The late Rev. James Bevel, an adviser to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., referred to preachers like Father Divine (pictured) as “religious entertainers.” (St. Louis American File Photo)
Has the African-American Christian church lost its influence? Has it become weaker? Do some pastors spend too much time hiding in their churches?
These are questions many people are asking, so it is time to examine and consider the power the Black church and Black preacher have had on our lives and history.
I am writing about mostly African-American Protestant denominations, including the National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Convention, the African American Episcopal Church, the African American Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God in Christ, and the United Church of Christ.
“The Black church is the single most important institution in the Black community,” writes theologian James Cone. “Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing to the present, it has been the oldest and most independent African-American organization. Its importance is so great that some scholars say that the Black church is the Black community, with each having no identity apart from the other.”
My question is: are African-American clerics doing enough?
There are some Black preachers on the battlefield daily, fighting for justice and freedom, administering to the masses and overseeing medical aid. But the numbers are too few. We know the few who concern themselves with these topics, but are the masses leaving the work to a dedicated few?
Is your minister or cleric involved? Is he or she marching for liberating causes? Are they urging you to register to vote? Do they have food pantries?
Nearly every Black preacher in America had comments and opinions and even preached sermons regarding the death of Trayvon Martin. But are they addressing a culture of violence or the phenomenon of sagging pants and disrespect to our elders and women? Are they attending and asking their congregations to attend school board meetings? Are they addressing issues concerning Black student transfers?
Major media outlets have identified the Black church as monolithic and told the world that the symbols of leadership of the Black community were the likes of Sweet Daddy Grace, Rev. Ike, Prophet Jones, Father Divine and Mother Divine.
The late Rev. James Bevel – an adviser to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the “children’s crusade” in Birmingham and one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – was once a frequent visitor to St. Louis. He referred to Sweet Daddy Grace, Rev. Ike, Prophet Jones, Father Divine and Mother Divine as “religious entertainers.”
He suggested also that Black preachers of today who preach on Sunday and are invisible the rest of the week are also religious entertainers. They are seen and outspoken mainly at conventions, and only to promote their anniversaries and gospel programs at their own houses of worship.
The African-American church has always focused on the message of equality and hopes for a better future. Sermons and lectures by African-American preachers have persistently inspired, educated and excited their congregations through slavery, Jim Crow and the various transformations of racism. That must continue. Today’s ministers must be strong and continue to lead respectfully and provide the leadership that is essential for a community to survive and flourish.
The preachers from their pulpits must address AIDS/HIV, teenage pregnancy, sagging pants, murder, education and politics. These are the African roots and the principles of Black preaching.
Is your pastor ministering? Is he or she involved? Are YOU involved? We all know the clerics who are activists, and we know those who are invisible. It is time for action, not entertainment.