Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How the Black Church Has Failed Us

Almost 90% of Black Americans express absolutely certain belief in God; compared to just over 70% of the total U.S. population. Two other important statistics gleaned from this survey: (1) 80% of Black Americans report that religion is very important in their lives as compared to 57% of the general U.S. population; and (2) 55% of Black Americans report that they interpret scripture literally as compared to 32% of the general U.S. population. - PEW Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life

There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning the role of the black church. It has been accused of subjugating women and keeping them single, it has been accused of hypocrisy concerning gays, and for being impotent when it comes to resolving the major social issues that we face as a community. While these may be legitimate criticisms and worthy of discussion I don’t think these are the reasons for the failure of the black church in our communities. What many of these authors argue is that in their opinion the church should become more liberal on social issues. I couldn’t disagree more.

Based on the research you would think that black people were the most pious people in America if not certainly the most religious. But in looking at the data there seems to be a disconnect between what people are saying and what they are doing. I believe that disconnect is a direct result of the “Gospel” they are receiving from the pulpits. I would never claim that the black church is some monolithic entity that follows the same doctrine in all locations. But in my experience the message being preached in most black churches is the same message that was preached during reconstruction. The black church continues to manifest itself as if nothing has changed in the last 250 years. The problems that we face today as a people are not the same problems we faced following slavery when the daily lives of black people were controlled by outside forces.

If we are to overcome the new challenges that face us such as unwed single mothers, the disintegration of the black family, and the escalation of black crime and violence we must provide new solutions. The church has not provided black people with the direction and the tools to attack these challenges. As a result you get this disconnect between believing in God and living for God. An example would be the discussion concerning the black church and the high rate of single mothers. What the authors fail to realize is that prior to becoming a single mother these women were single non-mothers who attended church and professed a belief in God, a belief that spells out in its text in chapter 2 that we are to be married prior to having children. This is in chapter 2 of the Holy Bible which the majority of black people believe to be literally the Word of God. If we can’t get pass chapter 2 of our Holy Book what chance will we have with the other concepts being expressed later?

The black church doesn’t need to become more liberal in its interpretations of the Word; it needs to become more consistent. The black church has fostered this belief in the “Magic Jesus”. A Savior who will magically appear and solve all of the cares of life so long as you pledge allegiance not to Jesus but to this church and thus removing all responsibility for one’s behavior by the waving of a wand. So rather than providing black people with the tools to combat crime, irresponsible behavior, and lack of preparation the church instead gives them a lucky charm or a magic genie. In 1967, 25% of black children were living in single female heads of households today that number is over 70%. While the black church is not the single cause of this epidemic it has remained primarily silent during this explosion. Want to have pre-marital sex; don’t worry magic Jesus will save you. Don’t want to prepare your children for the future; don’t worry magic Jesus will fix it. Instead of offering magic Jesus the church should be providing our people with things like parenting training, character building classes for our young men being raised by single mothers, and financial training.

Finally, there must be an awakening in our people concerning our role in God’s plan. Prior to being our Savior Jesus must be our Lord. Jesus states, “If you love me, you will obey me.” To blame the institution that you are not being obedient to for your problems is like my going to school every day not paying attention and then blaming the school for my lack of learning. We should stop excusing our behavior because we are black, or we are poor, or discriminated against. As a human being I owe it to other human beings to do certain things. Not because they are white things or black things, rich things or poor things, they are human things. I owe it to other human beings not to kill them, to pick up after myself, and to try and be the best person I can be. These are not acting black or white, they are acting human.

The time has come for our churches to leave the rhetoric of the reconstruction era behind when blacks were unable to control much of their daily lives and recognize that there are things we must do for ourselves. We must come out from the pews and pulpits and reach out to those who need our support and guidance. We must provide those in the pews with the tools to better their lives and the lives of their children. The black church will need to do a better job of reaching out to our men by providing them more than just a magic Jesus and we must do it while we have them there. The majority of black men were in church at some point in their lives and the church lost them. The children have not failed, we have failed them. We have to do a better job of training them up to be men of character and that job cannot be done by women.

The Jews tried to keep Christ contained within their law, while the Greeks sought to turn Him into a philosophy; the Romans made of Him an empire; the Europeans reduced Him to a culture, and we Americans have made a business of Him. – Unknown

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