“The” Black Church Does Not Exist

Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., The Grio, August 19, 2009

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{snip} Historically, black churches have a common heritage being the only major branch of Christianity that emerged from a dispute related to justice and not doctrine.

The major schisms in Christian history in the 4th, 10th and 16th centuries were all related to differences in Christian doctrine. The 18th century movement of black Christians in North America, however, resulted from black worshippers refusing to be treated as less than human by their white Christian counterparts. This protest against Christian injustice by black Christians gave birth to what we now call “the black church” and every African American congregation has its roots in this legacy. The term “black church” summarizes the institutional response of black Christians in North America to the individual and institutional racism practiced by white Christians.

But today we have all kinds of black churches. Many of these churches function within the holistic tradition of relevant, prophetic ministry. But many black churches shun their historical legacy and have pursued directions that not only deny their heritage but actually exhibit a disdain for it. These churches accept the benefits of the black religious tradition–such as higher rates of church attendance by black people than other ethnic groups–while abandoning the focus on uplift of black people not only spiritually but also educationally and economically.

African Americans are disproportionately represented in every negative statistic reported from health care to educational achievement. These data serve as constant reminders that we need targeted strategies that address the unique challenges of a people who are the descendants of the most creative form of oppression ever experienced, executed by the same people that taught their victims their religion. {snip}

The genius of the black experience is that our forebears were able to use the very tool that was the primary means of oppression–Christian religion–and use it as a primary means of liberation. There are many black churches that are faithful to that legacy and are addressing the temporal and eternal needs of their members and communities. But there are many others–some very prominently featured in various media–that have allowed their pastors to function much more like pimps than prophets and servants. {snip}

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