Thursday, June 19, 2008

Status Trumps Propositional Faith...,

Speaking of serendipities - NPR carried a program this morning discussing the demise of the Poor People's Movement, and the demise of the Black church in America. Saying it without saying it, because I suspect that most folks have not deconstructed the motivational basis of the phenomenon, the historic Black church in America was not only the hub of Black free speech and autonomy, it was also concurrently THE place to see and be seen within the segregated but socio-economically heterogeneous Black community. Once the barriers of racial segregation legally fell, and there was economic flight out of the historic Black community reducing these communities to socio-economic ghettos, there ceased to be as much of a magnetic pull by the church as the hub of the place to see and be seen. No longer capable of harnessing this powerful drive, the churches were greatly diminished and they have not recovered since. In addition, powerful secondary and tertiary forces and factors have set in the still further reduce the magnetism of the historical Black church.
Poverty and Faith

OTOH - the past fifteen years has seen the rise of megachurches, and of particular note are the prosperity preaching megachurches. These temples of Mammon have overtly and explicitly harnessed and trumpeted their unrepentant commitment to the status drive - and in the process - become overwhelmingly popular and dominant;

Although not much has changed for many poor Americans, the role of religion in the black community has changed greatly since the days when King and others wielded such power.

Today, the civil rights movement and life in the black community converge at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where the Rev. Arthur Price Jr. is now pastor. Four girls were killed at the church in 1963 when a bomb exploded during Sunday service. Price worries that all these years later, too few parents are bringing their children to church.

"I believe if we can get people engaged on the front end and teach them a good foundation, that some of the social ills that we have in our society will be less and less," he says. "We don't live in a box. We are in the culture. We are around the culture, and sometimes we have to preach against the culture."

Price teaches men how to become better fathers and helps first-time drug offenders turn their lives around. But he says the church's role in the black community has changed. Back in the 1960s, pastors dominated their neighborhoods — churches were the place where African-Americans shared their entire lives.

"If I can sum it up … I think we don't have a faith like we used to as a people. We've just, we've become so fragmented," says the Rev. Anthony Johnson, grandson of Alabama civil rights leader N.H. Smith Jr.

A Charge from the Pulpit

Over the past few years, megachurches have become more popular in black communities, just as they have in white communities. These megachurches have amassed influence and wealth partly because of their sheer number of parishioners. Some have created satellite churches and broadcast their gospel on television.

Many who were part of the civil rights movement and their heirs lament the trend.

"There still needs to be a voice crying out in the wilderness," Price says. "There still needs to be a charge from the pulpit to ignite people, to prick the consciousness of our brothers and sisters and to keep the mirror up in America's face, to let them know that they do have a responsibility to the least of these."
As always within American culture, as goes Black culture, so goes America. As the result of historical assignation within the American political economy, we are always merely the canary in the encompassing American coalmine. This story about the Poor People's Campaign and the demise of the Black church is fundamentally a story about America.


russell maycumber said...

Thats a Robbie Conal painting -