Do we Need the Black Church? – Napoleon Harris
Acts 4:20 (KJV)
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
I believe that these words uttered in antiquity by Peter and John have much to offer those of us wrestling with the pressing circumstances of modernity. Particularly the quandary pertaining to the necessity of the Black church. There are those who seem to believe that the institution known as the Black church has run its course, and is no longer necessary. This paradigm seems to make sense, after all there is little doubt that African Americans, as a collective, have achieved wealth and social status equal to any other ethnic group within the United States. In addition, society has seemingly erased the color line. There is no longer legislated segregation. Hence the question arises, why do we segregate ourselves, particularly on Sunday morning; is there a need for the Black church?
Black Church not a Monolith
To begin, I need to make a clarifying statement. The Black church neither is now, nor has it ever been a monolithic institution. It has always had as varied a theological and socio-economic outlook as the skin pigmentation of it’s congregants. However, when I refer to the Black church I am referring to that blessed institution which first began as an invisible institution in the backwoods of the antebellum south. That institution which buoyed up the down cast and downtrodden slaves, the institution that mobilized and organized slaves to revolt and fight the social evil of slavery; the institution that spurred the establishment of denominations, and colleges. The institution that birthed King, and the greatest revival in this nations history the Civil Rights movement. This is the Black church.
I believe with out a shadow of a doubt that the Black church is no less than essential to the flourishing of the United States. It has served and must continue to sere as the siren to the soul of this country. The Black church has been the a voice of truth, confession, confrontation, and correction for the nation. When slavery and her bastard child segregation were the normative de facto laws of the land it was the Black church who constantly blew the whistle, gave voice to the voice less and called for change.
The Witness of the Black Church
In addition, Paul and John’s commentary in the aforementioned passage explain in a sense the dire necessity of the Black church. The apostles state that they can not help but bear witness to the events which they have experienced. This is in short the thesis of Tom Long’s seminal work The Witness of Preaching. Hence experience with a particular text is the basis for proclamation. As African Americans our experiences have been quite different from the experiences of the dominant culture. For this reason, our expression is different. In the immortal words of Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes, in response to the media’s lynching of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, â€œdifferent experiences lead to different expressions.â€
The Black church is a reminder that Christianity is not a cookie cutter religion, meaning it is not monolithic. It is an expression of faith in a God who appears differently to different people. God is quite capable of remaining God and yet being relevant in different ways to different people. Just as people in the U.S. May be experiencing Summer presently and people in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing winter; and it is presently day light on one part of the world and yet night in another; in the same vein God may be experienced as the guaranteer of success and the vanguard of the status quo to one population, and yet still be considered as a resting place and co-conspirer for those longing for revolution.
What The Black Church Taught the World
God is simply that vast and inexhaustible, so much so that we as individuals with our limited experiences can’t even hope to grasp the magnitude of God. Instead, it takes the whole of community, the human community to begin to get a peep-hole glimpse of the enormous grandeur that is God. In essence, without the Black church’s unique perspective of God based on it’s experience the whole of humanity can not hope to ever get a better understanding of God. For it is the Black church who taught the world that God is a mother to the motherless child a long way from home, it is the Black church who taught the world of God’s approachable-ness in that we could steal away to God. The Black church taught us all that Precious Jesus would come and take our tired week and weary hands and lead us on and let us stand. The Black church taught us that King Jesus is a listenin’. Is there a need for the Black church certainly Lawd, certainly, certainly, certainly Lawd.