The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness

The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness

The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness

The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness

Synopsis

What is the true nature and mission of the church? Is its proper Christian purpose to save souls, or to transform the social order? This question is especially fraught when the church is one built by an enslaved people and formed, from its beginning, at the center of an oppressed community's fight for personhood and freedom. Such is the central tension in the identity and mission of the black church in the United States. For decades the black church and black theology have held each other at arm's length. Black theology has emphasized the role of Christian faith in addressing racism and other forms of oppression, arguing that Jesus urged his disciples to seek the freedom of all peoples. Meanwhile, the black church, even when focused on social concerns, has often emphasized personal piety rather than social protest. With the rising influence of white evangelicalism, biblical fundamentalism, and the prosperity gospel, the divide has become even more pronounced. In Piety or Protest, Raphael G. Warnock, Senior Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,traces the historical significance of the rise and development of black theology as an important conversation partner for the black church. Calling for honest dialogue between black and womanist theologians and black pastors, this fresh theological treatment demands a new look at the church's essential mission. The Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock serves as Senior Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta, Georgia). In the Religion, Race, and Ethnicity series

Excerpt

What is the true nature and mission of the church? As a community formed in memory of Jesus Christ and informed by the gospels, what is it that makes it a faithful and authentic witness, and what exactly is it called to do? Indeed, all Christian communities must ask and try to answer that question. From the fledgling communities behind the gospels to the classic debates of Nicea and Chalcedon through the Reformation until now, christology and ecclesiology have always been done together so that those who are informed by a memory of Jesus must wrestle simultaneously with the implications of that memory for their own mission. That is the church’s burden. Yet, for reasons of history and theology, the burden carries with it an extraordinary freight, and the question has itself a distinctive resonance when the church is one built by slaves and formed, from its beginning, at the center of an oppressed community’s fight for personhood and freedom. That is the history of the black church in America and the theological prism through which any authentic inquiry into its essential mission must be raised.

As a group of researchers discovered while making their way through the community of Bronzeville during the Great Depression, hardly any question is more vociferously argued in the black community, even among those who do not attend, than the meaning, message, and mission of the black church. Indeed, because so much is at stake in the viability of a community’s oldest and most enduring . . .

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