Saturday, January 10, 2009

Keepin' It Real

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
photo credit:carinkyle


Counselor1127 said...

Revvy Rev,

I certainly think that the relationship between the church and social ills needs to be researched continually. As the black church has been a voice in the face of an injust society, it is now time to reinvent the manner in which it addresses national and community problems.

These are all issues that will need to be fleshed out, perhaps over an entire generation. As racism has previously been, and is still often overt, the church must also learn how to address the covert issues--some of which you point out. The question is...what strategy is best.

You point to education for pastors, and I am interested in the current models that have shown to be effective.

I am not sure if we will ever get there, but I hope that one day the church will stop operating in the extremes--focusing on the individual to the point where we assault victims of social injustice, or focusing on the society to the point where we make Jesus a worldly "King," (and look for him to conquer "Caesar"), instead of a our spiritual guide and Savior. said...

Hi Pastor,

The black church lost "its salt" a long time ago. Perhaps it happened in the late 1960s or early 70s...when the black church removed itself from the role of being change agents in society.

The focus turned inward! There was a focus on "controlling" the thinking and behavior of the "members" of the club, and on elevating the profile of the preacher and the church.

The ministers who are like me who are willing to go to the lepers' colonies with the Gospel are constantly being TOLD that we need to focus on helping the leader and that we should remain INSIDE the walls and minister to "the members".

The no-so-secret practice is that the prominent "members" have more access to the church leaders than the less-prominent ones. There are many "partners" programs that have been underway to create a class system among the congregation.

The "partners" are ranked by giving level.

I worked for a celebrity bishop and those who gave the most money had his private cell phone number. He would meet people and he was focused on their sphere of influence and the amount of money that they could bring to his ministry. He was also concerned about their spiritual condition as well - but not as MUCH as he was concerned about how they could benefit him.

I don't think he's an anomaly. There are so many who have this focus.

We have some dismantling to do within the black church and everyone believes it is someone else's responsibility to begin the process.

Thanks for this post.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

msladydeborah said...

Hi Revvy Rev,

I enjoyed reading this post.

I left the traditional black church five years ago and joined the Presbyterian Church.

The education that I have received since then has been totally different than my spiritual roots. I have learned the importance of inclusion. Also the necessity to go out among the ones who are not members to be a servant.

I believe that it has become necessary for the ministry to consider what is happening today. Sex is still a subject that is difficult to talk about or to work on within the church and community.

In my current setting, there are LGBT people who are members. Also a group of special needs people. They are embraced by the members and respected as people of God.

I had grown tired and frustrated with the battles that go on to get needed issues raised and dealt with in my former church.

In order for us to reach others and have a positive impact on their lives, we have got to deal with reality. That always seems to be a problem. But if the traditional black churches are going to survive and meet the mandates set by God, then changes must be made.

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

i agree totally and have a blessed new year folk

TakeAction! said...


The leadership role of the church is essential to the survival of our present and future generations. You continue to shine light on issues that too many avoid. Keep up the great work.

Thank you again,

Tim Palmer said...

Rev, thanks for citing our study. I invite you (and your readers) to learn more about the Religious Institute and endorse the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, at

Hey Shae! said...

I lost my enthusiasm in the church (not the Word) when it became harder to ignore the messenger rather than the message. That was when I realized I could receive the same message wherever I went because He is all around me. I have a hard time separating the messenger from the message when the messenger choses to alter the message. So, rather than sit in the house of God feeling like I need to criticze or analyze the message to fit my life, I have found peace in my own walk with God and my daily journey to him that is uncontrolling and unrestricted.

Revvy Rev said...

Shae, We all need that solitary and reflective time with the Lord. However, there is a necessary and sacred place for corporate worship experience. In the ATL there must be someplace where you can find clergy that you can trust. A good place to start would be the Interdenominational Theological Center where Dr. Ed Wimberly and others can direct you. Dr. Robert M. Franklin, recently appointed president of Morehouse is a down to earth person who can also help. The Corporate worship experience is for our benefit and not God's.

Hagar's Daughter said...

Rev. Dr. Revvy Rev,
You have opened a stitched wound for me. Your response to Shae: "...there is a necessary and sacred place for corporate worship experience...The Corporate worship experience is for our benefit and not God's."

How can we / you / me convince others and ourselves (me) of the truth in the this teaching? It's difficult for me to go to church.

The church members are so sweet and loving, so I know it's not that I dislike fellowshiping with them. Service is never longer than 90 minutes and I attend early morning 50 minutes, so it's not time. Church is 10 minutes from my home, so it's not distance. I just don't know what it is. (My preacher daddy says "its the devil." We are not pressured to give, give, give. And the priest is a pretty good guy - lol.

It's something I can't quite place, but I feel so much better once I go.

Revvy Rev said...


How do you feel better, once you worship?

Anonymous said...

Hey Rev.

I've got to tell you I haven't read anything that good, relevant, and gripping about the current condition of today's black church since, well, I don't know since when. We really need more pastors like you with that kind of theologically-based perspective that at the same time (thank God) isn't afraid of intellectualism and open-mindedness.

I don't get down to Ohio much, but if and when I do and it looks like I might be anywhere near your neck of the woods on a Sunday I think I might have to check in. You got it goin on, Rev.

Kymberly said...

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.

Revvyrev. Thanks for the link to the study and for this entire post. Add to the list domestic violence issues, something my church is trying to address. We're getting there, but it's tough. People don't see the church as a safe space any more. Actually, I wonder if they ever saw the church as a safe place.
Thank you for your blogosphere ministry.

SjP said...

Right with you on this one Rev! I mean, what would Jesus preach about today?

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

well said and have a blessed 2009 folk

Believer 1964 said...

I'm not familiar with the Black Church or its teachings, but I do know that ministers of the Lord have a natural instinct and a divine desire to heal the broken and meet this generation's issues head on. Nevertheless, churches like other resources need ample education and training to do so.

I believe corporate worship is a replication of what worship in heaven must be like—in unison voices praising God.

jjbrock said...

Pastor great post and article.

Hagar's Daughter said...


After celebrating the Eucharist I feel connected to those who have gone before us - that Great Cloud of Witnesses. Also, I feel like I've exhaled and released so much of the day-to-day stress so that I feel like going on.

The seniors are so caring. Most of the members are elderly and I love listening to their stories and I enjoy listening to their conversations when they think young'uns are paying attention.

But most Sundays are a struggle for me to get there. I am never disappointed once I park my car.