The Black Church: Relevant or Relative? by Dr. CAM Jr

Columbus BlackBlog Series Vol. 1, Dr. Charles A. Montgomery

Several years ago, Dr. Eddie Glaude  of  Princeton University wrote a provocatively powerful piece entitled, THE BLACK CHURCH IS DEAD.

In the article, Glaude posted that the idea of this venerable institution as central to Black life and as a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation has all but disappeared.

The reaction to the article revealed that shockwaves had been sent throughout academia and pulpits alike, and dialogical polarization ensued.  At one end of the spectrum some considered Glaude’s statements sagacious, while others ensconced that he was hopelessly wrong and that the Black Church was alive and well.  Needless to say, it was curious to me that reactionary opinions were so wide and varied.

As one who was raised, nurtured, and eventually became a scholar/practitioner of and in the Black Church, what bullied itself to the fore of my consideration was an underlying question Glaude presumably sought to trigger; namely, Is the Black Church Still Relevant?

Undoubtedly she has a proud history; borne in secret as the invisible institution cloaked in the brush harbors of the Southern United States, where those uniquely kissed by the sun would “steal-away” and worship the One who “came to set the captives free.” (Luke 4:18-19)  That hallowed ground where the embers of hope were sparked by a Pentecostal fire and the “pneuma” of the Holy Ghost who supernaturally fanned the flames of their faith that spoke into every fiber of their being that one day they would be free.   She has a proud history that traces her movement from innocuous invisibility to a viable visibility as the prophetic conscience of our Nation.

Yet and still, in the 21st Century, the question before this “blogospherial- floor” remains–is the Black Church still relevant?  Perhaps relevance is relative. Particularly to a people where relevance might mean different things!  Eugene Robinson argues in his book Disintegration  that after decades of desegregation, affirmative action, and immigration, the Black Community has splintered into four categorical groupings [Transcendent, Middle Class, Emergent and Abandoned], where each have their own aspirations, interests, and needs.  According to Robinson these  groups are distinguished by ethnic and socioeconomic variance.

If there is at least one kernel of truth in his argument [and I believe that it exists], than it follows that the assimilation of Black people into Western/American culture has resulted in differing perspectives, perceptions, and even practices.  In laymen’s terms, the church may mean different things to different people.

Arguably, this is nothing new, even for African-Americans.  Though sharing many common characteristics and values, we are not a monolithic people.  There have always been varying denominations, doctrinal differences, and a genre of places of worship  [in the Christian context] ranging from ‘silk-stocking churches’ to storefront churches.   Still and all, two conspicuous trends, in my opinion, make Glaude’s question more relevant than ever.  The increasing number of African Americans not attending churches [at least habitually], and the rising number of those who are now attending multi-ethnic churches.

Over the next few months I plan to examine the aforementioned trends and offer a few thoughts regarding what might be the causes of these realities.  I welcome your thoughts, questions, and comments. I look forward to our ‘ongoing’ discussion.

In the interim, I do encourage you to attend your worship service of choice this upcoming Easter.  No matter where you worship, I pray the Spirit of God will smile upon you in this season.

Be Encouraged and Keep Looking Up!




Ph.D., E. G. (n.d.). The Black Church Is Dead. Retrieved March 01, 2016, from

Robinson, E. (2010). Disintegration: The splintering of Black America. New York: Doubleday.


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