Random thoughts on black Christianity


There has been some great discussion on race and Emergent (actually American Christianity at large). This has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks. I am glad to be able to throw out some of my thoughts about the issue of race and American Christianity. But I want to throw out some random thoughts that I jotted down on the plane while flying out to Seattle last week. Don’t hold me to these thoughts…they just sort of came up. One of the pathologies I find in mainstream black culture and church is a lack of self-criticism. Bill Cosby makes a few comments about some of the negative pathologies happening in the black community he becomes a lackey for the Neocons and an instigator of class struggle in the black community. The dude is a comedian for God’s sake! Of course Cosby is more than just a comedian…he is a cultural icon. But still I think we can be over-reactive sometimes. Of course my little rant that I’m about to spit may very well be reactionary as well. I guess reacting is inescapable. Here’s my thoughts riding on a beam of the black Christian experience…at least mine.

1. Perhaps the black church and black theology are over-determined by the attainment of personal and individual liberty. What some may call “freedom”. It could very well be that the quest for freedom, which has serious merit given America’s racist past and present, has overdetermined the missional self-understanding of the black church and its theology.

2. In doing so the ideology and consequent beliefs and practices of American-styled individualism has screwed up a communal and missional understanding of the black Church’s role in American society.

3. This is displayed in the growing insurgence of neo-conservatism in some wings of the black Church.

4. What some of my Emergent brothers and sisters don’t understand is that the black church has not been immune to the individualism prominent in Western culture. As evidenced by theologies of self-fulfillment and materialism that are gaining a larger audience in the black Church.

5. While there still remains a trace of solidarity and communal resistance practices within strands of the black Church it is becoming quite obvious that the quest for a particular kind of freedom has messed up and eroded contemporary black Christian life from its rich legacy.

6. The quest for a particular kind of freedom has opened the back door to the negative pathologies of capitalism. The break up of community(and family), the deformation of desire, and the reduction of the gospel to individualistic/consumeristic accounts of salvation.

7. The gospel becomes baptized into the ethos and pathos of American individualism and capitalism un-critically. Salvation gets reduced to an issue of personal financial success and achieving human potential. Thus privileging the individual over the common good…something foreign to the African contribution to American Christianity. Rosa Parks could have stayed home and read Fulton Sheen.

8. Such over-determination makes it difficult to create social spaces where empathy and solidarity towards others can be cultivated and formed.

9. In the black Church’s quest for American freedom we have cut ourselves off from a rich theological/ecclesial heritage that sustained us during slavery up until the Civil Rights movement.

What to do?

That’s next.

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5 thoughts on “Random thoughts on black Christianity

  1. Hey Anthony,

    Interesting thoughts. I would further say that the the “reigning” congregations and denominations of the American church are largely out of touch both with the Christian Gospel and with those in need of the Gospel. This is where I believe the Emergent conversation gets us moving in a corrective direction. Such was the case with the Church’s involvement in the abolistionist movement of the 19th century and the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s.

    Unfortunately, as you have hinted, the Civil Rights movement has deteriorated into a message to all America, a false good news that says “You’re entitled to do whatever the hell you want.” The roots of that sentiment may be American, but it is not Christian. The Civil Rights movement came to effective prominence partly by co-opting (I mean this maninly in a positive way) the civil religion of the day. Marry the American dream to commmual Christian Gospel and you can’t keep treating people this way. But the unforeseen spawn of such a movement is this individualized entitilement that now permeates all of American culture.

    I think the effect on Black churches (to oversimplify) is much as you have described: Many of those churches that are somehow relevant have opted for an individualized promise of freedom which becomes a sense of entititlement. Many black churches that hold on to the richness of tradition find themselves without a message that resonates with current culture. The American Black Church seems less relevant now than at any time in its history. I don’t mean to suggest that all is lost. I simply believe that we need to recapture a sense of purpose.

    Now, please don’t missread where I’m going with this. This is not a salespitch, but a couple of projects I work on are trying to recapture the living tradition of African and African American Christian spirituality One project, The Sankofa Project, is an actual experience of immersing ourselves in the richness of the historic living African and African American Christian traditions. We believe that immersion in such an experience can be a gift to the church as a whole and to the world community. I’m hoping that such a program will be included in Emergent’s ’07 event. The other project is a liturgy-writing deal housed over at 21st Century Africana Liturgy.

    I have come to renounce the idea of a disembodied gospel. While our cultures can certainly distort the Good News of Jesus, any truly Gospel message will come culturally contained. We should be vigilant in our awareness of that point when we have shifted from a culturally contained Gospel to a baptized personal or cultural ideology.

  2. So, in essence, the black church is suffering from the same pathologies as the white church. Therefore the challenges of the church can not be racially dichotomized even as the church continues to be so divided. These are very insightful and organized observations. I’m interested to see what your proposed solutions would be.

  3. I have a question that I have pondered and wonder if you could help me with . . . let me start with a set up . . . as white middle class gen xers have gotten dissolussioned with the “american dream” and therefore critique materialism and greed etc . . . the faith that gets articulated in the midst is kind of a anti materialistic and action oriented faith that moves one away from the so called dream to the ghetto or places of poverty to live the “redemptive” life . . . all the while many ethnic groups in this country are still as a whole trying to escape the ghetto or poverty and experience the “american dream” so to speak . . . so redemption for that group comes in the form of “becoming” a part of the social and economic fabric of this country and has its overflows into materialistic language and possibly prosperity theologies. therefore we have groups going opposite directions . . . shedding the success metaphor and still trying to achieve the succuess . . .realizing this is extremely simplistic and overgeneralizing . . .
    I guess my question is: does this make any sense?

    thanks

    el mol

  4. rod,

    me too. lol! Seriously though. I don’t have anything original. I am learning from others. But I do believe that it is going to require a more prophetic self-understanding on the part of the church…and the pastoral capacity to facilitate spaces where people can grow into this alternative we talk about on those late nights watching The Daily Show. I’ll be posting some thoughts soon on this.

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