Religion and Relevance: The Black Church


The Billy Graham Center in Charlotte is surrounded by one of the worst ghettos I’ve ever seen. I do not exaggerate. I was afraid and I’m not easy to scare. I’ve lived in East Africa and grew up in Harlem, albeit middle class Harlem, but we didn’t helicopter in and out. With its worldwide missions, where is its local impact?  Sadly, the Center is not alone — the White House is surrounded by astounding poverty and suffering — but one would hope the church could do a bit better.

I’m especially puzzled by African American pastors who seem completely oblivious. At an evening service a few weeks ago, Bishop Noel Jones, whom I respect, mentioned that he had recently noticed the disparities in arrest and sentencing between white and black youth. A female pastor at our church mentioned that she was surprised that African American women have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the nation. Two years ago, the former youth pastor of my church who now works in Memphis described his church and city as traditional: men working, women working in the home. His church, maybe. His city? Memphis has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S.

I remember Bishop Eddie Long visiting our church and bragging that he dealt with Prime Ministers and Presidents. Okay, the end result of those dealings was …?

Where does all this leave us? George Fraser once said something that seemed a bit cold but I’m beginning to embrace it. “You can pray yourself into irrelevance.” I believe in prayer. It’s powerful and it changes things. But we also need to act.  At a minimum, we need to be aware.  What I don’t understand is how pastors can lead effectively if they are so distanced from what many of their congregants are going through or being touched by? How does this bubble happen?

I find the black church to be a source of comfort and strength, but this kind of thing makes it easy to understand why young people and many men refuse to attend church.

I propose a moratorium on business ventures, conference hopping, books, cds and seminars for churches and pastors until your church has

  • secured its future.  That means mortgage paid off and an endowment established; and
  • your people and surroundings are a living testimony to faith and not mediocrity or failure

About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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