Black Churches Reduce Public-Policy Activity

The Christian Century, May 9, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Black Churches Reduce Public-Policy Activity


African-American churches, known for their political activism during the civil rights movement, have been more involved in the electoral process than in direct public policy in recent decades, a new study shows. Fewer than 25 percent of 1,893 clergy said their congregations were involved in issues such as civil rights, affirmative action and welfare reform.

Clergy, researchers and other experts on African-American churches gathered in Washington for a mid-April conference to discuss three years of research by the Public Influences of African-American Churches Project, based at Atlanta's Morehouse College. "There's no doubt that African-American churches have not lived up to their potential around public policy," said R. Drew Smith, project director.

While the majority of clergy did not cite direct involvement with public policy--though 40 percent said they engaged in public education issues--they did report significant work on election matters. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had worked with voter registration drives in the last decade, and half had provided transportation to the polls for voters.

A subsample of 301 clergy showed a wide disparity in opinions about matters of government funding. Twenty-one percent strongly agreed with the idea government should help in funding churches to provide social services, while 39 percent strongly disagreed. When asked about the use of vouchers for private education, 25 percent strongly agreed with the notion; 46 percent strongly disagreed.

The research results prompted speakers at a conference-sponsored town hall meeting to call for increased efforts to keep black churches involved on social and political fronts. "What I do believe is that when it comes to policy issues, certainly in the 21st century, that maybe we need to constructively figure out a way to encourage more participation from leadership in a universal way," said Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader and president of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

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