A call to the black church

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:33 p.m.

One evening, I stood on a corner and watched a lot of young black males sell drugs while a caravan of cars pulled up to the same house as if they were placing orders at a fast-food pickup window.

Directly across the street, I saw a black church. The members were in the parking lot greeting one another before they attended service. No one bothered to even look across the street.

I don't think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned his head to the negative activity in his backyard, were he alive today. He probably would have walked across the street and talked to the black males and found out what kind of level they were on before trying to raise their conscience. I wouldn't have been surprised, either, if many of them stopped their activities to at least hear what he had to say.

At the turn of the century, secular organizations such as the NAACP, the Garvey Movement and the Nation of Islam became prominent proponents of the black cause. The black church was referred to as a do-nothing institution because its influence had waned.

The civil rights movement sparked a resurgence in the black church. The movement was led by King, who transformed it from a passive institution to an instrument for social change.

King preached and argued that religion has a social, as well as a spiritual, mission, and that it should be concerned with the whole person and not just the soul.

Noted black scholar Eric Lincoln wrote in his analysis of the black church, "The State of Black America," "[t]he Black Church is alive, alert, addressed to the realities of our times."

However, a lot has waned in 14 years.

During the Jim Crow era, the black church became the most important economic institution in the black community. It had to steer itself against the economic woes brought on by the Jim Crow laws. As a result, insurance companies, mutual associations, banks, and educational institutions were created. When the Civil War ended, the black church immediately stepped forth to construct educational institutions for the black community.

The same impetus is needed now more than ever if the black church is to become a great institution producing programs and solutions for our ravished and impoverished communities.

Long before the government implemented social and welfare programs, the black church was serving as a social institution, a social clearinghouse for the betterment of its people.

It might benefit the black community to delve into the civil rights era and understand better the role the black church played socially in our communities. We could probably create more solutions to combat the social ills that fluctuate daily in our communities.

After all, King's dream wasn't only about civil rights or race. It was also targeted at the chaos in the black community.

Bruce A. Davis is a freelance writer living in Gainesville.

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