The Black Church Born Again

[A version of this essay appeared in the Washington Post on October 1, 2011]

“And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.” -Ezekiel 37:3 (KJV)

“The Black Church, as we know it, is dead.” This was the claim put forth by my friend and Princeton professor, Eddie Glaude, Jr., over a year ago. Words that prompted many clergy to cry crucify him, crucify him. There has always been a needed tension between the academy and the church. I viewed his remarks not as an indictment, but as a warning. If the Black Church is to remain relevant it must resurrect and reclaim its prophetic voice.

Several weeks ago, the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) held its 50th Annual Meeting here in Washington, DC. It was founded in 1961 in response to those in the National Baptist Convention who were critical of Martin Luther King. Jr. and other ministers’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, so the story goes. As the PNBC gathered to celebrate, another organization, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had just begun to circulate its Map of Shame that highlighted state-by-state voter ID laws and other suppressive legislation that threatened to undermine the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The Black Church was very instrumental to the passage of the Act and must once again rise to the occasion.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” There exists a profound and urgent need for the Black Church to rise up to the challenge of the moment and to unleash its power, implore its membership and lend its resources to make sure that the communities that they represent are able to fight the latest attempts and disenfranchisement and voter intimidation. America needs to know that The Black Church, as we know it, is not dead. To do so, it must awaken its prophetic voice.

In the age of Obama, this has become somewhat of a challenge. The relentless and unjustifiable assaults against the President, which in too many cases, is not about policy differences has caused many in the Black Church to withhold criticism for the fear of giving inadvertent cover to those who continue to make it their mission to see him fail, even if it means that our country goes down with him. I strongly believe that it is possible to be both critical and supportive of the President. In fact, an honest critique will make him stronger and our nation better. I support our president and I have faith in him, but my faith is not a blind faith. Frederick Douglass pointed out that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

The Black Church must encourage congregants to register to vote, identify their polling place, know what is and is not required to cast their vote, and vote, come rain, come shine. If you don’t vote, you don’t count. Our civic responsibility does not end with voting. Our civic responsibility begins with voting. I heard someone say recently, “Our vote is our currency.” After we cast our vote, we have to keep watch over those for whom we have cast our vote. We cannot afford to place our vote in a blind trust. This is the message that the Black Church must continue to preach while we are still alive. In the words of Troy Anthony Davis we must, “Keep praying and keep working.”

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