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Social commentator and writer Yvette Carnell recently wrote this about the Black Church: it “has neutralized Black politics in America” and “the Black church was never central to the Civil Rights Movement” adding the Black Church “is not a useful 21st Century model for leadership.” This attack was part of her reasons why she believes the Black Church should take a back seat to “Black Liberals” when it comes to politics.
Ms. Carnell is someone I read regularly and whose work appears in “Your Black World” among a number of publications, she is a writer of talent. While I’ve not always agreed with her, I have respected her pen. But not this writing or the reasoning that led to it.
While she does name a historian or two who led her to believe that the Black Church had little or nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement, I would suggest that whoever they are, their research had to be extremely shallow at best and deliberately misleading at worst to come to the conclusion that the Black Church’s involvement with Civil Rights was minimal.
From its leadership to those who were active in every demonstration, great or small, from the evolving of strategies to their application, we find the Black Church was present in the Movement. While Carnell and others may not appreciate that fact, it is a fact none the less. The Black Church’s involvement is the reason why so many Black churches were bombed and burned. The Black Church served as a meeting place for planning, was a reservoir for needed volunteers, raised money, and sacrificed lives for the Civil Rights Movement from its beginning during slavery to the present day.
Ms. Carnell writes that today’s Black church “engages in spectacle activism where posing actually substitutes as politics.” She feels this is especially true when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Because of growing public support for gay marriage, she feels the Black Church should be quiet on the issue.
That is some of the most specious and baseless thinking I have ever read. Using her definition, all of the Civil Rights Movement was spectacle activism. It was how we let not only all of America but all the world know of the injustice and brutality our people were suffering. And how determined we were to destroy that reality. That the majority of people in this country support a particular issue does not mean God supports that issue. We should know that from our history. Racism was supported by the vast majority of Americans and perpetuated by the vast majority of America’s institutions. Until “spectacle activism” changed much of that.
“Adherence to morality politics is a dead end…” Ms. Carnell writes. I’m sure Jesus was told the same thing. But His concern was not what the popular thought of the day was but what kingdom living required. And what it requires is daring to do what God expects as opposed to what society demands what we conform to. The Church is where we learn how to live unto God in a Godless world. Not mindless, immoral conformity.
As to whether or not the Black Church is a “model for 21st leadership,” she may have a point. Certainly not all of those in leadership in Black Churches are more concerned with enriching themselves than enriching the lives of their church members or are caught up in carnal behavior or are financially fleecing the flock, enough are so that it is an ongoing disquiet. And while I never excuse that kind of behavior, the same accusations can be directed at political, business, sports and entertainment leaders. Still, too much of the world is in some of our church leaders.
The impact or influence of the Black Church can be seen on certain political issues and not always successfully. But to say the Black Church has “neutralized Black politics,” as a whole is blatantly untrue. The Black Church has never had that kind of influence on politicians, local or national. Think about it.