We are past the point in which the blatant and unavoidable problems that have infected, affected and seemingly characterize the black Americans need to be addressed in a serious manner. Most of these problems have at their center a morality that was once present and readily recognizable in black America, but is sadly becoming increasingly rare. To deal with this inescapable crisis, there should be a focused and concerted effort – originating from within black churches – that renews the hearts and redeems the minds of black Americans. This renewal should focus on Christian moral values as the corrective to the pervading ills that now afflict black America.
Why should this happen through the black church? Because blacks continue to be the most religious group in America – more likely to pray, read the Bible and attend worship services at much greater frequency than their racial counterparts. Further, black churches also have among the highest rates of attendance when polled against other racial and religious groups. As it relates to Christians, moral redemption and regeneration can only happen in and through the church.
That blacks are in need of spiritual, socio-economic and cultural renewal is no secret. Certain segments of black America have given themselves over to behaviors that most people rightly identify as counterproductive, destructive and degrading- from the astronomically high numbers of black children born outside of wedlock, the disproportionately high rates of abortion among blacks; the destruction of the nuclear family, the all-too-common sight and pattern of black-on-black criminality pervasive in cities across the country, to the recent calls for violence against police officers. Frankly these behaviors are not simply embarrassing; they’re morally disturbing. Soberly addressing this situation, many people are convinced that the black church has failed its moral and spiritual obligation of leadership. The effects of the cultural degradation are far too obvious and abundant to ignore or excuse away as some attempt to do. Of course not all black churches have failed. But collectively they have.
What’s worse is that many of these self-destructive behaviors are now accepted and referred to as culturally “authentic.” This seeming approval of this so-called authenticity of black culture sees blacks engaging in behaviors and confirming stereotypes previous generations of black grandparents and great grandparents fought to avoid and overcome. In other condescending terms, this “authenticity” has been labeled, “acting black.”
Because of the postmodern trappings of “tolerance,” “diversity” and moral relativism – in addition to the idolatrous notions of racial solidarity and racial empathy – blacks (Christian or otherwise) have willingly forfeited the painful yet respectable and responsible manner of self-critiquing their own community. No longer do blacks publicly reject and condemn the stigmatizing attitudes, thoughts and activities that cast blacks as a whole in a dim light. Today, multiple grievance industries actually defend such boorish behavior.
Furthermore, many well-meaning white people – Christian and non-Christian alike – are silently complicit in this destructive form of “tolerance” out of fear of verbal and potentially physical reprisals- from being labeled “racist” and “culturally insensitive,” or worse- being assaulted. They refuse to speak out and condemn these unacceptable behaviors- passively accepting and legitimizing a form of behavior that they would never accept from anyone in their own family. The soft bigotry of low expectations comes to mind here.
Recognizing the silence and ongoing impotence of the black church, we can only assume that black ministers have been intentionally evading the discussion of personal and communal sin. The sermons regarding the guilt and shame of self-destructive and debasing behaviors don’t contain the moral condemnation they once did. Again, this truth is self-evident predicated upon the predominance of detrimental activity that proliferates within black culture. This behavior is disturbing and humiliating, and it stigmatizes all blacks, even those who rightly reject and condemn such destructive conduct.
These shameful behaviors are a product of moral regression and spiritual captivity to unbiblical and dehumanizing things.
The first slavery was obvious – it was an existential reality recognized by blacks. While a hated yet accepted reality, the institution was challenged as a moral evil and was eventually abolished. This second slavery rightly understood, is much more reprehensible than the first. Though blacks in America are physically free – blacks in America are the freest blacks ever, in world history – their spirits are very much confined to ungodly ideas which are manifest in ungodly behaviors.
I’m both angry and dismayed that a community whose heritage and dignity once coalesced around the lordship of Jesus and his gospel has allowed itself to come to this. The timidity of the black pulpit – in not properly teaching the gospel and spirit of truth regarding spiritual liberation, accompanied by a renewed character centered on the fruit of the Spirit, as well as not holding their congregations to a higher standard of personal and communal morality – has had very tangible and disastrous effects. The heritage of the black church is a revered institution in American history. We’ve seen the power of the black church as evidenced by its historical stands against slavery and Jim Crow, as well as being the morally influential presence during the era of civil rights. During these times, the black church truly was a moral beacon of faith, light and hope. It spiritually sustained generations of blacks during periods of time in our country’s history when America was much more racist and unbecoming than it is now. It fostered an elevated level of moral character that included “blessing one’s enemy,” and “turning the other cheek” when circumstances made it exceptionally difficult to do so. It also taught blacks to rid themselves of bitterness and rage while loving and forgiving those who sinned against them – recently exemplified and by the congregation of brothers and sisters in Christ at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, in Charleston, South Carolina after the evil committed by Dylann Roof several months ago.
Many argue that because of the Church’s spiritual complacency, its influence on American culture is fading; this argument has some merit. The voice of the American church has been silent, and morally and theologically compromised across various religious and ethical issues. But the diminishing moral influence that the black church has had on America in general and blacks specifically during the past forty years has been startling – especially when juxtaposed with its political engagement and activity.
Blacks are very much past the point in which we must realize that spiritual and cultural redemption won’t come from a pen from a politician – especially a progressive one. If it were possible, it would’ve happened by now. It should be evident that moral regeneration and reformation can only happen in and through the church by repenting and returning to the biblical values contained in the Christian faith – facilitated by a church that steadfastly bears witness from pastors in the pulpit who hold their congregations accountable to a higher standard of living.
Black churches are in a position to atone for themselves – to ask for forgiveness for defaulting on their responsibilities to their congregations and to society at large. Churches should seek to re-engage and re-establish themselves as a conduit of the gospel rather than a medium of a counterfeit, progressive ideology – a record of which is one of social and moral destabilization and personal destruction.
Black churches are also ripe for redemption to be a direct and credible influence in their communities to candidly confront the detrimental activity that has sadly come to define and defame them.
Far too many physical and spiritual lives are being lost while the black church continues to its retreat into cultural and spiritual irrelevance as a result of immorality.
*A personal note: my critique comes from within this tradition, not outside of it. Having had the benefit of being a member in addition to visiting a number of black churches across several denominations, I’ve been blessed with witnessing churches who have it right and those who painfully do not.