Is the Black Church Dead? Part 2
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Read the first part of this important article from his most recent posting…
To say that the black church is dead is therefore to say that one of God’s choicest servants is dead. Politically progressive preachers such as Jonathan S. Walton would say that the black church’s current leadership is to blame for the church’s spiritual impotence. Consistent with this view, he spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church this January for its annual MLK day program and referenced the poor theology of prosperity preachers and the personal moral decline of other leading black pastors as the cause the church’s drift of message, mission, and power. He acted as though this doctrinal and moral drift was something relatively new. He missed the fact that the black community has seemingly been without strong moral leadership since the civil rights movement’s fire began to die down in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Further, in the midst of an angry and, some would say, “mean-spirited, name-calling fest,” he did not repudiate the life and ministry of Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jessie Jackson, or Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Each one of these leaders has been guilty of tarnishing the reputation of the black church in some measure. Nonetheless, in the post-King era their doctrinal aberrations and their personal, moral antics were somehow deemed acceptable because of their progressive or liberal political leanings. Professor Walton was joined by Dr. Glaude, who had declared that politically conservative clergy from the black community have risen up and filled the void left by a “dead” black church.
I believe that all of these critics of the effectiveness of the black church forget that if you treat God, Himself as if he is dead, then you will lose the power to move a nation back to God. As corny as it may sound, the ability of America’s black church to be a conscience to the nation was grounded in its intimacy with the biblical, Christian God.
The best way to make my point is give you a little more history, this time from the 20th century. The cover of the April 8, 1966 edition of Time Magazine carried the same question about God himself that has been posed about the black church. The entire cover of Time screamed, “Is God Dead?” “God is Dead!” was a widely-quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It even became a full-blown theological movement. This phrase first appeared in his work The Gay Scientist as follows, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?”
Most scholars reject the idea that Nietzsche was actually talking about the physical death of God. Metaphorically, however, God’s death spoke of the death of a real source of moral absolutes and directive life principles. In the absence of moral absolutes, western society was destined to lose focus and ultimately implode. Living like “God is dead” described the trend of pop culture 45 years ago and it describes America today.
Similarly, if the church dies permanently, God will no longer have a prophetic voice into the culture. As a result of the death of God’s prophetic voice, then the masses of everyday Americans of whatever race will not be able to discover the moral order that God originally ordained for them. Therefore, if the black church dies permanently the community that it serves will be set adrift in a sea of cultural confusion and darkness. Whether it knows it or not, the black community’s path back to God must be lit by the Word of God as declared by a faithful prophetic church.
Continuing to use Nietzsche’s paradigm for a moment, if the black church is dead, it has been murdered by both the pop black culture and the hedonistic American culture which refuses to believe that there are absolute truths. Several successive generations have questioned the authenticity of the faith of their elders. They are not impressed by theology (in and of itself), religious history, or titles. More specifically, the twenty-something crowd is looking for an authentic spirituality they can experience. They want to actually help the poor through Habitat for Humanity or become advocates for teenagers who have been abandoned by their birth families. They are quick to point out injustices and they desire to right wrongs. Younger generations from twenty-something and under are more likely than previous generations to desire much more from their faith affiliations than the status quo or “spiritual” business-as-usual.
It is sufficient to say that all of America, especially Black America, is looking for a moral compass. We have entered turbulent moral times and we don't know which way to go. Causes vying for our time and money abound, but it’s unclear whether these causes will lead our nation - - - first to safety, and second, back to national greatness. For blacks in particular, there was a time when every kid had a praying grandmother. During those years education was seen as a way out of poverty. Training and opportunity were actually the only things that kids needed.
In this generation, there are numerous sterling examples of personal black accomplishments. Yes, we have a black president and black CEOs of major corporations. In addition, we have closed the education gap between blacks and whites. In some areas, blacks with advanced degrees are making more than their white counterparts. In the fields of entertainment and athletics there are almost too many black superstars to name. There are black scholars and leaders in almost every academic field or entrepreneurial enterprise. This is especially significant because with superstardom comes unparalleled access to power and money.
Unfortunately, while all of this is happening, the black male dropout rate is at 50 percent in most major cities. Further, the black male college drop out rate is also soaring. Families are in decline. Nearly 80 percent of our babies are born out of wedlock and 40 percent of our young women could wind up like Oprah - - - leading their own business or professional empires without a family to pass on a sense of legacy and meaning. We have the classical example of material achievement with moral disintegration. The black community has lost its foundations of faith, family, and clear biblical morality.
The prophetic cry to this generation of US citizens is, “America, return to your God! He will stop the economic churning and help you make sense out of the wars all over the globe, changes in climate and weather, and redefining the nation's role in the 21st century.”
Yes, the black church is dead! Actually it may have been on life support for the last 20 years, despite its size and temporal influence. Fortunately, for all Americans, resurrection day is coming. With its rebirth, I expect the black church's civil rights work to include Hispanics and the poor of all races. There will be a new generation of black preachers that see the world through colorblind lenses. They will rediscover the keys to rebuilding families, raising up men with a sense of responsibility and faith, while serving selflessly as servant leaders.
This Easter get ready for the beginning of a black church revolution, a black church resurrection. The movement will be lead by selfless preachers and church members who will cry out with all their hearts, “America return to your God!”