In my last blog, I discussed Dr. Eddie Glaude’s poignant article surrounding the relevance of the Black Church. Again, I want to reiterate that I am someone who has been nurtured, trained, and developed in a myriad of ways by this historic institution. Suffice it to say she is “home’ to me. I am undoubtedly indebted and wholeheartedly grateful to the Black church, indeed!
Even now, there is something awe-inspiring about the fact that congregations founded by African slaves and free Blacks were responsible for initiating the Civil Rights movement and helped to transform America by showing this country and the rest of American religious communities of faith the power of the Kingdom when people of God work together for the common good. She (the Black Church) is a miracle of the Divine and richly blessed with numerous cultural gifts of music, preaching and spirituality that have become global exports that have enriched many cultures around the globe.
Still and all, as a scholar-practitioner I (as well as others) also have a responsibility to offer a constructive critique of this institution that is so beloved, especially when conspicuous trends are occurring that appear to adversely affect her historic significance and relevance.
In short, the historic influence of the Black church appears to be in decline. As Dr. Robert Franklin, President Emeritus of Morehouse College connotes, congregations in low-income communities have modest outreaches to the surrounding community. Additionally, most influential Black churches (both locally and nationally) are now “commuter congregations”, where a majority of members reside multiple miles away from the sacred-space they call sanctuary (Franklin, p.111). These trends are catalysts to a strange elixir that has resulted in a growing disconnect with the poor of our churches and a (observable) mass –exodus of middle and upper class Blacks from our churches. Such disintegration (see previous post) in our churches affect their ability to effectively serve the community in significant ways, and may also shed light on reasons why some believe the Black church is no longer as relevant in fulfilling their spiritual needs.
To press my claim(s), allow me to assert that the Black church is typically an asset-rich institution and generally one of the wealthiest institutions in the community. Some may say it is the only institution that is exclusively owned by African Americans. It also has functioned as a therapeutic institution fostering a culture of psychological and financial freedom, strong mental health, and healthy self-esteem.
Nevertheless, scholars have demonstrated that commuter members in general tend to lack profound knowledge of the local neighborhood of their churches and do not offer as broad of a range of social services to the neighbors of their church. As such, both they and the church as an institution lose touch with them. If the members of these anchor institutions continue to lose touch with the poor, unlucky, the left out and the least in her ‘immediate’ surrounding communities, not only is her significance at stake but the ones who need her the most are in danger of drifting out into a nihilistic sea.
Still further, when drainage of viable resources occur, manifested in the notable exodus of middle/upper class members, it enlarges the church’s challenge to effectively minister to the least advantaged members of their communities.
But what is causing (some of) them to leave? Why would one even want to leave a place that has historically functioned as the hub of their civil societies and the center of social life in their communities? Undoubtedly there could be volumes written on the root causes. I’m sure you as a reader may have your own ideas and I’d be interesting in hearing some of them in our comment section.
Personally I believe there are at least three reasons you’ll hear about in subsequent blogs; in particular, I believe the reasons are theological, social, and spiritual. Stay tuned and I’ll show you why!
Be Encouraged and Keep Looking Up!
Reference: Franklin, R. (2007). Crisis In the village: Restoring hope in African American communities. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
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