Once, he noted, "the black church was needed for education, social justice and political activism, because segregation had shut black people out of the mainstream of American life. The church was the only institution then - and still is in some marginalized communities."Let me put it like this: I definitely don't think the church should abandon its place as the central locus of the community, but things done changed. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people constantly hearken back to those halcyon days of segregation, unless they think the only way to motivate people is by fear. There's no denying what happened in the past, and it would be pure idiocy to act as if what happened then shouldn't inform our outlook now, but informing and determining are two very different things. The Bull Connors and George Wallaces of the world should have had a direct bearing on the way we thought and strategized for the future in the 1960's. It's the 21st century now, though. As Booker Rising points out,there are some politicians who are still in that segregationist mold, who honestly do want to turn back the clock, but I believe that's a fringe element. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. One of the great strengths of the Black church has been its involvement in the lives of its members. The church is supposed to impact all aspects of the community. That's the church's job. Ultimately it's about bringing people to Jesus, but if I can talk to a hungry man about Jesus without feeding him, then I'm just talkin' loud and sayin' nothin'. The only thing is, politics is not the most efficient way for the church to handle that function. I'll put it like this: when the church was the only institution we had, we could go there to get our needs met, spiritual, social, and otherwise. Within that context, and within the circumstances of the Civil Rights movement, the Black church became a political force. That mutation caused a problem, though. Once people noticed the potential of the church to mobilize a voting bloc,it became fair game, just as any other group, like the NAACP or the Urban League. Likewise, many ministers parlayed their spiritual influence into political power. Now, I'm not gonna be the one to question whether they made the right decision or not, or whether the political limits the influence of the spiritual, but I will say that as that the church became more political, many of the functions it served in the community began to be shunted onto the government. And I'm not even arguing about what the government's role should be. I'm not talking about the government, I'm talking about the church. We have to reclaim our position as advocate...not TO the politicians, we have to take that position back FROM the politicians. While it may or may not be the government's job to provide for the poor and the fatherless, anybody with even a little bit of exposure to the Bible knows the church should be doing it. So when preachers get up there focusing on the role of the government, I think they lose their spiritual focus and in turn damage their overall efficacy. Put it like this: I personally like Jesse Jackson, for what I know of him. He's got his blemishes, but who doesn't? The English major on me is a sucker for anybody who can flip a phrase, and he definitely has skills in that area. If he was purely a political entity, I wouldn't agree with much of what he has to say, but I would have no other beef with him. Thanks to reading La Shawn, I saw a paper from 1977 where Jesse comes out against abortion, partially in his role as a minister. Now, I don't know, maybe he has written a paper on the topic that I haven't seen, but as long as he's maintaining the title Reverend, I don't think he can come down on one side of an issue in his spiritual capacity and then go to the other side without exerting that same spiritual influence. In other words, it's one thing for Jesse the politico to reverse his field on abortion. That's his right as a person and as a politician. For the Reverend, however, there better be some Jesus-is-for-this logic in there. I've heard a lot of hazy anti-oppression logic, but I still have yet to hear any "pro-choice" minister give an argument stating why Jesus would be pro-abortion. And even then, I don't care about those jokers Planned Parenthood can scrounge up, because they had probably never said anything different. Rev. Jackson did, though. To me, it looks like he sold out his spiritual convictions for political gain. I might be dead wrong. But I doubt it. All that to say the main historical strength of the Black church, what made it such an important prize in the first place, was that it was self-sustained. Unlike the NAACP or the Urban League, there were not corporate backers, no hands in the pockets. In many instances, the church was the one institution that was Black-owned and run with Black money. While that technically has not changed, it seems that among some of the 7 traditionally Black denominations, there has been a tacit alignment with the Democratic party. They won't necessarily praise any Democrats specifically, but they'll lam hell out of Bush. That shouldn't be, for a variety of reasons, both practical and Biblical. I ain't gon' get into all that right now, but suffice it to say that I think independence is crucial. All that Sunday Morning photo op church visit crap has got to stop. If the candidate is that concerned, let him have his own meeting in the basement on Tuesday night. There was one more point addressed in the article that basically sums up the wrestling team paradigm, as I like to call it. "The thinking is that if individuals rise, so will the rest of the community. That is a complete reversal from the mission of the black church during slavery, Reconstruction and civil rights," said Dr. Harris, who has researched the church's influence on black political behavior. Exactly. The days of the basketball team, with one or two superstars who do everything is over. We're not in the slavery, Reconstruction or civil rights any more, so we shouldn't be using the same techniques. Nowadays, if the Black community is going to make any progress, then we're gonna have to combine our successes at the individual level into a sustained community-level achievement. The church should be the central point of connectivity, but only as an extension of its spiritual mission. After all, even when Rev. Cleophus James helped the Blues Brothers see the light, he was pointing to the Light of the World.
You Boys Could Stand Some Churchin' Up...
The Dallas News has an interesting article on the decline in overt political influence exerted by the Black church. In it, several factors, including the growing number of "prosperity ministries" and a general ambivalence towards politics are cited as causes for concern.