Saturday, May 10, 2008

What is the "Black Church"?

So my friend Dave and I decided to step out of our comfort zone last weekend and attend Eastern Star Church, a congregation that is probably more than 90% African-American. And the experience was unforgettable. The markings on the wall in the back of the sanctuary, for all to see, read, “Where Jesus is exalted, and the Word of God is explained.” I read that as I took my seat and said, “Ok, I’m in. Let’s do this.”

There was a gospel choir, loud passionately singing, graceful interpretative dance (which made me feel like I was at a Christian version of the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics), bold and warm introductions to visitors (they made you stand, told you the vision of the Church, gave you an opportunity to put your faith in Christ, and had the people around you welcome you personally), and preaching. I mean preaching. I don’t mean “here are five ways to improve your life” preaching; I mean “God is sovereign and His Word has authority and offers hope even in disastrous circumstances” preaching.

Anyway, at the service, Senior Pastor Jeffrey Johnson made a challenge to his congregation to vote, and encouraged them not to be distracted by the media and the negative press Barack Obama is receiving because of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He said he had known Wright for 15 years, and Wright had been preaching the same way for 40 years and just now he was getting called out for it. He also said that presidential candidates should not be judged entirely by their pastor. He reminded them that it’s not like America had never contributed to the suffering of black people. And he said to vote your convictions.

Hmmm….I thought. Do I feel comfortable with what he just said? Well, I quickly forgot about all that when he got into his sermon, which was a creative and relevant exposition of 1 Kings 17 and the widow of Zarephath, relating it to current economic struggles. But then, as it appeared evident this week that Obama was going to clinch the Democratic nomination, I started to think about all the press, and Rev. Wright, and so on.

Two interesting articles I would direct you to:

In short, I would say that the “black church” is not the color of the building where people worship (see pictures), or the racial makeup of a particular congregation; it’s not really anything. It’s a misnomer, so to speak. But it is used to describe a group of Christians who have banded together with a common heritage to encourage and help each other seek Christ in the midst of a culture that still struggles with racism. They certainly don’t get everything right, as certain comments by Rev. Wright have revealed. But then neither does the “white church”. God willing, as we as a collective Body seek God’s help in breaking down our prejudice and sin, we will more effectively unite together for the Gospel, and “the Church”, as one unit, will exalt Christ and explain the Bible in a way that is pleasing to our Lord.


Sara said...

For those of us who more frequently attend the "white church," I think Rev. Wright's comments struck us at a deeper core than maybe Mr. Wright would have expected. His comments are far from novel in some portions of the black community. The government's introduction of AIDS into the black community? This fear is spoken by a man who lived through the Tuskegee Syphillis cases, when the government did just that. That America deserved 9-1-1? Again, this spoken by a man who's seen communities of people overlooked and neglected in Chicago. A man who probably has some rage at the people/institutions who have harmed who he might consider the "sheep" or the least of these among us. I don't and can't agree with Rev. Wright's comments, similarly I suspect to most people, both black and white. However, the reasons behind his extreme statements should cause us to muse on why a black man of his generation might feel this way. Or why his parishioners might be drawn to liberation theology (as are many in Latin America).

Samuel said...

Joey - I have nothing as enlightening to say as Sara, but next time you make it down ATL way, will do up a Sunday triple header. Start at Buckhead church at the 9AM service, then swing south to Ebenezer Baptist (Dr. King's former pulpit) at 11AM and then jump over 75/85 to the Ted for a Braves game. That's a blog post and half waiting to happen.