Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

The Prophetic Black Church Still Needed Today.

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Since the beginning of our time in the United States of America, black religion and the black preacher have played vital roles in articulating the hopes, aspirations and ultimate destiny of African-American people. Ever since the bullwhip days of slavery and reconstruction, the harsh realities of Jim Crow and the continuing cauldron of racial segregation to the present day, the black pastor and the black church have been the seed bed and bedrock of a people’s quest for dignity, freedom, justice and equality in America. As an oppressed and marginalized people, black folks could not have come this far without the leadership, vision, spiritual strength and communal solidarity generated in part by African-American faith communities.

Furthermore, it has been the prophetic wing of the African-American church that has advocated most vigorously for the civil and human rights of African-Americans and all Americans. It has been the prophetic black church whose principal mission is to call the people back to God which has been on the front lines of the struggle for distributive and restorative justice. The annals of history are filled with those strong and resilient souls known and unknown who have tirelessly worked to create a more wholesome and just society for all people. It is both the cooperative and transformative as well as the biblical and constitutional focus of the prophetic black church that has helped inspire the emergence and flowering of other human and civil rights movements in America.

In this post-Civil Rights and so-called post racial America, the role and need for the prophetic black church is most taken for granted. In this world of the super-duper mega churches, where the “prosperity without charity Gospel” is sometimes preached; where racial animus is still propagated through multiple forms of micro and macro aggression, where the rights of the poor and middle class are trampled afoot and black churches appear to play a more recessed role in human rights advocacy, the vigorous activism of the prophetic black church appears to be an anomaly and to no longer be in style or have currency.

Perhaps it is the quasi or real fear still permeating and gripping a post 911 America that has helped blanket the church in cloaks of deafening silence. Perhaps, it is the struggle just to maintain and survive that has many black churches and everyday people less inclined to be agents of positive change and more concerned with getting food and work day-to-day. In a society where the middle class is shrinking and those traditional advocacy groups such as labor unions and other rights groups appear to be waning in their power to effect positive and permanent change in America, has an atmosphere of fear and retreat in a culture of worry and anxiety emerged and escalated among the general populace and black church goers?

Needed today is precisely the kind of transformative prophetic witness that will call America back to God; that will keep America moving forward and not galloping backwards; that will create an ethos of healing, wholeness and wellness for all. The need for that witness is stronger than ever today, for without it the nation flounders in quagmires of fiscal and material recession; is further wedged between the crossfires of confiscation and resentment politics; and is satiated with only a feel good religion that simply teases the mind, appeases the soul and numbs people to the acute political and social realities of our times. While there is nothing wrong with such religion, we also need one that will heighten our awareness of what’s happening in our society and world and prepare us to not only “be hearers but doers of the word” in creating positive growth and goodness in a universe of perpetual change and progress. There is still much work to be done, more enhancements and more goals to be achieved in our beloved country. “The biggest room in the world is still room for improvement.”

Contrary to some widespread belief, the prophetic black church has not gone out of style. While its voice has been muted, it has not been completely silenced. It remains a principal proponent of personal, social and spiritual transformation and has always been and still should be on the front lines of positive change in America. There are numerous black, white and other churches still “fighting that good fight.” Without that prophetic urgency and witness, America could not have come this far and could not rise to its greatest potential.

We need the prophetic black church. It is not the bane of America but is still a great gift and blessing of a present and greater America still struggling to move forward with freedom, dignity and justice in a world still needing those strident and clarion voices.




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