Op-ed submission by Project 21
Problems infecting and affecting the black community must be addressed in a serious and sincere manner. Many of these problems center around moral values that were once readily available and in abundance among black Americans. Now they are increasingly becoming rare.
To deal with this crisis, there should be a focused and concentrated effort, originating within black churches, that renews hearts and minds. This renewal should focus on Christian moral values as the answer to the pervading psychological ills that now afflict black America.
That blacks are in need of spiritual, social and economic renewal is no secret. A certain segment of blacks have succumbed to behaviors that most would label as counterproductive and undignified. Frankly, these behaviors are embarrassing and morally disturbing. What’s worse is that these behaviors are now being accepted as “culturally authentic.”
Under the current societal trappings of “tolerance,” “diversity” and moral relativism, blacks have willingly relinquished the painful but necessary process of self-critique. This behavioral and spiritual deficiency leads black culture to define “authenticity” as comporting oneself with stereotypes that the generations of many of our grandparents and great grandparents sought to avoid and overcome. In other condescending terms, this “authenticity” is often equated with “acting black.”
In assessing the situation, we can conclude that the black church has failed its moral and spiritual obligation of leadership, because, despite the many claims to the contrary, the behavioral effects and cultural degradation are now too abundant to ignore. Of course, not all black churches have failed. Collectively, however, churches have failed black America.
Further, many well-meaning white people, Christian and non-Christian alike, also are silently complicit in this failure due to fear of reprisals such as being labeled “racist” or “insensitive.” In refusing to speak out and condemn unacceptable behaviors, these people passively accept and legitimize a form of conduct that they likely would vigorously oppose if it came from someone in their own family.
Recognizing the impotence of so many black churches, we must assume that many black ministers are evading discussions of personal and communal sin. Sermons regarding the guilt and shame of socially self-limiting and damaging behaviors obviously don’t contain the potent condemnation they once did. It’s a self-evident truth predicated upon the preponderance of detrimental activity that proliferates within black culture. These activities represent moral and spiritual captivity.
The first enslavement of our community was obvious, it was an existential reality recognized by blacks. Unwanted, it was still an accepted reality. It was challenged as a moral evil and was abolished.
This second slavery, when fully understood, is much more reprehensible than the first. Though American blacks are physically free, their spirits and minds are still bound, even though the generations of blacks living in America today are among the freest blacks ever in the history of the world.
I’m angry and sad that a community whose heritage and dignity once coalesced around the lordship of Jesus and his church has allowed itself to come to this. This apparent timidity of the black pulpit, in not properly teaching the gospel of truth and not holding congregations to a higher standard of personal and communal morality, has had disastrous effects.
We know the power of the black church as has been evidenced by history. The black church sustained generations of blacks during periods of American history when society was much more intolerant and unbecoming than it is now. It fostered an elevated level of character that included “blessing one’s enemy” while “turning the other cheek,” even when circumstances made it exceptionally difficult to do so.
Blacks must realize that our cultural redemption won’t come from the tip of a pen of a liberal politician. It will come by returning to the biblical values contained in the Christian faith of their fathers, facilitated by a church that bears witness in the pulpit.
Derryck Green, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, received a M.A. in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his doctorate in ministry at Azusa Pacific University.