The black church represents—more often than not—a time where the pulpit is laced with bulls*** and the pews and are filled with few. The disconnectedness in faith and freedom prompts the question: is the black church slain in the spirit or out for the count?
From slavery to school integration, faith has played as important of a role in history as the characters who led the historic efforts. While they took two completely different approaches to the liberation of their people, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example both pronounced their belief in a power higher than themselves as the driving force behind their social activism. The two out-spoken civic leaders represented a time when the black faith-based institutions were the foundation on which great neighborhoods were built and sustained.
Today, however, the black church represents—more often than not—a time where the pulpit is laced with bulls*** and the pews and are filled with few. The disconnectedness in faith and freedom prompts the question: is the black church slain in the spirit or out for the count?
Too busy building legacies and not leaders, many in the black community have given up on churches to provide meaningful services and community engagement.
Joshua Rivers, 27, is enrolled in Palmer Theological Seminary with the hopes of becoming a pastor and one day leading a thriving congregation. The slam-dunking Philly Roots Fellow, however, is making plan to enter law school as he “no longer wants to be associated with what today’s black church represents.”
“I think that most black churches—not all of them of course—are too busy being slain in the spirit that their out for the count, literally! So many of today’s African-American faith-based institutions are not in touch with current times and thus real people don’t relate to them. They’re so busy being religious that they’ve become modern day Pharisees,” says Rivers, who’s becoming SO annoyed by the lack of progress in the current model of black churches that he now refers to them as “the new plantation,” an ideology he says he learned from his wife Shayna Rudd, 27.
Rivers perspective of Jesus Christ was that of an outspoken, down-to-earth, and inclusive activist, a “rebel of all sorts,” he says.
“Activism is all about taking a stand and being willing to die for it. When you look at past clergyman like Richard Allen and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they made you want to become a pastor. Now it’s so filthy I don’t want to be involved. I’d rather be something that young people can look to and look at with a glimpse of pureness,” says Rivers.
All hope isn’t lost in the city of brotherly love, as Philly has some standout churches and faith-based individuals who are stepping up and stepping out.
Reverend Mark Tyler, Pastor, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, located in the Queen Village section of the city, is one of many clergyman in the nation’s fifth largest city that’s on a mission to define what it means to be a “black church in the 21st century.” Tyler has recently joined forces with Attorney Michael Coard to preserve the sacred ground located not far from Tyler’s church, where—thanks to historian Terry Buckalew—it was revealed that more than 3,000 slaves are buried under a city park slated for renovation.
Tyler agrees with Rivers that the ministers of old were trailblazers and further acknowledges that its fear of losing political clout—or the perception of having it at least—that keep many ministers quiet. That was even true back in the 1960’s he explains.
“Dr. King spoke in A.M.E churches more than anywhere else because his Baptist colleagues – although they wanted to support him – were told often by deacon boards that if they bought King to preach – and the church received backlash from the white community – they would be fired! A.M.E churches however were protected by Bishops like Benjamin Tucker Tanner, father of internationally acclaimed artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, who supported activist like Richard Allen after his defiant walkout of Saint Georges, his alliance with George Washington Carver’s call for people to become abolitionists, his support of the boycott of slave produced goods and Allen’s execution of the first black national convention held here in Mother Bethel in 1830. We were the first abolitionists, it’s in our D.N.A. There’s a disconnect however as citizens today believe churches can do it alone and social justice organizations believe they can overcome without the church. The truth is we need each other; there’s some things non-church folks can’t do that activist can do and vice-versa. The civil rights movement was bathed in spirituality. King’s speech on Washington and Malcolm’s talks and speeches were spiritual; they were faith based brothers. What gave steam to those movements was being able to draw upon the faith – and that’s what truly informs the activist,” says Tyler.
New Destiny Family Worship Center, located at 5717 Girard Avenue, has recently installed a new assistant pastor with bold ideas. While he helps governs a “black church,” he understand “justice is colorblind.”
Pastor Leonard R. Norris III wholeheartedly agrees with Tyler, saying:
“Every social justice movement should have backing by a faith based institution. At the same time those faith-based institutions need also be prepared and willing to fight on the frontline with the social justice organizations they support. Black institutions nationwide however—at this critical, critical time in history—are sleep and they need to wake up!”
While there are countless of suggestions and opinions on the role of the black church in today’s society, everyone agrees that its main role should be to follow Christ.
“The church should be less religious and more like Jesus Christ. His message was always about love. You don’t have to love what people do, but Jesus does ask that you love everybody,” says Norris.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Source: TBO Inc®
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