death of Travon Martin, but are they addressing a culture of violence, the phenomenon of sagging pants and disrespect to our elders and women? Are they attending and asking their congregations to attend school board meetings and addressing issues concerning black student transfers?
Some time ago major media outlets focused on and identified the black church as monolithic, and told the world that the symbols of leadership of the black community were Sweet Daddy Grace, Rev. Ike, Prophet Jones, Father Divine and Mother Divine.
Those media very seldom, if ever, mentioned the fact the role the black church played in nurturing and shaping African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Joseph Lowery, Jeremiah Wright, Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson Sr. and others. That apparently would not be to their mission or to their advantage.
The late Rev. James Bevel, an adviser to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who led the “children’s crusade” in Birmingham, Alabama, and one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was once a frequent visitor to St. Louis and he referred to Sweet Daddy Grace, Rev. Ike, Prophet Jones, Father Divine and Mother Divine as ‘religious entertainers’.
He suggested also that black preachers of today who preach on Sunday and are invisible the rest of the week are also religious entertainers. They are seen and outspoken mainly at conventions, and at home, promote their anniversaries and gospel programs at their own houses of worship.
The African American church has always focused on the message of equality and hopes for a better future. Sermons and lectures by African American preachers have persistently inspired, educated, and excited their congregations through slavery, Jim Crow and the various transformations of racism and that must continue. Today’s ministers must be strong and continue to lead respectfully and provide the leadership that is essential for a community to survive and flourish.
We know and understand that there is no single set of beliefs to which all African Americans vow, and African American women leaders are emerging more in some denominational churches than in others and we must all work together. The preachers from their pulpits must address AIDS/HIV, teenage pregnancy, sagging pants, murder, education and politics. These are the African roots and the principles of black preaching. Is your pastor ministering? Is he or she involved? Are YOU involved? We all know the clerics who are activists, and we know those who are invisible. It is time for action, not entertainment.
My column in The American of April 28, 2005 was titled ‘The Mockery of the Black Church!’ I hope I do not have to write another. I scrutinized the African American Christian churches this time but I will also examine other faiths and religions in future columns. Are you offended?
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Be Ever Wonderful!