That's a question I've been rolling over in my head recently. It's a big question. It's a troubling question for me on many levels, not the least of which is it's confrontation of my own faith or lack thereof. Asking "can" the church be reformed is tantamount in some respects to doubting God. Perhaps "will" is a better verb?
In any event, lots of folks are thinking these days that the church is in need of serious reform and has been for some time. That's a near universal sentiment whether you're on the theological conservative or progressive end of the spectrum. Almost everyone wants more of something to happen in the African-American church... more political involvement, more gospel-centeredness, more focus on health issues like the AIDS crisis, more faithfulness to biblical teaching regarding the church. And typically, if you want more of one thing (gospel-centeredness, for example) you are likely to want less of another (say, political involvement).
All of this really begs the question of what kind of reform one has in mind. And laced together with that question is some notion or assumption about what one should mean by the phrase "African-American church," especially when you attach the definite article "the" before it. At this point... angels are beginning to fear to tread this path!
And along with what kind of reform, I suppose there needs to be some argument for why reform; what's the problem(s) said reform needs to address. After all, how you define the problem will have much to do with what solutions appear feasible.
That there is at present very little consensus on what the problems are, what the African-American church should be, and then what reforms are needed... makes this a thorny issue. Al Sharpton's Black church is very different from Ken Jones' church which is very different from Tony Evans' church. We could go on. And if we did, we'd then be confronted with the question of where is leadership for reform going to come from? The perennial questions: where are we going and whose got the map?
This is the first in a series of reflections. The posts, Lord willing, will consider the question of reforming the African American church in particular. But because I believe that any reform of this nature must learn from other "branches" of the church, I do hope that non-African Americans will join in and contribute.
Let me end this post with a brief problem statement that I'll unpack in a future post(s), Lord willing. Put simply and bluntly, without nuance that will follow later, at the risk of offending many, but with the hope of provoking reflections and energy commensurate with the eternal life and death scale of this question:
The problem with "the African American church" (writ large) today is that by almost any historical definition she is not a true church.
Okay. That's a sweeping statement. It doesn't apply to all African-American churches by a long shot, but I think there's cause to think it may apply to most, otherwise the calls for reform wouldn't be as consistent and near universal as they are.
Let me end with what some might regard as an equally sweeping statement about "the African American church" when she was at her best. Put simply and bluntly, without nuance that will follow later, at the risk of offending many, but with the hope of provoking aspirations commensurate with the eternal life and death scale of this question:
"The African-American church" was once the home of the purest form of Christianity practiced on American soil and she can be the fulcrum of reform in not only the African-American Christian world but the larger Christian world as well.
Welcome to the discussion. Jump in with both feet!
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