5 Reasons Why I Should Respond to a Negative Post About the Black Church by Peter Watts
Antonio Maurice-Daniels a professor at The University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote a short blog piece called "5 Reasons Why Many Black Churches Are Failing." I read this blog in disgust because my initial bent is always to protect the church. I love the church and all of her flaws. The church is the bride of Christ. She is not perfect nor is she above reproach. I love what Jesus loves! From my theological studies and hermeneutical interpretations I have concluded that the church was worthy of dying for. When you think about that for a moment it should cause you to pause and think why would someone give up their life for such a dysfunctional bride?
The black church in particular has many flaws. This is not unique to any other ethnic specific church either. I could call out the white evangelical, Korean, Spanish language, or even the Ethiopian Coptic church and give you 5 reasons why they are failing their group as well. I appreciate Dr. Maurice-Daniel's opinion. In some cases they are valid for fruitful discussions. What I don't want to get lost in the midst of all of this is the fact that the majority of "black churches" around the country are pursuing the call that God has given her.
Dr. Maurice-Daniels highlights in his blog 5 reasons why the black church is failing. The first reason he says is about money. I've heard this argument so many different times and have experienced it as well. There are pastors of churches large and small who are manipulating the people. I like how the old hip hop group Brand Nubian said, "Preacher got my old earth putting money in a pan for the rest of the week now I'm eating out of soup cans/ he has a home drives is Caddy through town..."
I get it! What I don't get is the ability for folks to see that a large majority of black churches are not ripping off the people. There are more churches and pastors who work full-time jobs and pastor a church and don't get compensated for what they do because the church can't afford it. What's not talked about are the majority of pastors who put up their own money to keep the church going because the pastor loves his/her assignment. Don't make a blanket statement to say that money is the reason why the black church is failing.
The second reason Dr. Daniels states is "Envy." Hmmm that's interesting. In other words, what he concludes is that the reason why the black church is failing is because there are too many haters trying to get what you have. This is the most preposterous statement in his blog. I would argue that envy is not germane to the black church. If it were then the writer wouldn't have needed to talk about it in the holy writ in Ecclesiastes when he said in Ecclesiastes 4:4 "Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless - like chasing the wind."
The writer said "most people" not black people or the black church in particular.
Thirdly Dr. Maurice-Daniels argues that fragmentary preaching and teaching is one of the causes of a failing black church. He states that the church focuses on one sin over the others. In particular he talks about the issue of homosexuality and how the black church has this incessant focus on it. Well, from my experience and being that I get an opportunity to be around many pastors of different denominations and churches that are black, I have found that they are preaching sin as sin. Literally when I hear preachers proclaim the gospel I hear "There is no big sin and little sin." I would argue that we need more solid theological foundational preaching more than anything else. We need more trained pastors who can rightly divide the word of truth so that they are not driven by every wind of doctrine. I think what hurts the black church is the lack of theological training of its shepherds. I don't think that seminary school is the only answer. I believe that seminary has its place but there are bible colleges and programs like The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) that is affordable and contextualized that are amazing resources for urban pastors.
The fourth reason why many black churches are failing according to Dr. Maurice-Daniels is the lack of community involvement. What! Every time I turn on the television or look on the internet all I see are responses from the black church. I see demonstrations, sit ins, marches, sermons, etc... all trying to address the plight of the african american community in the 21st century. I will admit that in the recent past the black church's voice has been a bit silent when it came to injustices in our communities. I think today though, that the black church has been reawakened by the many police killings of unarmed black males in our country. I would argue that the problem is not community involvement but the bigger problem is pastor and parishioner proximity in the community. What I mean by that is where the people engage the community during the regular work week. This is the bigger issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to the black church.
Gentrification of poor neighborhoods like Los Angeles, Harlem and Oakland just to name a few has caused the black church in that community to become a commuter experience. As the neighborhood changed demographically and economically the church building has stayed but the people have moved. So what you have now is a traditional black church in a gentrified area where the poor still live with a mix of Millenials and spanish speaking residents. So as a result, the majority of black people have moved to suburban areas where the prices for homes are cheaper but they commute to church on Sunday. This phenomena has led to many churches being empty Monday through Saturday while the ills of the community continue with no one living there to address it. During the Civil Rights era your church was part of your community. This meant that the pastor and his/her members all lived within walking distance or short driving distance to the church. So if something happened in your neighborhood on Tuesday night you were close enough to the church to hold a town hall meeting to address it immediately. What happens now is that those meetings aren't taking place as frequent as they should and by the time the meetings do happen the issue has already passed and a new one has arisen. It has become a perfect storm for a a new reality of how the black church engages their community.
Lastly, Dr. Maurice-Daniels argues that the fifth reason for many black church failings is the lack of a social justice agenda. I'm sorry Dr. but you must be living under a rock out there in Wisconsin. Maybe there aren't any black churches where you are. I would argue that most black churches only agenda has been social justice. Every preacher I know (again because of the nature of my work) great majority of those ministries all they talk about is the social justice of the people. Take a look around and you'll find that the majority of the black church has a holistic approach to ministry. They care about the mind, body, and soul of the people.
I would just conclude that the black church has its faults and failings but I still love her. The black church needs a stronger voice from its most prominent clergy such as your TD Jakes who can influence media more about the "social justice agenda." I would argue that the reasons Dr. Maurice-Daniel proposed are surface issues that really don't speak into the depth of why it appears that the black church is failing.