Refocusing the Black Church, Shifting the Paradigm
What is the role of the Black Church in contemporary American society? Should the focus of the church extend beyond saving souls? Are faith leaders obligated to do more than preach the Gospel and do faith-based institutions have a secular task to perform; a concordant mission equal to preparing us for the hereafter?
Some might find these and other questions concerning the Black church disconcerting if not disrespectful. Some might argue that we are unduly criticizing the church, that we are questioning the will of God.
We question no one’s faith. And we make no attempt to scold, wound or offend. We instead readily acknowledge the need for and the value of faith in our everyday existence. Life has a way of humbling the mightiest of us, leaving no option but to pray, often in abject submission. Absent the church and other faith-based institutions many of us would be alone and destitute, without sanctuary and sans hope.
Nevertheless, these and other fundamental queries concerning the faith-based community are absolutely necessary and long overdue. It is our belief that the Black church must realign itself, shift its focus, and adopt a new set of priorities. We are further persuaded that by embracing this paradigm shift, the church will evolve into something even greater than its current manifestation. Our reasoning is as follows.
The standard to which we should all aspire is to make significant and lasting change for the better. And as one of the few remaining institutions in the African-American community, the church is blessed with the organizational resources and functional leadership that so many others lack. As such, it is uniquely positioned to provide substantive solutions to deep-seated and seemingly intractable social problems.
Realignment enables the church to re-brand itself. There is a complacency within the faith community; the tendency to concern itself solely with growing the church and expanding the minister’s sphere of influence. Far too many pastors and churches are unwilling to stray from this programming, to move outside their comfort zone, the lack of meaningful outcomes notwithstanding. The realignment of priorities forces the faith community to look in the mirror and question its tactics, approach and effectiveness.
Repositioning also stems the corporate slide of the black church, where hawking sermons, books, tapes, movies and plays are more important than helping people. All too often these and other religious products exist only to be relentlessly marketed to those who are treated as consumers rather than members of the faith.
Furthermore, the paradigm shift mitigates the tendency towards “mega churches”, wealthy religious institutions that deliberately divorce themselves from the unpleasant realities of the neighborhoods in which they are located, whose size and inflexibility makes them distant and unapproachable. These and like institutions may be in the community. But they are not of the community.
Paradoxically, the Black community needs an engaged and effective church now more than ever. We stand on the precipice of an extinction level crisis. The growing generational, cultural; class and gender divide within the Black community, black on black crime and violence, single parent households, teen age pregnancies and parenthood, homelessness, hunger and food insecurity as well as the burden of mental and emotional health concerns do more than plague us. They jeopardize our very existence. Sadly, the crisis grows worse not better. And our deficits compound daily.
Yet, many of us, including the best and the brightest have written off the Black church as yet another ineffective, inconsequential and immaterial social club whose benefits exist only for its members. This is especially true of young black men, most of whom are noticeably absent from any and all spiritual proceedings.
Yes, saving souls is a fit and proper function of the church. And we do not suggest that the church abandon its prime directive. Yet, did not Christ insist upon saving people as well as souls? Did he not advocate social change as well as heavenly admittance? And if so, is not the church obligated to follow suit? Is not the faith-based community morally compelled to save lives, families and communities by creating heaven here on earth?
We therefore ask the church by way of its faith leaders to do more. We petition the institution and its people to be just as concerned about the here and now as they are about the hereafter. We beseech priest, pastors and ministers to preach not from on high but to venture outside their sanctuaries, past their pulpits and beyond their various alters.
We implore them to roll up their sleeves, get in the weeds and endeavor to rectify the real and material problems that are devastating the Black community. We pray that they embrace the mercy and the value of addressing larger issues as well as aiding individuals. Helping a homeless person is clearly what Gods wants us to do. But solving the homeless crisis in America is significantly more impactful.
And we ask them to realize that their mission is not only to preach the Gospel but to be instruments of social, political and economic justice. In so doing, the church need not worry about reaching the flock. The flock will reach the church.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum