“The black church, as we know it, is dead.” This was the claim made by my friend and Princeton professor, Eddie Glaude, Jr., over a year ago, prompting many clergy to cry crucify him, crucify him.
There always has been a needed tension between academia and the church. I viewed his remarks not as an indictment, but as a challenge. A challenge to remain relevant and reclaim our prophetic voice.
A couple of months ago, the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC), which was founded in 1961 to embrace the civil rights movement, held its 50th annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had just begun to circulate its Map of Shame, highlighting state-by-state voter identification laws and other legislation that threaten to undermine the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” There exists a profound and urgent need for the black church to rise up to the challenge of the moment and to unleash its power, implore its membership and lend its resources to make sure the communities they represent are able to fight these latest attempts at disenfranchisement and voter intimidation.
America needs to know that the black church, as we know it, is not dead. To do so, it must awaken its prophetic voice.
In the age of Obama, this has become somewhat of a challenge. The relentless and unjustifiable assaults against the President, which in too many cases are not about policy differences, have caused many in the black church to withhold criticism. They fear giving inadvertent cover to those who have made it their mission to see him fail, even if it means taking our country down with him.
I strongly believe that it is possible to be both critical and supportive of the President. In fact, an honest critique will make him stronger and our nation better. I have faith in him, but it is not a blind faith. Frederick Douglass pointed out that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Civic responsibility does not end with voting. Civic responsibility begins with voting. After we cast our vote, we have to keep watch over those for whom we have cast our vote. We cannot afford to place our vote in a blind trust. This is the message that the Black Church must continue to preach while we are still alive.
Rev. Thomas L. Bowen is the Minister of Fellowship & Outreach at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Read more essays from local faith leaders