It is no secret that the black church in America, which was born as a response to social issues and was/is critical to the survival of an entire people by helping them deal with the everyday, dehumanizing experiences of slavery and oppression, finds itself rapidly becoming irrelevant, obsolete, and losing influence despite having a surface vibrancy and being a constant hub of activity. This impotence is alarming considering that the contemporary status of many persons who look to the church's power can be described as a struggle to survive.
Rather than quickly placing the blame for criticism, disinterest, or lack of participation (and lack of effectiveness in changing lives when there is participation) on others, it may be more beneficial for the church to become introspective on this. Society in general, and young people in particular, are bombarded with images from a consumerist culture that has evolved which glorifies violence, disdains serious commitments, disrespects and insults its women, trivializes black culture, and has an uncontrollable hunger for pleasure.
As many churches continue to hype prosperity and an anti-intellectual emotionalism, the reality for many is an unprecedented material poverty and exposure to problems associated with social deprivation. In addition, the current housing foreclosure and economic crisis has unmasked a real life material poverty that had been hidden by credit and debt.
Astonishingly, what may be even more concealed is the church's failure to fully appreciate the link between social problems and theological problems as we attempt to minister with no explicit mention of racialized oppression, poverty, unemployment, health care or educational policies while utilizing a spiritual hermeneutic that alludes to the biblical text while ignoring the "social text" of life.
A glaring example of the church's inability to speak with a theologically authoritative word to contemporary issues is revealed by a recent study titled Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice. The report correctly notes that religious leaders have the moral obligation and potential to change society's understanding of sexuality through use of the pulpit, pastoral care, media, and politics, however seminaries are not providing them with sufficient opportunities for study, self-assessment, and ministerial formation in sexuality. Nine out of ten seminaries do not require full-semester sexuality and LGBT courses for graduation and most do not offer a sexuality-related curriculum at all. In addition there is a great need in seminary for policies of full inclusion, learning opportunities for sexual harassment prevention, and meaningful course work dealing with sexual justice issues.
In spite of the fact that sexuality issues are ever-present throughout the Bible, they are seldom mentioned directly in the pulpit. Theological discussion is also absent on other needs and issues that directly impact the day to day lives of people living in contemporary society such as mental health, prison, single parenting, patriarchal subjugation and psychological incarceration of black women, economic exploitation, and substance abuse, in addition to content on sexuality.
Also, for many, there is a loss of love, meaning, and purpose. Men, women, and youth also come to the church carrying shame or the need to be unconditionally accepted, yet a theology has not evolved to speak to their present experience as the Bible did to it's original hearers, but is rather limited to literal, Eurocentric, or an ancient patriarchal experience that is not normative for today’s generation. As a result, most have voted with their feet and left the church.
The church has the potential to greatly influence the lives of black people including the demons of teenage pregnancy, the criminalization and incarceration of black men and women, and a variety of other social ills. But we require a theological system that moves beyond the boundaries of traditional church language and orthodoxy to engage with the pressing needs of our time and that meets people where they are.
I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death... Revelations 3:1b,2a
link: Sex and the Seminary