A Look at the Black Church 50 Years Later

"The Black church" is shorthand for the vast network of racial-ethnic communities of Christian faith, worship, and life born out of and informed by the historic and present day experiences of people of African descent in the United States.
The Black church is a sacred and social movement, representing communities of faith and, at its best, arenas of change. In oppressions affecting Black children, women, and men, Black churches have access to liberative and holistic resources and to reconciling potential, restoring ancestral wisdom and cultivating contemporary insights that uphold the agency of Black humanity. When and where the Black church upholds and models its own virtues of love, justice, freedom, community, equality, dignity, self-worth and more, it bears magnificent witness to a just and humanizing world.

In the last 50 years the African American community has undergone momentous and convoluted change. By the middle of the twentieth century, a largely Southern agrarian population had become predominately urban as Blacks "voted with their feet" against Jim and Jane Crow segregation and repressive white brutality for the "promised land" of the urban and mostly Northern and Western industrial cities.

The Black-led freedom movement of the 1950s and beyond was an intense evocation of powerful and prolonged experiences that for the better part of three hundred years had sought to dismantle the institutional mantle of racism. The scope and magnitude of these militant new protests were of a scale previously unknown and firmly identified with the ethos of the Black faithful -- the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Ella Baker, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee among others.

Religion scholar C. Eric Lincoln identified the 1960s as the watershed years when the "Negro Church" died and was reborn in the form of the "Black Church." Black churches joined spiritual imperatives with Black sociopolitical objectives in intermittent fashion, at times impressively so and other times faltering, as Black clergy and laity -- especially women and young people -- determined to embrace the clarion call to resistance, liberation, and social justice as part of their spiritual inheritance. In the aged presence of racism Black churches bore witness to the transcendent power of the divine resident in the souls of Black folk and others of the disinherited.

In the years since the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Consciousness Movements, Black religious and theological scholars have provided Black churches with critical tools of analysis and advocacy in the struggles against discrimination, apartheid, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, mass incarceration, human trafficking and forms of social stigma, and for gender equality, gay equality, environmentalism, health care equity, reproductive freedoms, diverse religiosity, Africa and the Diaspora, immigration, globalization, gun control, living wages, sustainable community, and so much more. This demanding and strategic work has only just begun.

There is a pervasive myth that the United States is comprised of a common citizenry living in a post-racial and inclusive society. In truth, the oppressive legacies of the past are hardly eradicated and never so easily dismissed. Disparity and death, violence and abuse, stigma and structural unemployment, food deserts and educational malfeasance, the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, racial profiling and anti-immigration legislation, voter identification and "stand your ground" vigilantism all function as contemporary forms of hegemonic social control.

Bi-partisan obstructionism and market forces dictate the new racial reality. Race-relations management forged in civic and corporate spaces masquerades as principled public policy. Intersections between race and other socially contested realities -- gender, generation, sexuality and class among others -- are denied critical nuance, coalescent recognition, and emancipating capacity. Injustice comes in new and myriad forms. The nation's crisis of confidence in democratic freedoms continues unabated. Racism, America's original sin, lives on.

Source: Huffington Post | Alton B. Pollard, III, Ph.D.Dean and Professor of Religion and Culture at Howard University School of Divinity
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