The Importance of a Thriving Black Church | Sojourners

The Importance of a Thriving Black Church

 African Americans in church in Georgia. Image via Wikimedia Commons

For centuries, the black church has stood as an institution built on community, family, justice, and freedom.

The black church can be defined as the body, entity, or institution formed in hush harbors of plantations — secret gathering places for the enslaved to engage in their religious and spiritual practices — which over generations, emerged into a valuable and pivotal place of community, protest, and worship.

A diverse, multidimensional body consisting of varying truths, realities, and mission where two things — Jesus Christ and blackness — exist in unison among differing faith traditions, contexts, and theological premises. These institutions birthed numerous Protestant denominations, non-Christian movements rooted in the liberation of black people, institutions of higher learning, and more.

Because of this immense history, power, and influence despite generations of ill treatment and racism, black churches need to thrive, continuing to speak truth to power and serve black communities beyond the sanctuary. 

African-American clergy have historically played a visible role in the struggle for civil rights. Unique to black churches and clergy is the engagement of transforming community, meeting the needs of their congregations, and truly manifesting the meaning of service.

Celebrated and noted amongst black clergy is the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ for 36 years. Wright set the precedent for service beyond the sanctuary by establishing Trinity as the epicenter for holistic existence on the South Side of Chicago. They are the incarnate model of being unashamedly black, unapologetically beautiful. It was Wright who boldly professed in his pulpit that LGBTQ lives mattered in the sight of God, and told his congregation that they too are God’s children. His unapologetic witness, love, and inclusivity of all persons enabled him, through black liberation and womanist theologies, to possess a prophetic view that transcended tradition and practice. Wright built more than 60 ministries serving the church and its surrounding community. These included ministries for HIV/AIDS care, drug and alcohol recovery, hospice care, senior citizen health care, housing and child care program, a reading program for the poor, and 22 ministries for youth. This ministry continues today under the leadership of the revered Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III.

Currently, pastors such as Rev. Dr. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, a thriving black megachurch in Clinton, Md., are continuing the work of economic empowerment, environmental justice, student debt relief, healthcare, health and wellness, and other issues important to the black community.

“The black church was born out of the fight for freedom, justice, and equality,” said Coates. “Our voices cannot be silent and must speak truth to power.”

Most noted is Coates’ founding and organizing of the Our Money Campaign, an issue-based advocacy campaign that seeks to bring Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) into the mainstream in order to solve some of our nation's greatest social and economic challenges. 

“Economic injustice exasperated the issues of race. When economic insecurity is exasperated, all matters of social injustice are too. We have to have a black church that understands economics at the macroeconomic level. The “Our Money Campaign” is to educate faith leaders, public, and others about the role of fiscal policy’s detrimental impact on our community,” said Coates.

Other leaders have continued to serve the black community tirelessly: Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. hosts the largest HBCU College Fair with over 70 colleges and universities. Most recently, they made headlines for their $100,000 gift to cover the outstanding tuition and fee balances of 34 graduating seniors. Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church is launching a campaign aimed at ending mass incarceration, including paying bail, and speaking out about how wealth should not determine whether someone goes to jail. Bishop Charles Edward Blake Sr., presiding bishop of The Church of God in Christ Inc. opened a full-time counseling center in the heart of Crenshaw in West Los Angeles and also established Pan African Children’s Fund (PACF), a program that provided support to over 420 orphan care programs, 200,000 children, and 24 nations throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Other leaders such as Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rev. Dr. Willie D. Francois, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, and Rev. Eric Mason, to name a few, have all committed their lives and ministry and to the freedom of their people and communities.

It is easy to see the need for community within the black church and the importance of their existence not only because of the pastors and leaders, but because of the community members who work alongside their pastors to bring about change.

“The black church has been central in helping redeem the soul of America. It continues today to play that role. If we’re going to have a society where every American regardless of race, gender, sexuality, country of origin, economic status, etc. is guaranteed certain freedoms of our constitution, the black church has to be the source to redeem the soul of America, ” said Coates.